New Yorker: President Obama was too easy on Amazon, Google and Apple

“Antitrust policy, especially as it pertains to big technology firms, has emerged as one of the starkest differences between the Biden Presidency and the Obama one.”

From Sheelah Kolhatkar’s “Lina Khan’s Battle to Rein in Big Tech” in this week’s issue:

During the Presidency of Barack Obama, Amazon’s relentless expansion was largely encouraged by the government. The country was emerging from a devastating recession, and Obama saw entrepreneurs like Bezos as sources of innovation and jobs. In 2013, in a speech given at an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Obama described the company’s role in bolstering the financial security of the middle class and creating stable, well-paying work. He spoke with near-awe of how, during the previous Christmas rush, Amazon had sold more than three hundred items per second. Obama was also close with Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

An analysis by the Intercept found that employees and lobbyists from Alphabet visited the White House more than those from any other company, and White House staff turned to Google technologists to troubleshoot the Affordable Care Act Web site and other projects. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon, Google, and other tech giants bought up hundreds of competitors, and the government, for the most part, did not object.

The analysis also found that nearly two hundred and fifty people moved between government positions and companies controlled by Schmidt, law and lobbying firms that did work for Alphabet, or Alphabet itself. When Obama left office, many of his top aides took jobs at tech companies: Jay Carney, Obama’s former press secretary, joined Amazon; David Plouffe, his campaign manager, and Tony West, a high-ranking official at the Department of Justice, joined Uber; and Lisa Jackson, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, went to Apple.

The ascent of Donald Trump spurred activists across the political spectrum to become interested in the new power of tech companies, upending many traditional partisan differences. The role that Facebook played in the 2016 election, and the enormous influence that the company had over the information that people were seeing, was an electrifying moment. In fact, many of the major tech companies were accused of playing a role in the conditions that led voters to choose Trump and his populist message: Uber and Lyft, with their gig-economy jobs, were blamed for undermining labor unions and the middle class; Amazon had helped drive Main Street businesses into bankruptcy; Facebook was the site of Russian disinformation campaigns and a platform of choice for figures from the far right; Apple made most of its luxury devices in factories in China, reaping enormous profits while creating relatively few jobs in the U.S.; Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, hosted hate speech.

As a result, antitrust policy, especially as it pertains to big technology firms, has emerged as one of the starkest differences between the Biden Presidency and the Obama one.

My take: A deeper look than we usually get into what some are calling the “hipster antitrust faction” or, more seriously, the “New Brandeis movement” after Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, whose Depression-era decisions reined in the power of big business.


  1. David Emery said:
    Sigh… One of the big problems is lumping all these companies together as Big Tech for purposes of tarring and feathering. There’s this deep current of “they’re rich, they must be exploiting the rest of us” that runs through “hipster antitrust.”

    November 30, 2021
    • Alan Birnbaum said:
      Subtlety is so 2010’s ….

      November 30, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Yes and worse.

      Hipsters, New Yorker readers, etc. should be the loudest critics of identity-based prejudice, of blaming the ‘other’, scapegoating. That is exactly what’s going on.

      Sadly, we have real problems that deserve our attention

      November 30, 2021
      • Robert Paul Leitao said:
        Fred: When the soft tissue of highfalutin, pseudo-intellectual academic theories about regulation barrels headlong into the thick brick wall of political and economic realities, a resounding “Splat!” will be heard inside the Beltway. In my view, the article is a waste of digital space. We’re in a pandemic. There’s nothing here that suggests viable and positive outcomes for the people of this great nation or our economy. In my view, the article is “king maker” propaganda for a regulator that has been elected by no one. Should we remind the author we live in a democracy and not a constitutional bureaucracy?

        November 30, 2021
  2. Jerry Doyle said:
    I am a little puzzled by the obvious crevasse between the subject of the lengthy NY’s article on Lina Khan and the truncated blogged subject on former president Barack Obama’s more lenient policy toward big technology firms than under the Biden’s presidency. It is the latter of which I suspect readers are to respond. I have my opinionated views of which I will state candidly and ask for other readers’ indulgence for whom I may offend.

    Barack Obama was the consummate politician knowing how to get votes and to get elected, and re-elected. Not so Joe Biden. Barack Obama used Bill Clinton’s political strategy of “triangulation” to satisfy the right at the expense of the left while garnering the middle of independent voters.

    It puzzles me to this day how many on the left praises Barack Obama all while as president he did little to ameliorate conditions of blacks, browns, the disadvantaged economically, culturally, socially, environmentally and educationally.

    Obama is the epitome of the politician who helped himself politically rather than providing relief to his Democratic Party average Americans. Obama spent his presidency very focused on how voters and world leaders saw him, and a little bit less on how we see ourselves in the formulation of his domestic and international agendas. Biden seems impervious to such self-reflection, and that most likely will cost him his presidency.

    Obama’s political strength was his natural instinct of not trying to beat the other person down into submission as we see the current administration doing. Obama instead, used his natural instinct to understand the other person’s point of view and to make sure they understood his point of view and then he had the innate talent of often finding common ground. Obama was not out to score points, not out to debate, but to compromise. That unique natural instinct is missing badly today in our political and governing societies. People are different; and that difference needs to be understood and accommodated as appropriate, for societal harmony.

    November 30, 2021
    • John Konopka said:
      “ Obama was not out to score points, not out to debate, but to compromise”

      I think that was a main criticism of Obama. He would quickly cede bargaining points while getting nothing in return.

      November 30, 2021
  3. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    I believe it was the late William French Smith who said about ending anti-trust action against IBM in the early 1980’s, “Bigness doesn’t mean badness.” In my view, the economy has its own way of disrupting big business empires. Look at both IBM and GE today. In 1984, the five largest US corporations measured by revenue were in order: Exxon, GM, Mobil, Ford and IBM. GE was #10 on the list. Today’s tech companies may be disrupted by new technologies and methods in the years ahead similar to the way the industrial leaders of four decades ago have faded from leadership today. Measured by revenue, today’s top leaders are: WMT, AMZN, AAPL, CVS and UNH. What enterprises will top the list 10 years from today? In my view, it’s better for the economy to pick the winners and losers than those who may very little or no personal experience leading an enterprise through the dynamics of our amazing capitalist economy.

    November 30, 2021

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