This opinion-editorial first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The Capitolist republished it with the permission of the author.
An epic debate is unfolding among Republicans about our vision for the nation. While I support strengthening our governing philosophy by putting it through the crucible, I’m concerned by what appears to be the jettisoning of the principles that made the GOP great. Chief among them is our commitment to free markets and competition.
While the Democratic Party has never met a problem it doesn’t want to address with federal intervention, the GOP correctly sees government’s role as limited. It’s disconcerting then to see members of Ronald Reagan’s party join the left’s ranks, cheering as a more muscular Washington settles scores against U.S. businesses. This is doubtless a welcome shift for competitors looking to sic regulators on their rivals, but it’s bad news for the millions of Americans who are stuck with a diminished standard of living.
The consumer’s will is increasingly being trampled by steps such as the antitrust lawsuits the federal government and state attorneys general have brought against tech companies. Consider the Justice Department’s suit against Google and the Federal Trade Commission’s suit against Amazon. Both cases allege the companies have maintained unlawful monopoly power over their peers. Yet both cases are built on complaints from competitors—not consumers—who lost fair and square and are now crying foul to government referees.
The government must protect consumers from harm, and no company should be immune from appropriate penalties and remedies. Most of the costly lawsuits targeting tech companies, however, aren’t being initiated for those purposes. They have been launched because various businesses and politicians think successful companies are “too big.”
Competition in products and services among these tech companies abounds. Whether customers are shopping for a cellphone, buying something online, or deciding which search engine to use, more choices exist than ever before. We aren’t living in the late 19th century when antitrust laws were created to combat real monopolies like Standard Oil and U.S. Steel. If policymakers want to update these laws, Congress may do so through legislation, not by egging on activist regulators.
To see the consequences of government intervention in the market, look across the Atlantic Ocean. When was the last time anyone talked about the growing European tech industry? Europe’s heavy-handed approach—particularly in antitrust actions against businesses—is stifling innovation. Companies there are becoming risk-averse and reluctant to offer new products or acquire new businesses for fear of burdensome regulation.
This same interventionist philosophy is gaining traction in the U.S., where antitrust activists who have crusaded against tech companies for years are spearheading government lawsuits. While Big Tech is under the microscope now, the telecommunications, retail, automotive and energy industries will be next if these zealots have their way.
It isn’t the government’s business to pick winners and losers and dictate consumer choices. And it certainly isn’t the business of the Republican Party.
George P. Bush is the former land commissioner in Texas and the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush.