Attitudes that explain why ‘Europe is behind’

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Philip Stephens is correct: there is certainly no bigger mistake than to confuse cause and effect (“Europe must set its own digital rules”, August 9). But if Europe lags behind the US in the knowledge economy, and now in the race for artificial intelligence, that is the cause of its lacking “companies of sufficient scale to compete with the Americans”, of its struggling “to nurture a culture of innovation”, and of not producing “enough top-flight computer scientists”; in no way can it be the effect. Companies don’t grow, and people don’t choose, in a vacuum.

For Mr Stephens, the success of corporate Silicon Valley is due to the personal data being “scooped up without asking permission”, to its indulging “in aggressive tax avoidance”, and to its “blithely ignoring competition rules”. But he fails to mention that the General Data Protection Regulation, issued by Brussels, is increasingly being accepted as the rule by Big Tech companies, which don’t believe it will impede their growth. Furthermore, “tax avoidance” is in reality a tax suspension that was granted to all multinationals as long as they kept their earnings parked in a tax haven (a regime now significantly changed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the adoption of Global Intangible Low Taxed Income). Nor do acquisitions they made contrast with Robert Bork’s interpretation of American antitrust.

Above all, Mr Stephens fails to acknowledge that at the end of the last century in Silicon Valley a liberal counterculture tied together values of spontaneous communities and of personal liberty: the free space of the web was where their request for connectedness was met by the offer of connectivity from the industry.

All these failures reveal a cultural and political attitude that may well be the reason that “Europe is behind”.

Franco Debenedetti
Chairman,
Istituto Bruno Leoni,
Milan, Italy

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