We’re just weeks away from the “formal” start of the 2022 election season — as if the politicking ever ends — and it’s always good to have an easy target to flog as this bunch of do-nothings, proud obstructionists, and performative liars heads home as Congress goes into recess.
This time around, in addition to the usual suspects there’s another major whipping boy on the agenda: Big Tech.
All of this would be nothing more than the usual sad circus of clowns lying about the Big Lie except for the fact that the Big Tech boogeyman provides such an irresistible and wonderfully villainous distraction from their inaction. Virtually every politician in D.C., on both sides of the aisle, has agreed to hate on and incessantly attack the FAAMG five.
The Dems have their traditional grievances, mainly concerns about monopolistic injuries to competition and small businesses, and the sale of consumer data. The loudest Republicans are all a dither about supposed suppression of free speech and the alleged censoring of conservative online discussions concerning anti-vax information. Unfortunately, to make matters worse and even more damaging to the country’s competitive prospects, President Biden just piled on the bandwagon with a 72-item bill of particulars directing more than a dozen federal agencies to do “something” to change the laws, increase the regulation, improve the scrutiny, and otherwise stem the awful tide of growth, innovation and prosperity which we’ve seen over the last two decades in the tech sector.
The unavoidable implication of Biden’s program is that the Federal Trade Commission and other regulators will now be free (without clear guidelines or standards) to try to invent restrictions on the fly. They want to abruptly rescind and interfere with existing and long-established understandings regarding anti-competitive market behaviors, mainly because Congress itself hasn’t done a thing to address any of these growing and legitimate concerns for years.
As a serial tech entrepreneur, and even believing that much of this latest drama and BS will come to nothing, it still concerns me to repeatedly hear the entire discussion reduced to the same old tired and simplistic argument that “big is bad.” All the major tech giants began as tiny and insignificant startups and fought for years to overcome existing competitors, antiquated and anti-competitive laws, and other impediments, including skeptical and actively hostile regulators and all manner of local politicians firmly in the pockets of the industry incumbents.
No one thinks that it’s likely to be any easier today to achieve the levels of success of Apple (b.1976), Amazon (b.1994), Google (b.1998), and Facebook (b.2004), but most of these giants initially emerged in the massive and imposing shadow of Microsoft (b.1975), the Evil Empire of Redmond. Somehow, they survived and thrived. Microsoft is now inexplicably regarded by the media and millions of others as some kind of harmless and benign force for good, unless you happen to be an anti-vaxxer concerned about the little chips being inserted into your bloodstream.
This is especially amazing as we watch Microsoft Teams slowly but inevitably drain the life out of Slack — even with Salesforce’s ownership– as a result of the utter entrenchment of Office 365 in the Fortune 500. Teams’ user counts grew from two million in 2017 to 150 million today and its growth and penetration continues to accelerate.
The bottom line has been, and will always be, the same: building new businesses is risky and tough, change is always difficult and consistently resisted, and creating new, disruptive and innovative solutions is challenging, expensive, and not for the faint of heart. The playing field has never been level and never will be. The guys at the top of the hill aren’t going anywhere voluntarily. They’ll invoke every excuse and impose every possible obstacle – legal and regulatory for sure – with the cooperation, connivance and unspoken support of every politician they can enlist.
Size always matters, especially for our major tech firms today because – and make no mistake – they are fighting off and defending our country from massive, continual and increasingly effective attacks from China and Russian in particular. They are using their own resources and funds to do so because our own government is too hidebound, ill-equipped, and politically paralyzed to do much of anything other than make vague and unenforceable threats. If these very same companies don’t continue the battles, or are hobbled and weakened by idiots in D.C., we won’t have to worry much longer about preserving a competitive environment for the little guys. Instead, we’ll be looking at ways to save our entire country from being overrun.
In addition to the external threats, size is also absolutely critical to true and substantial innovation that moves the needle at scale. You can start small and smart, but if you’re going to lead the return of competitive manufacturing capabilities to the U.S. mainland in both the automotive and space industries, you’re going to have to have enormous resources behind you to effectively and quickly scale. It takes big bucks to make the big bets that make a difference ultimately in our lives. Putting aside the phallic implications, there’s no doubt that SpaceX (Tesla), Amazon and Virgin have done more for the expansion and innovative enhancement of the U.S. space program in the last decade than the government itself, notwithstanding the annual expenditures of billions of bureaucratic dollars.
There are undoubtedly anti-competitive practices in the tech universe – it’s a winner-take-all world by its very nature. And being the new little guys on the block in any business is rowing against the tide. The power of platforms and their dominance continues to grow, but they are absolutely the most cost-effective tools to offer, warehouse, and rapidly deliver millions of products created by small local merchants to a global market.
More importantly, is it really fair or even effective to abruptly move the goal posts, change the rules, and enlarge the penalty boxes? Especially when you are looking through a new lens, restating the long-standing theories regarding benefit to the consumer as the regulatory bottom line objective and grandly assuming that somehow, at some future time, for reasons that are unclear and specifically contrary to the expressed objectives of the biggest players, that consumers will cease to benefit from the massive choices, immediate access and delivery, and remarkably lower prices that Amazon in particular has brought to every marketplace it has entered?