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Uncle Sam, tech investor?

Uncle Sam, tech investor?

William Barr, the US attorney general, caused a stir last week when he suggested that the US government should consider buying Ericsson and Nokia, two European technology companies that are competing with the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei are all competing to build the ultra-fast 5G networks that are supposed to power everything from your Netflix, to your self-driving car, to futuristic factories, to entire "smart" cities.

The US has recently been pressuring countries not to use Huawei equipment, because of fears that Beijing could use the company to spy or disrupt critical infrastructure (Huawei denies it has ever done this). And while not all of the US' allies have accepted this logic, there are concerns that in the long run, Huawei, which enjoys huge government support, could drive its competitors out of business, leaving everyone in the world dependent on China for critical mobile network gear.


So…enter Uncle Sam to change the dynamic by boosting some of Huawei's competitors? Here are arguments for and against what would be a dramatic US government intervention in the global tech sector:

The argument for: 5G is too strategic a technology to be left entirely to market forces – particularly if that means relying on China. So if there are no major US suppliers of telecommunications networking gear left, and it's unclear if European tech firms can compete in the long run against cash-rich, state-backed Huawei, it makes sense for the US to put its "large market and financial muscle" behind the European firms. The US acting as a private equity investor in tech would be a dramatic step, but there is some precedent here: After all, Silicon Valley as we know it, was nurtured by Cold War defense spending. If the US and its closest allies are in a new tech-centered geopolitical struggle with China, creating their own national – or transnational – technology champions is a logical move.

The argument against: For one thing, it's very hard to see European regulators approving a plan like this. One reason is that the EU – which is already wary of being caught between the US and China – wants to nurture its own tech champions, rather than farm them out to Washington. Another is that a move like this could provoke a sharp reaction from Chinese authorities, who might restrict European access to Chinese markets in response. There's also a philosophical argument: government interference in private business tends to create waste and could hurt innovation in the long run. The story of Silicon Valley was of seed capital and preferred suppliers, not the government making massive direct equity investments in companies. Boosting investment in basic research, education, and infrastructure would be a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

Some other members of the Trump administration quickly poured cold water on Barr's idea. There are other ways besides taking a direct stake that the US could get involved – it could try to offer tax breaks to private buyers, for example. But the fact that a top US official (a Republican!) is even talking about it shows that geopolitics is pushing the global tech sector into uncharted territory.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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