My latest Locus column is “Steering with the Windshield Wipers,” and it ties together the growth of Big Tech with the dismantling of antitrust law (which came about thanks to Robert Bork’s bizarre alternate history of antitrust, a theory so ridiculous that it never would have gained traction except that it promised to make rich people a lot richer).
The problems of Big Tech are almost all the results of how big they are, not the fact that they’re doing tech. But all of our regulatory responses to Big Tech — copyright filters, automated moderation laws, etc — are about specifying the technology that these companies must use, not making the companies smaller so that their mistakes don’t carry so much weight and so that their self-interested preferences aren’t so readily turned into laws.
40 years ago, Robert Bork and Ronald Reagan ripped the steering wheel out of our industrial policy’s vehicle and since then, we’ve been “steering” with everything else, because that’s all we have. But just because the windshield wipers work and the steering wheel doesn’t, it doesn’t follow that the wipers can steer the car.
A lack of competition rewards bullies, and bullies have insatiable appetites. If your kid is starving because they keep getting beaten up for their lunch money, you can’t solve the problem by giving them more lunch money – the bullies will take that money too. Likewise: in the wildly unequal Borkean inferno we all inhabit, giving artists more copyright will just enrich the companies that control the markets we sell our works into – the media companies, who will demand that we sign over those rights as a condition of their patronage. Of course, these companies will be subsequently menaced and expropriated by the internet distribution companies. And while the media companies are reluctant to share their bounties with us artists, they reliably expect us to share their pain – a bad quarter often means canceled projects, late payments, and lower advances.
And yet, when a lack of competition creates inequities, we do not, by and large, reach for pro-competitive answers. We are the fallen descendants of a lost civilization, destroyed by Robert Bork in the 1970s, and we have forgotten that once we had a mighty tool for correcting our problems in the form of pro-competitive, antitrust enforcement: the power to block mergers, to break up conglomerates, to regulate anticompetitive conduct in the marketplace.
Steering with the Windshield Wipers [Cory Doctorow/Locus]