One of the few areas of agreement in Washington’s “bitterly divided politics” is “the need to tackle the omnipotence of the Faangs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google). Donald Trump may be a Twitter addict, but he has been “sharply critical” of the power of big tech. The Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives and its powerful committees are also “committed” to taking them on. No one is expecting the sort of “full-throated antitrust pursuit” that had the White House taking on the monopoly of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil more than a century ago, but public opinion is turning against Big Tech. San Francisco voted recently voted to adopt “Proposition C”: an extra tax on its biggest businesses that will raise funds to combat homelessness. A good thing too!
Nonetheless, the power of big companies to push governments around seems unchanged at the moment, and is demonstrated by the way in which Amazon set about choosing locations for its new HQ. As well as demanding good roads, public transport and educated locals (all paid for by taxpayers), the company stated that “incentives” from state and local governments would be “significant factors in the decision-making process”. We can see much the same thing in Britain, where the chemicals giant Ineos (which is run by the UK’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, and made some $2bn in profit last year) appears to have persuaded local authorities in the Tees Valley, one of the poorest areas in England, “to build a factory for him”. Leaving the EU will probably make Britain “more vulnerable” to such “corporate blackmail” as it tries to retain and attract jobs. It may well make short-term sense for companies to treat people’s jobs as “bargaining chips”, but if it ends up eroding support for capitalism and globalisation, “it will come back to bite them in the end”. (The Week, 17 November 2018)
Actually, what we do need is precisely the sort of “full-throated antitrust pursuit that had the White House taking on the monopoly of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil more than a century ago.” These arrogant people, especially the tech companies, have coarsened discourse, encouraged crude, vulgar bullies, racists and political extremists, weakened the traditional Press and caused huge social changes, in my opinion none of them good. The bosses never meant, I’m sure, to undermine society, even elections, but, having done so much damage they are now prevaricating and avoiding doing their duty to society. They need to be brought up with a jolt, and the weak-kneed, mamby-pamby Congress must stop paying obeisance to them and treat them like any other public service (especially regarding tax). Otherwise the public will turn against modern, disagreeable, divisive capitalism altogether.