Photo: Senator Josh Hawley
The rush by some conservative Republicans to join Democrats in attacking Big Tech merits a rethink. Recent events show that we must assess the future of Big Tech in the context of what America’s adversaries are doing and the role tech companies have in economic growth.
Simply put, Donald Trump’s hurt feelings over bans from Twitter and Facebook must not be the driving force for Republicans’ tech policies. Keeping China at bay, economically and militarily, and empowering Ukraine against Russia are far more important.
While President Trump remains banned from Twitter, many of Big Tech’s most vociferous critics are using the platform constantly. Senator Ted Cruz has 4.8 million followers, Newt Gingrich has 2.2 million, and Senator Josh Hawley has 746,000. And Elon Musk’s acquisition has alarmed liberals because of his simple pledge to make the platform even more free-speech friendly.
While there has always been a sector of American society suspicious and wary of technology, Republicans should have a bold vision for high tech. President Ronald Reagan understood this. In his 1983 State of the Union address he said:
“To many of us now, computers, silicon chips, data processing, cybernetics and all the other innovations of the dawning high technology age are as mystifying as the workings of the combustion engine must have been when that first Model T rattled down Main Street, U.S.A. But as surely as America’s pioneer spirit made us the industrial giant of the 20th century, the same pioneer spirit today is opening up on another vast front of opportunity, the frontier of high technology.”
Reagan understood that when it comes to technology, it matters who builds the future. President Xi Jinping of China also understands this and has often publicly expressed concern with China’s lack of innovation, something he is pushing hard to change.
The Congress should recognize that we are in a technological race with China, and it is a race that we must win. Instead, both the House and Senate, on one of the few issues of bipartisanship, have put forward multiple bills seeking to hold back American companies.
This includes onerous and unprecedented requirements for companies to prove that acquisitions were lawful. There are calls to break up companies because they are big and profitable, though the evidence of any economic harm is absent.
Another measure, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, would arbitrarily restrict companies with more than $550 billion in market cap from using their online platforms to “unfairly” promote their products and services versus others on the platform. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 20.
The scholastic and legal foundation for much of modern antitrust court rulings is that consumer welfare is paramount. This was developed by Robert Bork, Reagan’s most controversial nominee to the Supreme Court.
Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, captured the importance of this approach, writing in the forward to Judge Bork’s recently re-released book “The Antitrust Paradox”: “Judge Bork’s thesis — that increasing consumer welfare is the only rational and appropriate goal for the antitrust laws — is almost taken for granted now, but in 1978 it was considered radical.”
“Bork’s observations and analysis are equally relevant, useful and applicable today as they were in 1978, when he wrote that there is ‘the always potent dislike and distrust of large corporations’ and the ‘enduring theme’ of ‘fear of multi-market firms.’ These trends persist to the present hour, and we are now witnessing a coordinated attempt to return antitrust law to its misguided past.”
The Ukraine war has also demonstrated why having strong U.S. tech companies is in our national interest in standing up to the Russians. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple all stopped their business in Russia in the early days of the war. Facebook and Instagram, which provided valuable alternatives to Russian-state propaganda, were banned by a Russian court on March 21.
U.S. tech companies also swung into action to help Ukraine including preventing cyberattacks, removing Russian propaganda and helping the world to see Russian atrocities. China’s tech companies have at best been neutral on the war, while courting increased business with Russia.
As California’s governor from 1967 to 1975, Reagan’s policies helped spawn the launch of Silicon Valley and the accelerated tech innovation that has improved our lives and kept our adversaries at bay. Conservatives should follow his legacy.
Our perspective on tech legislation must be far greater than Democrats’ fears of big business and some Republicans’ consternation over Donald Trump’s social media suspensions.