Much of the discussion among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates regarding economic policy has centered around one particular-the question of breaking up big tech. This is due in no small part to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) who made the subject a cornerstone of her campaign. On March 8th 2019, she published a detailed layout of why the technology sector needed to be broken up and how she would do it. Her plan centered on disrupting the ways that the giants of the industry, specifically Google, Facebook and Amazon, have limited competition within their industries by way of both mergers and proprietary marketplaces. The legislation she proposed to break up these companies’ market power and influence would see the biggest tech companies designated as platform utilities
In the months that followed, several other prominent Democratic candidates also weighed in on the issue. In an interview with the Associated Press, frontrunner Joe Biden praised Warren’s stance on breaking up big tech, stating she had made a “very strong case.” Biden added that he didn’t think that the U.S. government had dedicated enough time to investigating antitrust measures and that he felt it was something that they “should take a really hard look” at. Kamala Harris expressed a similar statement regarding Facebook, stating that to her, there was no question that “serious regulation.” would be necessary for the social networking platform. “I think we have to seriously take a look at that” she responded when asked if she thought Facebook should be broken up. A few days later, Senator Bernie Sanders stated that should antitrust action be taken against Facebook, he would support it. “We have a monopolistic— an increasingly monopolistic society where you have a handful of very large corporations having much too much power over consumers” he added.
Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), however, displayed a different stance toward the idea of breaking up big tech. When asked where he stood on the subject, he responded “I don’t think that a president should be running around pointing at companies and saying break them up without any kind of process here.” Booker even went as far as to compare Warren’s techniques to those displayed by Trump. It’s not me and my own personal opinion about going after folks” he added. “That sounds more like a Donald Trump thing to say, ‘I’m going to break up you guys.’”
It is worth noting that during the first Democratic Debate of the 2020 primary, Amazon was the only member of big tech’s elite to be called out by name.
Is pushing for further antitrust legislature aimed at breaking up big tech a winning issue for the 2020 democratic presidential candidates? There is plenty of reason to think so. America’s trust in social media has been steadily decreasing for as long as Donald Trump has been in office. Just over a year ago, leading public relations firm Edelman released a survey on the subject, consisting of data gathered from nine large countries including the U.S. and Canada as well as the U.K. According to this survey, only 30 percent of U.S. respondents still trust social media while over 60 percent felt that their government needed to do more to regulate social media. This should provide an excellent opportunity for the 2020 Democratic candidates to offer the American people something they clearly want.
As Warren laid out in her March 2019 policy rollout, though, the reasons from which her focus on breaking up big tech has stemmed have as much, if not more to do with economics than social justice. These companies have what economist Robert Reich has described as a “stronghold on our economy” in the sense that they have monopolized entire markets. Facebook and Amazon haven’t hesitated to acquire any companies that could rival them even minimally, a noteworthy example being Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp. Business practices of this sort are harmful to the economy as a whole, as they serve not only to stifle competition and innovation but ultimately to hinder job growth. If they cannot acquire a company, the giants of tech have been known to resort to other tactics, such as the price war that Amazon launched against their competitors. Companies that reach this market monopoly status typically have the means to get what they want, which often means political influence. This is particularly dangerous concerning a company like Google that controls so much of what American voters see when they search the internet for news or anything else.
The Open Markets Institute, a liberal Washington D.C. based think tank, has spent years crusading against the market monopolies that have grown to dominate the technology sector. Their influence in the increasing Capitol Hill scrutiny of big tech’s giants is starting to gain traction. It certainly makes sense that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the first candidate to come out against big tech, would have a longstanding relationship with the organization that called for the sectors monopolies to be broken up before anyone else.
Sen. Warren has long understood that breaking up big tech is fundamentally important for the health of our economy. While other candidates have expressed similar sentiments since her policy rollout, she has made it a cornerstone of her campaign and that should not be forgotten when we evaluate which candidate has presented the most effective economic policies.
- The Open Markets Institute is a progressive think tank that uses journalism to promote greater awareness of the political and economic dangers of monopolization, identifies the changes in policy and law that cleared the way for such consolidation, and fosters discussions with policymakers
- Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. As a national online force driven by more than 1.4 million members, they move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.
- Majority Action is a community of everyday people who believe that shareholders play a critical role in holding corporations accountable to high standards of corporate governance and social responsibility. They have advocated for Facebook to held accountable for its actions.
Photo by Ales Nesetril