Don’t Get Distracted by the Spectacle of Tech’s Big Antitrust Hearing
A top Amazon critic explains the big picture behind the media circus
Four of the world’s most powerful people will testify to Congress on Wednesday as part of a long-running investigation into whether their companies are, well, too powerful. After sending various underlings to previous hearings, this time Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai will personally face questions from members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, turning what would otherwise be a routine proceeding into something of a media spectacle. It’s the sixth in a series of hearings on competition problems in digital markets that the subcommittee began in June 2019 and is expected to culminate in a bipartisan report to Congress later this year.
At stake is a possible paradigm shift in antitrust law to adapt to the internet age — one that could reshape the playing fields that have allowed the largest U.S. tech companies to become some of the most dominant entities in world history.
Watching closely will be Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance and one of Amazon’s most influential critics. She testified as an expert witness in the second of the hearings last summer, and earlier this year was profiled by the New York Times as one of the people whose ideas have shaped the case against Amazon.
Last week, Mitchell made news by stepping down from her fellowship at a Yale University antitrust project, along with fellow antitrust scholar Sanjukta Paul. The two resigned their positions after The American Prospect reported that the project’s director, Yale economist Fiona Scott Morton, disclosed that she is a paid advisor to Amazon and Apple.
“I think that makes it hard to achieve the project’s goal of creating a space to grapple w/ the antitrust implications of Big Tech,” Mitchell said in a Twitter thread announcing her departure. She nodded to the irony of Amazon and Apple extending their reach to an antitrust project named after Thurman Arnold, the top trust-buster in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.