Liberating Big Tech’s hostages on day one
“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.”
-The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (Lewis Carroll)
The new, surging antitrust movement has given hope to many who yearn to throw off the yoke of Big Tech. After all, the tech giants’ dominance was attained through solidly illegal conduct, such as anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions, predatory pricing, and price-fixing. This produced conditions in which the companies were able to engage in more flagrant illegal conduct, including unambiguous, multi-billion-dollar acts of fraud.
But antitrust is s-l-o-w. The last big antitrust case with major consequences was the breakup of AT&T in 1982. Notionally, that was the result of eight years of litigation, but in truth, AT&T was first sanctioned for abusing its monopoly in 1913, 69 years before it was finally broken up.
Why did it take most of a century to break up this notorious, abusive, nationally loathed monopolist? Simple: companies seek monopoly power because monopolies are able to juice their profits by raising prices, suppressing wages, capturing regulators, and externalizing their costs.
Monopolies can mobilize these profits (“monopoly rents”) to tie up the judicial system, so any attempt to regulate them is beaten back in court (they can also buy off regulators, pay for corrupt “research” that casts doubt on their power, and establish themselves as part of the state, as AT&T did, making an ally out of the Pentagon by becoming central to the US invasion of Korea).
Take IBM: the company spent 12 years in court, fighting a breakup order. In each of those 12 years, Big Blue’s legal bills were more than the salaries entire DoJ antitrust division, combined. IBM won, because all those lawyers managed to delay the process until the arrival of Ronald Reagan, who brought most antitrust enforcement to a 40-year halt (thankfully, we are finally emerging from that Dark Age).
Breaking up a monopoly is much harder than preventing one from forming, because the power of a monopoly can be used to fight breakups. The best time to fight the tech monopolies was 20 years ago.