Last Friday Senator Elizabeth Warren called for the breaking up of the larger tech/innovation companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. She made this argument at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology conference, citing anti-trust as her major concern.
It’s amusing to see Sen. Warren side with Donald Trump on anything. You may recall that Trump wanted to kill the AT&T / Time Warner merger. The standard reason of “limiting competition” was offered, and I agree with her in concept: limiting competition is bad, and monopolies suck. Ask anybody who subscribes to cable television.
A couple years ago Warren promised to break up the big banks. These few institutions are quite rich, extremely powerful, are paying their top executives in eight or nine and are doing much, much better now than they did before they forced us into our worst recession since the Great Depression. At that time, the government said they could not break up these institutions who had put a death grip on our economy, cost millions of mom-and-pop investors much of their life savings, and allowed them to gobble up hundreds of smaller, local banks. They were, as we were told, “too big to fail.” Which is the same as “too big to follow the law.”
Warren cried bullshit onto that, and she was right. But if she did anything meaningful about it except bray, she’s succeeded in keeping that to herself. So, instead, she’s shifted her attention to much lower-hanging fruit.
The difference is, she’s ignoring the fact that Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are providing needed services at low and reasonable prices – indeed, they provide many of their services without cost. They have profited from that, which is the reward for their investment of effort and resources. They offer convenience, constant innovation and, by comparison excellent customer service. If people do not like what they have to offer or they feel these services are overpriced, they have alternatives – in each case. They are not monopolists.
You want to tax idle wealth? I’m for it. You want to penalize Google and Facebook for not doing enough to censor various, mostly right-wing lunatics from making the statements they make? Well, right-wing lunatics also have the right to free speech. We all should be held responsible for the consequences of our actions and freedom of expression does not free us from that in the least.
If we punish these companies for not censoring them, sooner or later the political whims will shift and somebody is going to censor you. History is fraught with examples. For example, vegans are obnoxious smug know-it-alls who disseminate misinformation (called “lies”) that can affect people’s health. The anti-vaxers are even more dangerous.
You don’t like Apple’s App Store? Well, that puts you in bed with a lot of software and information providers who believe that Apple takes too big a bite (sorry) out of their profits. The difference is that these companies do not have to do business with Apple, and in most cases (except for Apple itself) consumers can purchase these same products directly or through other providers. Before taking on a product, the App Store evaluates it to see if it works and it does not interfere with their operating system and with other resources. This saves customers time, money, and a large amout of frustration.
You don’t think Amazon pays most of its employees enough and you think they should be unionized? I agree. To paraphrase a great laborite, “quit bitching and organize.” Nobody gets anything without sweat equity and while most businesses put up a ruckus when labor organizers start handing out petitions, the National Labor Relation Board remains a somewhat liberal agency and the law is on the side of labor – mostly.
None of these companies are perfect. All these companies are doing important stuff that were not thought of even a decade ago. Everything new has a learning curve, but it’s usually a lot easier to fix things than it is to blow it all up and start over. These companies employ hundreds of thousands of people, they provide society with worthy and even necessary products as well as astonishing level of convivence previously undreamed of. We tend to punish people and corporations for their success as well as for their predatory habits. We must focus on minimizing the bad and maximizing the good.
Senator Warren as a lot of good stuff on her agenda. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, and please, go back to breaking up the too big to fail banks.