Smaller government or smarter governing?

One of the conservative ideologies in governing is that we need a smaller government and freer enterprise. The premise behind that thinking, I suspect, is that we trust companies to do well by doing good. The problem is they don’t often do so.

Here is the new initiative by AT&T

Enjoy more data. Starting with your October 2019 bill, you’ll get an additional 15GB of data on your Mobile Share plan. This bonus data comes with a $10 price increase. AT&T confirmed to The Verge that there’s no way to opt out of this “bonus.” Here’s the company’s statement:

“We are communicating with some customers regarding changes to their mobile plans. Customers have the choice to change their plan at any time and can always contact us with questions or to understand their options.”

This probably won’t surprise AT&T customers one iota, of course — this is the company that was just finally slapped on the wrist with a $60 million fine for throttling what were supposedly “unlimited” plans back in 2011, and the company that’s now pocketing an extra $800 million in “admin fees” every year after more than doubling that inexplicable surcharge last June. This is the company that’s now making you pay its property taxes on your business internet bill, while it repeatedly jacks up the rates of its few remaining grandfathered unlimited cellular plans.

Source: The Verge

The predatory practice is so disturbing that I don’t have the word to describe it.

Another example is Boeing with their 737 Max woe.

“The culture was very cost centered, incredibly pressurized,” Adam Dickson, who worked for Boeing for 30 years and led a team of engineers that worked on the 737 Max, told BBC Panorama in a program airing Monday night.

“Engineers were given targets to get certain amount of cost out of the airplane,” he added.” Certainly what I saw was a lack of sufficient resources to do the job in its entirety.”

Source: Business Insider

The cost-cutting goal at Boeing led to the company using $9/hour engineers on the planes that sell for millions of dollars and can decide the fate of thousands of passengers. This is a company that enjoys a duopoly of the sky, along with Airbus.

There are certainly a lot more examples of how companies do not volutarily act in the interest of consumers. You will find out more by watching a few episodes of either Patriot Act or Last Week Tonight.

My point is that companies care more about bottom line than consumer interest. Sometimes, those two issues align and be sure that they will advertise the hell out of what they do “for you”. Unless there is a party that can help keep the companies in check, consumers will be at their mercy. There are a few cases in which consumers can threaten the existence of companies such as the #DeleteUber movement a while ago, which suddenly kept Lyft from administration. However, those cases are not common or not common enough.

That’s why we need rules and governments to enforce those rules. It is understandable that red tape and unnecessary regulations are a pain and should be removed (trust me, as an immigrant dealing with all these immigration policies, I already had a bit of American bureaucracy). But that means we need to be smarter in governance , not less governance. By removing all regulations, we help companies reduce compliance costs and be legally less responsible.

As citizens, we don’t have the time and resources to understand all these regulations and conduct studies on how they affect business. The job is left to people who are dedicated to making laws: lawmakers. Hence, whenever somebody mentions that we ought to remove regulations, be sure to ask who and what will protect us citizens from the excessive corporate greed?

Elizabeth Warren’s big (ridiculous) plan

Elizabeth Warren, one of the politicians who announced intention to run for the Presidency in 2020, released a blog post today outlining her plan to break up technology companies, if she is elected.

It’s ridiculous in my opinion.

I totally agree with Senator Warren on the role of promoting competition, because 1) it’s good for small-and-medium sized businesses; and 2) more importantly, it’s good for consumers. When there is competition to earn consumers’ money, it’s the consumers who reap the benefits.

Senator Warren’s whole piece seems to focus only on the first point above and neglect the second one, which in my opinion is the more important between the two. In her blog post, the Senator had a bolded claim that reads: “How the new tech monopolies hurt small businesses and innovation”. It depends on which industry she was referring to. It can be argued that Google’s monopoly can stifle any search engine startups, but it’s unfair to imply that Google can threaten in manufacturing industries and many others that are not where Google operates.

She accused tech powerhouses to use M&A to kill competition. Without Google, would Android and millions of users around the world have an established alternative to Apple today? One of the reasons why companies do M&A is to gain capabilities in a short amount of time. It’s like when you don’t know speak Japanese, instead of spending easily a decade to learn the language, you can hire somebody from Japan tomorrow and start doing business. The same thing applies to companies. Rather than spend money and years on R&D without guaranteed success, companies can acquire the capabilities available on the market quickly and reduce the risk of missing out strategic opportunities. The acquired companies can leverage resources at the acquirers to evolve to the next level. There is an argument to be made about Instagram & Facebook, Disney and Marvel, VMWare and Nicira.

Here is what she had to say on marketplaces

Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition. Many big tech companies own a marketplace — where buyers and sellers transact — while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp.

There is some truth in what she said, but selling private labels and running a marketplace are two different things. If the private labels, as in the case of Amazon, are crappy, Amazon won’t be able to sell them. If Google-favored content isn’t in the best interest of users, they won’t consume it. Functioning as a marketplace, Amazon and Google generate revenue by offering a marketing channel and logistics help to vendors. Small businesses can sell goods on Amazon without worrying much about building a supply chain on its own. For many businesses, Google is the best way to reach online users. I can buy in the claim that these tech companies can be unfavorably biased to vendors which sell competing services/products, but the tech firms do also help a lot of other small guys.

Here is another point she made:

Weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in competition and innovation in the tech sector. Venture capitalists are now hesitant to fund new startups to compete with these big tech companies because it’s so easy for the big companies to either snap up growing competitors or drive them out of business.

Having big techs swallow startups IS an exit venture capitalists want to recoup their investments. I don’t know if she noticed, but there have been quite many VC funds that have one billion dollars or more. This argument is pretty shaky at best.

She threatened to unwind these mergers and acquisitions if she is elected:

Amazon: Whole Foods; Zappos
Facebook: WhatsApp; Instagram
Google: Waze; Nest; DoubleClick

I can see the point behind Facebook – WhatsApp – Instagram, but I honestly don’t know her rationale behind the other two. Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on selling shoes online just because they acquired Zappos, not does it have monopoly on groceries just because of Whole Foods. Walmart is fighting back really hard and other retailers such as Target is also expanding their footprint because they embraced the digital trend to compete with Amazon. On the other hand, yes Google has the monopoly in search, but DoubleClick is NOT all the reasons for that monopoly. And what do Waze and Nest have to do with it? Also, Google won because it offered the best and fastest search to users. Take it apart and what would that do to users?

Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of the RIGHT regulations to keep tech companies in check. We need to step up our game to protect users’ privacy. It’s just not any citizen’s job to write regulations. That’s why we elect politicians.

The whole blog post is not a well-thought-out piece on the topic. If she really wants to break up competition, look at the airlines. Look at the credit score companies. Look at the pharmaceuticals that have MONOPOLIES over drugs for 10-20 years. How many companies do you know produce airplanes? Boeing and Airbus, the list ends there for me and likely many others. How about Comcast, AT&T and Verizon?

To tackle this problem, it’s important to look at it from different perspectives. Tech corporations are not perfect, but it will be unfair just to look at their faults and ignore the benefits they bring to our lives.