Google’s brilliant staff are now spending some of their intellect thinking up ways to sic the government on Microsoft, which is once again forced to give consumers a less useful product in order to stave off further regulation. The Post’s previous story on Google’s complaint called it ”allegations by Google that Microsoft’s new operating system unfairly disadvantages competitors.”
Bingo! That’s what antitrust law is really about–not protecting consumers, or protecting competition, but protecting competitors. Competitors should go produce a better product in the marketplace, but antitrust law sometimes gives them an easier option–asking the government to hobble their more successful competitor.
Recall the famous decision of Judge Learned Hand in the 1945 Alcoa antitrust decision. Alcoa, he wrote, “insists that it never excluded competitors; but we can think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organization, having the advantage of experience, trade connection and the elite of personnel.” In other words, Alcoa’s very skill at meeting consumers’ needs was the rope with which it was hanged.
I look forward to more competition between Microsoft and Google–and the next innovative company–to bring more useful products to market. But I’m saddened to realize that the most important factor in America’s economic future — in raising everyone’s standard of living — is not land, or money, or computers; it’s human talent. And some part of the human talent at another of America’s most dynamic companies is now being diverted from productive activity to protecting the company from political predation and even to engaging in a little predation of its own. The parasite economy has sucked in another productive enterprise, and we’ll all be poorer for it.
I regard Google as the good guys on at least some of the issues their lobbyists are likely to focus on. But the broader point is spot on: these lobbying battles are a massive waste of talent. The more power Washington has over the technology industry, the more money companies will spend ensuring that that power is used to help, rather than hurt them. This is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to think twice before enacting legislation that will expand government power.