Antitrust as Innovation Policy

Josh Wright —  2 May 2011

The Washington Post links to the transcript of the President’s recent remarks at a Palo Alto town hall meeting at Facebook’s headquarters on April 20.  The President talked about recent issues of interest, focusing primarily on the budget, unemployment and health care.  I did see one item that may be of interest to the antitrust community as the President discussed the link between immigration policy and job creation, especially in the high-tech sector:

So what we’ve said is let’s fix the whole system. First of all, let’s make the legal immigration system more fair than it is and more efficient than it is. And that includes by the way something I know that is of great concern here in Silicon Valley, if we’ve got smart people who want to come here and start businesses, and are Ph.D’s in math and science and computer science and — why don’t we want them to stay? Why would we want to send them someplace else?

Those are potential job creators. Those are job generators.  I think about somebody like an Andy Grove of Intel. You know, we want more Andy Groves here in the United States. We don’t want them starting companies. We don’t want them starting Intel in China or starting it in France. We want them starting it here.  So there’s a lot that we can do for making sure that high skilled immigrants who come here, study. We’ve paid for their college degrees. We’ve given them scholarships.  We’ve given them this training. Let’s make sure that if they want to reinvest and make their future here in America that they can.

TOTM readers may recall an item we posted last fall on a speech given by Paul Otellini of Intel which received some significant press coverage at least in part attributable to Otellini’s claim that “the next big thing will not be invented here.”  Otellini was highly critical that the regulatory environment in the United States was imposing a significant burden on economic growth.  Here is CNET’s description of his remarks (and here is the video):

Otellini’s remarks during dinner at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum here amounted to a warning to the administration officials and assorted Capitol Hill aides in the audience: unless government policies are altered, he predicted, “the next big thing will not be invented here. Jobs will not be created here.”  Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who warned this week that the U.S. faces a huge tech decline.  The U.S. legal environment has become so hostile to business, Otellini said, that there is likely to be “an inevitable erosion and shift of wealth, much like we’re seeing today in Europe–this is the bitter truth.”  Not long ago, Otellini said, “our research centers were without peer. No country was more attractive for start-up capital…We seemed a generation ahead of the rest of the world in information technology. That simply is no longer the case.”

The role of immigration policy in attracting entrepreneurs is obviously very important.  But it is obviously not the only policy instrument available in this area; and there is an apparent tension in the immigration policy remarks and the concerns raised by Otellini, as well as the recent comments from antitrust regulators in the United States targeting high-tech firms, e.g. Intel, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others.  Overzealous competition policy enforcement in high-tech markets is one way to deter investment in these sectors, as well as innovation.  If we do want the next big thing to be invented here, giving competition policy a seat at the table when discussing “the whole system” makes a lot of sense.

One response to Antitrust as Innovation Policy

    GlobalMarket 3 May 2011 at 9:57 am

    Except, again he said nothing about antitrust – which of course he wouldn’t when he is focusing on startups who are new entries into the market. Whatever you may think about “overzealous” competition enforcement, tech startups are more worried about the perversities of American IP laws abused by those objects of current antitrust actions. In fact, most of what he says about our competitive disadvantage, outside of corporate taxation, is about government support for business in large part through facilitating the production of public goods.

    None of the countries he is worried about follows anything close to the policies advocated for on this blog. Highly interventionist governments with targeted industrial policies and expanding expenditures on public goods. Just because they may have less explicitly state owned companies doesn’t mean that any developing country driving the global wealth realignment doesn’t have a strict leash on its multinationals. And competition laws? China, India, Brazil – really? Case studies are so much better than abstract models.