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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 11/22/18

Break Up Facebook (and, While We're At It, Google, Apple, and Amazon)

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Is this politically feasible? Unlike the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans, Trump and his enablers in Congress have shown little appetite for antitrust enforcement.

But Democrats have shown no greater appetite -- especially when it comes to Big Tech.

In 2012, the staff of the Federal Trade Commission's bureau of competition submitted to the commissioners a 160-page analysis of Google's dominance in the search and related advertising markets, and recommended suing Google for conduct that "has resulted -- and will result -- in real harm to consumers and to innovation." But the commissioners, most of them Democratic appointees, chose not to pursue the case.

The Democrats' new "better deal" platform, which they unveiled a few months before the midterm elections, included a proposal to attack corporate monopolies in industries as wide-ranging as airlines, eyeglasses and beer. But, notably, the proposal didn't mention Big Tech.

Maybe the Democrats are reluctant to attack Big Tech because the industry has directed so much political funding to Democrats. In the 2018 midterms, the largest recipient of Big Tech's largesse, ActBlue, a fundraising platform for progressive candidates, collected nearly $1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

As the Times investigation of Facebook makes clear, political power can't be separated from economic power. Both are prone to abuse.

One of the original goals of antitrust law was to prevent such abuses.

"The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economical conquests only, but for political power," warned Edward G. Ryan, chief justice of Wisconsin's Supreme Court, in 1873.

Antitrust law was viewed as a means of preventing giant corporations from undermining democracy.

"If we will not endure a king as a political power," thundered Ohio Sen. John Sherman, the sponsor of the nation's first antitrust law in 1890, "we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale" of what the nation produced.

We are now in a second Gilded Age, similar to the first when Congress enacted Sherman's law. As then, giant firms at the center of the American economy are distorting the market and our politics.

We must resurrect antitrust.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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