I’ve already seen a couple comments regarding the looming FTC-Google war along the lines of, “Google is anti-free market because they’ve supported certain government initiatives” and “Google supported Obama, so it’s great Obama is now stabbing them in the back.” I understand why people make these statements, but I feel they’re missing the point here. As with any FTC case, the issue shouldn’t be whether the company under fire is a perfect model of libertarianism — no company will ever meet that standard — but whether you want the Commission to have more power. Every other consideration is secondary.
I doubt FTC leaders have any personal animosity towards Google. They don’t even have any ideological animosity. Like most antitrust crusades, Google is simply a target of opportunity: It’s a company with deep pockets that can keep a few hundred lawyers, economists, and support staff employed for the better part of the next decade arguing over the esoteric issues of the company’s antitrust liability. More importantly, if the FTC can get its claws into Google, it will gain greater access to the entire technology sector — if Google is defeated, or even if it capitulates to a consent order, the Commission will have a precedent it can use to bludgeon much smaller firms into complying with its demands.
Where we should be leery of Google is its commitment to defending itself. Google has already bowed to FTC and Justice Department demands in previous cases, and the company seems to be following the same lobbyist-based strategy that has doomed other firms to a life of government subservience. At the end of the day, successful companies are tempted by the Devil’s bargain — allow regulators to control your business practices, and in exchange the regulators will protect you from future competitors. I have serious doubts that Google leaders can avoid that temptation, and the burden is on them to prove me wrong.