New York Times: The New Trustbusting

October 21, 2020 Media

When two Stanford University graduate students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founded Google in 1998, the U.S. economy looked different than it does today.

For one thing, big companies weren’t as dominant. Small businesses — those with fewer than 100 workers — still employed more Americans, combined, than companies with at least 1,000 employers:

The economy was also performing better in the late 1990s than it has been lately. Back then, incomes and net worth were rising up and down the economic spectrum. In recent years, the gains have slowed or stopped for every group but the very rich.

The connection between these two trends — the rise of corporate concentration and the slowdown in living standards for most Americans — helps explain why the country may be on the cusp of a new era of trustbusting.

If it is, yesterday could represent the start of that era. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google, accusing it of holding an illegal monopoly over internet search and search advertising. State officials are investigating the company as well, and both federal and state officials are also scrutinizing Facebook, Amazon and some other large companies.

It’s also the rare area of economic policy with some bipartisan agreement, Sarah Miller, an antitrust advocate who runs the American Economic Liberties Project, notes. The Trump administration brought the Google case, with encouragement from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.