Now that the federal government has turned off the spigot of stimulus checks, colloquially known as “stay at home and smoke your bong” money, there is a newly minted executive order that aims to break the stranglehold of corporate power and boost the economy through innovation.
On July 9, President Joe Biden issued his “Promoting Competition in the American Economy” order. In it are 72 directives which make for good reading for those with insomnia, but otherwise will have virtually no impact on “promoting competition.” At least we can be thankful it steers clear of additional make-America-great-again import tariffs.
What this order does do is place the topic of corporate consolidation of power on the table, and that hopefully stimulates a robust conversation about what those trends imply for workers and consumers and how we organize (or further disorganize) our society. To be sure, the conversation on the Hill is not one-sided; there is bipartisan support for reining in the excesses big-tech, namely Google and Facebook. As well, there is shared concern about the prevalence of employee noncompete agreements — the use of them by the fast food industry is of particular concern.
If you step back and look at the primary historical drivers, a clear pattern emerges towards monopolies across industries in our country and globally, a pattern which makes this executive order and its 72 directives appear as mere footnotes to that larger framework. Tim Wu, law professor, who wrote “The Curse of Bigness” and had a hand in writing these directives, calls this White House initiative “an intellectual revolution which the President has embraced.” In itself, that’s anti-intellectual political bluster.
One thing is for certain: the 1 percent, the titans of industry, have nothing to be concerned about here. The language is milquetoast — the clause about refunding baggage fees for lost or delayed luggage will no doubt have the airline oligopoly quivering — and even thorns like that can be challenged as the federal courts are now stacked with corporate-friendly judges.
“I’m a proud capitalist,” Biden exclaims, as he went about comparing this proposal to Teddy Roosevelt taking on John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. At the turn of the 20th century, the line between public and private interests was clear; when Roosevelt acted, he did so because of “public injury” and there was widespread popular support for the break-up of Standard Oil and other monopolies.
The regulatory role of government and the wealth-generating interests of today’s mega-corporations are not only enmeshed, a truer understanding is that corporations run the government rather than merely influence the government. All you have to do is simply run your finger down the list of cabinet appointees and follow them before and after to the corporate boards they call home. These cozy country club memberships are not going to be threatened anytime soon.
At the head of the antitrust table at the 19th hole is Amazon. Does Amazon exploit its warehouse workers? Do they coerce sellers into using their fulfillment and other services? Do they eliminate competition in favor of their own branded products? You betcha. And they have an insatiable appetite to grow through major acquisitions as well, like the recently proposed $8.45 billion acquisition of movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
What is less than amusing to Amazon is that newly appointed FTC Chair, Lina Khan, has crashed the festivities. (Unlike Fed Chair Jerome Powell who gets invited to soirees at the Bezos home). Her credentials do not include corporate board membership, and do include authoring a paper entitled, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” while a law student at Yale. Amazon has formally written to the FTC stating that she has an obvious bias and should not be allowed to participate in decisions affecting them.
This is sure to be a David and Goliath, movie-of-the-week worthy story. We live in an age of pay-to-play corporate socialism, and although we know that this recent executive order will not alter the system’s status quo, it will be interesting to see how this drama plays out.
Rather than occupy itself with bland proclamations about being a “proud capitalist,” monopoly or no monopoly, we’d all be better off if this administration acted on values that cooperate rather than compete with nature.
After years of globetrotting, Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Renew News: https://www.usrenewnews.org/