ProMarket: Why Congress Must Take on Big Tech Monopolies

October 6, 2020 Anti-Monopoly Policies & EnforcementTech

For most of American history, from the 1890s to the 1970s, Congress understood that antitrust law was one of its most fundamental tasks. But for decades, Congress has acted like antitrust simply wasn’t its job. Judges rewrote the law and Congress did nothing; enforcers failed to enforce and Congress did nothing. Small businesses were praised in theory, but ignored in practice, as entrepreneurship rates plummeted due to monopolization.

The report of the House Antitrust Subcommittee on digital platforms is historic, a major reclaiming of Congress’ role. It is comprehensive, serious, and damning, and makes clear that Congress needs to pass Glass-Steagall (structural separation) laws for Big Tech, and take back the role of writing antitrust laws. With a potential Biden administration coming in to a devastated economy, this report may well become the roadmap for a new moment in American trustbusting, a new moment for a fair, thriving economy and a more open democracy.

Since the early days of this country, corporations and corporate powers were always carefully checked by the government, and people well aware of the democratic dangers associated with unfettered corporate activity and expansion. In fact, almost two hundred years ago the Supreme Court explained that:

“The continued existence of a government, would be of no great value, if by implications and presumptions it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation, and the functions it was designed to perform, transferred to the hands of privileged corporations.”

We have long understood that antitrust is an essential democracy-protection tool. As former Supreme Court Justice William Douglas wrote in an opinion over 70 years ago, one of the key goals of antitrust law is to protect against tyranny: “The philosophy of the Sherman Act” is that a few men should not be allowed to gather sufficient private power to control others. “For all power tends to develop into a government in itself. Power that controls the economy should be in the hands of elected representatives of the people, not in the hands of an industrial oligarchy.”