Grub Street: Assembling Tapas and Dismantling Monopolies With Zephyr Teachout

August 24, 2020 Media

Zephyr Teachout is making tapas for lunch and this, in a world that has become so jumbled and jibbering, is a small and welcome instance of something making perfect sense. Tapas is a decentralized lunch, snacks arrayed equally to form a meal. Teachout is an advocate for decentralization, power divided equally to form a democracy. For Teachout, the opposite phenomenon, a consolidation of power, is revolting, which is to say, something in need of a revolution. That’s what Teachout calls for in her new book, Break ‘Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money.

In the book, the former candidate for New York attorney general and governor and just about every other office for which one can run, presents a cogent and unassailable argument that monopolies in the form of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tyson, Monsanto, Uber and (a few) more have co-opted the country, bought off our politicians, broken the mechanisms of democracy, spoiled our minds, despoiled our goods, consolidated the power of the people into the hands of a few, and, in the greatest trick ever pulled, convinced the world they don’t even exist. The book is available on Amazon, which is part of the problem.

Every page of Teachout’s text glints with outrage. She shows how these massive companies abuse their authority to shirk antitrust oversight, illustrating how the legislative overseers have come to be the overseen themselves, how they’ve been turned to vassals through cash unleashed into their coffers. Teachout argues that, through forced arbitration clauses, these monopolies privatized the court system to the detriment of workers, and furthered systemic racism by supporting voter suppression through organizations like ALEC. She explains how their data harvesting — not a glitch, but a feature — turns us into Gelflings staring at the Dark Crystal while our freedom and capital is sucked from us. It’s all really ghastly and just a major bummer especially since, as Teachout notes, the point of a monopoly is to leave no other options.

Nevertheless, Teachout is her typically sunny self when I reach her via Zoom at her East Harlem apartment, because she’s an optimist and because it’s time for tapas. “My husband has a crazy idea,” she says. He’s a software executive turned high-school physics teacher named Nick Juliusburger and he’s about to upgrade our Zoom call. He’s trained a second camera on a cutting board and, via the magic of screen sharing, I see Zephyr Teachout beaming in a bright-pink blouse in a small kitchen, knife at the ready, and I also see, in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen, her cutting board, upon which a tomato waits to be chopped.