By Robert D. Atkinson, Wall Street Journal
When it comes to technology and the economy, the U.S. is grappling with two contradictory goals: competing with China in advanced technology industries and ramping up antitrust enforcement against leading U.S. tech companies.
Antimonopoly advocates argue that we can have our cake and eat it too. Go ahead and break up big tech, they say; we can still compete with China. But there is a long history of U.S. antitrust actions against technology companies, and the results suggest regulators should exercise caution.
Consider the case of Western Electric, AT&T ’s equipment subsidiary. By the early 1920s, it had factories in Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia and the U.K. But because AT&T relied on it exclusively for equipment, in 1925 the Justice Department threatened AT&T with breakup unless it divested Western Electric’s foreign assets, creating International Telephone & Telegraph and ultimately giving birth to robust foreign-owned competitors.