Free Markets

Conservatives Pose New Threat to Free Markets and Tech Economy

There's a war on business on the way.


It almost goes without saying that liberal Democrats are hostile to private industry and entrepreneurship, as they introduce tax-raising, regulation-laden, job-killing bills that earn the ire of the hard-pressed business community.

In California, the anti-business rhetoric has gotten particularly vicious, especially regarding tech firms. Guess which far-out-there leftist made the following statements: "Well, size matters, and Silicon Valley's giants are just too darn big. Time to chop them up like old Ma Bell." He also argued that "no corporation should be too big to fail—or to nail" and called for the government to "regulate Google and all of Silicon Valley into submission."

This was a trick question. It wasn't a leftist Democrat who called for nailing businesses. It was conservative writer Kurt Schlichter, in an August column on the conservative Townhall. Since then, other conservatives have touted that idea and that column. For instance, Mark Pulliam, writing on the "pro-Trumpism" American Greatness site, called for the kind of "trust busting" that went on during the Progressive Era.

Pulliam described the top-five tech firms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon) as the new Robber Barons that are "de facto public utilities, with an obligation to operate fairly, responsibly and without viewpoint discrimination." He argued that they have "fallen appallingly short of this ideal" in some of their treatment of conservative websites and noted that they "share a progressive political agenda, as reflected by Apple's $1 million donation" to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It's ironic that some modern conservatives want to use progressive policies to punish private companies because of their progressive politics. If that's the new standard, then there's nothing wrong with leftists using the iron hand of regulation to harass conservative-oriented companies such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A—or that bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

Nailing companies for anything other than law-breaking is a grievous misuse of power. Customers are free to patronize firms that best reflect their preferences and ideals, but none of this is the government's business. Specific problems with how tech companies may have behaved — the firing of an employee who advocated conservative views or any alleged misuse of web-based information — can be handled by existing workplace and privacy laws. Allegations of censorship can be dealt with through public pressure or competition.

The monopoly shtick is laughable. These are indeed massive companies with huge amounts of market power … right now. But they are not monopolies. Competitors are free to take a run at them. Remember when MySpace and the Yahoo search engine reigned supreme? Ten years from now, who knows what companies will be on top?

Some conservatives want to use the public-utility model to bust trusts, yet public utilities are among the few true monopolies because the government has granted them franchises. That's the only path to monopoly these days — when government outlaws the competition. And how would conservatives like it if the "fairness doctrine" approach, by which the government forces media companies to provide alternative views, were applied to their publications?

The conservative movement has long been associated with free markets, but anti-capitalism has also simmered within it. In "The Coming War on Business," the New York Times' columnist David Brooks pointed to the prescient (and controversial) work of the late Samuel Francis, who urged Republicans to reject business-oriented conservatism and embrace the kind of Middle America-style nationalism that ultimately propelled Donald Trump into the presidency.

Francis saw capitalism as something that destroys social institutions and paves the way for cheap, immigrant labor. "Capitalism is at least as much an enemy of tradition as the NAACP or communism itself, for that matter, and those on the 'right' who make a fetish of capitalism generally understand this and applaud it," Francis wrote in a 2000 column titled, "Capitalism the Enemy." He decried capitalist egalitarianism, which "refuses to distinguish between one consumer's dollar and another."

Those of us who champion free markets love that aspect of it. Nothing destroys racism, classism, sexism and every other "ism" better than a system that's open to all comers. Nothing generates new ideas and economic opportunity and, yes, freedom more than the creative destruction of the marketplace. For most businesses, the only color they see is green.

That beats having the government use its immense police power to dismantle private companies that don't do what political leaders want, whether those leaders are left-wing Democrats who despise companies with a religious message or right-wing Republicans who want to punish companies that advocate social-justice issues.

Brooks argues that "the next populism will probably take (Francis') ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer" given that tech firms "stand for everything Francis hated—economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically." Actually, that next populism is here. We need to recognize that the latest assault on free markets is not coming from the Democratic left, but from the Republican right.

This column first appeared in the Orange County Register.