This year’s national tournament for the NSDA will debate the resolution: “The United States federal government should enforce antitrust regulations on technology giants.” Below is a brief strategy guide for the affirmative side of this resolution.
Between 100 and 130 years ago, America had a debate over whether to break up the technology giants of that era with antitrust legislation, and the Affirmative team won that debate. This resolution is really over whether the arguments that carried the day then still apply today. If you can persuade the judge of three main contentions, you should win the resolution.
1) The US Federal Government should enforce antitrust regulations on monopolies,
2) Modern technology giants are monopolies, and
3) Modern technology giants should be treated like they are monopolies.
By the way, I should say “sorry” in advance to the radical libertarian position. If there’s a way to argue “government should enforce regulations” from that point of view, I would be surprised.
The most important term to understand for this resolution is monopoly.
Technically, the term refers to a market where there is only one supplier (if there is only one consumer, it is called a monopsony). A monopoly, like any business, tries to maximize profit. However, unlike businesses in competitive markets, the price and quantity that maximize a monopoly’s profit are economically inefficient, which means it creates dead weight loss. (Specifically, the quantity they will supply is half the quantity that would be supplied in a competitive market, and they will raise the price to the point where only that quantity is demanded. The value that would have been created by the extra units not produced is dead weight loss.) If that was too much economic theory for you, here’s the bottom line: monopolies produce fewer goods at a higher price than a competitive market.
However (and this is where many people make a mistake), a monopoly isn’t defined so much by market share as by market power. Market power is the ability to keep out competitors and determine prices. This means that a monopoly does not have to be absolute. A company could produce 90% of the goods for a given market, and that would be enough to determine prices. However, if that company operated in a market with many potential competitors and low barriers to entry, that company would have no way to keep out competitors, and would lose its market share if it tried to raise prices above a competitive rate; it would not be a monopoly. On the other hand, a company could control 50% of a market with high barriers to entry and an economy of scale (for example, Verizon with its cell service network) and qualify as a monopoly.
Where does the government come in? Anti-trust laws allow the government to intervene to either break up a monopoly or require them to adhere to certain standards (such as providing a minimum quality to their goods or services, or providing it for a “market-rate” price, as estimated by regulators). In theory, they should be used when a monopoly begins to employ monopoly pricing. Obviously, we run into shaky ground whenever the government is setting prices for things. However, with proper market research data, they may be able to require a company to move closer to the competitive equilibrium than the monopoly pricing point.
With this background, we can consider the first of three arguments above.
The US Federal Government should enforce antitrust regulations on monopolies.
This argument recognizes monopoly as a market failure, and the government as the remedy. The company holds all the negotiating power, while the consumer must take whatever the company wants to give it. This is variously seen as a threat to fairness, justice, equality, or liberty. The purpose of government intervention through antitrust regulation, then, is to restore balance to the economic playing field, filling the breach of whichever of these principles you choose to apply.
The second argument is that modern technology giants are monopolies.
This is tricky, because it depends on how broadly the market is conceived. The negative may choose to argue that, with the leveling of the global economy, there is now international competition in all these technological markets, and so national-level anti-trust regulation is now quite meaningless. It may be easiest to counter this argument with specific examples. It’s hard to see how Google, Apple, or Amazon are not able to set prices because of international competition. Sure, Facebook may not be the only social media platform out there, but WeChat isn’t a true competitor because it appeals to the Chinese-speaking social media universe rather than the English-speaking one.
Thirdly, modern technology giants should be treated like they are monopolies.
To justify the use of anti-trust regulations, you need to prove that a monopoly is using its power in a way that is harmful and requires the government to intervene. There’s a number of examples out there for this. Apple has admitted to some shady tactics aimed at driving users of older phone models to buy newer, more expensive ones. Facebook and Twitter have recently come under fire for banning individuals and restricting speech on their platforms. Most of these tech companies operate using complicated algorithms that pick-and-choose what information people see. It’s absolutely necessary to weed out the stunning amount of noisy information, but it manipulates people’s lives in ways they don’t understand (if you’re like me, you probably tuned out at the word “algorithm”). Perhaps the government needs to take a look just to make sure everything is on the level.
As I said at the beginning, America decided over a century ago that the government should regulate monopolies; this resolution basically asks if that decision is still the right one for our era. On the affirmative side, your task is straightforward—defend these long-established principles. Be on the lookout, though. The Negative will be trying to find some development in society or culture that makes your arguments void. Try to predict these lines of attack and prepare defenses against them.