In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt acquired the sobriquet “trust buster” after relying on the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act to break up the Northern Securities Company monopoly dominating railroad routes from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren intends to bring to the White House some of this hard-line stance against today’s monopolies should she be elected president next year.
“Today’s big tech companies have too much power–too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”
Warren gained most of her reputation in Congress as an anti-trust crusader, forming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) out of Dodd-Frank to stop big banks’ ability to again wreak havoc on our economy.
As president, she vows to choose regulators seeking to break up “anti-competitive mergers,” like Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and Zappos, and Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick and Waze, explaining:
“We must help America’s content creators–from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians–keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook.”
In so doing, she is looking out for the small-business owners, those who can’t compete against the tech companies’ budgets and influence.
“I believe in markets that work. Markets that have a cop on the beat and have real rules and everybody follows them.”
“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires.”
On Sunday morning’s Face the Nation, Sen. Warren elaborated:
“The giant tech companies right now are eating up little, tiny business startups—and competing unfairly.
“Look at it this way, someone like Amazon runs a platform—you know, the place where you buy your coffee maker and get it delivered in 48 hours and that’s great. But in addition to that, they’re sucking up all that information about every purchase, every sale and every one of the other little businesses that are offering their products on Amazon.”
“Let me be clear. I’m not in Washington to work for billionaires. I’m in Washington to help level the playing field so that everybody gets a chance to get out there and compete. Right now, with giants like Amazon and Google and Facebook, do you know how venture capitals talk about the space around them? They call it the kill zone because they don’t want to fund businesses in that space because they know Amazon will eat them up, Facebook will eat them up, Google will eat them up.”
This is not an overall unpopular stance.
Former labor secretary to President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, explained:
“America’s first Gilded Age began in the late 19th century with a raft of innovations–railroads, steel production, oil extraction–but culminated in mammoth trusts run by ‘robber barons’ like JP Morgan, John D Rockefeller, and William H ‘the public-be- damned’ Vanderbilt.
“The answer then was to bust up the railroad, oil and steel monopolies.
“We’re now in a second Gilded Age, ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet, which has spawned a handful of hi-tech behemoths and a new set of barons like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.
“The answer is the same as it was before: bust up the monopolies.”
In 2017, Amazon reported nearly $178 billion in revenue.
Last year, Bezos made $11.2 billion dollars and paid nothing in federal taxes.
And he is on pace to repeat that this year.
In September, Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act,” intending to require employers with at least 500 employees to reimburse the government for the food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and other federal assistance their workers receive.
Sanders’ office explained in a press release:
“If an Amazon worker receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.”
In a statement, Sen. Sanders added:
“While Mr. Bezos is worth $155 billion and while his wealth has increased $260 million every single day this year, he continues to pay many Amazon employees wages that are so low that they are forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing just to get by.
“While Mr. Bezos is the most egregious example, the Walton family of Walmart and many other billionaire-owned large and profitable companies also enrich themselves off taxpayer assistance while paying their workers poverty-level wages.”
According to Truthdig, Amazon recently lobbied Washington state lawmakers in an attempt to set income at a threshold that would exempt many of Amazon’s Seattle-area employees.
A bill that passed the state senate serves to partially prohibit non-compete clauses, controversial agreements tech companies use so employees are unable to work for competitors or launch rival startup companies of their own.
And then there’s Google, responsible for 90% of all internet searches.
Together with Facebook, it accounts for 58% of all digital advertisements, the most ubiquitous form of advertising today.
Combined, Jeff Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, make more than the bottom half of the entire American population.
Citing they “go against Facebook’s advertising policies,” Facebook retaliated against Warren on Monday by removing several campaign advertisements, then restoring them, explaining it wanted to allow “robust debate.”
In response, Sen. Warren strengthened her argument against the tech giant when she tweeted:
“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”
Just Facebook’s ability, let alone its inclination, to take down Warren’s ads because she opposes its business model reinforces the senator’s argument.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons