At Townhall.com, Kurt Schlichter has a piece titled Conservatives Must Regulate Google And All of Silicon Valley Into Submission. The piece captures the spirit of Trumpism admirably, by turning a company’s ability to engage in free enterprise into a privilege that can and should be withheld when the company does something to tick off someone in power.
What follows is a respectful fisking of Schlichter’s piece. (No, not a fisting. I said “fisking.”)
Schlichter starts by citing the actions of Google in firing James Damore — a firing that most conservatives agree (I think) was wrong:
Google’s fascist witch-burning of an honest engineer for refusing to bow down at the altar of politically correct lies was the final straw, an unequivocal warning to conservatives that there’s a new set of rules, and that we need to play by them. First they came for the tech geeks; we’re next. That means Republicans at both the federal and the state level need to rein in the skinny-jeaned fascist social justice warriors who control Silicon Valley – and, to a growing extent, our society – through the kind of crushing regulation of these private business that we conservatives used to oppose.
What sort of regulation does Schlichter have in mind? Well, the specific nature of the regulation is almost beside the point, actually. Schlichter’s central argument here is: we have government power and we should use it against these tech companies because they are leftists. As always, when people on the right propose doing something immoral, the justification offered is: the left did it first!
Yeah, I know that heavily regulating private businesses is not “free enterprise,” but I don’t care. See, “free enterprise” is a bargain, and they didn’t keep their part of it, and I see no moral obligation for us to be played for saps and forgo using our political power to protect our interests in the face of them using theirs to disembowel us. I liked the old rules better – a free enterprise system confers huge benefits – but it was the left that chose to nuke them.
If I wanted to distill economic Trumpism to a single phrase, I could not do better than: “This is not free enterprise, but I don’t care.” It is Trump’s answer to companies that threaten to lower their costs (and thus prices to consumers) by moving portions of their operations overseas. It is Trump’s answer to foreign countries who provide cheap and plentiful goods to our citizens. The hidden assumption here is that the companies are the principal actors that benefit from free enterprise.
The assumption is false, though. The primary beneficiaries of free enterprise are consumers. We don’t reject socialism primarily because it hurts companies. We reject socialism because it is ruinous to the consumer. It makes the average person’s life far worse. And capitalism makes the average person’s life better.
Schlichter’s suggested retaliatory act #1 is to break up the companies because they’re “too darn big.” The idea of threatening to use antitrust laws to break up a company because you don’t like its political message is, of course, not new with Schlichter. President Trump himself has threatened to do the same to Amazon as retaliation for things said about him in the Washington Post. But monopolies are good — as long as they are formed through free enterprise, and not through government privilege. If you don’t understand this, I won’t convince you in a short blog post. It requires a more extensive discussion of the nature of free enterprise and consumer choice. You can start your education by clicking the link just provided and reading Leonard Read on the subject.
Let’s move on to Schlichter’s suggested retaliatory act #2:
[W]e need legislation – at both the federal and individual red state levels – that will impose staggering, gut-wrenching monetary penalties for not only the active misuse of this information, but even for the mere failure to safeguard it – any failure to safeguard it. If the info gets out, Google gets slammed – hard. Call it the Citizens’ Data Protection Act – gosh, who could oppose protecting citizens’ data? – and impose huge civil and even criminal penalties for any disclosure of private information about a private citizen. Yes, that’s a strict liability standard – if a citizen’s information gets out for any reason, Google pays through the nose regardless of fault. Now there’s an incentive to make sure our data is secure.
Holy unintended consequences, Batman! As with the rest of the piece, I’m not 100% sure if Schlichter is actually serious or not. But if he is, his piece does not take into account the likely reaction of any tech company facing such a regulation, and how that would affect us. Would you provide an email service if this rule existed, making possible ruinous sanctions against your company? No, you wouldn’t. If such a rule were promulgated, say goodbye to email. At a minimum, email would become so expensive and burdensome to use that most people would go back to snail mail, which would be a body blow to the economy.
Also from the “unintended consequences” pile comes this idea:
[H]ow about the Algorithm Transparency Act, a law that bans these big Internet companies from putting their fingers on the scale of discourse and requires them to make available online all of their operating algorithms?
Do I really have to explain the incentive-smashing character of this proposed regulation? Or what it would do to your daily life if companies faced such a regulation? Incentives matter. Take away a company’s incentive to do any act, and the company will not do that act. And the algorithms Schlichter is citing here make all our lives better in countless ways that we have come to take for granted. We assume companies will continue to work to improve our lives.
Not if we try to ruin them because we don’t like their politics.
Again, perhaps the column is meant as pure “let’s smash the left” entertainment, and Schlichter doesn’t really mean any of it. The problem is, Trump’s protectionism and proposed retaliation against companies is no joke — and people still seem to support it. So, joke or no, it pays dividends to actually stop and think about the effect that the regulations proposed in this column would have.
If you don’t like the politics of Google or Facebook, don’t threaten them with government power. Go start a competitor with more conservative politics. And don’t whine about how that’s impossible. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t whine about how IBM was a behemoth that could never be supplanted. They just went out and created companies that supplanted it.
Go and do likewise, gents. The money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours.