High-tech Exec: Washington Could Ruin the Valley

WASHINGTON (03/15/2000) - In the past couple of years, Silicon Valley companies have been increasing their Washington presence and expanding lobbying staffs.

But they are doing this at risk to themselves and their companies, and stand to undermine the very free-market impulses that have made them successful, warns T. J. Rodgers, president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp.

"We shouldn't be here lobbying to become part of the system, the basic process goes against who we are," Rodgers argued. "The wealth that we've created comes from acting in a way antithetically to the basic fundamental process by which Washington works."

Rodgers is something of an iconoclast; he argued against the trend of high-tech companies to seek political power at a forum today at the Cato Institute and in a paper published by the libertarian research group, Why Silicon Valley Should Not Normalize Relations with Washington D.C.

Silicon Valley has managed to prosper as a free market because its pace has been too rapid for Washington to interfere with, said Rodgers. But he said he believes that if Silicon Valley companies pour money and effort into Washington, money that returns a far lower investment value then anything spent at their own companies, they could succumb to same kind of problems that have plagued other industries.

"As soon as we forget who we are and why we are, then we're just everybody else. We will be the next Detroit arguing for loan guarantees for Chrysler," said Rodgers.

However, Intel Corp.'s chief lobbyist, Michael Maibach, who also spoke at the Cato forum, said that some government efforts are needed to prevent Washington from hurting Valley industries.

"Someone once said all that is required for bad things to happen is for good people to do nothing," said Maibach.

To do nothing, "you might get the government that you pay for," said Maibach, "and that could be very expensive for our competitiveness."