President Donald Trump and Democrats appear poised for common ground on big tech in a big way, writes academic Joel Kotkin for The Daily Beast: both support antitrust action against the tech firms to break up the monopoly power.
“The recent decision by the Trump administration to look into monopolistic practices by the tech oligarchs—talk about collusion!—represents a welcome change from over two decades, under both parties, of sucking up to these firms as they bought up competitors and consolidated market positions that would put the likes of John D. Rockefeller to shame,” writes Kotkin. “As in the gilded age a century ago, the tech industry epitomizes capitalism run amok, with huge concentrations of wealth, power, and control over key markets, like search (Google), cellphone operating systems (Apple and Google), and social media (Facebook/Instagram).”
The problem, Kotkin notes, is very real, and exacerbated by the fact that hundreds of tech executives have been appointed to government positions: “Financed by a small charmed circle of venture capitalists and private equity firms, these behemoths have employed their close political ties in Washington to avoid antitrust scrutiny that firms in less ‘sexy’ industries would be hard-put to avoid. This has allowed, for instance, Facebook to buy up competitors like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, and for Google to devour hundreds of firms, at times purchasing a new venture every week.”
But the long bipartisan consensus that tech firms can do whatever they want is quickly turning into a bipartisan opposition.
As Kotkin notes, the left is turning on big tech for its labor practices and tax avoidance, while the right is convinced that there is a secret plot by these companies to censor conservative activists — which has made Republicans start to think seriously about the concentration of market power.
“At the end of the Middle Ages, the middle classes displaced their aristocratic lords to establish the first modern democracies. A century ago both parties participated in efforts to curb the power of the Gilded Age moguls,” concludes Kotkin. “Resistance to overweening power means more than just fighting Trump or fending off the left. In our day, if people left or right want to take our future back, they first must seize it from the tech oligarchy.”