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In: ‘Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age’, Amy Klobuchar Takes on World’s Greatest Challenge



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Is the title above wrong? Depends who you ask…

In her new book, Klobuchar tries to connect the historical roots of antitrust actions to populism and her own ancestry. That’s not all, however. Although difficult, particularly for readers who are not legal scholars, there’s an important and deeper historic thread here that she is aiming to contribute to.

That job is to find a way to illuminate how the digital age, with all its challenges and complexities, can come to terms with the simple question of how to measure damage that is being done by big tech monopolies, through sheer size, power and lack of external accountability.

Moreover, there is an issue of how antitrust law and practice veered away from the remedies and goals, first established during the Gilded Age, toward a laissez-fair, anti-regulatory stance that gained steam in the Regan years.

That shift is, in many ways, to blame for the current extreme state characterized by dangerous levels of concentrated wealth and power by big tech.

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This effort may seem like one that is doomed to being ignored by all but the already long-since converted. But, make no mistake, it is a topic that will grow, reverberate and become more relevant as the current administration in Washington consolidates and comes into its own.

“People have just gotten beaten down. I wanted to show the public and elected officials that you’re not the first kids on the block with this. What do you think it was like back when trusts literally controlled everyone on the Supreme Court, or literally elected members of the Senate before they were elected by the public?”

— Amy Klobuchar, in Wired interview with Steven Levey

When President Biden recently nominated Lina M. Khan to the Federal Trade Commission, in addition to Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, who announced earlier this month he would join the National Economic Council, he set forth a clear path for an antitrust direction that has the potential to be more than just rhetoric and window dressing.

Khan is an unequivocal proponent of a new era of antitrust, one that is, not coincidentally, along the lines of what Klobuchar advocates. Likely sharing these ultra clear views from her long and celebrated research, Khan, along with Wu, is a key addition to Biden’s growing roster of Big Tech critics, and there is already a blueprint for actions and cases that will build to a crescendo over the next several years.

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Biden’s call for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, meanwhile, a hotly contested and possibly flawed legal shield some feel is exploited by Internet platforms, is another indicator of the tenor of the coming actions.

In a sense, with this bestselling book [on Amazon: #1 in Political Economy, #1 in Government Management, #1 in Business Law (Books)] the gargantuan task of connecting the culpability of massive, nearly infinitely powerful behemoths, each in it’s own territory, to the social and economic catastrophes that they’ve brought down on the world.

However, while politicians like Klobuchar may not have the charisma and energy to set a fire under the population, it is the very deeds themselves that will eventually conspire to ignite an uprising and put pressure on the government and the courts to take real, substantive measures. And with young, new faces and minds such as possessed by Khan and Wu, ultimately there is a bulwark of criticism against monopolist abuses building in government and among the public at large.

“I am never saying, ‘Get rid of their products.’ But let’s have more of the products that give you more choices. You can keep one product, but it’s better to have other products, because we’re not China.”

Amy Klobuchar in Wired interview with Steven Levey

 In response to Klobuchar’s quote above Steven Levey in Wired wrote; “In other words, Facebook could keep it’s main app, but the public might benefit if Instagram and WhatsApp were not Mark Zuckerberg productions.” 

While this kind of “moderate” view may not be the earth shattering remedy that would turn the juggernauts around in a heartbeat, from Zuckerberg’s perspective it would not be ideal, to say the least.

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And, since we have seen the unfettered and viral growth of big tech, for at least a quarter century in some cases, and since there was a aura of hero worship afforded their leaders for most of that time, a break-up, such as that could ultimately turn out to be the beginning of more sweeping changes. A welcome outcome for those that have been harmed the various monopolistic structures that rule nearly all our lives, or at least it seems, at times.

War of Giants

Levey then asked Klobuchar why legislators so often embarrass themselves in hearings with irrelevant partisanship, clueless technical questions, and time-wasting grandstanding. Her response;

“Welcome to my life,” she says. “I get it—there’s going to be hearings that are irritating to people who know a lot. But that’s a great argument for tech to use because they don’t want this oversight.” 

Amy Klobuchar in Wired interview with Steven Levey

In defense of using the word “antitrust in the title, while also advocating its eradication in future she responded:

 “Well, I thought antitrust was an interesting word”. “It’s not only about this body of law; it’s also about not trusting anyone.”

Amy Klobuchar in Wired interview with Steven Levey

Perhaps it is more the course of history that led to the current and incredibly extreme situation and obscene dominance by big tech that is what should never have be trusted to arise in the first place.

Perhaps these firms will one day be seen, looking back from future generations, as a temporarily necessary, but evil mistake of history, as was the toothless interpretation of laws that led to their rise from “scrappy underdog startups” into malignant monopolies run amok.

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