William Barr’s Attack On ‘Big Tech’ Is the Personification of Self-Unaware

As seen in RealClearMarkets.

Success in politics requires an impressive lack of self-awareness. Think about it. What political types must say on a daily basis, and what they must nod along to routinely vandalizes reason. 

All of this and more came to mind while reading a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece by former Trump administration attorney general William P. Barr. He opened up what was a monument to self-unawareness with a trite, and well-overused line by political types that “Big Tech has too much power.”

Please keep in mind that Barr served in an administration that felt it had the legal right to lock Americans down for weeks at a time beginning in March of 2020. Yet it’s “Big Tech” that has too much power? It’s more realistic to say that absent Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, and other remarkable creations of brilliant minds, most of us would have lost our minds (in addition to the millions of jobs many of us did lose) as a consequence of the horrid use and abuse of power by a presidential administration that Barr was a senior member of.

Of course, Barr’s analysis of “Big Tech” isn’t just problematic for it revealing an impressive lack of self-awareness. It also speaks to a limited understanding of basic business and economics. Please read on.

Barr writes that the present giants of technology “have a chokehold over essential channels of communication and commerce.” And this is a bad thing? Assuming what Barr imagines to be true actually is true, we should be celebrating. If a few big technological names have established dominance, the latter is a signal that a few top-notch companies like the ones mentioned above discovered and met market needs that were formerly not met by the commercial powers that be.

From there, isn’t winning a “chokehold” the point of going into business? Put another way, readers might stop and imagine how successful a technology type would be in the mere pursuit of capital if the business pitch were all about achieving an average outcome. Sorry, but alleged entrepreneurs in pursuit of mediocrity don’t get funded, and thank goodness for that. Pursuit of market dominance isn’t a bad thing as much as it’s an assertion that there’s a huge market out there that existing businesses haven’t discovered. Thank goodness for the discovery of “chokeholds.”

Not only are they evidence of consumers being served much better, the existence of companies that in the words of Barr enjoy dominance “over essential channels” is a lure for even more investment in the previously underserved space. In other words, without wildly successful companies there’s much less investment in the nascent commercial concepts that aim to topple existing giants. Translated, if for some reason you don’t like commercial achievement, cheer for commercial achievement.

Unsurprisingly, Barr disagrees with all of the above. Figure that political types are constrained by the known, while entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial success stories like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are indicative of corporations that served their customers by taking them to the then unknown. This is important with regard to Barr’s political lament about “chokeholds,” and “tech giants” that are “moving into new markets in which products and services depend on access to their digital platforms.” That is so because Barr’s limited view of the business world has him imagining that the goods and services offered by the technology companies of the present represent the frontier of both. See above to understand why what Barr imagines is so untrue, and why, by extension, what has him up in arms is something the non-political needn’t worry about.

The simple truth is that we haven’t scratched the surface of our technological potential, nor will we, not in Barr’s lifetime, not in the lifetimes of many future generations not yet conceived. Missed by Barr is that in focusing on the amazing companies of the present, he’s screaming about the past. Eager to remain relevant, the corporations Barr laughably claims “have too much power” are relentlessly in search of the markets of tomorrow.

Barr pays lip service to the above truth, only to remain imprisoned by his inability to look beyond the present. Because he’s stuck and can’t see beyond the here and now, Barr seeks help from government. He writes that “Congress must act quickly to prohibit tech giants from unfairly leveraging their dominance into more markets.” Oh my, the conceit! Really, which markets does Barr fear “Big Tech” will soon dominate? “Big Tech” surely doesn’t know as evidenced by the tens of billions spent each year by Amazon et al in attempt to discover a future that no one is certain of. Glossed over by Barr is that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by his own admission failed quite a bit more than he succeeded, as did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. etc. Yet Barr fears today’s success stories “leveraging their dominance into more markets”? No doubt they’d love for Barr to tell them which markets to enter into, or more realistically, which ones to create.

Lost on Barr is that Amazon et al can claim enormous valuations precisely because they discovered products and services that previously didn’t exist, and that didn’t exist either because the businesses of the past hadn’t thought of them; or, if they had thought of them, they dismissed them as outlandish. To then criticize their success born of intrepid and expensive searches of the future is quite something.

Or maybe it’s not. The man who served a president who signed a $2.9 trillion subsidization of lockdowns into law fears the power of “Big Tech”? “Self-unaware” doesn’t do justice to Barr’s latest op-ed.