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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

OPINION:

Why do we have the highest inflation since 1982? Despite what President Biden and some of our liberal lawmakers want you to believe, it’s not the fault of America’s leading tech innovators or antitrust law.

The 40-year high for inflation has more to do with unprecedented government spending, pandemic caused labor shortages, supply chain problems and an inadequate response from the Biden administration to deal with these challenges.


Mr. Biden and his allies in the Senate, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, are making scapegoats of tech companies and promoting a crackdown that would weaken America’s tech leadership, punish success and put the government in charge of picking winners and losers and micromanaging companies.

Changing antitrust law will do nothing to fix the administration’s mismanagement of the economy, either. Larry Summers, former President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary who also served as director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama, likened suggestions that antitrust could soothe inflation to “science denial.”

Regardless, liberals in Washington are continuing to push their fallacious agenda. Ms. Klobuchar’s misnamed bill, “The American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” is the vehicle for this crackdown, and it is heading for a quick markup. But this bill hasn’t even had a hearing to address, for example, the many privacy and cybersecurity concerns, as well as many of the bill’s vague prohibitions and severe penalties that could have unintended consequences on small businesses.

Senators should hold a hearing to listen to these many small businesses and their fears. For example, the bill will jeopardize third-party sellers on Amazon’s marketplace, and small businesses could lose access to many of their customers.

Do Republicans really want to hand over new regulatory powers to unelected left-wing activists such as Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission who could change the many products and services American consumers and small businesses enjoy and rely upon? If a Democrat like Mr. Summers is concerned that this misguided antitrust crackdown could increase inflation, shouldn’t Republicans be even more concerned? When The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that Ms. Khan’s FTC is coming after businesses of all kinds, shouldn’t we worry this bill impacts more than just tech?

Make no mistake, the Klobuchar bill is a radical departure from our current antitrust law and is intended to be. It abandons over four decades of bipartisan policy, resulting in our innovators leading the world. The nonpartisan consumer welfare standard was primarily established with the scholarship of Judge Robert Bork, a hero of the conservative Federalist Society. Judge Bork sparked the public dialogue about antitrust laws that put consumers first and were designed to take politics out of the law and focus on economic evidence. The consumer welfare standard has been embraced by Republican and Democrat-appointed judges and administrations alike.

Ms. Klobuchar herself has come out against this long-standing bipartisan policy. One of the reasons she has cited for passing her antitrust bills is that she doesn’t like how judges are ruling on antitrust cases, particularly conservative ones. So, the current standards would be thrown out and new sweeping powers given to the Biden administration to regulate the economy — without a hearing on this dramatic change in U.S. economic policy made in such precarious economic times.

The Klobuchar bill also ignores that the current tech market is a hugely competitive ecosystem that constantly changes. Companies dominant one day — such as MySpace — can be quickly eclipsed. TikTok, for example, has now become the world’s most visited site in a dynamic online ecosystem.

The Klobuchar bill essentially adopts the left-wing European Union model of antitrust law that eschews the consumer-focused, nonpartisan approach of Judge Bork. Conservatives should be gravely concerned about following the EU’s antitrust policies, given that they have none of the top 20 tech companies in the world. With nine of the top 20 tech companies coming out of China, they are nipping at our heels, and the last thing Congress should do is make it easier for them to take the lead.

Before the U.S. adopts Europe’s big-government approach to antitrust that has historically destroyed competition, more hearings and detailed discussions are needed — particularly as this attack is on the very companies that have gotten us through the pandemic and will be essential partners in helping us recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

• The Honorable Barbara Comstock is a former state and congressional representative from Virginia and a senior adviser at Baker Donelson.


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