Imagine the idiotic: Anti-capitalist regulators in Paris mount an assault on the world’s tech titans. They target Intel for granting big discounts to PC makers, Apple for dissing Adobe, Facebook for privacy practices, AT&T and Verizon for Internet pricing, and Google for just about everything.
That kind of government onslaught would spark a trade war with the United States, home to most of the tech giants that really matter. But this sweeping assault on American innovation isn’t being waged by the French—it is the work of the U.S. government.
The Obama Administration is waging a silent, unwise war on high-tech, hell-bent on taming a few targets to bolster a get-tough image. The feds’ enmity toward what we’re best at—technology and making money on it—threatens our long-term economic recovery.
It will curb job growth in an industry the employs well over two million people in the U.S. It will penalize investors. And it could hurt even consumers, who, far as I can tell, aren’t injured by the practices now under review.
These government forces are more interested in meddling in markets to shield weaker companies—the laggards—from the strong ones: the lethal. The feds now try to intervene before anything bad happens, rather than respond after a problem pops up. The effect is to penalize success and criminalize bigness.
I have covered high-tech since the 1980s, and I never have seen the feds involve themselves so fiercely and frequently as they have since President Obama took office. I talked about it on Friday on "Closing Bell" with Maria Bartiromo. (Watch video of the segment below.)
Look at this lamentable litany of government-gone-wild:
- This week the FTC said it will look into Apple’s dealings with iPhone software developers, presumably searching for any exclusionary tactics such as blocking Google-sold ads that use Adobe’s Flash software.
- Elsewhere, the FTC aims to impose utterly unenforceable—and blatantly unconstitutional—rules that seek to require millions of bloggers to disclose freebies from any firm they mention. It is akin to trying to force table manners on a bunch of wild chimpanzees. Does this agency not have enough to do?
- The SEC is in talks with Michael Dell and Dell Computer to settle an SEC investigation into discounts granted by Intel.
- The Justice Department is looking at pricing and rebate practices at Intel, in what looks eerily similar to a European Union investigation that ended up fining the chip giant a record-high $1.45 billion.
- Justice has launched another inquiry into whether Google, Apple and Yahoo are colluding by agreeing not to raid one another's staffs.
- The FCC, not to be outdone, is targeting tech, too: It wants to have a say in the pricing charged by AT&T, Comcast and other Internet providers, something government never has done before.
- And the FCC just issued a report arguing the cell-phone market isn't competitive enough. That could be a prelude a move to ban AT&T and Verizon from the next federal auction of wireless spectrum, handing the airspace to also-rans T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel.
It all seems so intrusive, so unnecessary. Apple should be free to shun any technology it chooses, regardless of how much Adobe whines about its own Flash software. And regardless of how much Google complains that its Flash-based ads won’t work on the iPad. Adobe and Google can turn elsewhere.