Newt Gingrich's vision

An interview with Mr. Speaker during his "house visit" at Oracle in Silicon Valley at January 15th 1998

"High-Tech and two other technologies - movies and biotechnologies - have a huge impact on the society of the future and are the columns of our success."

What is it that makes you interested in High-Tech and Silicon Valley?

Newt Gingrich: I have proven it with theThomas system in Congress: I believe passionately that this is one of the two great driving forces in the 21st century. The other thing is biotechnology. Both exist in California. Therefore it is important for us politicians to go to the places that are creating the next decade's state of the art to get a sense of the general direction and the general possibilities. By doing this we can learn two things. What is the government doing to make the life of companies here harder - and what could we do to make it easier. These are important issues to improve the quality of life, they are important for job creation. We need some people that think through the vision of an America that is possible. And I feel, that we are right at the edge of a breakthrough.

What kind of breakthrough do you mean? What is your opinion about how technology will change our lifes?

Newt Gingrich: We need a picture of an America - and this can take 20 years to work out - that every citizens empowers. Take for example all the legal papers. We could do a good deal in dramatically outsorcing them to the citizens. I think we have too many lawyers in this country doing routine work that could be more efficently done by the citizens theirselves.

There was a fight about 25 years ago about self-service at gas stations. And today everybody likes it. And a lot of things could be done similar. What we want therefore is a self-service learning system, a self-service help access system, a self-service legal system so that you dont have to hire a laywer for everything.

I have three passions as a sort of focus projects in this sector. One is to liberate the poor, to liberate prisoners, to create an environment in which learning can be 24 hours seven days a week so they are drawn into the information world. Second is to empower individuals. And third is to revisit all kinds of government bureacracies and figure out what they could offer online. My wife just spent one and a half hour and $15 just for getting a drivers licence - why can't this be done over the Internet? Everybody would benefit. The citizens right away, because they save time. And in the long run we could dramatically downsize bureacratic functions - and one of my goal is to get all government agencies down to 25 percent of their momentary income. Believe me, you can do that with these systems!

Why did you actually choose to come to Oracle?

Newt Gingrich: Because they are very advanced and sophisticated. I spend 10 percent of my time trying to find interesting people doing interesting things. And Oracle is definitely one of the great American success stories. It's interesting: The Europeans are loosing jobs, and the reason why they are loosing jobs is that they are trying to keep jobs. The genius of America is that we are a very transitional country. We loose several hundred thousand jobs a week, but we create 50.000 or 60.000 jobs more than we loose. Oracle is a great example. The company is 20 years old. And it has 33.000 employees! That are more jobs that some European countries have created in a decade, more than the net jobs created in some European countries. And that's just one company in America!

What do you generally think about the relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington?

Newt Gingrich: There are a couple of absolutely natural gaps that we need to bridge. Silicon Valley is in many ways a future- and self-focused entrepreneurial area with people so busy in creating the future. The oil industry in Texas used to be like this in the 1920s. When you get people that are having fun, creating jobs, planning new things, they basically say: 'I dont spend much time with the government. I just go ahead and create the future, create wealth, as long as these guys dont bother me'. One of the downsides of that is, that those who know science, dont talk. And those who talk, don't know science. The firms here should therefore spend enough time to understand Washington. Gee, that is how we have to reshape that relationship.

High-Tech and two other technologies - movies and biotechnologies - have a huge impact on the society of the future and are the columns of our success. And my goal is that we can accelerate our relative lead that we have actually in job creation, wealth creation and literally in inventing the new civilization. I am a fan of Toffler, Romer and the school of "Where could you go". We could be in effect beyond competition for the next 20 years if we are willing to do it over a free market. In another way than the French who too early invested in and too criminally insisted on a governmental run electronic database. That lead to significant retardments in adopting the Internet. They got too early engaged in a governmental level and therefore locked themselves in.

What do you think about Microsoft? Is the government right with it's investigation? [Gingrich visited Redmond just a few days before he came to Oracle]

Newt Gingrich: I don't know enough to be able to tell you. I am not a lawyer. But I would like to take the opportunity down here to meet with people that have a very different view than Bill Gates has.

Let's put it different. Is there still a role for governments in a digital economy to break down monopolies? Are there points where the free market has to be controlled? Or is the time of the big monopolies already history?

Newt Gingrich: We have a generally open world market and we have the most open market in the world. And any supplier from anywhere on the planet could show up. How easy is it to establish a national monopoly then? We really have to measure American companies in the world market. Big in the U.S. may be small in the world market. Or you may have to be big in the U.S. in order to compete in the world market. Take a look at Delta Airlines. They needed 15 years to become the global player they are now.

Second, are you in an industry in which you are establishing a position as a result of that no one else can play, because you own all the gates? Or in fact, are you in an industry, where - if you think you have a safe position - someone else can literally leapfrog you with new technologies and make you obsolet? I always thought that Gates was either almost near a monopoly or a virtual bancruptcy depending on whether or not there are three new Bill Gates out there who walk in one day and say: 'Well this whole system no longer is necessary'. Government has to survey this: Are there collusive behaviours designed to strangle competition, which is inappropriate? Or is there enough innovation in the market that allows competition to flow? I would say that if you would talk to people at IBM, AT&T, or General Motors, they would tell you that being big this year does not mean that you're very happy next year. This is an amazingly tough, competitive environment, and people would better stay very nimble and agile as this thing keeps on walking.

What impressed you most during your trip to businesses and people in the country?

Newt Gingrich: Two things - and this is as true or even truer in the biotechnology sector than in information technology. In Seattle I met with the woman who had discovered the breast cancer gene. She was showing me what they can do now. This doctor had a case study of a family that has a high level of breast cancer. And they were now able to test a woman of that family genetically. And after the test the woman could live more happily since they found out that she did not have that specific gene.

Talking more specifically about Silicon Valley, it's first just the level of excitement of the entrepreneurs, and the researchers, and the creators and the sense with which they get up every morning that really impressed me. They know, they have the most exciting opportunities. And you don't have the cynism of Washington, the bureaucracy of Washington, the sense of defeat that often happens to be seen in big bureaucratic systems. You have people that are getting up every day who think that this is great and they are having fun.

The other thing is - and this is part of what I try to bring to Washington since a decade: What's the edge of the future? I mean, this is fun, this is exciting. The things we are going to do for other people, the quality of life that we have for 30 years now. Everytime I read an article about hard decisions or tough choices - our social security system is a good example - I read an article which has no clue about the 21st century. We don't have any hard decisions to do right now. We will be the richest, most powerful, most exciting society on the planet, and we will have ressources for all.

Just take Silicon Valley. There are now 2.3 million people here. I don't know how many jobs this industry has created in the last ten years throughout the whole region. But my guess is that this industry alone has added more jobs in the last decade than Germany. That's a good example why we should change our immigration law to allow people who are high-talented to come to the U.S. With the momentary immigration law we will just not have the physical basis for the information age.

So we're looking towards a wonderful future?

Newt Gingrich: Imagine a system for access from this year on that allows you for example to test diabetes, gives you all the sites - here is the diabetes health care center, here is all you need - to find information, calls the doctor when you're sick, and lets you know that it sends all your personal data to your doctor by the way. Imagine how huge the market is, imagine the difference in the quality of life such a system will bring. And don't forget that diabetes causes 24 percent of the costs of medication. Or if you have Alzheimer. Instead of waiting 15 years, you have access to a page with the most current research worldwide.

Similarly there is the passion here for getting the computer into the poor neighbourhood schools, into public houses. At the moment the poorest children still watch TV. But they know that rich parents' children are now playing on PCs. If we could just find a way to change this! I guess that some kind of a network computer system that is a $200 object at the moment - that these devices could be driven down to $120-130 if they are mass produced. And just think of giving away these systems for the homes as well as for the schools. You change the whole psychology of the poor class with that. And this is a point where we can work together. And I am thinking about a universal computer system for everybody, that enables lifetime learning. A system - if we could make it universal - with which we would have created an incredibly healthier and more prosperous America. Let's invent the future now, let's not wait another 35 years. (Stefan Krempl)