“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.