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Counterpoint: Keep government out of Big Tech

Brooke Medina | Government regulation risks entrenching tech companies and hampering innovation


Judge Robert Bork testifies at hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court. Associated Press/Photo by Charles Tasnadi

Counterpoint: Keep government out of Big Tech
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Recently, Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance and the conservative Claremont Institute filed an amicus brief in Ohio vs. Google, a lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. It is only the latest in the litany of calls to “break up Big Tech.”

In light of Facebook’s recent public relations woes and near-daily accusations of YouTube censorship and Twitter de-platforming, it’s not surprising that cries to regulate tech companies are increasing by the day. But what would breaking up Big Tech mean for Americans?

Undoubtedly, companies like Google and Facebook should be subject to consumer scrutiny, and users are wise to be wary. But consumer dissatisfaction with a product shouldn’t automatically trigger government intervention, especially when the industry is in its infancy and regulation can’t meaningfully keep up with its rapid growth.

Further, despite the newness of the digital revolution, the reality is that alternatives to Google do exist—there are other search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and Bing. Google and Facebook are not guaranteed market dominance over the next decade. Myspace and Yahoo would like a word with anyone who argues otherwise.

If you’d like to see Facebook fade into the sunset, note that heavy-handed government regulation actually risks entrenching existing tech companies because few startups have the financial resources to meet these high regulatory burdens. The fact is, the more latitude we give the fast-growing tech sector, the greater likelihood emerging competitors will compete with today’s dominant companies.

The kind of government regulation Attorney General Yost and J.D. Vance want is misguided and will reap unintended consequences. History has shown that regulation often hampers innovation. It slows down research and development, forcing companies to divert a greater portion of their profit to satisfying regulatory burdens. As a result, companies must move away from innovation and spend their energies in bureaucratic compliance.

On the other hand, reducing government regulation can have the opposite effect. We saw a vivid example of this at the beginning of the pandemic when the Trump administration and state governments let companies innovate widely in order to fight COVID.

Health policy expert Sally Pipes noted, “One of the most effective policy responses to COVID-19 [wasn’t] a new government program or infusion of federal funding. Rather, it [was] the deliberate effort by the Trump administration to pare back regulations impeding access to health care.”

Thus, it was the decision to reduce the role of government that provided the greatest gains. We should replicate this deregulatory principle in other sectors, such as technology and education.

Conservatives have a long record of supporting free enterprise and individual liberty. The historically conservative position has been to favor freedom, with as few government interventions as necessary. Because of this love of freedom, conservatives often possess a healthy skepticism of political strongarming.

For decades, conservatives such as economist Thomas Sowell and the late Reagan-nominee Judge Robert Bork have questioned the sweeping, problematic way that antitrust laws have been used against American businesses. Nevertheless, antitrust law is a legal tool that politicians from progressive Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to Republican Josh Hawley would like to use to punish Big Tech companies. Often when they say “Break up Big Tech,” they mean, “Let’s use antitrust enforcement to achieve our political goals.”

Sowell, writing on antitrust in Basic Economics, points to India as a cautionary tale. In the late 1900s, the heavy hand of antitrust law led some of the country’s most promising, innovative industrialists to leave and take their lucrative businesses elsewhere. India, suffering from its poorly crafted antitrust law, had to repeal the legislation to remain globally competitive.

Judge Bork, the preeminent legal voice on antitrust law in the United States, held to a similar skepticism about the government’s role in big business. In a decades’ old case concerning government regulation of the press, Bork’s opinion on the need for limited government holds relevance for today: “The American press is extraordinarily free and vigorous, as it should be … not because it is free of inaccuracy, oversimplification, and bias, but because the alternative to that freedom is worse than those failings.”

Judge Bork’s reasoning extends far beyond the world of the press. His words speak right to today’s calls for government regulation of Big Tech.

Big government is the enemy of freedom and innovation. It doesn’t matter whether J.D. Vance or Bernie Sanders is leading the anti-business crusade. The longstanding conservative principles of free enterprise and limited government should be our guides. Our concern about Big Tech shouldn’t overshadow a necessary skepticism of Big Government.


Brooke Medina

Brooke Medina serves as vice president of communications for the John Locke Foundation and sits on the board of directors of ReCity Network, a Durham-based nonprofit committed to empowering civil society in combating poverty-related problems. She lives in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband and four children.

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Russell in Japan

Really like the Point and Counterpoint. More of this, please.

Phil

Finally! Debate! I’ve been waiting for this. Thanks!

Sean McGrew

Government exists to protect the rights of the citizens. The three or four biggest tech companies are now larger than the economies of about half of the nations in the world. For years now, Google has been buying up one business a week as a matter of course in order to stifle any potential competition. Nearly all of the information traffic on the internet comes and goes only through the blessings of these monster big tech companies. They are no longer just companies, but oligarchs who have usurped the power of the citizenry.

The people who run these companies are in league with the administrative state, violating our civil liberties while hiding under the excuse that "it's not the government legislating away your First Amendment rights." We have all the evidence we need to see the lie here. They have shown their hand when they silenced the voice of the forty-fifth President because he holds opinions that differ from those in the administrative state and the oligarchs running Big Tech. Some opinions are not to be allowed.

To the American citizen, it doesn't matter whether his voice is silenced by the legislative branch of government or by a cabal of executive branch bureaucrats and their like-minded masters in Big Tech. The end result is the same--we are having our civil rights violated and it is the primary duty of the government to protect the rights of the governed. The power of government must be brought back into balance and must be used against the enemies of liberty. See the wonderful book by Dr. Glenn Sunshine called, "Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition" for more.

FIMIKISean McGrew

I don't get it. Where in the constitution is my civil right to use Google? They may not even be around in 10 years. The reason a government needs such strict constraints is that it has no competition or incintive to change, but the conservative answer to a bad business has always been... build a better business.

Sean McGrewFIMIKI

Hello again, my sparring partner! You have the right to life, liberty, and eudaimonia. The collusion between Big Tech and the administrative state is harming that. The google enterprise didn't spring up in a vacuum. Its growth was entirely entwined with the government, and it's now working with the help of the government to stifle competition. It is well past time to undo that and bring both government and Alphabet back to their proper sizes. A government that abuses its citizens is illegitimate, and a corporation that likewise harms Americans should not see favor from their government.

FIMIKISean McGrew

Hah, we meet again! Your posts are always thought provoking. We can definitely agree that to the extent that a company is - via the government or monopolistic abuse - preventing the creation of viable competitors then they should indeed be targeted by antitrust action. Being pro-market doesn't always translate to being pro-business. Given the proliferation of MAGA-friendly platforms, though, it seems like the market is actually responding pretty well to this problem.