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Rand Paul courts Silicon Valley with techno-libertarianism

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A likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Paul turns to a region that heavily supported Obama

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rand Paul/Facebook

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is a well-known libertarian, like his father before him. Yet, as his political profile has risen in recent years, he has articulated more centrist Republican views, which many political pundits view as an attempt to make himself into a more viable presidential candidate for 2016. That's why it's particularly interesting to hear the speech Paul gave on Saturday to a crowd of "young, conservative techies," in San Francisco, as The New York Times puts it. Paul was a keynote speaker at the Lincoln Labs 2014: Reboot conference, an event organized by libertarian programmers in Silicon Valley.

Far from centrist, Paul advocated that the country turn to disruptive web services instead of government to solve big problems facing society. "Don’t be depressed with how bad government is," Paul said, according to the LA Times. "Use your ingenuity, use your big head to think of solutions the marketplace can figure out, that the idiots and trolls in Washington will never come up with."

Paul advocated a few specific ideas along those lines, including setting up a system that would allow particularly effective school teachers to broadcast lessons to millions of students over the internet. As Breitbart quoted Paul:

"Teaching and education should be like professional football or baseball. There are extraordinary people... but they [couldn’t] be in every classroom. But [thanks to the internet] now they can be in every classroom....We’re going to see a revolution in education where the LeBron James of education is going to have two million people watching him every day teaching calculus or whatever it is...Hopefully the marketplace figures out how to give them extraordinary rewards."

Paul's notion of a private online education system structured something like YouTube may be music to the ears of libertarians, but will come off as callous and potentially destructive to those who value publicly-funded education.

More broadly, Paul's techno-libertarian ideals would seem to align well with the personal philosophies of some of the tech industry's most successful entrepreneurs. As New York Magazine reported, earlier this month, Paul took one-on-one meetings with Mark Zuckerberg and influential venture capitalist Peter Thiel. Thiel is so anti-government, he wants to create floating islands that would exist outside the laws of the United States. Zuckerberg for his part is less outspokenly libertarian, but he donated $100 million to help reform New Jersey's public school system along a charter model (a plan that seems to have mostly failed). Other Silicon Valley magnates with noted libertarian bents include Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (whose Twitter icon was until recently the cover of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead) and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (who recently said the idea of the middle class is a "myth").

And although Silicon Valley voted overwhelmingly in favor of Obama and Democratic candidates in the 2012 election, and continues to donate more money to Democrats, financial support is shifting to Republicans as well. Sean Parker of Napster/forest wedding fame recently donated upwards of a half-million dollars to GOP candidates in the most recent quarter, according to Politico. All of which is to say, Paul might find more support for his libertarian views in Silicon Valley than in the rest of the country.