What can we do about a tech sector that is increasingly hostile to conservative ideas and appears to be dominating competitors?
It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s easy to identify some wrong answers. Trusting government and expanding bureaucracy, particularly at a time when the Biden administration grows increasingly aggressive and partisan, throwing Republican appointees off supposedly neutral advisory boards, is one of them. Unfortunately, leading Senate Republicans are joining Democrats and embracing antitrust regulations that would empower government at the expense of the private sector.
Motivated by righteous, warranted indignation about anti-conservative bias, the bills these Republican senators are reportedly considering are companions to House bills sponsored by Democrats that narrowly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this summer. But in practice, these bills won’t stop the censorship of conservative online speech and will further expand government reach.
As my colleague Patrice Onwuka notes, many conservatives instinctively support antitrust regulation of Big Tech because they’re upset about unequal treatment of content. In many cases, we’re not talking about violent, extremist, threatening, or dangerous speech but rational, opposing viewpoints on a given topic. Kicking the president of the United States off of various platforms but allowing terrorist spokespeople and despotic heads of state to spew violent, anti-American rhetoric is just one frustrating example for many on the Right.
Yet, none of these antitrust congressional bills come close to addressing censorship. They could actually spark even greater censorship or more obstacles toward placing diverse viewpoints in front of large audiences.
Robert H. Bork Jr., president of the Antitrust Education Project, gives a good rundown on a proposal from Sen. Josh Hawley that “would outlaw all mergers and acquisitions for every company with a market cap over $100 billion.” Bork continues: “That’s roughly a Who’s Who of American capitalism, almost 80 companies in all. So conservatives should go along with ossifying Procter & Gamble, Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, CISCO, AT&T, Eli Lilly, and Texas Instruments because we’re upset that Facebook and Twitter no longer let Donald Trump post?”
Hawley is also joining with Democrats in demanding that the threshold standard for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws, proving there is “consumer harm,” would shift to a weaker standard that “protects competition.”
“This would turn antitrust law into a blunderbuss aimed by failing competitors against companies that do a better job of serving consumers,” Bork writes. This watered-down standard of proving consumer harm will end up harming consumers in the end by offering fewer products at higher prices.
These pending bills could prohibit Amazon, for example, from selling its Amazon generic 200-pack ibuprofen, which costs about 137% less than the same 200-pack of Advil tablets Amazon also offers. Higher prices harm all shoppers, but women should be particularly aware of how this affects them, as they make a majority of purchasing decisions on everything from milk and bread to dishwashers and couches.
Hawley wants companies that lose federal antitrust lawsuits to “forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct.” This could be the death knell for corporations and discourage investment, expansion, and innovation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley is reportedly working closely with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, who says action against technology companies is high on her agenda. Politico reports, “Grassley has supported some antitrust changes aimed at pharmaceuticals and agriculture, and notably sponsored legislation (S. 228 (117)) with Klobuchar to increase merger filing fees to provide additional funding for the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. The Senate passed that bill as part of a science and trade legislative package (S. 1260 (117)) in June.”
Imagine that: Washington politicians want to milk more cash from American businesses so they can expand their bureaucracy.
Unlike his Senate colleagues, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan recognizes these bills as a “woke” attack on the private sector. Some House members of both parties from Silicon Valley’s home state of California have understandably echoed Jordan’s warning.
A better alternative for conservatives is not to stifle innovation but instead build their own competitors to bring wealth for conservative entrepreneurs — people such as Jason Miller, who launched the Twitter-like platform Gettr; Larry Sanger, a Wikipedia co-founder launching a free-speech-friendly competitor; Chris Pavlovski, founder of YouTube competitor Rumble; and Peter Rex, CEO of a billion-dollar tech firm who is investing in “leadership that is committed to faith, family and freedom” — in a more tolerant, intellectually diverse, and decentralized tech industry.
Creating a fair, tolerant tech environment won’t be quick or easy, but the solution lies in markets and competition — not in bigger government and a more powerful bureaucracy.