Interviewing the Tech Monopolists

I found most of the commentary on the testimony before Congress of the CEOs of Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, etc. terribly claustrophobic, focusing only on one narrow aspect of antitrust law, for example this article at Politico. There’s really little question that these organizations are monopolies which is not illegal. The issue is whether they’re acting illegally. They are. They are using their monopolies to extend their monopolies. Indeed, attracting the attention of one of the tech giants enough that they’ll acquire you is actually a business model.

I would have thought we might have learned our lesson during the financial crisis. Too big to be allowed to fail is too big to be allowed to exist. The companies cannot be barred from meddling in politics. The Supreme Court has seen to that. They can’t be compelled to be even-handed in their politics. That is very, very dangerous.

I have worked for and with very big companies enough to know two things about them. The first is that any economies of scale due to size evaporate at much smaller sizes than you might think, especially in companies that don’t require enormous, expensive physical plants and capital investment. Today’s robber barons aren’t like the 19th century variety. Facebook is little like Ma Bell, Standard Oil, or the New York Central Railroad. We need to adjust our attitudes to today’s reality rather than that of a century ago.

The other is that big companies have inherent inefficiencies and inevitably stifle competition.

I don’t think that Facebook or Google should be broken up. I think that their business model, dependent as it is on selling information that doesn’t actually belong to them, should be made impractical which isn’t hard to do. Amazon is another story. I think it should be made to choose between retail and web services. I honestly don’t know why Amazon’s operations were allowed to continue unimpeded while brick and mortar retailers were forced to shut down. Are Amazon’s warehouse workers not susceptible to COVID-19? Are UPS or FedEx drivers immune? Rather little of Amazon’s retail operations rely on selling food or pharmaceuticals. But that’s another story.

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