Too big tech and the politics of antitrust

By Caden Rosenbaum

Published:

Countries Not Companies: A Systemic Fear of “Bigness”

To understand how politics and antitrust coexist, it is helpful to put our antitrust statutes in the context of their nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century origins. The first antitrust legislation in the United States was passed at the state level, during a time when state legislators and judges tended to favor small storefronts and local businesses over larger, nationwide corporations. As such, states tended to bring lawsuits against corporations simply because they were too big. That’s not to say these brazen attempts to prop-up small, inefficient businesses were always successful, but the antitrust cases from the nineteenth-century are full of overblown skepticism of industrialization, speculation of downstream harm to consumers, and the transformation of independent businesspersons into “mere servant[s]. . . of a corporation.”

The Political Landscape of Modern Antitrust

On the right, expressions of opposition to tech industry giants like the one Sen. Kennedy made last month are commonplace. Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and Rep. Devin Nunes have all been especially vocal in the past few years, railing against “big tech.” Similarly, President Trump has threatened companies like Google and Facebook with antitrust action, calling them threats to a Democratic society dependent on the free flow of information.

Putting a Check on Political Antitrust

If history is any guide, it is clear that the uptick in political attention toward antitrust and tech companies means antitrust reform and enforcement is inevitable. Indeed, legislators have shown bipartisan support for antitrust reform, and more antitrust litigation is expected to be rolled out in the near future. However, as legislators grapple with the sheer complexity of the problem at hand, it is critical that they balance the global standing of the U.S. and its economy with the proper outcome of antitrust legislation: consumer welfare.

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.