Mon - Fri 10:00-18:00
Johannesburg, Fourways

Congress: Please Don’t Punish Big Tech Because of Your Partisan Biases

I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that these are intensely partisan times in America. There is, however, one thing on which the two parties agree, even if their reasons are completely different. Both, it seems, feel that big tech is bad and must be controlled, but for completely different reasons. For anyone who still has the ability to analyze American politics without the distortion of a partisan lens, neither of those reasons are at all surprising, as both fit with their ideology.

Both reasons are also wrong.

Republicans criticize the big four — Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) — for what they see as political bias against the right. It is true that all four have taken stands against discrimination and have argued for things like embracing clean energy and equal opportunity. But if that constitutes an anti-Republican bias, it is the Republican Party, not the big tech companies, with the problem.

Republican criticism typically focuses on Facebook and YouTube (owned by Alphabet), arguing that their views are being suppressed. There is absolutely no evidence to support that, and Google’s internal data actually suggest that posts from right wing commentators are among their most popular content.

Still, a position taken without supporting evidence is hardly surprising when it comes to American politics, and certainly not from the Republican Party in its current form. The “My feelings are more important than your facts” argument seems to run through almost everything they say now.

That is not to say that the Democratic party’s position on big tech is any better.

In keeping with their wonkish tendencies, the Democratic argument is supported by an interminable 449 page report from the House Judiciary Committee. Clearly, a lack of evidence is not the problem here; it is the interpretation of that evidence that is wrong-headed.

There are many examples within that report of the companies gaining an advantage because of their size, but is that a crime? Or is it just that their success is such that it engenders a feeling among some people that they must be doing something wrong or shady? When you apply a simple common-sense test, it seems it is more of the latter. The basic problem with monopoly power, and the reason laws to deal with it exist, is that if there are no competitors to a company, they are able to disadvantage consumers by driving prices higher.

In this case, though, there are plenty of competitors, and if anything, prices to consumers are being driven lower, not higher.

If you aren’t an Apple fan, Samsung, LG, and a host of other companies offer you alternatives. I’m sure Walmart (WMT), Overstock (OSTK) and the thousands of other online retailers would object to Amazon being called a monopoly. Similarly, Twitter (TWTR), Snapchat (SNAP), TikTok, and other social media platforms exist in competition with Facebook, and Google-haters are free to use Bing or another competitor for their searches. Apple products are pricy, but there are cheaper options elsewhere, Amazon has lowered prices for consumers and Facebook is free to use, at least in monetary terms.

How can these be monopolies when they all have competitors and are lowering prices?

The real objection from Democrats here seems to be that these firms are just too good at what they do. They are either forcing prices down and thus putting pressure on less efficient competitors, or they are producing a product so superior in the eyes of consumers that others just can’t match their success. What they are being punished for is the very definition of success in a capitalist system, and that is a very slippery slope to climb on.

Stereotypes often exist for a reason, so neither Republicans attacking a strawman that comes from their feelings rather than facts, nor Democrats attacking the rich and successful for being rich and successful, should come as any surprise.

All the same, it is still disheartening.

I am not saying that any or all of the big four tech companies are perfect, but the attacks on them and proposed “solutions” are based on partisan biases and do nothing to address the real issues of data accumulation, ownership, and use.

Meanwhile, as Congress chases demons of its own making, over 211,000 Americans have died from a virus, the country is being torn apart by issues of race and justice, millions are out of work, millions are on basic food support in a very wealthy country, and millions more are facing eviction and homelessness. Voting is important in that context, and I would certainly urge everyone to vote in November, but if the major parties want people to participate in the process, maybe they should start to address actual problems rather than attacking big tech with arguments that stem only from their own inherent biases.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Select your currency
ZAR South African rand