So! What’s up with the talk of trust busting in Washington? Is it time for a Teddy Roosevelt-trust-busting-breakup of Big Tech?
The Daily Beast asks, are the Tech Oligarchs “a fearsome threat whose ambitions to control our future politics, media, and commerce seem without limits?”
Before we continue, one thing to keep in mind is that public money paid to the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency funded the development of ARPNET, an experimental computer network. ARPNET morphed into the Internet. Public money—that would be your tax money—built the internet, so I think we should have some say about how it’s used.
Christine Varney, however, speaking to the Federal Trade Commission, reminds us that “each component of the Global Information Infrastructure (GII), computers, wire, switches, television, satellites, phones, software, etc., is built by private concerns.” These concerns have mushroomed into the mega corporations of today.
Many think the profits of these concerns have put too much power in the hands of too few. Writing for Wired, Nitasha Tiku reminds us the world’s top ten most valuable companies are dominated by tech. “This new world order is one of many reasons why antitrust officials are questioning their methods….”
Tech profits are data driven. With that data, people all over the world are manipulated to vote, to buy, to act, and, worst of all, to think, by a few powerful companies, run by a few powerful people. We all know information is power. Never in history has so much power been so globally cornered by so few. The big four, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and others have used that power in ways reminiscent of the Robber Barons who held ruthless monopolies at the turn of the last century.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Robber Barons emerged in the 1800s during the United States Industrial Revolution. American-historama.com reports, “the derogatory term applied to powerful, wealthy industrialists, the captains of industry who monopolized the railroads, the steel industry, the tobacco industry, the oil industry, and the financiers who controlled the banks used unfair business practices.” Unregulated, they practiced greedy, ruthless, and unethical business tactics to maximize their power and profit and used bribery and corruption to get support from politicians.
In 1890, their corrupt abuses led to the first federal statute to limit cartels and monopolies…the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The first person to aggressively use the statute was Teddy Roosevelt, who felt American workers were being abused and competition thwarted. He went after JP Morgan’s Northern Securities Company. He followed up by establishing the watchdog, Federal Bureau of Corporations.
THE NEW OLIGARCHS
The Tech Oligarchs of today are also wealthy, powerful, and influential. Like their predecessors, they are ruthless about squashing competition. New start-ups have little chance of getting a leg up as search algorithms filter their very existence out of sight.
Also, like the Robber Barons, Tech Oligarchs crave cheap labor. They have the busiest, richest lobbyists in Washington. The Daily Beast reports, “expanding H-1B visas… has become a priority issue for oligarchs, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and a host of tech firms… that in some cases have been laying off thousands of American workers.”
Apple utilizes oppressed factory workers in China, called “technocoolies,” while replacing American workers with imported, cheap, foreign labor. You probably have seen articles about American workers being forced to train their cheaper replacements before they are fired.
FROM GILDED AGE TO THE SILICON AGE
According to the Daily Beast, past economic revolutions—from the steam engine to the jet engine and the internet—at least created in their wake a productivity revolution… generally the economy got stronger and more productive… new jobs were created, many of them paying middle- and working-class people a living wage. The Robber Barons created jobs from which the unions were able to force living wages and benefits. The new social media-based technologies have had little positive impact on economic productivity, and the American middle class has not flourished in the face of global outsourcing and cheaper foreign workers filling the jobs available in the United States.
Jon Talton, NYU Professor of Economics, is ready for trust busting. “Big Tech’s greatest sins are locking in a winner-take-all economy, decimating the middle class and exercising monopoly-like powers…. Competition is stymied. Power is in the hands of too few.” The L.A. Times suggests, “Government antitrust interventions have promoted innovation in the past and should again be employed to make conditions more favorable for competitors and consumers.”
What I particularly love is the consensus on this subject among liberals and conservatives. Both President Trump and Bernie Sanders agree! When one has Breitbart and The Guardian in lockstep about an issue, one better pay attention!
As always, history repeats itself until we learn the lesson.
Vamos a ver!