Saturday, June 8, 2019

The War against Big Tech

America’s politicians have finally found consensus. They have found someone they can all hate. The object of their ill attentions is: Big Tech. While the Trump Justice Department opens investigations about monopoly practices by Google and Facebook, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declaims that “the era of self-regulation is over.”

One ought to note that the two parties are coming at the problem from different angles. Republicans are up in arms especially about the tech giants’ efforts to create a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas. Since Google and Facebook have an outsized influence on who reads what and who sees what, they have managed to use their power to suppress speech that they deem offensive. The risk to free and open debate is manifest. Most recently, Google’s YouTube put comedian Steven Crowder out of business for trafficking in what it considered to be hate speech.

The current obsession with suppressing hate speech, a product of the leftist radicals who control the non-STEM side of the academy, directly violates first amendment free speech protections. And yet, the law offers no real recourse for those who have been unjustly shut down because their speech offends the delicate sensibilities of Google’s engineers.

And we ought to have seen that when Google refused to work for the Pentagon, all the while proclaiming its patriotism, it was heading for a fall. Dissing the Pentagon, refusing to contribute to national security was a self-inflicted wound, one that surely lost the company whatever political capital it might have had.

Democrats come at it from a different angle. By the tenets of their secular religion unfettered capitalism produces inequality. They want to give more work to bureaucrats and lawyers, their contributing base. Democrats live and breathe to regulate and they have now found fertile ground in the practices of the GAAF companies, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

The recent onslaught suggests that the  GAAF public relations model, paying Democrats protection while counting on Republican capitalists to look the other way, has now broken down.

Thus, both left and right have now joined forces to break up or to break down high tech. They are not, however, doing it for the same reason.

Joel Kotkin explains, in the Daily Beast, that it’s about time.

If ever any group had it coming, it’s the giants of the tech industry. The recent decision by the Trump administration to look into monopolistic practices by the tech oligarchs—talk about collusion!—represents a welcome change from over two decades, under both parties, of sucking up to these firms as they bought up competitors and consolidated market positions that would put the likes of John D. Rockefeller to shame.

As in the gilded age a century ago, the tech industry epitomizes capitalism run amok, with huge concentrations of wealth, power, and control over key markets, like search (Google), cellphone operating systems (Apple and Google), and social media (Facebook/Instagram).

We have been accustomed to think of technology entrepreneurs as bold, risk-taking individuals who thrive on competition but now we know that it is more accurate to see them as oligarchs ruling over an industry ever more concentrated, centrally controlled and hierarchical. Rather than idealistic newcomers, they increasingly reflect the worst of American capitalism—squashing competitors, using indentured servants from abroad, colluding to fix wages, and dodging taxes while creating ever more social anomie and alienation.

Amusingly, these young idealists have managed to become worse than the worst capitalists. They might not know that their baseline beliefs, garnered at Harvard and Stanford, hold that capitalism is evil. They believed that they were better than everyone else because they were smarter than everyone else. Their success only proved their point. But, they believed that monopolizing the marketplace of information, or of goods and services, meant that they could also monopolize the marketplace of ideas.

The question remains open, but it should be asked. How does it happen that idealists, when given unprecedented power, abuse it so thoroughly. How many tyrants see themselves as philosopher kings? Could it be arrogance.

Or could it be that they do not really believe in free enterprise, but believe in central planning, command and control, not necessarily led by government bureaucrats, but led by an enlightened group of philosopher kings… themselves.

This time, it looks like they have overplayed their hands. It looks like their efforts to suck up to progressive democrats have come a cropper. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully Stuart did not OD on coffee last night.

Technology solves old and creates new problems.

trigger warning said...

I've commented on this debate in an earlier thread, noting that, IMO, Alphabet's Google engine has achieved the status of a common carrier. But there's also an interesting article in the WSJ entitled "Why Free Is Too High a Price for Facebook and Google". An excerpt...

"In fact, most of the ills traced to these companies are a direct consequence of their 'free' business models, which compel them to suck up our personal data and prioritize user growth over the health and privacy of individuals and society, all so they can sell more advertisements. They make money from the attention and in some cases the hard work — all those status updates, videos and likes are also a kind of uncompensated labor, if you think about it — of their most devoted users. What’s more, their success has given them the power to block upstarts that might have competed against them with different approaches." [emphasis added]

Time to crack the whip, IMO.