Congress should fight bad policies, not kill platforms

Nashville’s business community has overcome more challenges in the past year than most would ever expect to face in a lifetime.

Beginning in March, with the devastating tornadoes that ripped through east Nashville, dozens of the city’s small businesses faced what seemed like an insurmountable event. Before they could even pick up the pieces, businesses were hit again with the pandemic.

Then came the Christmas Day bombing in the heart of the downtown historic district, leaving another 40-plus businesses damaged or destroyed. Even today, many businesses are still struggling to rebuild.

These challenges would be enough for any business owner to walk away from their dreams. Yet, many in our community have risen to the challenge and have done everything they can to keep their doors open for business. Optimism has remained strong.

The Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee polled business leaders last fall and found that two-thirds expect the state’s economy to do better than the U.S. economy. And that optimism has played out. Recent data released by the Secretary of State showed that Tennessee businesses were launching at an unprecedented rate coming out of the pandemic, up 55% in the first quarter of 2021.

Small businesses depend on tech platforms

You would think that our elected officials would be doing everything they can to fuel this enthusiasm. Yet, at multiple levels of government, many politicians have decided to add more degrees of difficulty to what is still a fraught economic situation. First came last year’s historic property tax increase in Nashville, asking businesses to shoulder thousands in higher taxes while still limiting capacity to serve customers.

And now Congress sees fit to break down many of the platforms that have kept our small businesses thriving when it felt like the whole world was coming down around us. Last week, in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress introduced five bills aimed at taking on companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple.

Many of these efforts are grounded in Republicans’ frustration over perceived censorship and Democrats’ belief that these platforms have become too big.

Regardless of how anyone feels about these companies themselves, it’s important to recognize the profound consequences these proposals would have on Tennessee small businesses, nearly 20,000 of which are barely a few months old. Our small business community relies on these platforms to identify, connect with, and sell to consumers. “Breaking up” these companies won’t empower small businesses, but will instead kneecap their ability to grow in the current market.

For example, one proposal is particularly aimed at Google and its ability to share data across its various platforms. Imagine you’re a tourist here in Nashville looking for a place to grab dinner and you search for hot chicken near you.

Google Maps shows you restaurants near you, allows you to reserve a table, hail an Uber there, or if you are comfy in your sweatpants, have it delivered straight to your door. Limiting tech companies from offering these services to small businesses will raise the cost of advertising, decrease their revenue, and potentially drive some of them out of business entirely. And for us as consumers, we’d be left with fewer choices and higher prices.

Congress’s approach to tech companies could hurt economic recovery

Nashville and Tennessee business owners have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past year, but our city and state are resilient and are bouncing back.

What we shouldn’t do is make it harder for small business owners by breaking up the main platforms they use to reach their customers.

Sadly, this short-sighted approach is what Congress is proposing.

Whether they realize it or not, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to our post-pandemic economic recovery.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.