This week on my podcast, I read my latest Locus Magazine column, "Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability." It presents a theory of change to get us to a world of aggressive, trans-industry, global trustbusting.

locusmag.com/2021/07/cory-doct

1/

Most industries are monopolized. Whether we're talking about athletic shoes or pharmacy benefit managers, the path to monopolization is the same: companies buy up small competitors, merge with major ones, and use their investors' cash to subsidize anticompetitive attacks.

2/

The reason they're able to get away with it is that for 40 years, the world's been in the grip of a dangerous economic delusion: that the only basis for fighting monopolies is "consumer welfare." That is, monopolies should only be considered harmful if they make prices go up.

3/

The "consumer welfare" standard originated with the far-right economics cult of the University of Chicago and was launched by Ronald Reagan, and has been supported by every president since (until Biden, whose EO from last week explicitly rejects it).

pluralistic.net/2021/07/10/unn

4/

Reagan had incipient dementia (and was thick as pigshit even in his prime), but consumer welfare's boosters understood its consequences: by focusing solely on what monopolies did to us as "consumers," we'd remove from consideration how monopoles acted on us as *citizens*.

5/

"Consumer welfare" was a recipe for concentrating corporate power so that it could overwhelm regulators, lawmakers and judges, creating a kind of pluocratic planned economy where how we live and work is decided in unaccountable board-rooms, not public legislatures.

6/

Lawmakers were complicit in this powergrab while it benefited them - while the campaign contributions offset the voter alienation that followed from every corporate sellout - but today, it seems, a critical mass of lawmakers have had enough.

The 26-hour markup session for House Democrats' six landmark antitrust bills saw every kind of lawmaker speak out against tech monopolies - from far-right clowns like Matt Gaetz to "squad" member Pramila Jayapal, and every kind of "moderate" in between.

7/

Lawmakers are, for once, ahead of the electorate. Lots of voters are furious about some kind of monopoly - tech, health insurance, cable, beer, finance, meat packing - but precious few who understand that the problem isn't with one industry, it's with monopoly itself.

To create the momentum we'll need for global, cross-industry trustbusting, we have to create and build momentum for the movement. I think we should start with tech.

8/

Even though few people have fixing tech at the top of their agenda, *nobody* likes the tech industry.

What's more, though tech companies monopolized the same way that, say pro wrestling did (spending their way to the top, buying out or crushing all rivals), tech has particular, specific characteristics that make it easier to pry apart again.

9/

You've probably heard that tech is monopolized because of "network effects." That's econ jargon for a product or service that gets more valuable as more people use it. You join Facebook because your friends are there. Once you're on FB, others join because *you're* there.

But while network effects explain why tech *gets* big, they're not why tech *stays* big.

10/

For that, you need to look at the neglected economics concept of "switching costs" - the things you give up when you stop using a product or service.

Facebook and other Big Tech companies do everything they can to raise switching costs. When you quit FB, you lose access to the friends, communities and customers who stay behind. There's no technical reason this has to happen.

You can switch cell carriers without losing the ability to call your friends, after all.

11/

The high cost of leaving FB was deliberately created by the company, which has used expensive lawsuits and technological countermeasures to block every attempt to interoperate with it.

But if we used the law to guarantee interop, to force FB to connect to other, non-monopolistic services (say, ones run by co-ops, nonprofits or startups) then FB's billions of users wouldn't be a reason to join FB, they'd be a reason to *leave* it.

12/

If we passed the ACCESS Act - which imposes a duty on Facebook to interoperate with rivals that promise not to mine or commercialize data - then leaving FB would give you all the benefits of FB (community and friends), with none of the privacy costs.

pluralistic.net/2021/06/22/vap

13/

And if we safeguarded Competitive Compatibility - the right to interoperate without permission, we'd future-proof the ACCESS Act, by securing the right to mod FB to protect security, add accessibility, and add other forms of interop.

eff.org/deeplinks/2019/10/adve

Fixing industry - including and especially tech - requires action from the public sector. We can't make monopolies better by acting as "consumers" - we have to act as *citizens*.

14/

You won't fix Surveillance Capitalism by buying Apple products.

onezero.medium.com/how-to-dest

For all the noise that tech companies make about their rivalries - Google vs Facebook, Apple vs Google - at bottom, they differences are as meaningless as the flavors of "marshmellows" in a box of Lucky Charms.

15/

Apple and Google are effectively a combine - for years, Google's Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board. Apple's biggest single customer is Google. And Apple and Google had no problem illegally colluding to suppress wages with "no poach" agreements.

knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/ar

16/

Same goes for Google-Facebook's rivalry. For two companies that are supposed to be as different as night and day, there are a fuckton of personnel who have moved from one to the other - all the way up to Sheryl Sandberg, the one-time Google VP who's now Facebook's COO.

In his dissent to Citizens United, Justice Stevens wrote that corporate free speech was bullshit because "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires."

17/

Companies want us to believe they have "values," but these are just marketing crap.

That's why monopoly is so easy. Back when the DoJ killed AT&T and T-Mobile's merger, John Legere took charge of T-Mobile's and declared himself the "un-CEO," growing out his hair and donning a t-shirt and emphasizing that he was nothing like his rivals.

18/

But Legere was an ex-AT&T exec. T-Mobile's differences from the other carriers - its claim to be an "un-carrier" were as superficial as those Lucky Charm marshmellow flavors.

That's why Legere was able to merge T-Mobile with Sprint, pocket $135m and retire.

If corporations really had character and personality, if corporate rivalries really meant anything, then we wouldn't have waves and waves of mergers.

19/

Follow

I mean, either Disney and Fox were completely at odds with one another and Rupert Murdoch and Bob Iger were Romeo and Juliet, whose desperate, burning love for one another united their two great houses, or...

...It was all bullshit.

To the extent that corporations have "character" and "value," these boil down to one thing:

Class solidarity among monopolists.

Which is why boycotts or other purchase decisions are not going to solve the monopoly problem.

20/

· · Web · 1 · 0 · 0

You're not a consumer, an ambulatory wallet who votes by buying or not buying. You're a citizen, who can and must demand action from your state on your behalf.

Corporate capture isn't inevitable. It's the result of monopoly - of massive profits and concentrated decision-making power following from boiling an industry down to a few companies.

21/

We *can* have a responsive government, but only while it is more powerful than companies.

We need to bust every trust, but we have to start somewhere. Tech is uniquely suited to being that starting point, both because of the role interop can play in shattering tech's power, and because tech is the infrastructure for a mass movement to change every industry.

22/

@pluralistic This is an excellent thread. However, it's actually given me the nudge to delete my Facebook account (that I'm not using anyway) to see if it could make me closer to my friends. By calling them.
@pluralistic I mean, I don't think someone deleting their Facebook account would lose access to their friends. I don't think social media make me closer to my friends – with a really peculiar experience, I think everything we call "social media", implicitly excluding chat software like IRC or Discord from this expression, is caracterized by being a metadata aggregator. Just like my supermarket's loyalty card serves to aggregate everyone's receipt and statistically analyze purchases to associate products to consumer profiles.

If this wasn't for statistics and mass surveillance, Facebook wouldn't exist. We would chat on IRC, using state-of-the-art IRC clients, or on something inspired by IRC, instead of chatting on something inspired by Twitter (which, without mass surveillance, wouldn't be sustainable).
Sign in to participate in the conversation
La Quadrature du Net - Mastodon - Media Fédéré

Mamot.fr est une serveur Mastodon francophone, géré par La Quadrature du Net.