by Auguste Meyrat
With the rise of populist and bipartisan resentment against Big Tech monopolies along with the recent appointment of Big Tech opponent Lina Khan as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, government action against these companies seems imminent. People are waking up to the fact that they have way too much power and are a threat to the American way of life.
As if on cue, prominent conservatives have come to the defense of these monopolies. Most recently, Robert Bork Jr. argued in National Review that breaking up Big Tech would lead to “a slippery slope to the end of capitalism and the rise of political management of the economy.” He agrees with conservatives such as Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who says, “These [anti-monopoly] bills give power to the FTC, the new commissioner we all know is radically left.”
Former U.S. senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum argues in The American Conservative against breaking Big Tech monopolies, invoking the newest global boogeyman, China: “Breaking up and regulating our tech companies will reduce their ability to innovate quickly and remain at the cutting edge of technology. That will be the single biggest boon to China in their quest to run the world’s tech services.”
These arguments are representative of a naïve conservative establishment almost completely unaware of what’s happening. They work from three general claims about breaking up Big Tech companies: 1) it would be an indirect and ineffective means of combating free-speech violations; 2) it would do damage to the country’s free-market capitalist system; and 3) it would weaken America’s ability to compete in the global economy, particularly against state-sponsored companies in China.
Concerning the first claim that breaking up monopolies is an unsuitable response to censorship, it is an inaccurate framing of the issue. This is not about free speech per se, but about ending the anti-competitive, exploitative behavior of unaccountable companies with too much power. They are so powerful that they can cancel people and ideas, something that totalitarians could only dream of doing. They can tell users, businesses, and even governments what to think and how to act because there’s nowhere else to turn.
To use an analogy, today’s Big Tech companies are similar to what it would be like if a small group of companies owned all the cars (call them “Big Wheel”) Americans could purchase and drive. Because of their monopoly, they would have the power to allow or deny certain customers the use of their cars as well as the power to prevent any other company from making and selling different cars.
This means that any individual who offended or defied them could be denied the use of a car, which would prevent him from finding work, going shopping, or even seeing his friends. And, because no other company could make cars (they might make much slower bicycles or dorky Segways—that’s all the competition that would be tolerated in this scenario), he would be forced to comply with the car monopoly.
Seeing the great power wielded against formerly free Americans, a few politicians and pundits might hope to win some more followers by proposing to take down Big Wheel either by forcing them to accept all customers and stop discriminating, or by breaking up Big Wheel into smaller companies and setting limits on how big they can be.
It’s not difficult to see what would happen. If the government decided to preserve Big Wheel’s monopoly and merely set a few ground rules about whom they could serve, these companies could still continue to enforce their will on the customers. Sure, they could not legally deny a car to an individual, but they could intentionally make that car slow, ugly, and unable to travel more than a few miles. And they could still prevent other companies from competing—so, again, the alternatives would be bicycles and Segways.
By contrast, breaking up Big Wheel would free everyone, both customers and competitors. If a customer spoke out of turn and these companies denied him a car, he could simply go to another car maker and continue living his life. Moreover, the competition would enable far more innovation in the manufacturing and selling of cars.
This analogy also addresses the other two objections to breaking up Big Tech: that it is anti-capitalist and makes the United States vulnerable in the global market. In fact, the opposite is true.
First, markets aren’t free or capitalist if just a few companies control all the means of production and subject all competitors to their dictates. This is exactly what happened to Parler, when Amazon refused to host it, and Apple refused to include the app in its app store for its phones. It didn’t matter that the ostensible reason given, that protesters on January 6 had used the platform to coordinate an attack on the Capitol, made no sense in light of the fact that Facebook was far more culpable in this regard. What mattered is that Parler posed a threat to Big Tech’s dominance of the public square.
Parler’s demise proved that people are not free to create their own companies and compete in an open marketplace. They will be denied access to the market and deprived of the necessary capital in order to operate. And if, for some reason, a company does make it through, one of the bigger companies will simply buy them.
In this way, the existence of these monopolies stifles innovation. Since they have no serious competition, they have no incentive to create new products and they have every incentive to bury others who try. Bigger is not always better. Even if these companies can finance fancy research and development departments, their real purpose is to put on a show that secures contracts and raises funding.
The HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley” brilliantly illustrates all of this. The protagonists, a ragtag group of programmers and software engineers, create a startup that would revolutionize the internet. They must contend with the larger companies, however, who all want to steal their idea and smother them. Every episode is a new headache for the protagonists who struggle for funding, fend off lawsuits, fight for access to clients, and stave off corporate sabotage and espionage.
As the main character, Richard Hendricks, says in a speech to Congress: “[these companies] aren’t going to change. They don’t have to.” They will continue to swallow their competition, brainwash their users, and pay off government officials.
And yet Rick Santorum and other writers will worry about competing with China. In so many ways, the United States has become China. It’s a corporatist system where the government awards contracts, concessions, and even bailouts to too-big-to-fail corporate leviathans that destroy communities, render the population powerless, and facilitate government surveillance and oppression. It should surprise no one that these companies are diametrically opposed to American principles. They and their enablers in Washington, D.C. want compliant subjects, not self-governing citizens.
Big Tech companies and every other monopoly are long due for a breakup. In so many ways, they are like massive parasites leeching off the freedom, innovation, and productive spirit of Americans. So long as they continue to operate with impunity, people can expect a repressive, stagnant, and decadent culture that has become the new normal. And if Americans don’t act now, when the collective will is actually present, they may never again have this opportunity to change course.
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Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an M.A. in Humanities and an M.Ed in Educational Leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written for The Federalist, The American Thinker, and The American Conservative as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter. He is a contributor to the Center for American Greatness.
Photo “Amazon Delivery Trucks” by Todd Van Hoosear (CC BY-SA 2.0).