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Democracy & Technology Blog Coast to Coast

Ten Days of Quantum Science and Supply-side Economics

With our annual Telecosm conference in Lake Tahoe sandwiched by two trips to Washington, D.C., it was a whirlwind two weeks. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones from the Telecosm Lounge (www.gildertech.com) is always a great part of Telecosm. It was no different this year, as we had enough EZchip (LNOP) owners to convene a significant shareholders meeting with CEO Eli Fruchter at lunch on Wednesday even though the company’s official annual meeting was taking place that very day in Israel. “No one comes to our official meeting,” Eli said. He was amazed that Glen had memorized every word of every press release of the last five years and that West knew every dollar and decimal of the company’s slim financials.

Wednesday began with a bang as Steve Forbes delivered a compelling survey of the world economy and a critique of economic policy here at home. Three years in a row now, Mr. Forbes has delivered home-run speeches full of personality and comedy — with his usual incisive analysis — that might have put him in the White House if performed just a few years before. China, India, Europe, Social Security, Telecom, Katrina, Money, Trade — he knows it all. Scheduled to speak after Mr. Forbes was John Rutledge, economist, investor, and early Reagan revolutionary. Rutledge was just returning from Beijing and was to give an update on Asia, with a special thrust on energy and technology. But at the last minute he was diverted to the East Coast by an urgent call from a cabinet secretary. And so it was left to Mr. Forbes, George Gilder, Rich Karlgaard, and me to tackle Asian issues and implications. Judging from the crowd reaction, we did okay.

Wednesday evening, legendary physicist-inventor-entrepreneur Carver Mead offered his annual conference-closing lecture. This year it was a fascinating history of the study of superconducting rings, with robust hints that new work on these miraculous supercooled loops of coherent quantum energy could revolutionize our understanding of all physics and possibly show the way toward practical new technology paradigms for electronics and communications. For several hours after Telecosm IX’s thrilling conclusion, Dr. Mead sat on the hearth of the massive fireplace in the Squaw Creek lobby, sipping Cabernet and extending his superconductive remarks as Louisa Gilder, George, Nick Tredennick, Sandy Fleischmann, and I listened and probed. The crackling blaze mere feet behind Dr. Mead could not compete with his candlepower. Although we did not highlight it at this year’s conference, one of Dr. Mead’s half-dozen new companies, Impinj, is tagging home runs in the explosive RFID (radio frequency identification) space. My mention of Impinj as our conversation drew to a close brought a broad smile to Dr. Mead’s face. That is how I left Dr. Mead and Tahoe Wednesday night — it was a look of quiet pride at the emerging success of Impinj and of fiery determination for the potentially world-changing future of his collective quantum ideas.

Just a few hours later, still dark in California, George and I were off cross-country to Washington, D.C., hoping to make it in time for Thursday night’s dinner commemorating the life and work of political-economist Jude Wanniski. Jack Kemp greeted us at the door of the private room at Mr. K’s, an elegant Chinese restaurant on K Street. There were columnists Bob Novak and David Brooks. From out of nowhere came Donald Rumsfeld, squinting, laughing, and ridiculing the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, who had now called for his resignation some five times, the first instance occurring in April — of 2001. Pat Buchanan was taller than I had assumed from television. Supply-siders, mostly those “present at the creation,” were crawling the room: Alan Reynolds, Richard Rahn, Jeff Bell, Steve Entin, and also Wayne Angell, David Malpass, Larry Hunter, and more. Then comes a great surprise — the grand-daddy, Nobel winner of 1999 Robert Mundell. Teacher of Arthur Laffer and progenitor of Jude’s “Mundell-Laffer Hypothesis,” Mundell now lives mostly in Beijing and I had not expected to see him.

I sat next to Reynolds and a charming Chinese woman getting her Ph.D. from Mundell friend Dominick Salvatore at Fordham in New York. We and most in the room spent the evening discussing China, both its historical implications and the more immediately infuriating currency kerfuffle with the U.S. Over the previous months, I had written of America’s good fortune that although Washington was not demonstrating any understanding of trade and currency matters, leading to self-destructive calls for tariffs and a massive Chinese yuan appreciation, at least Professor Mundell was in Beijing advising the Chinese on their own internal transition and especially on how to deescalate tensions with the U.S. without swallowing our poisonous advice. A year ago, the Chinese established the Mundell International University for Entrepreneurship in the largest of Beijing’s technology zones, and this July Professor Mundell was the very first foreigner to receive China’s new “green card” allowing permanent residence, work, and movement within the country and without.

After George Gilder offered the night’s final toast among many, saluting Jude’s eternal optimism, that the last can be first and that good can prevail, the party slowly broke up. Although George had sat at Professor Mundell’s table, talking China and relating the events of Telecosm, I did not get to introduce myself until after dinner. I told him we admired his work in China, that we were writing a book on China and the world economy, and that we hoped to cooperate with him and his young prot�g� at my table. Yes, of course, he said. What a night.

Racing back to the Midwest, my wife and I found two days to visit great Washington friends with a beautiful weekend home on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River in Columbia, MO. Two more days of fascinating political-economic conversation centered on China and one Texas Longhorn trouncing of Mizzou later, it was time to reacquaint myself with our three little girls.

Back home in Indiana, I prepared for Monday testimony on telecom reform with a downtown dinner Sunday night. Who should appear at the other end of my table? None other than Telecosm no-show John Rutledge! Rutledge was scheduled to testify with me in the Indiana Senate the next morning. He had just returned from Beijing visiting one Robert Mundell and was slightly surprised to learn I had seen Mundell Thursday night. Rutledge had just dined with Mundell in New York Saturday night. In a thrilling development, Rutledge had just been appointed president of the Mundell University in Beijing and would be spending half his time there. It seems the Chinese are now listening to two stalwart supply-siders, even sending the children of the ruling elite to study under them, while American elites and policymakers do their best to keep a safe distance. After a few minutes in which we allowed our dinner mates to recover from our cross table excitement, Rutledge motioned back to my end of the table. “Now it’s all coming together, Bret,” Rutledge exclaimed with a chuckle. “Mundell said he saw George in Washington. But he also said he met this young scientist named Carver Mead.”

-Bret Swanson

Bret Swanson

Bret Swanson is a Senior Fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, where he researches technology and economics and contributes to the Disco-Tech blog. He is currently writing a book on the abundance of the world economy, focusing on the Chinese boom and developing a new concept linking economics and information theory. Swanson writes frequently for the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal on topics ranging from broadband communications to monetary policy.