Will Democrats Need to Break Up Amazon And Google to Beat Donald Trump?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., joined by, from left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, N.Y. speaks in Berryville, Va., July 24, 2017, to unveil the Democrats new agenda.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., joined by, from left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, N.Y. speaks in Berryville, Va., July 24, 2017, to unveil the Democrats new agenda. Cliff Owen/AP

Senate Democrats are taking up an anti-trust platform.

As Democrats prepare a program to win the legislature in the 2018 legislative elections, one issue stands out as new: The idea of breaking up large tech companies.

In an op-ed today, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote that his party would “going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.” Another Democratic senator with reputed presidential ambitions, Cory Booker, told Recode that “corporate villainy is reigning” and regulators should look to Google as a potential monopolist. And Democrat David Cicilline, who represents Rhode Island in the House of Representatives, is calling for hearings on the anti-competitive possibilities of Amazon’s planned purchase of Whole Foods.

All three lawmakers are using a complicated economic proposition to make a populist point ahead of their confrontation with the Republican party of Donald Trump: We’re in favor of helping out the little guy against modern corporations that are exploiting regular people.

“Our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care,” Schumer wrote.

Fixing the problem is a key plank in the Democrats’ “Better Deal” campaign platform, which envisions the creation of a new anti-trust advocate—a “trust buster”—to push regulators to crack down on monopolists. In a sense, they are catching up with party darling Elizabeth Warren, who outlined this agenda in a 2016 speech.

The anti-trust project taps intop latent questions about the digital economy, which is creating enormous amounts of value for investors without providing mass employment on the scale of previous American corporate renaissances. To its advocates, battling monopolies is the political rallying cry Democrats need to regenerate their populist appeal, which was famously lacking in the 2016 election. Besides tech companies, Democrats can highlight any number of corporate villains, from telecom giants to airlines, that leverage concentration to public consternation. They’ve even got a plan to fight beer monopolies and lower the prices on suds.

If the Democrats win the House in 2018, their power on this issue will still be limited mainly to conducting investigations as long as Donald Trump and his veto pen are in the White House. But the party could use that time to educate the public about the principle challenge that has left anti-trust enforcement a largely dead letter since Microsoft was sued by the US government in 1998—namely, legal interpretations that base the decision to enforce, or not, on the prices consumers pay.

It’s easy to demonstrate that tech companies have seized enormous amounts of market share in various domains, from search to online retail to social networking. But because many of Google’s services are ostensibly free and Amazon’s market share is driven by low prices, regulators have done little to stand in the way of these companies. Even in more traditional industries, this theory is used to justify consolidation that might have appalled earlier generations of Americans.

Critics of modern monopolies argue that the damage is felt by society in other ways—in shrinking new business formation and private investment; in growing income inequality; in the proliferation of personal data across digital platforms; and in the hollowing out of the media industry.

“For more than 35 years, both parties have embraced a competition philosophy that put the rich and powerful first,” Barry Lynn, who directs the Open Markets program at the New America Foundation, wrote in a statement. “Democrats must clearly reject the Chicago School philosophy of ‘consumer welfare.'”

In other words, Democrats will need to push new ways of thinking about and enforcing anti-trust laws if they want the public on their side.

Beyond the legal hurdles of taking on the digital behemoths, the politics of such a move would be risky. Tech company investors and CEOs have been a fertile source of campaign cash for the Democratic party; directly challenging their business model could prove costly. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi hails from San Francisco and is as protective of local industry as any lawmaker. And some Democrats looking for gains among Republican-leaning suburban voters turned off by Trump might fear that attacks on big business may come off as attacks on business itself.

Yet the embrace of trust-busting rhetoric by the party’s head honchos suggests at least one thing: It polls better than the alternative.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.