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

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Robert B. Reich       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   8 comments

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From Robert Reich Blog

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The New York Times revealed last week that Facebook executives withheld evidence of Russian activity on the Facebook platform far longer than previously disclosed. They also employed a political opposition research firm to discredit critics.

There's a larger story here.

America's Gilded Age of the late 19th century began with a raft of innovations -- railroads, steel production, oil extraction -- but culminated in mammoth trusts owned by "robber barons" who used their wealth and power to drive out competitors and corrupt American politics.

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We're now in a second Gilded Age -- ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet -- that has spawned a handful of giant high-tech companies.

Facebook and Google dominate advertising. They're the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

This consolidation at the heart of the American economy creates two big problems.

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First, it stifles innovation. Contrary to the conventional view of a U.S. economy bubbling with inventive small companies, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the United States has been halved since 2004, according to the census.

A major culprit: Big tech's sweeping patents, data, growing networks, and dominant platforms have become formidable barriers to new entrants.

The second problem is political. These enormous concentrations of economic power generate political clout that's easily abused, as the New York Times investigation of Facebook reveals. How long will it be before Facebook uses its own data and platform against critics? Or before potential critics are silenced even by the possibility?

America responded to the Gilded Age's abuses of corporate power with antitrust laws that allowed the government to break up the largest concentrations.

President Teddy Roosevelt went after the Northern Securities Company, a giant railroad trust financed by J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, the nation's two most powerful businessmen. The U.S. Supreme Court backed Roosevelt and ordered the company dismantled.

In 1911, President William Howard Taft broke up Rockefeller's sprawling Standard Oil empire.

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It is time to use antitrust again. We should break up the high-tech behemoths, or at least require that they make their proprietary technology and data publicly available and share their platforms with smaller competitors.

There would be little cost to the economy, because these giant firms rely on innovation rather than economies of scale -- and, as noted, they're likely to be impeding innovation overall.

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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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7 people are discussing this page, with 8 comments


Josh Mitteldorf

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We're now in a second Gilded Age -- ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet...

Ours is indeed a second Gilded Age, but it wasn't created by Silicon Valley Tech, but rather by the Reagan-Bush-Trump tax cuts and the repeal of Glass-Steagall and Clinton's "end of welfare as we know it" and non-enforcement of bribery/lobbying laws and the end of limits to campaign contributions.

The remedies that Reich proposes would be a great step forward, but before they have any chance of being enacted, we have to loosen the corporate stranglehold on democratic governance.

Submitted on Thursday, Nov 22, 2018 at 4:51:23 PM

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Don Smith

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Facebook and google profit from others' content. They're starving content-creators from legitimate incomes, damaging journalism and the arts.

Submitted on Friday, Nov 23, 2018 at 12:46:09 AM

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John Zwiebel

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What, not Microsoft?

Submitted on Friday, Nov 23, 2018 at 4:03:32 PM

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Charles Homer

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As shown in this article, in the past, Facebook has actually bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections:

click here

The possibility that social media platforms can be used to engineer elections says a lot about the current state of news literacy.

Submitted on Friday, Nov 23, 2018 at 8:02:40 PM

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Stephen Fox

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I don't agree at all with this prognosis, especially re: Facebook.


Bernie got down on the big banks with talk of "breaking them up." They fought back, and look who's president!


I think Facebook is marvelous, have a few faults, but needs reform, perhaps even some regulation as a public utility, but it is a private corporation, and not even the FCC has any statutory jurisdiction.


But, sorry, Bob Reich: this is just pontificating blather on your part.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 2:53:13 AM

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Daniel Geery

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Well I certainly have my problems with Robert Reich, I totally agree with this one.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 at 7:25:24 PM

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BFalcon

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All our "leaders" know what should be done once they are out of power.

And forget it once they are back in power.

Reich is no exception.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 1:54:53 PM

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Of course!

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 at 8:19:54 PM

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