- - Thursday, July 23, 2020

Free enterprise is fundamental to preserving freedom. Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Mark Fowler once said on “The Mark Levin Show”: “I believe as President Reagan did, that the electronic press — and you’re included in that — the press that uses air and electrons, should be and must be as free from government control as the press that uses paper and ink, Period.” He was a champion of removing the so-called fairness doctrine, which opened the door to the growth of talk radio.

Imagine if Rush Limbaugh had to give equal time on his show to the radical left? Over the years, liberals have tried to revive the fairness doctrine in hopes it would neuter the influence of talk-radio voices. Conservatives have correctly countered with arguments upholding free speech and free enterprise.

The same standards should apply to new forms of technology — even though I do not always agree with some of their points of view. Conservatives must be consistent in the application of our principles.

Plus, taxpayers oppose wasteful government spending. Specifically, they believe that continuing probes of America’s technology sector are a poor use of time as well as tax dollars. Policymakers have been warned repeatedly about the lasting negative impact of antitrust investigations on economic innovation, consumer welfare and the development of technologies that make the government more efficient, more productive and more accountable to the taxpayers. Prospective antitrust investigations are a waste of time and government resources, and almost always end up making government officials look foolish.

Attention is on the federal government, but many of the threats of antitrust investigations are coming from the state level. State attorneys general have been colluding with federal lawmakers to send a signal to many of the most successful companies in the United States that they need to be worried about the heavy hand of regulators reaching into their businesses.

State policymakers should be cautious. Taxpayers across the country don’t support these kinds of fishing investigations and generally hold tech innovators in much higher esteem than they do their own elected representatives. The biggest technology companies have positive approval ratings by up to 20 points — approval ratings that politicians would dream of having.

New polling out of more than 3,000 voters across the country finds that investigating “big tech” is one of the lowest priorities that constituents have for their elected officials. The traditional responsibilities of attorneys general — fraud, human trafficking, criminal prosecution and others — are what voters want their officials to focus on going forward.

The coronavirus crisis is placing a significant strain on state budgets, and with limited resources, officials would be wise to heed public sentiment. Large majorities of voters in every state said that it is either not a priority at all or only a minor priority to investigate big tech. While lawmakers may be looking to score cheap points on antitrust investigations during an election year, these provocations may backfire: big tech is popular, and voters don’t want to see these kinds of actions taken.

Murmurs of monopoly and antitrust always seem to crop up right at a tipping point when companies that look like monopolies begin to falter. MySpace was called a “monopoly” in 2007 and is now merely a blip in the memory of technology companies. Walmart was said to have been a monopoly right when Amazon began its rise. Blockbuster Video in 2005 backed out of a merger with Hollywood Video due to concerns over a Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation — and now only one Blockbuster store remains in the entire country.

Our antitrust policy should apply a light touch, not a heavy hand, and examples abound of companies that looked like monopolies and were targeted for antitrust only to have those cases collapse like a house of cards. Overzealous politicians love to focus on “big business,” and the most successful businesses in the new century have far and away been technology companies. These companies, however, are much more popular than politicians — and the politicians could end up looking foolish.

Overall, the largest group of voters in these most recent polls suggested that a focus on combating human trafficking and price gouging were the most important priorities for their state’s top prosecutor. The share of voters focused on investigating companies for antitrust violations fell below the margin of error. On the flip side, voters thought the least important priorities for the state attorneys general were suing the drug manufacturers over addiction to painkillers and investigating companies for antitrust violations.

Bottom-line: Free enterprise thrives when the government gets out of the way. Overzealous regulators shouldn’t try to use big government to over-regulate individuals, families and employers. Using the heavy hand of the government through antitrust investigations or similar means is a waste of taxpayers’ money. And the latest poll shows that the voters agree.

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.

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