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Apple recently announced that it would shutter a division within the company that aimed to mass-produce automobiles. Underlying the initiative was the belief that automobiles are but computers on wheels, and as Apple is by many accounts foremost in the computer space, it was only a matter of time before it could transfer its core genius to exquisite, wildly advanced cars.

Except that it wasn’t so simple. It turns out cars are quite the engineering marvel themselves, and Apple lacked the immense, in-house engineering know-how necessary to do for automobiles what it’s done for computers, smartphones, and watches.  

Apple’s failure in the car space comes to mind as a bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers works to shamefully suffocate TikTok. Rep. Mike Gallagher et al are attempting to fast-track legislation that would ban TikTok from U.S. app stores unless it severs its ties to what these lawmakers allege is a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled ByteDance. For readers who don’t know, ByteDance is the Beijing-based technology company that created TikTok, and protectionist U.S. politicians claim that TikTok is, in the words of Gallagher, “controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.” The latter is said to be a problem because, according to Gallagher yet again, TikTok “is close to becoming the dominant media company in the U.S.”

All of which requires a pause. The basis for the proposed legislative ban on TikTok is already discredited by the information in the above paragraph, but before addressing the obvious it’s useful to backtrack to Apple.

Steve Jobs returned to a hurtling-toward-bankruptcy Apple in 1997. So wrecked was the company that no less than Michael Dell observed that if it was his choice, “I’d shut the company down and give the money back to shareholders.” Luckily Jobs persisted, and a year later the elegant iMac was released amid much fanfare. A little over three years later, in October of 2001, the transformative iPod was released. Consider the timing.

Just a month before terrorists had attacked the U.S. in savage fashion. Right or wrong, negative rhetoric regarding nations in the Middle East (and their people) was at a fever pitch. Jobs descended from Syrian immigrants, and Syria was associated with an Axis of Evil bent on the destruction of the U.S. Imagine if lawmakers had made his ancestry an issue at a time when ancestry was an issue such that Jobs (and others of Middle Eastern background) had been required to separate themselves from Apple.

If so, it’s not even a speculation that Apple would not be the company it is today, if around at all. Without Jobs and the remarkable talent that he brought with him to revive Apple, there’s no chance that it becomes what it becomes. At corporations, and technology corporations in particular, it’s all about the people arriving at work each day. If you remove Jobs et al from the Apple equation, you’re almost certainly not reading what you’re reading on an iPhone, iWatch, or Apple laptop. If you doubt this, consider yet again Apple’s unsuccessful foray into cars that it had no previous expertise in the manufacture of. Human capital is everything.  

Please keep this in mind with TikTok top of mind. Lawmakers are demanding a separation of this most remarkable entrepreneurial innovation from its owners. Except that it was and is the genius within ByteDance that made TikTok, TikTok. Forcibly separate TikTok from the brilliant minds who saw a social media future beyond Facebook and Twitter, and you no longer have the expertise that has made TikTok one of the most popular apps not just in the U.S., but in the world. Put more bluntly, if you require divestment of TikTok from its creators, you destroy it. See Steve Jobs and Apple, or Apple and automobiles, if you’re still confused.

All of which brings us back to the specious assumptions underlying the U.S. political class’s shameful attempts to destroy TikTok. If we ignore that U.S. politicians are employing the very authoritarianism to bring down TikTok that they decry in the CCP, we can’t ignore that TikTok’s massive popularity stateside is the surest sign that it’s not controlled by the CCP. Centuries of empirical evidence, and centuries of rhetoric from the American right that expands on the aforementioned empirical evidence, remind us that what government touches, it weakens. Always.

The simple truth is that we would never have heard of TikTok if it were a front for the CCP, and if it is now, there’s no need for U.S. lawmakers to ban what market forces will soon put out to pasture on their own. In short, the legislation proposed by U.S. politicians amounts to a thuggish attempt to crush a company whose only “offense” is doing the American thing, and innovating. How very un-American for American politicians to attempt to destroy TikTok.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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