On the 29th of July 2020, the CEOs of four of the biggest tech companies in the world were called to testify before the US Congress on antitrust allegations.
Much has been said about the fanfare, the dumb questions, the cadenced responses, truths, half-truths, misdirections, CEO office designs, fringe conspiracies, and just the ridicule of it all. But under the strange limelight shaded by the COVID-19 pandemic, we wonder whether this was even really a congressional antitrust hearing at all.
While Wall Street and Mainstreet and pundits and critics and trolls and keyboard warriors and bored millennials will chime in wisdom and self-importance, most people who are just getting through the day don’t really care. They just want to make the most of what they have, get through the day, and carry on with their lives, whatever it means nowadays.
Our view … Below …
One of the main points of this hearing is how these big tech companies seem to monopolize the tech sector and how they use unfair business practices to stifle and crush potential competitors. As David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee said in his opening statement, “Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”
But how do we define “monopoly”?
Is it merely the fact that you dominate a single market or sector?
In our opinion, a monopoly is not just dominance but also importance. How deeply embedded your products and services are that the world will be disrupted if these are gone.
Say, we wake up tomorrow to find that Apple and Amazon disappeared from the face of the Earth. Imagine the disruption that it would cause. Millions of people are depending on Amazon (love ‘em or hate ‘em) for e-commerce or running their businesses will be affected. Logistics, supply chain, and trading will be affected. Millions of people using Apple products and services will be thrown in disarray. Imagine a world without iPhones, iPads, the App Store. Thousands of app developers will lose a platform for their apps and services. We may recover but it will take a long time.
Now, imagine we wake up tomorrow to find Facebook gone from the face of the Earth; no Instagram or WhatsApp either. Influencers out there would lose their minds over this but if you think about it, while Facebook may be crucial, there are plenty of other alternatives out there. The world may be thrown in disarray but we can recover immediately.
The real concern, for good and otherwise . . .
Should our concern be for American companies doing business globally or should it be China both as a trading partner and a competitor in the global market?
Is this your traditional political manoeuvering to look busy with taxpayers’ money; focus on a mundane issue at the expense of more important challenges?
Why is Microsoft missing? Years ago, Microsoft already passed through the fire. Microsoft was already scrutinised by the government over its alleged monopoly of the PC market. Compared with what Microsoft passed through before, the Big 4’s antitrust hearing seems like a (very very very short) walk in the park. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are just having their steam baths in this hearing.
Let’s not forget Bill Gates. We all know that he is already devoting his time now on his foundation and other philanthropic works and one of the major things they are working on is the vaccine for Coronavirus. Trump’s administration has blundered the handling of this pandemic and there’s no sign of improvement. The government can’t afford to antagonize Bill Gates since he is funding vaccine research and helping in other areas as well. It will not look good for the government especially now that elections are coming.
But let us not kid ourselves. These are not saintly companies. Rightly so or not, they ARE monopolies, in many ways and statistical perspectives.
Speaking of elections, this antitrust hearing is a way of the government to show that they are still in-charge despite all the fiasco of the Trump administration. The government is flexing its muscles and reminding these companies who is the boss here. The government needs something to divert the public’s attention from COVID-19 before the elections (which is still being mishandled amazingly well . . . ).
It is a show. Like most things.
Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have a combined value of $5 trillion; bigger than the GDP of some countries: a very big bull’s eye indeed amidst global economic challenges.
Instead of picking on antitrust issues, maybe the government can better look into issues such as why Amazon is not paying any taxes. Rather ironic for a company owned by the world’s richest person.
In the end, we can all criticize Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook for monopoly, unfair business practices and others but the truth is that we cannot live without them. In this modern age, their services and products are already deeply embedded in different areas of our lives; whether in business, education, entertainment, government, healthcare, and many more. And if you don’t like their services, you always have many other choices.
As that adage goes … best time to plant trees was yesterday and the next best time is today. These companies and others are a mixed bag of luck, smarts, money, right place, and right time, and many ingredients that had to fall into place. Let us not kid ourselves into thinking the myth of the garage startup and the self-made folks. There are always entitlements and privilege behind these great successes: roots, ancestry, dumb luck, country of founding, etc. There are human-driven determinations too for sure, don’t think us cynical.
These companies are not inevitable. The lesson here is perhaps that now is the time when forests of future companies are born soon and thrive soon. As much as we need these companies, just like the Congress trying to waste our taxes, we sorely need better alternatives in the future.
P.S. (Dear “Big” “Tech”): Hello, Can You Hear Me …
For heaven’s sake, it is 2020, why do greater 50% of calls still have to start with this phrase?