Now in its third month, the ongoing antitrust trial between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google isn’t just a court battle—it’s an ideological war. It pits the American standard of “consumer welfare” against an outdated, European-style “harm to competition” model focused on propping up competitors who have a financial stake in taking down their rivals. If the latter ideology wins, the real losers will be the American people, who will be forced against their own preferences to navigate inferior products like Microsoft’s Bing.
Let’s cut to the chase: this lawsuit is not about protecting consumers; it’s about the government wanting the power to pick winners and losers in the market. Guess who wants to be the government’s chosen winner? Microsoft.
Despite being the second largest corporation in the world and nearly twice the size of Google, Microsoft has tried for years to make Bing the preferred search engine among consumers. However, it has continuously failed to surpass Google’s superior product. That’s not because Google has some alleged “magical” influence over the market; it’s due largely to Microsoft making bad business decisions, like shutting down its investment in mobile and even considering selling off Bing just a couple of years ago to Apple.
Rather than trying harder and innovating more to win in the marketplace or the court of public opinion, Microsoft is trying to use the government to make up for its own mistakes by putting down superior products in court. And that’s dangerous.
President Joe Biden’s antitrust enforcers are attempting to abandon the consumer welfare standard, which has been the cornerstone of American antitrust law, because it limits them to focusing on the facts of the market rather than their personal beliefs and opinions.
The consumer welfare standard is simple but powerful: Does a business practice demonstrably harm consumers? If it does, action is warranted. If not, then no matter how much a competitor like Microsoft complains, there’s not a case. It’s an objective, fact-based evaluation that prevents the government from becoming a market puppeteer—a role which regulators are not equipped to play.
By contrast, the harm to competition model is a slippery slope to crony capitalism. Legally implementing this approach could allow companies to lobby their way to the top and use the power of the government to take down rivals. Microsoft, a company that ironically found itself in the antitrust hot seat in 1998 over Internet Explorer, seems all too happy to push the U.S. toward this subjective, European-style model. Why? They can’t make a better product, so they’d rather see Google and other potential competitors kneecapped by regulation.
Here’s the punchline: We, American consumers, are the ones who will suffer. This lawsuit against Google, if successful, won’t give us better options; it will force inferior ones upon us. Imagine being stuck with Bing’s search results when you’re used to Google’s efficiency and accuracy. This case risks turning the digital marketplace into a Soviet-style bazaar where you get what you’re given, not what you choose.
The lawsuit could also set a dangerous precedent that shifts the focus of antitrust law from consumer welfare to corporate interests. If the U.S. abandons the consumer welfare standard, we’re not just changing legal jargon; we’re taking away consumers’ market influence and power in favor of cronyism—changing the very ethos of American capitalism.
It’s time to stand up for what works. The consumer welfare standard has guided U.S. antitrust law for a good reason—it puts our choices first. Let’s not let special interests rewrite antitrust laws so that they win and consumers lose.