In a period of deep partisan division, a bipartisan consensus seems to have developed between Republicans and Democrats regarding big tech. Elected representatives from both parties have proposed new laws that, if enacted, would rewrite America’s antitrust laws in a way that would combat the perceived malignant influence of big tech companies and prevent them from merging or acquiring competitors. What this growing consensus ignores, however, is the potentially irreparable damage these new measures could cause to American consumers and their economic well being.
Recently, Data Catalyst Institute released a report that debunked many of the myths deployed by lawmakers and critics of big tech who are seeking to impose new antitrust regulations on a sector that has significantly enhanced consumer welfare and delivered innovative goods and services at low cost. Lawmakers need to be aware of such reports, as they highlight the genuine consequences their decisions will have on their constituents.
Last year, lawmakers proposed several bills that would make it substantially more challenging, if not impossible, for mergers and acquisitions to take place. Notably, the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, which is being considered by the House and Senate, would prohibit big tech companies from making important acquisitions. Additionally, the more punitive Ending Platform Monopolies Act would structurally separate big tech firms, even if their size allows them to generate significant consumer welfare.
Among the many important findings in Data Catalyst’s report was the competitive benefits of mergers and acquisitions. As the report notes, acquisitions allow tech companies to “expand into new areas beyond their core businesses,” especially when faced with “increased competition in their core areas.” In effect, the report states that as big tech companies acquire other firms, they are better able to compete and provide consumers with lower prices and more goods.
Evidence of the pro-consumer benefits of mergers and acquisitions can be found in Google’s 2005 purchase of Android for just $50 million. This purchase allowed the search engine to move into smartphone operating systems and challenge Apple’s dominance. Without this acquisition, Apple would have been the only operator, limiting consumer choice and allowing a monopoly to exist in the market.
Data Catalyst Institute is not the only research firm to highlight the dangers of rewriting the rules that govern mergers and acquisitions. Last month, NERA economic consulting found that as a result of mergers and acquisitions, tech giants provide SMEs with a range of “free ad valued services that allow small-to-medium businesses to reach millions of customers at minimal cost and scale their business.” If Congress modifies the current rules, it is likely these free services would be lost, raising prices for both SMEs and, ultimately, consumers. NERA also found that a ban on mergers and acquisitions would cause “venture capital investment in start-up firms would be reduced by 12 percent” due to the elimination of “viable exit options.”
Without the prospect of an acquisition by big tech, entrepreneurs and innovators will be disincentivized from founding future start-ups that deliver groundbreaking goods and services for consumers.
The recent report from the Data Catalyst Institute has added further weight to a growing chorus of research organizations who have highlighted the extreme danger of rewriting America’s antitrust laws. While these bills may be politically popular and reflect a growing legislative consensus, lawmakers must understand they are playing with fire. Perhaps when lawmakers realize this, they will stop proposing bills that could destroy consumer welfare and instead propose more sensible legislation that allows big tech companies to continue generating the numerous consumer benefits every American has become accustomed to.