Inc.: Would Joe Biden Bust Up Big Tech?

October 29, 2020 Media

By this point, you must know how Donald Trump feels about big tech. He loves to use Twitter, as is painfully clear to anyone on social media, but his seemingly near-constant and very public spats with tech company CEOs reveal that he’s no fan of the industry. And indeed, he has oftentimes worked at odds with tech companies–from revamping the H-1B visa system, the nation’s most popular high-skilled guestworker program to threatening to eliminate Section 230, the provision that has allowed social media to avoid liability for what their users post on their platforms.

What’s less clear is how the Democratic challenger Joe Biden would come down on big tech and the potentially anti-competitive behavior that increasingly puts tech bosses in congressional crosshairs. This edited excerpt from “Big,” Matt Stoller’s newsletter should be your guide. 

Meet Joe Biden

As odd as it might sound, Joe Biden does have a populist streak. For example, in 1994, Biden was the chair of the Judiciary Committee overseeing the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Stephen Breyer. Though a Democrat, Breyer was known as extremely favorable to big business, and he was particularly obsessed with cost/benefit analysis in striking down regulations. Biden really let him have it in the hearings, telling Breyer that his views were “presumptuous and elitist,” saying he found it offensive to presume Americans “would change their cultural values if” they knew the true costs. In a later interview, Biden then called Breyer’s ideas “Harvard-ese … that offends me.” Of course, Biden voted for Breyer, showing that his instincts and his political choices don’t always align. But it’s a remarkable, and little noted, nugget from Biden, a genuine chip on his shoulder–a disdain for economic eggheads.

Now the pessimistic take. As a senator, Biden had a fairly orthodox Democratic economic policy framework, often tilting toward Wall Street. This was particularly true for policies like the Bankruptcy Bill in 2005, which Biden supported. That law made it much harder to escape credit card debt, and allowed big banks to take more risk through derivatives. Biden also supported free-trade agreements like NAFTA and the entrance of China to the World Trade Organization. During his time in the Obama White House, he negotiated with Republicans around austerity and tax cuts in ways that progressives did not like, and he helped open the door to Chinese influence over the NBA with some negotiations over film exports.