The copyright scholar James Boyle has a transformative way to think about political change. He tells a story about how the word "ecology" welded together a bunch of disparate issues into a movement.
Prior to "ecology," there were people who cared about owls, or air pollution, or acid rain, or whales, and while none of these people thought the others were misguided, they also didn't see them as being as part of the same cause.
Whales aren't anything like owls and acid rain isn't anything like ozone depletion. But the rise of the term "ecology," turned issues into a movement. Instead of being 1,000 causes, it was a single movement with 1,000 on-ramps.
Movements can strike at the root, look to the underlying economic and philosophical problems that underpin all the different causes that brought the movement's adherents together. Movements get shit done.
Which brings me to monopolies. This week, Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's most egregious, flagrant, wicked monopolists, made a bunch of public denunciations of Apple for...monopolistic conduct.
Or, at least, he tried to. Apple stopped him. Because they actually do have a monopoly (and a monoposony) (in legal-economic parlance, these terms don't refer to a single buyer or seller, they refer to a firm with "market power" - the power to dictate pricing).
Facebook is launching a ticket-sales app and the Ios version was rejected because it included a notice to users that included in their price was a 30% vig that Apple was creaming off of Facebook's take.
Apple blocked the app because this was "irrelevant" information, and their Terms of Service bans "showing irrelevant" information.
This so enraged Zuck that he gave a companywide address - of the sort that routinely leaks - calling Apple a monopolist (they are), accused them of extracting monopoly rents (they do), and of blocking "innovation" and "competition" (also true).
Now, there are a bunch of Apple customers who consider themselves members of an oppressed religious minority who'll probably stop here (perhaps after an angry reply), and that's OK. You do you. But I have more to say.
Apple is a monopolist, sure, but more importantly, they are monoposonists - these are firms with "excessive buying power," gatekeepers who control access to purchasers. Monoposony power is MUCH easier to accumulate than monopoly power.
In the econ literature, we see how control over as little as 10% of the market can cement a firm's position, giving it pricing power over suppliers. Monopsony is the source of "chickenization," named for the practices of America's chicken-processing giants.
Chickenized poultry farmers have to buy all their chicks from Big Chicken; the packers tell them what to feed their birds, which vets to use, and spec out their chicken coops. They set the timing on the lights in the coops, and dictate feeding schedules.
The chickens can only be sold to the packer that does all this control-freaky specifying, and the farmer doesn't find out how much they'll get paid until the day they sell their birds.
Monopsony chickenizes whose groups of workers, even whole industries. Amazon has chickenized publishers. Uber has chickenized drivers. Facebook and Google have chickenized advertisers. Apple has chickenized app creators.
Apple is a monopsony. So is Facebook.
Market concentration is like the Age of Colonization: at first, the Great Powers could steer clear of one another's claims. If your rival conquered a land you had your eye on, you could pillage the one next door.
Why squander your energies fighting each other when you could focus on extracting wealth from immiserated people no one else had yet ground underfoot?
But eventually, you run out of new lands to conquer, and your growth imperative turns into direct competition.
We called that "World War One." During WWI, there were plenty of people who rooted for their countries and cast the fighting as a just war of good vs evil. But there was also a sizable anti-war movement.
This movement saw the fight as a proxy war between aristocrats, feuding cousins who were so rich that they didn't fight over who got grandma's china hutch - they fought over who got China itself.
The elites who started the Great War had to walk a fine line. If they told their side that Kaiser Bill is only in the fight to enrich undeserving German aristos, they risked their audience making the leap to asking whether their aristos were any more deserving.
GAFAM had divided up cyberspace like the Pope dividing the New World: ads were Goog, social is FB, phones are Apple, enterprise is Msft, ecommerce belongs to Amazon. There was blurriness at the edges, but they mostly steered clear of one another's turf.
But once they'd chickenized all suppliers and corralled all customers, they started to challenge one another's territorial claims, and to demand that we all take a side, to fight for Google's right to challege FB's social dominance, or to side with FB over Apple.
And they run a risk when they ask us to take a side, the risk that we'll start to ask ourselves whether ANY of these (tax-dodging, DRM-locking, privacy invading, dictator-abetting, workforce abusing) companies deserve our loyalty.
And that risk is heightened because the energy to reject monopolies (and monoposonies) needn't start with tech - the contagion may incubate in an entirely different sector and make the leap to tech.
Like, maybe you're a wrestling fan, devastated to see your heroes begging on Gofundme to pay their medical bills and die with dignity in their 50s from their work injuries, now there's only one major league whose owner has chickenized his workers.
Maybe you wear glasses and just realized that a single Italian company, Luxottica, owns every major brand, retailer, lab and insurer and has jacked up prices 1,000%.
Or maybe the market concentration you care about it in healthcare, cable, finance, pharma, ed-tech, publishing, film, music, news, oil, mining, aviation, hotels, automotive, rail, ag-tech, biotech, lumber, telcoms, or a hundred other sectors.
That is, maybe you just figured out that the people who care about owls are on the same side as the people who care about the ozone layer.
All our markets have become hourglass shaped, with monop(olists/sonists) sitting at the pinch-point, collecting rents from both sides, and they've run out of peons to shake down, so they're turning on each other.
They won't go gently. Every Big Tech company is convinced that they have the right to be the pinchpoint in the hour-glass, and is absolutely, 100% certain that they don't want to be trapped in the bulbs on either side of the pinch.
They know how miserable life is for people in the bulbs, because they are the beneficiaries of other peoples' misery. Misery is for other people.
But they're in a trap. Monopolies and monopsonies are obviously unjust, and the more they point out the injustices they're EXPERIENCING, the greater the likelihood that we'll start paying attention to the injusticies they are INFLICTING.
Much of the energy to break up Big Tech is undoubtedly coming from the cable and phone industry. This is a darkly hilarious fact that many tech lobbyists have pointed out, squawking in affront: "How can you side with COMCAST and AT&T to fight MONOPOLIES?!"
They have a point. Telcoms is indescribably, horrifically dirty and terrible and every major company in the sector should be shattered, their execs pilloried and their logomarks cast into a pit for 1,000 years.
Their names should be curses upon our lips: "Dude, what are you, some kind of TIME WARNER?"
But this just shows how lazy and stupid and arrogant monopolies are. Telcoms think that if they give us an appetite for trustbusting Big Tech, that breaking up GAFAM will satiate us.
They could not be more wrong. There is no difference in the moral case for trustbusting Big Tech and busting up Big Telco. If Big Tech goes first, it'll be the amuse-bouche. There's a 37-course Vegas buffet of trustbustable industries we'll fill our plates with afterward.
Likewise, if you needed proof that Zuck is no supergenius - that he is merely a mediocre sociopath who has waxed powerful because he was given a license to cheat by regulators who looked the other way while he violated antitrust law - just look at his Apple complaints.
Everything he says about Apple is 100% true.
Everything he says about Apple is also 100% true OF FACEBOOK.
Can Zuck really not understand this? If not, there are plenty of people in the bulbs to either side of his pinch who'd be glad to explain it to him.
The monopolized world is all around us. That's the bad news.
The good news is that means that everyone who lives in the bulbs - everyone except the tiny minority who operate the pinch - is on the same side.
There are 1,000 reasons to hate monopolies, which means that there are 1,000 on-ramps to a movement aimed at destroying them. A movement for pluralism, fairness and solidarity, rather than extraction and oligarchy.
And just like you can express your support for "ecology" by campaigning for the ozone layer while your comrade campaigns for owls, you can fight oligarchy by fighting against Apple, or Facebook, or Google, or Comcast, or Purdue Poultry...or Purdue Pharma.
You are on the same side as the wrestling fan who just gofundemed a beloved wrestler, and the optician who's been chickenized by Luxottica, and the Uber driver whose just had their wages cut by an app.
This Thread So Much
Wow marketing can change the world for the better. That is un expected.
@pluralistic If I may add: monopolies also underlie the systemic corruption of (especially American) politics and the decline of democracy.
It does not pay for the bakery on the corner to bribe a politician. It carries all the costs, while all bakeries share in the benefits.
This calculation becomes a lot different if you control a large part of the market.
"And they run a risk when they ask us to take a side, the risk that we'll start to ask ourselves whether ANY of these (tax-dodging, DRM-locking, privacy invading, dictator-abetting, workforce abusing) companies deserve our loyalty"
Oh come on, that is just naive... There have been tons of such situations and "nobody" cared. Most people just simply don't care about these things.
@pluralistic GAFAM have succeeded in doing what Microsoft (Gates & Ballmer specifically) proposed to Intel circa 1980: a carve-up of I.T. space.
Gates's proposal was IBM for business, Intel for embedded devices, and "hobbyists" for Microsoft.
In the autumn of 1980, Bill's unfamiliarity with his new purchase didn't stop him proposing, in a story told by Stanford's John Wharton who was Intel's second point man for negotiations, a three way carve up of the market between IBM, Intel and Microsoft - then a company with 30 employees.
If historians are to conclude that Bill "thought big", they'll be correct - but they may also conclude that he didn't always "think legally". Market carve ups are a violation of antitrust laws.
The obvious problem with this analogy is the constant colonial warfare among the Great Powers, most familiarly to US folks the "French & Indian War", one of numerous conflicts in which France & Britain strove for dominance in North America & India.
The British won both rounds, but lost a big chunk of North America in the effort to recover the cost of winning, after which the French sold what they had left to the new independent state. An odd way for things to shake out.
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