Magazine article The American Conservative

The Rising Tech Giants: They Destroy Jobs, Distort Markets, and Trample on Liberties

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Rising Tech Giants: They Destroy Jobs, Distort Markets, and Trample on Liberties

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: Bill Nitze, though a friend of TAC, is no conservative. Here, the lawyer and technology entrepreneur implores conservatives to join liberals and others who believe the emergence of huge tech "platform" companies poses a threat to individual liberty and must therefore be curtailed. But he goes further, describing the onslaught of technology that almost surely will transform the human experience. Many conservatives will recoil at some of his solutions, but the challenge is real and must be confronted by all of mankind.

Conservatives constantly combat "big government." They oppose regulations and other governmental initiatives that erode individual liberty and undermine the "American way of life" through bureaucratic intrusion. This conservative resistance to the growing power of governmental departments and agencies is understandable. But there is a greater threat to individual liberty and autonomy than the one posed by big government. Conservatives should take note and join the fight.

The threat comes from the growing power of leading technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. These companies destroy jobs through automation. They manipulate people by using data about their purchasing patterns and other aspects of their lives to maximize sales and profits. They produce social media and virtual reality products that are addictive and adversely affect child development and individual autonomy. They also seem bent on building a virtual economy whose intelligence and other capabilities exceed our own.

These companies already dominate their markets. Google controls nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of e-book sales. This spectacular success has created unprecedented wealth and established U.S. leadership in the technologies of the future. But recent misuse of their platforms to influence the 2016 U.S. elections and broader concerns over data privacy, control, and revenue sharing have led some to take a more critical view of these big tech companies. John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator, has joined two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, in sponsoring a bill called the Honest Ads Act, which would subject online political advertising to the same rules of disclosure as ads on television, print, and radio.

Meanwhile, legal scholars such as Zephyr Teachout, Lina Khan, and Michael Shapiro have urged Congress to examine the practices of big tech companies in mergers and acquisitions to determine if they violate U.S. antitrust laws. In September Klobuchar, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, introduced into the committee a bill called the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act, designed to give antitrust enforcers more information on the effects of mergers.

Modern conservatism generally has regarded bureaucratic expertise and the use of governmental regulation as antithetical to individual liberty and autonomy. Federal regulation underpinned by scientific expertise is at the core of the modern administrative state founded by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson at the beginning of the last century to check the rising power of railroads and industrial combines--and also to check their financial enablers such as banker J.P. Morgan. FDR's New Deal further expanded the scope of the administrative state and the role of scientific experts in regulating the economy in response to the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and the environmental laws passed under Richard Nixon continued the process. This great expansion of the state's economic role was motivated by a desire to protect the public's interest in greater economic opportunity, better working conditions, a social safety net, public health and safety, protection of nature, and a clean environment. …

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