31 May Big Tech is a Big Target
You may find today’s post to be boring, especially if you like bold, baseless accusations and wild, populist rants. It also may be offensive, particularly if you always prefer the “little guy” over the “rich.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This is about Meta (the new name for Facebook), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), and the efforts by politicians to fell those giants.*
*One could use their initials and think of them as big “MAAMA,” as the Economist recently coined them. Or, as we prefer, throw in another M for the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, SpaceX, and now (maybe) Twitter, and call them MAMAMA.
All certainly are inviting targets for criticism, and they each have plenty of enemies these days. All, in fact, are in the cross-hairs of government officials aiming to fire away at them. Whether these are trivial pot shots, scatter shots, or precise rifle shots zeroed in on legitimate bullseyes is a matter that should be analyzed through a clear scope—one guided by principles for proper aim.
The Politics of Big
Much of the attack on technology companies is sheer partisan politics. We do not need to name names, but some politicians and their supporters demonize social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook come to mind) that have summarily closed down their favorite accounts. This plays into the political notion that tech companies are driven by “woke” agendas and “cancel culture,” or that they support one party over another.
The irony is that both major parties have gotten into the attack on Big Tech. For example, major antitrust legislation currently being debated is co-sponsored by Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa. That dual Republican-Democratic and Iowa-Minnesota backing must qualify this as the ultimate in bipartisanship.
With both parties striving to speak for the “working class,” “the People,” and even the broad “middle class,” going after the wealthy and powerful becomes part of a vote-getting strategy. Thus, Big Tech gets lumped in with Big Pharma, Big Banks, and Big Everything Else (except the largest of them all, Big Government), as part of class warfare against the affluent generally.
It is true that there is plenty not to like about technology companies. They gather and sell information about you. Some drive out small, mom-and-pop local businesses. There is the sad availability of online pornography. And, we all are aware of the perils of social media, which distracts minds of pedestrians, drivers, children, and others.
There also is plenty of good that comes from these same technology firms, however. For starters, they provide well-paying jobs for millions, research and development, helpful products, convenience, and shareholder value, along with applications for health care and national defense. From a nationalist point of view, Big Tech gives America a huge lead in all things technological.
The real question should be not whether the companies are “good” or “bad,” and certainly not whether they favor some politicians over others. The decision of whether to increase regulation of tech firms must be based on principles, not political advantage.
Our initial impression is that America should not need new laws for Big, nor for Tech. We already have antitrust laws, privacy laws, and many others. If consumers or companies have been squashed illegally by “Big MAMAMA,” we already have state and federal civil courts to provide remedies.
A Few Words about Antitrust
The primary legal attack on Big Tech seeks passage of special, new antitrust laws. If you have not heard much about antitrust and do not care to, stop reading here and come back next week for a whole new topic.
Antitrust is a branch of law designed primarily to prevent dominant firms from harming consumers. In the 1800s, when such laws were first enacted, those dominant firms were conglomerations known as “trusts,” thus the Sherman Antitrust Act and related laws.*
*Your humble blogger, as a former antitrust lawyer, is tempted to try to explain this more fully, but we will give you just three words to describe what is illegal under federal antitrust law: monopolization, collusion, and discrimination (in prices). If you want to know more, contact us through the comments section or directly via email.
One need only look at the history of American technology behemoths to see that MAMAMA may not always be immense—or at least not in the same markets as they operate today. The names IBM, Kodak, AOL, and Blackberry demonstrate that technology markets, like all economic markets, have ways of cutting vast businesses down to size without need for antitrust intervention or any other new laws.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.