France Fines Google: Is Atlas Shrugging?

In Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, businesses push government to pass law after law that aids weaker businesses by penalizing successful ones. There’s the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule” to prevent destructive competition among firms in an industry, and the “Equalization of Opportunity Bill” that limits the number of businesses one person can own. Throughout the novel government enacts laws and policies to hold back successful companies for the benefit of their struggling competitors.

The book is fiction, of course, but many people have observed how the fictional events in this novel published more than half a century ago have eerie parallels in real-world government policy. One example is a fine that has been levied on Google by a French court, because Google has been giving away its mapping services, undercutting a French business that was trying to sell the same services. Just as in Atlas Shrugged, firms that give consumers a better deal are held back to protect those firms that don’t offer consumers something equally attractive.

The EU is attacking Google on another front as well, challenging their privacy policy, not because they say there is anything wrong with it, but because they want more time to investigate it. Google gives away most of its services, and nobody is forced to use those services or deal with Google at all. If people don’t like Google’s policies, they don’t have to use their services. Why should any government be involved?

Google appears to be a target just because it is a large successful company that gives people things they want—often at no charge. The threats Ayn Rand foresaw to our freedoms are showing up in the news daily.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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