Economy & Business

Warren Would Break Up Big Tech. Conservatives, Make Your Pitch.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg enters the office of Senator Josh Hawley while meeting with lawmakers to discuss “future internet regulation” on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Mark Zuckerberg may find that he needs his potential allies on the right more than his unappeasable enemies on the left.

Like many on the right whose opinion of the man derives largely from the 2010 movie The Social Network, I dislike Mark Zuckerberg and recall with fondness the years before social media bestrode the narrow world and turned a significant fraction of my fellow Americans into intellectually stunted narcissists. Unlike Elizabeth Warren, however, I’m smart enough to recognize that my prejudices are callow, superstitious, and ungrounded in fact. Warren, having risen beyond her natural station as the assistant manager of a particularly disobliging DMV office, has in recent months attempted to gain political advantage by quarrelling publicly with Zuckerberg, threatening, in a March policy unveiling, to “make big, structural changes to the tech sector.” Conservatives observing the ongoing exchange between the pair ought to think strategically, put aside our inborn suspicion of Zuckerberg and his ilk, and ready ourselves to profit from the fight.

Though Zuckerberg has not yet denounced in its entirety the populist-progressive movement that Warren represents, he made national headlines last week with his claim, in a leaked audio recording, that an Elizabeth Warren presidency would “suck” for Facebook. Rather than direct a lackey to write a mollifying press release (as would certainly have been the strategy of, say, Joe Biden), Warren responded to Zuckerberg’s concerns with something of a war whoop, taking to Twitter to declare that “what would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.” Zuckerberg’s fear, in brief, appears to be that the attempt of a Warren administration “to break up the [tech] companies” would place Facebook in the unenviable position of filing “a major lawsuit against our own government.” Warren’s response, meanwhile, has been to cede the point, gird herself for battle, and — in the style of the president she both despises and resembles — launch a provocative salvo by openly mocking her opponent.

To borrow the language of Zuckerberg’s industry, this looks like a market that could use a bit of disruption.

Much of the confusion in American political life is a result of the fact that organizations and individuals are often slow to recognize their obvious political allies. The NFL, for example, ought to have grasped in about two seconds that the bulk of its audience hated Colin Kaepernick’s national-anthem protest and acted to quash it when the matter first arose. Instead, desperate to avoid a week of bad headlines, the league allowed the saga to drag on interminably, poisoning two seasons and alienating the very people who stand between football and annihilation. Progressives will always hate the violent, “racist,” vaguely Trumpian National Football League, and many openly seek its destruction. Conservatives are inclined to love the NFL if only it will stop spitting in our faces. As a matter of sheer self-preservation, football ought to seek the approval of its friends rather than make futile eyes at its enemies.

As with professional football, so with the country’s university system. A law awarding “free” public college to the citizenry would do no harm to Harvard and Yale, which could operate indefinitely on the returns from their endowments alone. Obscurer private colleges, however, would be ruined by such a giveaway, as the student dollars on which they rely would quickly cease to pour in. (As many a university administrator has remarked, “We can’t compete with free.”) Consequently, while the workforces at Ivy League schools should feel at liberty to join contemporary Democrats in pursuit of the dictatorship of the proletariat, employees at universities such as mine — academically solid, reasonably priced, and, yes, tuition-dependent — should throw themselves at the very feet of Republicans, “lest in the battle [they] be an adversary to us,” to quote the Book of 1 Samuel. Whether my colleagues at home and across the nation are following this advice, I leave for the reader to guess.

While arguments in the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” style are necessarily one-dimensional — suggesting, as they do, that voters should shape their politics to a reductionist understanding of their economic situations — it is often the case that something really is the matter. Indeed, the Warren–Zuckerberg kerfuffle is a prime example of the phenomenon. Republicans dislike Facebook and the other tech giants because those companies wantonly discriminate against conservative points of view. Progressives dislike them because progressives deplore all innovation that happens outside their control, as well as invention generally apart from that which collects a union due or aborts a fetus with greater efficiency. (If Obama’s creed was “You didn’t build that,” Warren’s is “You built it, and we’re annoyed that you did.”) One of these rifts is easily mended. The tech firms must simply practice the viewpoint neutrality that they preach. The other fracture can be healed only if Facebook et al. become in fact what some have suggested they look like in theory: public utilities owned by the people (i.e., Elizabeth Warren) and regulated for the people’s (i.e., Democrats’) good. Whatever Mark Zuckerberg and his friends want for their companies, it can’t possibly be that.

It is unlikely that Facebook will respond to last week’s quarrel by filling the Trump 2020 coffers or bumping Ben Shapiro to the top of everyone’s feed. Nor is it probable that conservatives will soon forget Silicon Valley’s sins against right-of-center thinkers and ideas. But no matter. Until five minutes ago, conservative Americans believed in economic freedom, corporate resourcefulness, and a hands-off regulatory approach. We will do so again one day. When we do, Mark Zuckerberg may find that he needs his potential allies on the right more than his unappeasable enemies on the left. Let us prepare for such a moment, and welcome him with open arms.


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