Summary: The American knowledge economy (AKE) is a political construct, but it is one that emerged from the shock created by the economic crises of the 1970s and not from the shock of new technological advances in computing. Entrepreneurial politicians significantly shaped AKE development, as a neoliberal faction within the Democratic Party—the Atari Democrats—played a crucial role in shifting the Party’s attitude towards technological innovation. In designing and championing new public policies to facilitate the knowledge economy transition, these elected officials responded mostly to the demands of business managers in emerging high technology businesses, not to the appeals of middle-class “decisive” voters, though the demands of both groups often aligned. In a time of divided government, the political consensus supporting AKE development converged around a set of market-oriented reforms to intellectual property laws. Accordingly, what distinguishes the AKE from the prior Fordist period is not the government’s commitment to the production of technology per se, but its commitment to the production of commodified technological advances, or intellectual property (IP). This neoliberal form of the AKE is not entirely pro-competitive as commonly theorized but instead blends pro-competitive policies towards commodity producers with anti-competitive policies for IP producers, a combination which inherently complicates the Democratic Party’s approach to antitrust enforcement. The neoliberal form of the AKE also has stark distributional consequences in that it tends to exacerbate inequality along multiple dimensions.
Committee Members: Dan Carpenter (chair), Ryan Enos, Kathleen Thelen