When I think about our national political climate these days, I am like many Americans saddened by the hyper-partisan nature of things. For most of us, the constant wrangling about budgets, healthcare and “gotcha” politics is both exhausting and also less and less relevant to our daily lives. You can feel the growing alienation, and see how it reflects in the polls. In trying to come up with a way to explain it all, and being an optimistic person by nature, I have wanted to look past our current partisan follies and look to the future. And, that is when it hit me. Today’s political infighting is reflective of an unspoken almost uniform cause.
For some it manifests as a fear that taxes will go up. For others, it is the fear that they’ll never get a job. For many it is a sense that the challenge of keeping up is an irreconcilably losing game. Fear drives politics these days, and fear keeps us from listening to each other. But, what is not being discussed is the basic fear that is driving all of these manifestations: a fear that the United States’ economy can no longer grow to create wealth and opportunity for all of us. This fear causes us to seek austerity, to worry about debt, to focus on inequality and to distrust one another. And, make no mistake, it is profoundly powerful and deep-seated.
I, for one, do not think that our opportunities for growth have passed. But, I do think that our politicians are not looking in the right places. Caught up in the current doctrinal food fight is the role of government and innovation. And as a result, government investment in technology is caught up in the spider web of sequestration and budgetary posturing. But what is lost in this conversation is the unassailable fact that government technology investment, particularly through the Department of Defense, is a major driver of economic growth and innovation in the U.S. economy.
From the railroads onward, the industrial waves that have shaped our economy and established the United States’ industrial primacy were fostered and shaped by national security spending and entrepreneurial activity. The airplanes you fly in, the cars you drive, the computer you use, and the phone that allows you to keep up with your friends on Facebook all wouldn’t exist today in the form that they do without a strong relationship between government and entrepreneurship. As a venture capitalist, I spend my time trying to find companies to start and sell within a short period of time. I don’t create industrial waves — I invest in the companies that ride them. And that is true for any venture investor.
I therefore believe it is essential that all of us who care about growth — and I think that what our current political environment shows is that we all care mightily — must communicate to our political leaders that we expect them to make intelligent decisions about how to spend or not spend our money. They must invest in our future growth.
With that in mind, Amplifier Ventures has partnered with the Commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington Economic Development to create a public/private partnership to promote a tighter link between national security agencies and entrepreneurs. It is called Tandem NSI – which captures the importance of these two important drivers of economic growth. Perhaps most significantly, the public capital for this initiative was provided by a Republican governor to a Democratic leaning county and a private sector venture capital firm.
As we operate Tandem NSI in the coming months we hope to provide our friends in Congress with an example of how nonpartisan considerations of growth and opportunity can allow us to make rational choices on how we allocate our time and national wealth. We think it’s better to build new furniture.