As Regulators Investigate Big Tech, Has the Antitrust Consensus Disintegrated?
ASPEN—At the Technology Policy Institute’s annual Aspen Forum, the premier tech policy conference in the U.S., experts discussed major developments in antitrust policy spurred by investigations into Big Tech in Europe and the U.S. and a new activist approach from the Federal Trade Commission.
The panel, titled “Major Developments in Antitrust Policy,” and moderated by TPI Senior Fellow Thomas Lenard, featured University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Dennis Carlton, Yale School of Management Professor Judy Chevalier, Deutsche Telekom Senior Vice President of Group Public and Regulatory Affairs Wolfgang Kopf, Chief Economist at Google Hal Varian, and Global Antitrust Institute Executive Director Joshua Wright.
Here are some key quotes from the discussion:
“Silicon Valley Bank does a survey of small firms. And what they found is 50% of them, 50% of the small firms see their exit opportunity as acquisition, not as IPO. … [I]f you make exit harder, you’re going to reduce entry … And if you go telling Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, whatever, they cannot compete to hire a five-person firm, that is a perversion of the whole idea of making innovation, because talent is the critical factor.” – Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google
“[A] lot of entrepreneurs, especially in high tech, can come up with great ideas, but then they may not know how to monetize it. And that’s what a lot of these big companies help them do. And you remove that possibility because of a merger policy that doesn’t allow nascent competitors to be purchased.” – Dennis Carlton, Professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business
“[Codifying the consumer welfare standard] is a horrible idea. … I think codifying into a sentence a hundred years of sort of common law of antitrust is just asking for trouble. … If we think they’re not winning enough … we can talk about budget for the agencies, et cetera. But the claim that there’s something systematically malfunctioning in the antitrust laws, when the agencies win, you know, 90% of these cases—maybe that means they ought to be bringing more.” – Joshua Wright, Executive Director of Global Antitrust Initiative
“I think the U.S. policy in the past 40 years was rather role model than a failure. I’m not sure about the, the past six to seven years where some of the concentration was not tackled, but comparing to with the European approach, which was always pretty interventionist and following also per se rules until 2003, I think the much more economic approach in the U.S. was the role model for the rest of the world.” – Wolfgang Kopf, Senior Vice President of Group Public and Regulatory Affairs at Deutsche Telekom
“When I read many of the criticisms of the consumer welfare standard that have been put forth, many of them are saying, ‘well … current antitrust doesn’t think about innovation, or it doesn’t think about the future effects,’ but the future effects and innovation that’s part of welfare and consumer welfare. So I think it’s just a straw man version of the consumer welfare standard that’s being attacked, not actually the consumer welfare standard.” – Judy Chevalier, Professor at Yale School of Management
You can read a full transcript of the remarks here and see the full video here. In addition, see below a live illustration created during the panel by Karina Branson, a graphic recorder and proprietor of ConverSketch. Her sketches of every session are part of what makes the Aspen Forum such a unique experience for attendees.
Subscribe to our podcast, Two Think Minimum, for the perfect dose of tech policy expertise for your morning commute. Recently, the podcast was honored by FedTech Magazine in its list of “30 Federal IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2022.”