Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Does the US Really Risk Treating Its Tech Titans as National Champions?

 

If one fears the supposed malign impact of Big Tech on modern life — destroying competition, innovation, privacy, democracy, and our bainstems — then the prospect of Washington making them its special “national champions” must be horrifying. Government should counterweight big business power, these critics contend, not further enable its expansion and influence.

This is not unreasonable analysis. Companies should succeed globally by competitive excellence, not from the protection and subsidy of politicians at home. As Financial Times columnist Rana Foroohar argues in a new piece, “National growth strategies are welcome. National champions are not.”

Yet Foroohar, a frequent Big Tech knocker, frets many advanced economies are embracing the latter, including the United States. She dings President Trump for his “focus … on taking down China rather than rebuilding the US.” And savvy Silicon Valley has played along, [promoting] the idea that breaking up companies like Facebook or Google could mean losing the tech race with China.”

There you have it, really, with that last bit. America’s tech titans are pleading from a place of weakness. These companies are hardly being treated as anything like the crown jewels of the US economy and worthy of special treatment. Just the opposite. Across the political spectrum, politicians are debating the best ways of regulating or breaking them up. It is rapidly become consensus opinion on the left and right that Big Tech is a big problem. So much so, that activists and politicians want to change law and doctrine to make intervention easier.

Does Alphabet-Google really seem on the verge of de facto national champion designation? The EU has hit the search giant with nearly $10 billion in fines over the past three years, including nearly $2 billion last week for anticompetitive behavior. And rather than outrage, American activists and politicians see Europe’s actions — in terms of both competition and data privacy policy — as models to be emulated here at home.

And while Trump did tweet about about previous EU fine against Google, the fines keep coming. Moreover, his recent tweets about Google have hardly been complimentary. He’s slammed it as favoring “Radical Left Democrats,” and “helping China and its military.” Indeed, one administration policy cited by Foroohar as evidence of protectionist drift — pushing allies to eschew business with China’s telecom giant Huawei — does have a plausible national security component. (Nor is it too much to ask for American tech companies to work with government in protecting America.)

Certainly government shouldn’t directly attempt to make big companies bigger by any means other than a creating a pro-growth policy ecology in regulation, infrastructure, and education — not to mention pushing for more open global markets. But bigness isn’t necessarily bad if consumers are benefitting and the companies are still acting like hungry strivers as they invest billions on R&D and search for new markets to compete in or create. Hardly behavior to be punished or feared.