Judd Gregg: Sen. Graham, Mark Zuckerberg and the monopoly question

Judd Gregg: Sen. Graham, Mark Zuckerberg and the monopoly question
© Greg Nash

When Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday MORE (R-S.C.) postulated that Facebook did not have any competition and was in fact a monopoly during a Senate committee hearing last week, the company’s CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFight looms over national privacy law Facebook teaming with nonprofits to fight fake election news China may be copying Facebook to build an intelligence weapon MORE responded: “It doesn’t feel that way to me.”

This was not only one of the most entertaining exchanges during the interrogation of Zuckerberg; it was also one of the most important.

The question came from a mindset that is caught in a different time and place.

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It was based in thoughts from the time of “trust busters.” It was founded on a crusade that stretched through the last century, aimed at protecting consumers and everyday people from corporate titans.

 

The goal was to have an economy in which no sector could be manipulated or dominated by a single business entity.

This approach continues to resonate today as the Justice Department aggressively reviews a number of mergers of corporations that dominate certain arenas of American commerce.

Because of this strong strain of anti-trust sentiment in our political system, it was logical that Sen. Graham would ask his question.

Is Facebook a monopoly? The question is equally applicable to Google, with its preeminent position in the world of search.

But the question itself misses salient and critical factors.

It is encrusted in a logic that is no longer useful in today’s world.

Facebook and Google are not merely traditional domestic companies with globally used products.

They transcend that concept.

We have always had domestic American companies that have had massive global influence and reach, such as Coca-Cola, Boeing and Exxon.

But Facebook and Google are of a different magnitude.

Are the present rules about monopolies and anti-competitive practices, as used by Congress and the regulatory forces it has created — like the Federal Trade Commission and the Department Of Justice’s anti-trust division — even applicable to these twenty-first century giants?

Probably not.

The question asked by Sen. Graham simply did not go far enough into the role played by these two companies.

It did not continue on, to cross the threshold into the new world of companies whose global impact is entirely different from what has gone before.

These two companies specifically do not function under the old rules because their ubiquitous involvement in the world of social media and the internet is entirely outside the classic experience of trade and commerce.

They are on a different plane, right across the globe.

They are intertwined with the day-to-day activities not only of a majority of Americans but also with literally billions of people.

Zuckerberg pointed out last week that Facebook receives one hundred billion hits each day. This is light years removed from any other form of commerce in world history.

Our domestic rules — and especially our traditional concepts of how to regulate our market economy — cannot effectively respond to such a new order.

Sen. Graham should have continued on to ask other questions.

How can we, as a government, ensure that the dominance that Facebook and Google have obtained in international commerce as American-based enterprises be enhanced and protected?

How can we ensure this American advantage in technology, which so benefits our position in the world, is not eroded by the envy of the European Union, or the technological savvy of Indian developers, or the state-sponsored protectionism of China?

Do Facebook and Google have competition?

Absolutely.

It is clear that other nations see their dominance as a threat.

It would be an act of immense self-flagellation for our government to apply the ideas of the past to regulate these enterprises of the future. Doing so would only undermine the extraordinary advantage that these types of companies give us as a nation.

If Sen. Graham and his colleagues want to step into this arena, they can of course address the issue of privacy.

But they should also look to assist Google and Facebook as they confront the government forces from the EU and China that wish to crush them.

It is always easy for members of Congress to succumb to the siren song of simplistic sound bites rather than acknowledge and deal with complex issues.

This seems to be what is happening in their approach to these enterprises.

If they are not more thoughtful in their approach, they will damage our nation’s competitiveness and undermine our prosperity.

We want American entrepreneurs and American-based companies to generate the structure on which the internet is built, and is dependent.

We need to have the leadership in these areas come from us, not from any other nation or federation.

Do we really want Americans to have to turn to China or India or Europe to find a site on the internet, or friends to communicate with, or to participate in the next amazing expansion of technology?

To give away our advantage in this brave new world in the name of some dated definition of “monopoly” would be a fool’s mission — and a great disservice to our people going forward.

Congress needs to adjust its views to address the critical role these companies play for our nation and our people.

It should not be applying processes of oversight that come from a very different time and place.

These are simply not viable in the world that Facebook and Google have created.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.