No one born after the administration of Jimmy Carter has experienced soaring inflation and energy costs combined with global instability from rogue foreign actors. It is now, as it was then, contributing to an overall sense of America in decline — ripe conditions for autocratic regimes to overtake the United States as the world’s leader.
As a former United States ambassador, I have seen how other democracies look to our country for strength and stability. Unfortunately, some in Congress are pushing a misguided domestic agenda that would enable China to gain economic superiority by undermining America’s competitive advantage and hampering the innovative spirit that has made us the leader of the free world.
One of the greatest threats lies in the American Innovation and Choice Online Act that passed a key Senate panel earlier this year and is likely to move before the full chamber. Backed by a litany of left-wing groups such as the Center for American Progress and the Teamsters, the legislation received the blessing of the Biden administration’s Department of Justice, an ominous development for anyone who values limited and responsible government.
Like most bills in Congress with catchy titles, the devil is in the details. In this case, the proposed changes would make us less competitive, crush the innovative spirit of our young entrepreneurs and allow the rest of the world to catch up to our innovative advantage. This is a dangerous and wrong approach.
The text upends nearly half a century’s worth of antitrust precedent that has resulted in an innovative economy that is the envy of the world. By targeting certain online platforms with an arbitrary number of users or annual revenue, the bill bans a handful of companies from pro-consumer practices while ignoring the same behavior of their competitors.
These new rules would force companies to promote the interests of their competitors, including foreign ones, on their own platforms. Worse yet, the bill creates new vulnerabilities that would force American companies to hand over user data to competitors in other countries — with no obligations placed on what those foreign companies could do with that data. The penalties of this regulation are steep: 15% of total U.S. revenue — a crippling fine levied on some of America’s most energetic job creators and investors.
Perhaps most alarming is the vague yet sweeping enforcement power the legislation cedes to unaccountable agencies such as the DOJ and FTC to file lawsuits against companies they deem to be in violation. Conservatives would be wise to remember the consequences of a politically weaponized and empowered federal government. Targeting a handful of successful American companies with new regulations that exempts most of their competitors sets a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, concerns raised by leading Democrats about consumer privacy and the security of Americans’ personal devices have gone unaddressed.
The world is watching. How American policymakers legislate at home echoes across oceans. European regulators have pursued discriminatory actions against U.S. companies for years. Until now, there is a reason that Europe has been losing most of its successful unicorn companies to the United States. The regulatory climate has always been more favorable to startups on this side of the Atlantic.
American politicians should not be following the example set by the Chinese Communist Party and handcuff homegrown success stories with regulatory red tape. Last year, Chinese authorities introduced a legislative onslaught at their tech sector. Their stocks nosedived, wiping billions of dollars of value from their bottom line. Free enterprise does not exist in China, and that is not a model that should be replicated here.
To be sure, technology companies should be subject to appropriate scrutiny to ensure they are abiding by existing laws. A conversation about updating regulations is worth having. But to empower the federal government to destroy American success stories is the equivalent of cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Conservative lawmakers should reject plans empowering the federal government to tell the private sector how to do business — particularly when our foes want us to fall behind. Innovation has put the United States at the forefront of global job creation, life-saving scientific breakthroughs, including Operation Warp Speed’s vaccine, and cutting-edge technologies. We have outpaced our rivals and foreign adversaries. It took hard work to get here, and it will take equal effort to maintain our position, especially with China nipping at our heels.
• A former ambassador to New Zealand and a United States senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown is the chair of the Competitiveness Coalition.