Bigness and Tech Monopolies

One of my favorite reads of the last few years has been Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness. Wu is a terrific storyteller and in just 154 pages he manages to tell an epic and highly entertaining story of the battle for nothing less than America’s economic and political soul.

Wu tells his tale through the lens of antitrust policy, chronicling the ideological and regulatory struggle between private power and state power since the rise of the industrial giants in the late 1800s. You might distantly remember Standard Oil and “trustbusting” from middle school history class and think it irrelevant to our more enlightened times, but Wu makes a very compelling case that the tech giants of today are playing the same role — and are no less ruthless.

The topic of antitrust policy sounds like dry, academic stuff but I found his book to be exactly the opposite. The Curse of Bigness feels to me like an essential primer of what’s happening in America today: massive income equality, polarized politics, the rise of authoritarian figures, and — not least — a pervasive feeling across the electorate that the game we’re all playing is rigged.

I’ve read the book twice, watched several of his related lectures, and also gotten my wife to read it. I’ll probably read it again soon.

Not yet convinced? Ease into the sexy topic of antitrust with this new segment on tech monopolies by the always brilliant John Oliver. Wu’s book makes an appearance in the episode along with plenty of other supporting arguments that today’s tech giants are every bit as dangerous as those that used to control oil, telecoms, and railroads.

The only difference between then and now is that the monopolists aren’t commanding large parts of the physical world. Instead, they’re hiding in the apps on your phone.