A Guillotine for the American Dream
It used to be the American way that anybody with a dream could work hard and achieve success. We look back on the Fords and Carnegies as pioneers of the American entrepreneurial spirit. But lately, American tech companies forged from that same entrepreneurial flame face renewed calls for and from the government to attack big business, regardless of their impact on society.
As anti-capitalist protesters set up a French revolution-style guillotine outside Jeff Bezos’ home, the Department of Justice rushes an antitrust filing, and Congress drags America’s tech innovators by their scruff into the swamp, it seems everyone’s been sharpening up their tools to tear up some of America’s most successful companies.
And while protesters and politicians on Capitol Hill have little in common, neither have created a clear picture as to why tech CEO’s and the businesses they manage are harming society by virtue of their size. Instead, both have grown increasingly critical of some of America’s most successful and popular businesses, just because they’re big. What they hold in common is a lack of enthusiasm for the American dream.
Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are some of the most impressive companies of the day, and each are headed by CEOs with a modest backstory. Their high-tech focus might not look like the entrepreneurialism that we’re used to representing our national tradition of hard work, but they are undoubtedly uniquely American success stories.
These technology companies produce tremendous value, but not because they control huge swathes of our economy. Amazon remains a smaller marketplace than Walmart. Facebook, and social media in general, helps us communicate with one another but so do T-Mobile and AT&T. Google can be a great marketing tool but restaurants still tend to rely on word-of-mouth.
American tech companies are valuable not because of the revenues and market share they hold today, they’re valuable because each has proven that given enough time and resources, they can quickly enter or even create new markets, disrupt the established players, and make value for consumers.
While anti-tech legislators and anti-capitalist protesters claim that big tech hurts us every day, consumers do not agree. Consumers are far more likely to say the pharmaceutical industry, or the utility companies are in need of antitrust enforcement rather than tech. Consumers are far more worried about their electric bill than whether Google Chrome is Apple’s default web browser.
It’s this reality that shows us what anti-tech politicians are really concerned about. They are concerned about the size of tech companies, not their impact on society. Despite their many other differences, these politicians hold one vital attitude in common; it’s not the behavior of a business or its leaders that matter, it’s their wealth and prominence.
This is not a traditional application of antitrust law, which looks to protect consumers from harm, not punish businesses for doing a good job. But this movement for greater antitrust action against tech isn’t about the American consumer at all. Antitrust has been warped to tear down American success stories that have reached amazing heights. Anti-tech legislators don’t care that these CEOs, and the companies they run, are rich because of their hard work, innovative spirit, and a keen eye for value creation. Instead, their new antitrust argument stems from their dislike for how successful these companies are.
And with such an approach, we won’t see a new oppressive aristocracy reigned in, we’ll see some of the most impressive success stories of American principles torn down. Unable to prove harms to consumers, antitrust prosecutors have no legal basis to dismantle or disarm America’s most successful businesses. So they are pursuing new antitrust laws that would limit American business success, reduce our global competitiveness, and reduce benefits enjoyed by nearly all Americans. What anti-tech activists propose is simply a guillotine for the American dream.
Today, America’s big tech businesses are archetypes of the American dream that prove anyone can make it. But if Congress warps our antitrust law, that dream becomes something else altogether — anyone can make it in America, so long as they don’t make too much.
Carl Szabo is Vice President and General Counsel for NetChoice, a trade organization.