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Be Afraid of Economic 'Bigness' (nytimes.com)
122 points by arctux 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

The sheer size and power of today's monopolies is mind-boggling to me. To think that the US has laws on the books to prevent this state of affairs but isn't enforcing them angers me.

Wow, it looks like — even proportionally — the most profitable companies have grown since 1955 (the earliest year I can find ranked lists for).

* 1955: GM makes $800M profit [1]; GNP is about $3 trillion [2] — GM's profit is 1/3750 of the overall US economy.

* 2016: Apple makes $50B profit [3]; GNP is about $18 trillion [2] — Apple's profit is 1/360 of the US economy.

I would be very curious how it looked in 1929! How much of the economy did, say, Rockefeller or Carnegie control?

[1] http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500_arch...

[2] https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gross-national-pr...

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/06/08/fortune-500-most-profitable-co...

Your comparison is drastically wrong. GM's profit in 1955 was a similar percentage vs US GDP, as what Apple is today.

US GDP in 1955 was around $400 billion (it didn't reach $3t until the 1980s). GM's profit in 1955 exceeded $1 billion.[1] That produces a ratio very similar to Apple's today. That's despite immense global growth since 1955 giving Apple an enormous global market to play in. Most of GM's profit was derived from the US domestic market. If we went just by Apple's US profit today, their ratio would be slashed to closer to 1/1000.

US GDP in 2018 will be roughly $20.5 trillion. Apple's ratio against that is about 1/360 (their profit will be closer to $57b-$60b for 2018 than $50b).

[1] http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807967,...

GM was selling cars mostly in the US, while more than 60% of Apple's sales happen outside the US. There's still quite difference, but a little smaller than the raw numbers.

What exactly do you want the government to do about, say, Facebook? Split it up? Which half of your social network goes to which part?

This idea of "government should do something!" just stokes outrage. It's not constructive. Propose something, and you'll find that the devil is in those details. Laws? Which laws? Apply them how? Those laws are not as clear or useful as you seem to think.

We need to blow the gates open and mandate that

1) a person has the right to export their data and receive it in a usable format 2) a person has the right to use this exported data and give it to a competitor

There is no reason why switching between, say, Spotify, Google Play Music, Apple Music, and Amazon Music should be any harder than switching a cell phone carrier. Imagine how much faster Myspace or Digg would've imploded if you could just export to a competitor with a click of a button.

You can switch today by just cancelling one service and signing up for another. If, however, you are suggesting that somehow your internal "profile" of likes can be easily moved, then you should first learn a little bit about how these services work.

Each uses internal IP, unique to them, that won't work with a competitors technology even if they could get access to it. And of course that ignores all the issues of trade secrets and patents that your suggestion would bring up.

You can switch cell phone carriers because of a few very simple standards. But when you do you are not taking the majority of data about you. You are only taking your number.

I also challenge that all of this data is "your data." Let's take hacker news as an example. What is "your data"? Your username, passwords, comments, those all seem pretty clear. But what about your upvotes and reports? Is that your data? An upvote involves you, but also someone else's comment or story, so it's hard to argue that it's yours alone to do with as you please. Also, what about website log data? Is that your data? Logs about web requests that you make are definitely trigger by an action of yours, but the log message itself is produced by ycombinator software, so why should you get to "own" it?

I'm pretty sympathetic to this! But for the most part you pretty much can? AFAICT Google Takeout lets you download pretty much everything.

The only big controversy I'm aware of is trying to download your social graph from Facebook. You can't even export your friends' email addresses! But... this was a big controversy a few years ago when Google was pissed that Facebook would import all your Gmail addresses but FB wouldn't let them be exported back out. It seems like the privacy advocates argued Facebook's side of this.

You can have data portability, or you can keep data private. Without crazy DRM schemes, you can't have both.

The legislature doesn't have to come up with every minuscule detail because it is impossible to have a detailed plan which would make all sides happy. They only have to come up with a certain sane law and then let the companies figure out how to best execute to stay alive and well with the help of the free market. And that's the best thing about it - if there is a demand, the split companies will stay alive but their reduced size will also allow for the competition to come into the market. I don't worry a little bit that some destructive anti-monopoly government action would cause any high-demand market area to stay empty in the free market economy. And needless to say, it is also better for consumers.

1. Facebook is vastly more than just their website. For starters, they own two of the other most popular messaging/social media entities: WhatsApp and Instagram.

2. There are plenty of antitrust laws on the books from the early 1900s.

The obvious examples are Instagram and WhatsApp.

Over the years Facebook have acquired over fifty lesser known companies.

> Which half of your social network goes to which part?

For starters, the part of my social network on Whatsapp can spin off to Whatsapp, and the part of my social network on Instagram can spin off to Instagram.

This is utterly wishful thinking, but I wish we had a technically literate government that could help foster technical solutions, without necessarily building them.

Example: personal data format standards, making it simple to export your data from one platform to another,

Another example: regular vertical spread of data companies, so they can collect but not utilize, and you must be notified of anything sold about you (e.g. inclusion on an email list)

Don't show people their like counts or delay it. Provide noprocast settings like HN. That's all they have to do.

I'm... kinda bewildered by this.

Honest questions:

Do you think FB users want to have their like counts hidden or delayed? If yes - what evidence? And if no, are you saying that you want legislation that changes FB to work in a way that neither FB nor its users want? How do you justify that?

Do you think noprocrast would change anything about Facebook? Would anyone use it? Can't you just make a chrome extension that does that and see if anyone is interested? For that matter, do you have evidence that a statistically significant part of the HN audience uses noprocrast?

You asked for suggestions that didn't involve outrage and I gave you some.

These are suggestion that have been around for a long time and even Jack Dorsey from Twitter and Tim Cook from Apple have bought it up recently.

Facebook's creates hundreds of unintended consequences. The suggestions I mentioned just addressed two specific issues - addiction and the spread of ignorance/fakenews/bad info (nuclear chain reactions require control rods same with viral info). Especially dangerous in countries where most of the population is too illeterate to counter it.

Look up Tristan Harris former Googler humanetech website and you will find many more human thought and behaviour effecting dark patterns that social media sites use that need to be addressed.

Ideally we need a bug tracker for social issues being generated in the same way we track software issues.

One example of a big problem without a fix that would be at the top of the list is having 14 year olds exposed to the most viral and extreme problems of 35 year olds day in and day out is leading to higher anxiety/depression in kids. The EU, Canada and UK have data out on this.

The suggestion for these kind of issues is, mandating such a "bug tracker" increases awareness. The regulations are being worked on.

There are lots of cases where a significant portion of the populace wants something that is bad or is opposed to something that is good. Government is supposed to look out for the greater good. We can't just say that people want X so we ought to allow it. Similarly we can't just let government ban/endorse whatever it wants.

I think it's clear that Facebook on the whole has detrimental effects on society. It does have benefits for people but it has very bad negative consequences for society. Therein is the conundrum. I have no solutions to the problem but also won't discount regulations on Facebook simply because people like certain features.

We can't just say that people want X so we ought to allow it.

Who's "we"?

At least here in the US, >60% of the voting public are Facebook users. So we're not talking about "a significant portion" - we're talking about the majority. You sound an awful lot like someone trying to claim that "you know what's best for us".

I think it's clear that Facebook on the whole has detrimental effects on society.

I don't think this is clear at all. Rigorous evidence please! And not "oh look this bad thing happened" - because if that's the standard of evidence then we should ban cellphones, airplanes, riding lawn mowers, and chewing gum.

I sound like someone who recognizes that there are circumstances in which the majority ought not get their will satisfied and that there are circumstances in which the majority will ought to be satisfied. I’m someone who recognizes that merely stating that the majority wills it so is not sufficient reasoning.

My post was pointing out a flaw in your stated reasoning. Specifically your over reliance on the fact that the majority wants it without any supporting arguments that this is a case in which the majority will ought to prevail. I was not taking a position on any issue. I’m certain that if you were sufficiently interested in the topic you could find studies showing detrimental effects of Facebook. A search engine will provide you with links.

The “we” is obviously society.

Agreed. FAANG has the government over a barrel.

FAANG is a curious one to bring up as a monopoly and yet it keeps on being repeated. They are large and influential certainly but they all have one thing in common - they are all accessible to anyone with an internet connection. They are all desperately trying to eat each other's market-share more or less. It may be unhealthily difficult to break into but a monopoly it is not.

Compare to the carrier and media conglomerate monopolies which don't receive any rhetorical pushes against them as monopolies. Despite them literally being the only option in many localities - and not even tiny ones either.

There is almost no real competition among the FAANG companies. Google and Amazon have token hardware efforts. Only Facebook has more than a token social media effort. Apple has been careful to circumscribe its retail presence to its own hardware.

The network effects Facebook and Google enjoy are every bit as powerful as carrier barriers to entry. I have way more options for Internet access (two wired, four different cellular providers), than I do connecting with my family over social media. (My family lives all over the world, and I don’t even have phone numbers or email addresses for most of them). I have no choice not to have Google scan my emails, because my family all had gmail addresses. Etc.

Same for Microsoft. 40 years later and still no viable competition. as big of a lead now as ever.

> They are all desperately trying to eat each other's market-share more or less


Apple, Amazon, Microsoft (should be part of FAANG), Google are not trying to eat Facebook's extraordinarily profitable social monopoly. Google tried, kinda sorta, briefly. Apple raised a pinky for a second, with Ping. They can't and they know they can't, they've all given up on trying. Facebook gets to print $20+ billion per year in monopoly profit from here on out unopposed. Separately, the epic position of Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger is almost entirely unopposed by Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, are not trying to eat the Windows-Office monopoly. Google is, kinda sorta. They're certainly not going out of their way to do it, say, by cutting into their $100+ billion in cash to massively subsidize the effort. Most of Google's focus is on mobile. Apple is by far the most successful company on the planet, they're not desperately trying to go after mass market share with the Mac to challenge Windows for the bottom 90% of the market. Apple is fat & happy with where their margins are at in computing, they gave up trying to dethrone the Windows monopoly a very long time ago.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook are not trying to eat Google's long duration, extraordinarily profitable search monopoly. Google search is tracking toward $40 billion per year in operating profit, the second greatest product for printing cash on earth next to the iPhone. Amazon throw a shot at it, briefly, and quickly gave up. Apple and Facebook, to whatever extent they ever considered going after mainstream search, haven't done anything there. Only Microsoft took a serious long-term shot at Google search; they're not making a serious effort there any longer, they're maintaining. Microsoft hasn't been desperately trying to take away Google's search monopoly in many years. Not only did they realize they can't, no matter what they spend, they probably like having the monopoly issue to hit Google over. The other companies are also not trying to build their own competitor to Android or YouTube (Facebook has taken a modest shot at YouTube, it isn't scratching them so far), almost entirely leaving both positions unchallenged (Apple has no interest in actually competing with Android in what it does in the market, Android is a required part of what makes the iPhone possible and lucrative, as previously with Windows & Mac; Android phones being the majority are the best thing that ever happened to the iPhone).

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, aren't interested in entering retail to compete with Amazon, essentially at all. They have no interest in those margins. They bat at Amazon's online retail empire at the edges. They're also not desperately trying to distrupt Amazon's publishing empire, ebook monopoly (arguably the least concerning of all the monopoly positions in the group, because digital book sales are declining and independent book stores are thriving).

Netflix is part of FAANG, and they're the least powerful of all of the major tech companies. They have no monopoly. Their margin is so bad it's realistically very negative - they're vaporizing incredible sums of cash, borrowing heavily (perhaps dangerously), to try to get to scale before the clock runs out. Their balance sheet gets more dire by the quarter.

>Apple, Amazon, Microsoft (should be part of FAANG), Google are not trying to eat Facebook's extraordinarily profitable social monopoly. Google tried, kinda sorta, briefly.

Google offered to buy WhatsApp for $10bn before Fb, and they went all-in with Google+ (in the worst way, but that was a serious effort).

> Apple, Amazon, Facebook, are not trying to eat the Windows-Office monopoly.

With iPads and Chromebooks, Apple and Google have made major inroads against Windows/Office - at least in the educational market. EC2 (and market changes) has a complex relationship with Windows server, but my guess is that it results in a net loss for MS licensing due to lowered barriers to competing non-MS products.

> Amazon, Apple, Facebook are not trying to eat Google's long duration, extraordinarily profitable search monopoly

Amazon is doing very well with product search - people looking for something to buy may skip searching Google altogether. Also, Alexa (and Siri) are overt, and ongoing attempts to eat Google's search lunch. Microsoft sunk a lot of money on Bing for years, and it has paid off. Fb ads are in direct competition with Adwords for marketing dollars. There's also Apple Maps, which is not a token effort.

> Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, aren't interested in entering retail to compete with Amazon, essentially at all.

Facebook has marketplace - it's not retail, but it is competition with Amazon. MS is partnering with Walmart (guess the common competitor?). Apple went to great (and illegal) lengths to target Amazon's publishing empire when they were ring-leaders in colluding with traditional publishers against Amazon.

There is a lot of vigorous competition between the big companies. Unfortunately, the playing ground is so uneven that only big companies can dare step on another big co.'s turf

That is a list of where they are different but there are still areas of competition. Just because it isn't a one hundred percent overlap doesn't mean it isn't competition - otherwise one would say that GE isn't really competing with Samsung because GE doesn't make cellphones - ignoring the overlap of the appliance market.

Competing with large and broad corporations is a 'how do you eat an elephant' thing and they are increasingly prodding at each other for weaknesses. Trying to compete everywhere at once in prime specialties would generally be a losing prospect from the start even if they were willing to spend vast amounts of capital by mega corporation standards - not start up ones. You could compete with Apple on cellphones but trying the high end 'fashion' segment of the market would likely be a losing prospect as that is their prime specialty where they are established. Now if it is say Blackberry who has proven inept at their prime specialty they may wind up seized even by companies who aren't even trying for their niche.

Voice assistants aren't even limited to just Apple and Amazon, Google, Microsoft and even Samsung are trying to get on it. Apple is trying Apple media again and Apple, Amazon, and Google all have their own music stores for one. They may not be as prevalent relatively speaking but they aren't just letting each other keep their specialties.

I suppose part of this also has to do with definition of monopoly and it being versatile. Technically speaking owning a grain field, mill, and a bakery is a monopoly - a vertical one. You have to be able to compete with their own grain production costs and milling costs in order for it to sell wheat or flour to their bakery - otherwise they would just use their own as cheaper.

What are referred to as tech monopolies trivially have comparable alternatives but people don't go with them. You can host your own email or have anyone hosting video data - they just won't be the behemoth in the room. I suspect there may be some talking past each other.

As has been said about other enterprises:

> If you owe the bank $100, that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem.

> - J Paul Getty

The government wants the data that they provide and the tax revenue their employees provide.

And the economic prosperity they generate. Paper and typewriters weren’t exactly more productive tools for knowledge work.

Yes, this is especially important in light of the fact that after the breakup of Standard Oil, oil became unavailable and the entire world transitioned to sustainable sources of energy.

Sorry, I don’t understand the comparison, could you explain?

They're saying that productivity from computers would not cease with FAANG being broken up any more than oil stopped being produced when Standard Oil was dissolved.

For many the rise of fascism being fostered in and around San Francisco is an impossible contradiction.

Why is it a contradiction if startup culture has always been far-right (through the lens of Europe and South America et al)? It's a notch away from enforcing entrenched privilege with an army, unrest providing any such nudge. Didn't the homeless situation in SF ever tip these people off?

Besides, fascism grows by the day everywhere around the world, in rich and intelectualized societies no less (or moreso.) The 60's have called and want their ideals back. The saddest part? People who lived through that are getting beyond old any day now. And when their first-hand reminiscence has gone? It'll fall upon the 80's children and oh! how soon we forget. There are those who'll stand by Stallman, Wozniak and those who'll stand by Jobs, Gates, Bezos or Graham but I'm just being mean-spirited now. Well really, the first three off the latter group look starkly more like your run-of-the-mill fascist if creatively visualized not in the private but in the public sphere, being granted whimsical wishes by an unprincipled society.

It all boils down to MIT vs. GPL for us, doesn't it? Hacker, know thyself.

Well economic vs social axises for one. Start up culture is 'move fast and break things' which is more an economic right of minimal regulation and seeing them as obstacles to be worked around. Silicon valley has been pretty anti-authoritarian historically - starting with the Traitorous Eight and continuing to the job hopping. A more authoritarian ethos would be sticking with the company for life instead of leaving because you are pissed off about starting early and wearing a tie.

Fascism is 'you have to know somebody or be approved or you get the stick for being troublesome to the ruling parties'. While entrenching power in individuals who could pull up the drawbridge and go more controlled with regulatory capture it would be fair to say it is not start up culture at that point, not as a No True Scottsman sense. This is not a dodge of any hypothetical guilt. The policies and ethos may have lead to that outcome but the phases are very distinct - there is a difference between a family passing on their trade and a caste system even if the first may eventually lead to the later.

> startup culture has always been far-right (through the lens of Europe and South America et al)

I’m South American, and I’m curious about what you mean by this.

I think he's referring to the scale of left-right in Europe and South America. Meaning the "center" in Europe and South America has usually been more to the left of the "center" in the United States. So a Bay Area minimal-regulation, minimal-government libertarian would be far-right relative to the average right-wing "liberal" in Europe/SoAmerica, who might be ok with more market regulation and a safety net for the poor.

"Far-right" refers to nationalism, fascism, and authoritarianism, not libertarianism.

Also, I wouldn't call the Bay Area "minimal-regulation".

Nationalism maybe, but then libertarianism and nationalism aren't necessarily any more right-leaning than the other, it isn't clear-cut. Outside the US bubble (including South American politics bending over to the american way of life--a foregone notion) libertarianism is seen as pretty extreme and elitist, if not very naive and hopeful instead. Actual fascism and authoritarianism are totalitarian, dystopic realities, maybe extreme right but even that would more often be conflated with far-right than with totalitarian regimes, which in a way are already beyond "normal" (parliamentary and such) politics and more like, you know, a dictatorship, or the seizing of power with disregard for the constitution.

> Outside the US bubble... libertarianism is seen as pretty extreme and elitist.

I doubt it. What's your evidence for this?

> South American politics bending over to the american way of life--a foregone notion

What does this mean?

Well, far-right thinking is on the rise as of late, so perhaps you're right. People outside the US are being deluded into thinking libertarianism will solve economic woes, among other harebrained solutions. Economic woes themselves have a way of messing with people's rationality.

I was just about to edit that comment to make it more explicit, that the american way of life is the foregone notion, not bending over to the US. People keep bending over to the US, the right-wing of South America has mostly always done that, and what it means is that they think the American Way of doing politics brings prosperity and a good economy. And what I mean by foregone notion is that the current good economy of the US is an illusion. The society is sick and degrading. The economy keeps going strong, apparently. But it can't last, because a weak society can't make an economy strong, disillusioned young people can't keep creating extraordinary value for much longer (5, 10 years?) The economy is still good because of inertia, but something is broken in good old America, what used to work in the golden age of the past century isn't holding up well behind the stages, even if the show appears to go on for now.

> Well, far-right thinking is on the rise as of late, so perhaps you're right.

Far-right does not mean libertarianism. To use the word in that way while knowing its authoritarian connotations is insincere.

> People outside the US are being deluded into thinking libertarianism will solve economic woes, among other harebrained solutions.

What is "delusional" and "harebrained" about libertarian policies?

> People keep bending over to the US, the right-wing of South America has mostly always done that, and what it means is that they think the American Way of doing politics brings prosperity and a good economy.

What constitutes "the right-wing of South America"? What do you mean by "the American Way"?

> The society is sick and degrading.

Can you be more specific?

I think all your further inquiry is valid but comes down to a political opinion and it might be that ours are opposite on the spectrum, so it might as well be a rhetoric questioning, and in any case such an in-depth conversation would be better served face-to-face or even by an essay. I might be tempted to write it but I think the arguments for my side are tired by 2018 and I'd much rather write about many other topics of interest, but thanks for the discussion, I really appreciate it.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Think of all those FAANG engineers and startup founders who aren’t going to go quietly from their upper middle class incomes and RSUs/ISOs, regardless of the cost to society.

I'm not in the CA area, so I honestly have no idea what you mean by saying fascism is rising in SF. Can you explain?

Well for starters it's home to the greatest mass surveillance apparatuses in history.

Their big data sets coupled with their algorithms used for sorting and targeting people based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political beliefs, etc. could be used to enable the most powerful fascist dictator in history.

It wouldn't be the first time it happened:


I don't like to blame the tools, but Facebook was used in this way by Trump and the Russians. So there is a current day example. That said, claiming these are "mass surveillance" apparatuses is quite some rhetoric. While they can be used for this, they also have many other users. The were not created to be state surveillance and routinely fight state control of their data.

Like all powerful technology, I don't think trying to ban it is the answer. Rather, stronger regulation over how it's allowed to be used.

>Like all powerful technology, I don't think trying to ban it is the answer. Rather, stronger regulation over how it's allowed to be used.

So you don't think weapons of mass destruction should be banned?

I don't think nuclear technology should be banned, no. It has uses beyond bombs.

Fair enough.

How do you think we should regulate these tools?

Im worried that lawmakers cannot/will not truly appreciate the imminent danger of having billions of the most detailed psychological profiles in history stored in a hackable database until a major attack occurs.


In a police state, it’s good to be the police.

When I think of what I read of the Nazis, and my impressions of them, I would say nobody was "safe". The declaration of groups or individuals as enemies is on a whim, at least always reserves the right to be, and it never ends, that is the point.

The more you have to offer to totalitarianism, the more reason to be coerced in all sorts of ways. Loyalty is not enough, even the most loyal must be broken on principle. In the end, one might end up doing stuff so loved ones don't get horribly tortured, while pretending to do it for X and Y reasons, but it won't really be for those reasons (anymore). And that will fester and eat at a person, some way or another.

Even Stalin and Hitler both kinda ended like dogs. None of them were ever as happy and genuinely proud (by genuine I mean not in some alienated, hysterical, infantile way) as, say, Sophie Scholl, even though she was imprisoned and murdered. They did get the shitty end of the deal, in a sense. They could kill people, but that didn't make themselves more alive. And they were damaged long before they damaged anyone else, that goes with the territory. You don't even get to be a "police state cop", not a small time one, and not a leader, with intact humanity.

> Hobbes was the true, though never fully recognized, philosopher of the bourgeoisie because he realized that acquisition of wealth conceived as a never-ending process can be guaranteed only by the seizure of political power, for the accumulating process must sooner or later force open all existing territorial limits. He foresaw that a society which had entered the path of never-ending acquisition had to engineer a dynamic political organization capable of a corresponding never-ending process of power generation. He even, through sheer force of imagination, was able to outline the main psychological traits of the new type of man who would fit into such a society and its tyrannical body politic. He foresaw the necessary idolatry of power itself by this new human type, that he would be flattered at being called a power-thirsty animal, although actually society would force him to surrender all his natural forces, his virtues and his vices, and would make him the poor meek little fellow who has not even the right to rise against tyranny, and who, far from striving for power, submits to any existing government and does not stir even when his best friend falls an innocent victim to an incomprehensible raison d'etat.

> For a Commonwealth based on the accumulated and monopolized power of all its individual members necessarily leaves each person powerless, deprived of his natural and human capacities. It leaves him degraded into a cog in the power-accumulating machine, free to console himself with sublime thoughts about the ultimate destiny of this machine, which itself is constructed in such a way that it can devour the globe simply by following its own inherent law.

-- Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism"

> If the ability to tell right from wrong should have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to "demand" its exercise in every sane person no matter how erudite or ignorant.

-- Hannah Arendt, "The Life of the Mind: The Groundbreaking Investigation on How We Think"

It's not that we don't have a good analysis. I would even say what needs to be done, at least on an individual level, kinda fits on a stamp, the trouble is that our courage and honesty do, too.

Yep. Laws don't matter. Even in going to war, the US went ahead without approval of Congress. Or backing out of Nuclear treaties and building "missle shields" in Romania.

What matter's is who is controlling production and how is this control is enforced.

Despite Tim Wu's article fundamentally supporting the Anti-Merger Act of 1950, he fails to acknowledge that 'populist, nationalist' thinking is often precisely about supporting local communities and nation states over globalization and giant platform companies.

I read this sentence as Wu suggesting a hierarchy of increasing social risk:

> with the growing success of populist, nationalist and even neofascist movements all around the world

The first, populism, is neutral; at its best it is the recognition of legitimate grievances, while at its worst it is the channeling of those grievances into tribalism.

The second, nationalism, is more fraught: It is where tribalism becomes codified, and allegiance takes the place of grievance.

The last, fascism, is the end-state, where tribalism enables violence against both those outside the tribe and those seen as a threat within it.

"populist" is just a word people use when they don't understand why people care about something and don't bother trying to find out. "popular" = "what people I like want", "populist" = "what people I don't like want"

Populism does not mean popular.

It's unfortunate that populism has a name that leads to this misconception. People see the word and jump into discussion assuming that they know what is all about.

Populism is the claim that the people have a 'will'. There is no real disagreement of what the real people want or need for compromise. There are people who disagree but they are not the 'real people'. They are somehow compromised, the corrupt elite, misled or 'the others'. What 'people want' is already known, now you just need to vote populist into power to implement the will of the people. Laws and norms often make it difficult to implement this 'will' and they should be changed.

By contrast liberal[1] democracies are based on idea that the complex democratic process gradually produces something that people can live with. It's not exactly what anyone wants. There is no common agreement of what people want when people go and vote. The end result of working democracy is negotiated compromise. Laws and norms should be followed when this game of democracy is played.


[1]: liberal is another word that have different meanings in different contexts. Liberal does not mean leftist in this context.

That's all fine and good if the democracy actually works. If it has been subverted by a corrupt elite then a desire for a real functioning liberal democracy by a vast majority of the populace can be handily written off as populism using that same definition. It's quite a convenient to define the term in a way that makes it vaguely pejorative, in that case. The fact that you set it up as a contrast to liberal democracy is a good illustration of that. Populism, like elitism, can be right or wrong for a given situation depending on context and policy details.

I always understood populist as bowing to the lowest common denominator rather than taking an actual moral position. Ie not thinking through the consequences.

It seems you are just accepting the globalist media's caricature of nationalism without thinking about it more deeply.

All nationalists take a moral position. That's what nationalism is. And all nationalists think through the consequences as well. Just like globalists do.

Are you saying nationalists like washington, lincoln, gandhi, mandela, et al weren't taking a moral position or thinking of the consequences of their nationalism?

"Populist" isn't just a label for nationalist. It's a label for a certain type or approach to politics. Bernie Sanders, for example, is a populist, though I seriously doubt that he's a nationalist in any meaningful sense.

> And all nationalists think through the consequences as well. Just like globalists do.

You surely mean "nationalist/globalist politicians", because in my experience, most people absolutely don't consider the consequences of policies that appeal to them. (Okay, maybe the first-order consequences, but not any indirect effects.)

I think PJ O'Rourke defined it best: Nationalism, the idea that every little group of human twerps with its own slang, haircut, and pet name for god should have a country.

There's more to it than that. Populists normally portray a situation as a struggle between the people and the elites who control society.

Doesn't every world leader portray their struggle as a fight between their supporters and their enemies? It almost goes without saying that a politician whose supporters just so happened to be the masses and whose opponents just so happened to be the elites would say that there was a struggle between the masses and the elites...

Every politician who gets a non-trivial number of votes is supported by the masses.

The elites vs the masses thing is just a caricature to delegitimize political opponents.

Don't forget about historical examples like Boss Tweed, or the present-day examples of the governments of many third-world countries. There is definitely such a thing as having the scales tipped in your favor by a few especially important individuals. Sure, it might be excessive for the radicals on all wings to say that the system is completely corrupt on every level, but it's equally silly to think that both you and the CEO of Time Warner have identical levels of influence on the outcome of the next election.

(I used Tweed as an example because in addition to his "populist" appeals to the poorest of the poor, one of the major components of his scheme to stay in power was his relationships with the businesses he funneled money into.)

Not every world leader raises it to the level of "they're not just my enemies, they're evil and inhuman"

Not every populist does either.

Sure, the US populism of the late 1800's / early 1900's was this negative sort of populism, at least not in the main (there's always fringe elements of any group) But most populism movements of the last 100 years seem to be this authoritarian, scapegoating variety. I'd be quite happy with a benign populism that sought to raise the quality of life for the masses, but all I see are engines of fear being used to to aid in gaining power. I don't think we get there when both sides of the left/right divide are stuck in a "they want to destroy us" level of rhetoric.

There may be something to your definition but populist is also plainly about the candidate who says whatever people want to hear, so yes it may overlap.

As for GP's point, it may be the case for Trump but not so much for the newest populist in Brazil, for instance, who's more or less a sellout to the US of A and giant platform companies as many a breed of politician here down south have ever been.

Many conversations/topics don't seem to get quite deep enough, I'm not sure how much is because of attention space/disinterest of people and/or popular news incentivized for reaction vs. education. E.g. Minimum wage increase conversations are moot if you don't address the underlying constant increase of rent by landlords for residential and commercial space, etc.

Populist, nationalist thinking, by definition seems pretty decent on its face. But most often it's defined by who is not part of the "many" or "common" that make up the populist base. And those that fall outside are villainized and dehumanized, and held up as scapegoats for all of society's ills. Take right now, where illegal imigrants, the media, and liberals as a whole are all painted with the "evil" brush by the populist sentiments. Not to say they're perfect or there aren't issues to be solved, but raising it above the level of disagreement to that of "they're evil and they want to destroy you" is damaging to the fabric of society.

Man, you want to be painted with the "evil" brush refuse to fall lock step in line with the west/east coast political groupthink. Even being suspected of not being a party member is a scary place to be.

I agree that's awful behavior too, but it's not everybody that does that. I think the majority of people on either the left/right divide are generally okay, but the extremists are pretty much by definition much more vocal and much more noticeable in their "Crazy", and get everyone else painted with the same brush as a result.

I don't think there's any good excuse that we don't enforce existing laws. But we seem not to be.

If we can actually start to break into a new paradigm, personally I think that technology actually can help with these types of societal problems.

For example, decentralized autonomous organizations via Ethereum could have some benefits over more traditional political structures.

Banking concentration can potentially be mitigated by things like cryptocurrency.

In terms of replacing the technology monopolies, decentralized technologies could provide common public platforms instead. For example take things like Mastodon instead of Facebook (which is federation, I believe P2P social could gain wider deployment).

I couldn't find good market-share data for New York newspapers since 1950, but the New York Times sure doesn't fear its own "bigness" at the expense of past competitors:


I don't think this is something that will be addressed anytime soon, no matter how important of a problem someone considers this to be. With large Chinese corporations in the competition, breaking companies into smaller companies isn't in the best interest of US (or so I believe).

It's horrible how crippled and dysfunctional current anti-trust is. It lets through such monstrous consolidations that it can be considered almost non existent. And the worst are politicians who sell it as "free market deregulation".

I'm quite tired of the news telling me to be afraid of things.

Could they try to sell papers (or attract eyeballs, or whatever) by actually providing relevant, factual, useful information instead of emotional manipulation?

Agree, it seems that people have their pet issues, around here, Facebook is bad, Google is evil, etc.

Once we have these memes established we can blame things like extremism on them.

I feel like the author started in his mind with “Problem: Business Too Big”, and then came up with “Reason Why: Big Business Created Hitler”. Business certainly was a tool used by Hitler, as was religion, the media, the train system, youth groups, and basically all institutions of society that as a totalitarian dictator he was able to control.

Wu, as an antitrust legal scholar, certainly has an agenda. This article is fear mongering and playing to the NYT base.

Being afraid would seem to serve the New York Times' interests, so I think I will go read Reuters instead. :)

I am thinking deeper than that. I dislike the current debt-based economy for a reason. Google is a good example in which housing prices and other expenses increases every time the revenue increases.

Isn't this more an effect of supply and demand rather than access to credit?

I am thinking of things like the ad bubble, for example when Google bought DoubleClick. Housing is a good example as it is a finite resourse.

> Housing is a good example as it is a finite resourse.

as opposed to...?

It seems like he's come up with a very dubious dumbing down of why Germany went to war and appropriated it for his own reasons.

As an aside, it's interesting to watch how people on both sides of the aisle are jumping to find the rise of fascism in every nook and cranny of society. Sometimes, like here, it doesn't even seem to be an attempt at a political cudgel, which is the usual case. While I think most can agree FAANG is out of control, I'm not sure the fascism alarmism is a great approach.

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