There appears to be a bipartisan urge to do something about Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. I wrote earlier about the disturbing accretion of information in Google and Facebook, and these days, more than ever, information is power. President Trump is obviously no fan of Amazon. The Murdoch family and Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp., have repeatedly ripped Google and Facebook for putting content providers out of business and for invasion of privacy. What to do about the tech giants, though? I can’t think of any proposed solution that would comport with our free-market economics.
On the other hand, companies have been broken up in the past. In retrospect, the 1982 breakup of AT&T worked out pretty well, unleashing a wave of innovation and competition in telecommunications, at great benefit to the consumer. Could the consumer gain by breaking up some of the tech giants? Is not Google effectively a monopoly? Monopoly power and its pernicious effects are not the goal of free-market economics, but then again monopolies usually are created and/or sustained by government favoritism, as was the case with AT&T. Google became a monopoly because it offered a superior product.
From the left we now have a breathtakingly broad proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren to break up Big Tech. Warren would more or less bring down the mighty Hammer of Thor on these companies. As Dylan Byers of NBC News put it in his newsletter this morning, Warren’s audacious plan would “break up Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by reversing their major acquisitions — including Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Google’s acquisition of Waze.” It would “block companies from participating in the marketplaces they provide — meaning Amazon could not sell its own goods via Amazon Prime, and Apple could not distribute its own apps in the App Store.” And Big Tech would also “be prohibited from sharing user data with third parties,” which would destroy the business model of Google and Facebook.
Warren’s plan, Byers writes, is so far out that Silicon Valley could potentially be left without a political home and simply sit out the next presidential election. Normally conservatives would unanimously and loudly denounce such an outrageous incursion into the free market, but this time I wonder whether some on the right might at least agree with the diagnosis, if not the cure.