Congress Lecturing on 'Monopoly' Brought New Meaning to Absurd
Wednesday on Capitol Hill felt a little like an episode of “Super Friends.” The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust held a hearing on the market power of tech companies and featured an all-star panel of witnesses. Testifying before the subcommittee were Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Sadly, the members of the subcommittee treated this hearing with about as much seriousness as they seem to treat everything else these days: not much at all. Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) set the tone for the hearing by comparing the CEOs to the King of England and the members of the subcommittee to the founding fathers in a warped metaphor if there ever was one. Cicilline also declared these CEOs to be “emperors” who “have the power to pick winners and losers in the economy.” The irony of this statement coming from a government official seeking to regulate the market cannot be understated.
The entire spectacle was a perfect illustration of why the federal government should have absolutely no part in dictating best practices to these businesses, or any other for that matter. Whether it was the absurdity of some of the accusations leveled, the ignorance displayed by members of the subcommittee, or the calm and collected contrast provided by the CEOs, it became clear that any attempt by Congress to meddle in the market would be a disaster.
One of the best examples of this was the complete butchering of the word “monopoly” throughout the hearing. For the entire day, its functional definition as far as members of the subcommittee were concerned was “a big company that I don’t like.” The hearing was not intended to demonstrate that any one of these companies had exclusive control over the supply of any commodity. Rather, it was a bipartisan condemnation of the level of success each man had been able to obtain.
However, Bezos said it best in his opening statement, “Just like the world needs small companies, it also needs large ones.” It is hard to make the argument that Amazon has not been an overwhelming force for good in the world, helping deliver just about anything right to your door. Ignoring this, members of the subcommittee decided to focus on the demise of companies that could neither replicate the success of Amazon nor match their scale.
One has to wonder why this would be considered a knock against Amazon. If a CEO is not running his or her business with the goal of being better than the competition and taking up more and more market share, then that business will never be as efficient or successful as it could be. Lawmakers and consumers alike should delight at the size of these companies. It means they are striving to provide the most comprehensive, efficient services possible.
Zuckerberg also consistently hit out at the premise that any one of the four companies represented was a monopoly. He even indirectly pointed out the irony of calling his company a monopoly at the very moment he is testifying alongside three of his biggest competitors. He noted that Facebook relies on Apple for access to their App Store to compete with some of Apple’s services. Facebook competes vigorously with Amazon and Google in the digital ad market and with YouTube (a member of the Google family of companies) in online video content.
Another notion peddled by the subcommittee was that it is somehow anti-competitive for these companies to adopt some of the practices of its competitors. If you noticed the inherent contradiction in that last sentence, you are not alone. This is how the free market operates. Businesses seek to continually improve upon one another to gain the upper hand and provide better services for consumers. Adopting aspects of your competitors’ business model isn’t theft. It’s improvement and we are all better for it in the end.
All this indicates that the subcommittee dedicated to antitrust issues is not even aware of what the purpose of antitrust is. It’s not to protect competitors, but to protect consumers. Each member of the subcommittee, at one point or another, sought to come to the aid of inferior businesses that cannot match the success of the four on the panel. However, none were able to demonstrate any harm done to consumers.
The fact remains, no one is forced to use Amazon, Facebook, Google, or Apple products. Millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide nonetheless choose to do so because they provide fantastic services that people enjoy. Just because millions have come to the same conclusion does not make anyone, least of all the federal government, entitled to tell these CEOs how to run their businesses. We cannot be in the habit of punishing success.
Instead of dragging these CEOs to Capitol Hill to defend the success for which they should actually be applauded, Congress should leave them alone to continue to run wildly successful companies that energize our economy. Otherwise, members of Congress will begin to see actual harm to American consumers and it will be far from the fault of wealthy businessmen. It will lie squarely at their own feet.