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Across the West powerful firms are becoming even more powerful (economist.com)
329 points by ilamont 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

This is also a national security risk. A nation state interested in war will have an easier time shutting down a small handful of things simultaneously to quickly cripple our economy.

For example:

- Shutting down only Visa and Mastercard would disable the vast majority of credit cards.

- Disabling debit cards or withdrawing funds from JP, BofA, Wells Fargo, and Citi would disable the majority of banking clients in the US.

- About 40% of US air travel could be stopped by hacking American and Southwest.

We've already seen similar large scale attacks on large companies:

- In the 90s and early 2000s, Microsoft's weak security allowed worms to cripple Microsoft Office and Windows.

- 100 million JP Morgan accounts were compromised by 3 people in 2015.

And we don't even think about these dependencies. In the US, Mastercard and Visa payments are generally both processed by all of the same processors; you know if you use Amex or Discover you'll have a harder time.

I was in Cusco, Peru a couple of months ago, and there are signs ALL OVER saying Visa accepted here, and also quite a few about Mastercard.

Imagine my surprise when we tried to make a purchase at a store (with Visa and Mastercard logos prominently displayed, no less!) where the merchant insisted on Mastercard. Not Visa.

I found my backup credit card. And another. And I went through my debit cards. As did my wife.

We had 9 cards between the two of us, and they were ALL Visas. Just not something you'd even think of in the US, frankly. And I've had plenty of Mastercards over the years, but the distinctions are rarely important to us.

Paying extra for a service like cc is just accepted in the US but not so common elsewhere. So even slight differences in fees will have merchants refusing to use the more expensive one even at the cost of bothering customers.

Wait... You have 9 credit cards? Why? How? Isn't that a maintenance burden keeping track of all of them? I've never ever had more than 2 at the same time and it was because I was transitioning from one bank to another...

Sign up bonuses and benefits can net you a few thousand dollars. With a password manager and push alerts and autopay, it’s very little work to manage, plus you’re not liable anyway if you dispute in a timely manner.

Sign up bonuses are good but cards cost about $70 a year typically. Wouldn’t it be better to hold two and change it up every year?

Generally, annual fee cards have an equivalent free tier card. You should be able to just call the credit company and ask to downgrade to the free tier (usually after a year or two). They will usually honor this request. This conversion also doesn't affect your credit since it preserves your limit, balance, etc. YMMV but this has been my experience.

You can downgrade to the free card or just cancel it.

I have maybe 3 credit cards I use regularly. Well, really only 2, but I carry 3. One is my everyday card, the other one is Amazon-specific so I rarely swipe it. My wife has a couple as well (different accounts, we haven't bothered to combine yet). I've also got debit cards from my bank account, a debit card for our joint bank account, and a debit card for one of my brokerage accounts.

And of course my wife has debit cards for her account and another card for our joint account. That's just off the top of my head. I guess that's 9-ish?

They're not all credit cards, but they all have logos.. and, as it turns out, all Visa, apparently. The obvious question is "why so many", and the answer would be "situations like this", except in this case, it didn't help.

I guess I could take them out of my wallet and just leave them at home, but... why? A year back I was going to Germany; my primary credit card was deactivated on my flight there due to fraudulent use at a Home Depot, while I was on the plane. A second card stopped working, so I was down to my last card, which I really needed to work for a many-thousand-dollar rental car hold.

Called all the banks; the first card was shipped to my house in the US to arrive within 10 days (thanks!), second card was NOT inactive, apparently the merchant terminal was just screwing something up. It worked just fine. But I was glad to have the third!

As a sidenote, it's cool to be on a call with a credit card company, and before you're even off the phone, Apple Wallet pings you with a notification that your new card is active. But not everyone takes NFC. And in general, Germany's weird about accepting foreign cards, so it's nice to have options.

Doesn't even need to be a war that causes problems here. This:

> - Shutting down only Visa and Mastercard would disable the vast majority of credit cards.

Happened in the UK and Europe in June this year, where Visa's network crashed and took out credit card payment processing for millions of people for a good day or so:


As you can guess, that caused absolute chaos, with the crash becoming a major news event and many customers and businesses being unable to spend/receive money at all until it was fixed.

So yeah, forget a government. Even a large business like that crashing or experiencing major technical glitches for a few days or so would bring down a large portion of society.

The UK also had the NHS crypto ransom attack. It's hard to say if the US is similarly vulnerable, on one hand the US hospital system is more heterogenuos, on the other, the hospitals in major US cities have very janky IT systems.

Actually, the majority of hospitals and trusts had little to no infections in that attack, obviously some (too many) did which is why it was bad news. But the NHS, in IT terms, currently operates as a disparate set of trusts with mostly their own IT systems. The reason that there was the level of infection there was, was due to lack of national IT standards/systems being enforced and trusts using outdated unpatched systems. The few national systems in use are, while not perfect, much better funded, updated and secured.

Nassim Taleb's wonderful book "Antifragile" was about exactly this topic.

True, but I think his point was more precisely that when you go long periods of time _without_ having those systems fail (hopefully in relatively small ways), you get trouble. If Visa/Mastercard had outages on a regular basis, no doubt our retail system would be quite robust to them...

not sure if this counts as a paradox but that systems that are more reliable cause more chaos when they go down . The person easiest to survive the apocalypse is someone who already lives it.

I believe that is why Netflix has the "Chaos Monkey" -- to occasionally break things and see what happens.


Yes! That is a brilliant point. You have to test for failures, it's not obvious - if you have failing systems occasionally you are already testing for failures.

I'm not disagreeing with you, but the military side of me can't help but see how all of those things would be beneficial for our government as well. Stopping US air travel in an emergency. Stopping electronic transactions in a financial emergency. Etc etc etc.

I think a lot of government types would see many potential benefits in the way things are set up now. Even most regular people would have to, grudgingly, admit that, if it were necessary, this system could deliver the government unprecedented amounts of control. I mean, for good or for bad.

But yeah, there's likely a double edged sword there. No question.

The US government already has a legitimate way to stop air travel. And the government already has significant persuasive power; if the Secretary of the Treasury asked all the banks to stop electronic transactions for a legitimate reason, I'm sure they'd comply.

So what you're talking about is neither a legal government power or something where people would trust the government and follow along. You're looking for a way for the people in power to seize further power illegally when they think it appropriate. There's no "for good" there; that's just authoritarians undermining the rule of law.

> if the Secretary of the Treasury asked all the banks to stop electronic transactions for a legitimate reason, I'm sure they'd comply

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed a Bank Holiday...that shut down the banking system” in 1933 [1]. This is an old power pre-dating our current hyper-centralised banking system.

[1] https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/epr/09v15n1/0907silb.htm...

Remember 9/11? Shutting down airspace in an emergency is easish: tell everyone to land.

There are very few cases where stopping a firm from functioning would be beneficial, as compared to it being destructive. Most of the time, we want flights, banking, credit cards, IT systems to function rather than go black; hackers have many more chances and time to disrupt all of these than a government will ever have occasions to consider halting a particular company's operations in the name of national security.

> Stopping electronic transactions in a financial emergency.

That means causing some people to starve. Literally.

I can't imagine how it would improve some situation. At best, if transactions are stopped for a short enough time, you will not make it much worse.

Our country adopted cards recently, I have a card and using it almost everywhere, but I'm always carrying some cash, 200-500 bucks just in the case that card won't work for some reason. It happens. If Visa would be down, I wouldn't be disrupted and nobody would be disrupted around here. Why don't you carry some cash around, it's still a legitimate payment method and it doesn't take much space in your wallet.

I like how easily you separate groups of men in "government" from groups of men in "corporations"

Slightly off topic, I was always thinking about are there any single point of failure in monetary system. Since bank reserve are accounts in central bank, which stores in some ancient servers. If terrorist or hacker found out a way to destroy those servers. Will the money in economy vaporize? Are there any paper record we could fall back?

This is pretty much the plot of Goldeneye. A lot of effort will have gone into disaster recovery (tapes in nuclear bunkers etc) but also remember the counterparties have records too.

It would not surprise me if the Bank Of England still kept written ledgers, with a quill, in Latin.

Mr. Robot, is it you?

cough Bitcoin! cough

Bitcoin won’t save you if the attacking nation state (say, China) can simultaneously nationalize and take over a majority of miners. Power is power no matter how many hoops it needs to jump through.

Large systems whose normal operation relies on the availability of one or a small number of individual components are by definition less reliable, less robust to attacks, and less resilient to disasters than large distributed systems which don't have such reliance and therefore operate smoothly in the face of routine failure of a significant portion of their individual components.

This is true for geographic networks, economic and financial systems, software-as-a-service applications, and even potato variety in farming systems.[a]

[a] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)#Potato_...

What king of large system does not have smaller components that are relied upon?

> This is also a national security risk. A nation state interested in war will have an easier time shutting down a small handful of things simultaneously to quickly cripple our economy.

If you take a broader view, you will note that the United States telling Visa and Mastercard to shut down all service in <country> will cripple that country's financial system.

The dangers of someone bringing your economy to a halt by 'hacking our systems' is overblown. These kinds of problems can be fixed, or routed around in a few days.

You don't have this option when the systems you rely on are completely controlled by another nation state.

"These kinds of problems can be fixed, or routed around in a few days." a large scale IR could easily be months when state level APT is involved

Frankly, if I were going to consider upsetting the balance of power, I would __not__ go directly for the jugular. I'd beat around the bush. I'd start random socio-political fires in more venerable countries / economies. Let that simmer. Then step up for the big fight, knowing the giant has spread itself thin trying to take care of the smaller / random fires.

The CIA sabotage handbook details pretty much this.[1]

[q] https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/...

This reminds me of a defcon talk by Chris Rock about how to overthrow a government.


Kinda like what's been happening for a few years now.

Agreed. UBL said he wanted to destroy the USA. He never said how. The fact that more and more money is spent as a reaction to fear; the divisiveness; the hyperbole; etc.

Seems to me we're doing ourselves in. It just took a nudge to get that self-destruction rolling.

There is a symbiotic relation between “terrorists” and the politicians that use this fear to get elected.

I have this hypothesis - which admittably is very weak on evidence and very weak on political correctness - that it is kind of a self-enforcing process.

First, people with less cognitive capabilities seem to be inclined into conservatism and prejudice.[1]

Now, how do you make people's cognitive capabilities less?

You make people poor.[2]

Second, you can make people conservative by making them scared [3]

So you being a conservative politician and wanting to get more votes, you make people poor and scared and you get more votes. And the problem is, it is much easier to make people poor and scared than wealthy and feeling safe.

[1] https://www.livescience.com/18132-intelligence-social-conser...

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poverty-brain/study-finds...

[3] https://mic.com/articles/26911/people-who-are-fearful-tend-t...

Reminds me of Naomi Klein's 'Shock Doctrine' book that went into how this worked during the glory days of The War Against Terror.

There are additional levers to be used, mass surveillance makes people not want to talk lest they reveal themselves to be not 100% aligned with the edicts of the regime. Plus if people aren't talking then they aren't discussing ideas, discussion is needed as without it people can end up believing very strange ideas told to them by the mass media or the conspiracy theorists, with both sets of those ideas being oppressive.

Fear is the big one though, even the smartest people succumb to it remarkably easily. It is quite funny to watch in a 'lemmings' type of way. But to watch it in a 'lemmings' type of way then you have to be in on it, a sick individual spreading the fear.

Not only does fear create a subservient mindset, it artificially elevates the need to the gov / politicians. That is, we can't no protect ourselves from these unseen forces, so some entity - spending as much as our money as possible - has to do that for us.

Per "Here Comes Everybody" (and similar books) the internet can allow the normally separated to organize and GTD. The __exact__ role the gov has played in the past. But people have to be willing to do that. Unfortunately, escalating fear and decisiveness maintain the power status quo.

Evidence? Afaik the #1 corporate benefactor of the War in Iraq (as well as other recent conflicts) is Halliburton. Is it necessary to point out the relationship between them and the then VP?

But at this point, it's not only politicians. These multi-national conglomerates are nation-state-esque. To think that they don't have their own best interests in mind is naive. They're players in the propaganda game as well. If it's good for business, It's on their radar.

For a person he surely did cause a lot of problems, killings and expenditure. "Martyrs" want to take as many as they can before they go and he surely a lot of damage

And this is already happening. Look at israel and stuxnet and look at the chip battles with nsa and china and intel, cisco, huwai.

You can easily shut down the web just by dns. Icann owns pretty much everything and they're not even U.S based anymore.

ICANN controls the non technical administrative/political portion of DNS, but the actual DNS root servers are extremely widely distributed.



The DNS is replicated everywhere. A concentrated attack can at most freeze some subdomains.

pfft and then they come back up, like rebooting your machine. You can cause a temporary crash these days not a permanent shutdown. People just don't get how hyperconnected things are. Everyone takes a hit if there are shutdowns. The 2008 financial crisis was the first demonstrator. Things are just too big to fail.

Wasnt there a shipping logistics company whose network got hit by ransomware that shut down like 40% of shipping ports worldwide for like 72 hours? that’s serious economic damage, even if they eventually got backups etc running

Yeah, how you cripple an economy is by not letting people take low budget holidays in Mexico and stopping them from buying imported crap off of amazon for a week. National security risk my ass - this is fearmongering.

> - Shutting down only Visa and Mastercard would disable the vast majority of credit cards.

Can you say "instant riot"

I had a similar realisation a few days ago booking a flight between Berlin and London Stansted. Judging by the time of the flights, I believe Ryanair operates exactly one aircraft on that route.

We need significant, international corporate reform well beyond just tax policy, or Western liberal democracy will be lost as corporate 'citizens' completely dominate the human ones.

Good luck getting everyone to cooperate.

Think about it, how much did different cities cooperated when trying to get Amazon's HQ2?

That said, you could at least narrow the problem by getting just the US, the EU, and China to cooperate. (But even that strikes me as a Sisyphean task. But what do I know?)

It would be rational for cities and states to lobby for the federal government to introduce legislation which makes the kind of tax breaks that corporations are angling for illegal.

Note: it is rational for them to simultaneously compete for corporate investment by offering individual tax breaks and lobby for such tax breaks to be made illegal at the federal level. This is rather hard to explain to many even otherwise intelligent people, but it's one of the most important lessons that game theory has to offer.

The EU was acting somewhat in this direction when it forced Ireland to collect taxes from corporations.

I know it's rational game theoretically. The question is would they ever do this? Likely not.

Why not? Because of the conflicting political ambitions involved on the part of key decision makers.

That's why my idea would be to create laws that make these deals null and void until they are put to a popular vote in the State or City or tax paying entity that will bear the burden of the costs.

I don't think it's hard to explain: it's the cities' equivalent to cartelization. It's no wonder why two competing firms would like to prevent each other from lowering prices, and they often lobby for laws to do that. The mechanism here is the same.

> I don't think it's hard to explain: it's the cities' equivalent to cartelization. It's no wonder why two competing firms would like to prevent each other from lowering prices, and they often lobby for laws to do that. The mechanism here is the same.

A city or a state isn't a "firm." It's not seeking the private profit of its owners: it's seeking the welfare of its citizens, which is part of seeking the welfare of all the citizens of a nation. When it comes to government, "cartelization" isn't a bad thing, because it keeps private interests from exploiting public divisions to harm the common good for private gain.

Cartels prevent "races to the bottom," but some of those are actually good for society (e.g. the race to the lowest price per unit of product-value). Other races to the bottom are bad for society (e.g. lowest standard of living per worker), and government cohesion can help prevent them by resisting the private interests that benefit.

I don't disagree with any of that; just saying the mechanism is the same.

Another problem in getting cities to cooperate against corporations seeking special deals, is that the "city" is actually "mayor or a few other bigshots", in that those are the people who would actually need to cooperate to get Congress or somebody else to stop this. But, this would deprive those same bigshots of the opportunity to sit in a room with the Amazon CEO (or whoever) and strike a deal. None of them want that. It's not the bigshots themselves who actually lose anything out of those deals, after all; their salaries and perks are untouched.


In order for this to happen, leftism needs to make a very strong comeback.

Unfortunately, the recent trend has been the opposite.

Yes and no. While it is easy to be a right-wing reactionary party these days, they really appeal to people not as much because they're right wing, but mostly because they appear to talk to the people.

Now, somebody on the left who does this, but genuinely, like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is indeed rather popular, despite a severe disadvantage in media coverage, however neoliberals have unfortunately hijacked the show for the past several decades and are refusing to let go, hindering more Corbyns or Sanders that wish onto the scene.

Don’t let the language of capitalism mystify you. These companies have shareholders and management. The profits they make go directly to these people. They are the ones getting rich at the expense of everyone else, not some abstract legal entity.

A corporation is not simply a group of people. It's a group of people with a mission and roles, and that makes all the difference, because people will suppress or just not talk about things that are not related to that mission or to their role.

A mob is made of individuals as well, yet it has a life (and destructive power) beyond the will of its individual human components. A human is made up of cells, which benefit or suffer individually, yet that doesn't negate the independent existence of a human being. Don't let the language of capitalism distract you from the underlying reality that we are creating super-entities that we are increasingly subservient to.

> "The firms involved in the journey made profits of $151bn and had a median return on capital of 29% last year. An equally weighted basket of their shares—call it the monopoly money portfolio—beat global stockmarkets by 484% over the past decade. Collectively, 17% of the companies’ shares are owned by just three investment mega-managers, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street."

If these were a nation-state they would rank in the Top 10, yes? Top 20 at the least?

With money comes power. With power the drive to maintain that power.

Where there is anti-West sentiment, these outfits should be very concerned. As should the rest of us, as it is the rest of who will fight their battles / wars, if history repeats itself.

Relatedly in NY Times: "Be Afraid of Economic ‘Bigness.’ Be Very Afraid. In the 1930s it contributed to the rise of fascism." https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/10/opinion/sunday/fascism-ec...

Fascinating, thanks. No idea why the negative reception.



I always see this as fundamentally a matter of weakening of democracy. In my personal view, democracy is the principle that each person must have a say in decisions that affect them. In other words, any given power must be shared among the people that it affects.

Now as more and more "power" goes into the hands of corporations, less and less power is in the hands of the (supposedly "democratic") governments, which themselves are imperfect democracies. And make no mistake: corporations control, and have power over, vast and chunks of our lives. Crucially, that power is fundamentally held in a nondemocratic way: not subject to any scrutiny or control by the part of the people that it affects. For me, this is one of the most critical flaws of capitalism, the fact that privately held power and democracy are fundamentally incompatible, and that the more power corporations hold, the less democratic is our control over our lives: the less free we are.

The Dig podcast just posted a fascinating discussion of the roots of neoliberalism talking about the binding of nations in favor of nameless market structures. There is a discussion of Hayek seeing a ideal of people making independent decisions, but essentially bound by market constraints in a way that makes the system operate smoothly. I don't think there was the anticipation of the rollup of large corporate entities in this kind of vision - at least not to the scale that they start pulling on the fabric of the system leading to instability.


Note this is the intro piece to a series of articles in an Economist "Special Report" which they do from time to time on various topics. They talk about tech more specifically in the "The tech antitrust paradox". However, while this not just a simple attack piece at all, and the Economist to its credit tries to consider various defenses and complexities as well, I think they miss a couple of really big ones by failing to really get down to some of the fundamental foundations tech is built on.

The first issue is simple: fantastically enormous capital expenditures. The basic story here is simple and repeated, the early and medium stages of a new industry's development inevitably harvest all the low hanging fruit in terms of pure physics and math. There is no path dependency yet either. But as it matures the cost of incremental gains begins increasing non-linearly. In tech we see this most particularly in semiconductor fabrication, where the costs of the cutting edge processes that have powered everything we do have been on a J-curve for each new node. An article by by SemiEng "Big Trouble At 3nm" [1] earlier this year had a good graph from IBS show the trend in design costs alone. In terms of the fab themselves IBS estimated "3nm will cost $4 billion to $5 billion in process development, and the fab cost for 40,000 wafers per month will be $15 billion to $20 billion", and it wouldn't be surprising if that was optimistic. "7nm" (TSMC, ~Intel 10nm) has been hard and multi-billion expensive also.

Economically the only way to make this work is by trying to amortize towards the thankfully very low raw material cost through enormous volume, and players must be able to front fantastic sums with very long time horizons. How does this square with tons of tiny firms? Vertical integration could be gone after so it's a pure foundry model, but that still leaves just a couple of foundries in control there. That's chips alone though, lots of other areas of electronics have the property of low resource cost combined with utterly enormous capex requirements, such as state of the art displays. Improvements in energy storage also require plants like the Gigafactory. The results are super, super important in my opinion, it's absolutely in our overall interest to keep pushing forward computation (not just silicon but whatever else becomes possible like optical computing), to reduce the price and improve the performance of energy storage technology, better human/system interfaces (retinal scanning displays next perhaps?), more reliable better memory, and on and on. We're far from "done" here. Yet this naturally takes not just long time scale dirt moving but also R&D, inevitably including some blue-sky.

And blue-sky R&D in the context of tech brings us right back to government vs corps too. In principle one way to try to allow smaller firms again would be to offload a lot of this back onto government instead, which by definition has a long time horizon and shouldn't be as worried about individual short term ROI or any single area vs the long term health of the state as a whole. It can make the results of research available to all. But government R&D has not been keeping up there. Monopolies can act in effect as a pseudo-government in many ways financially, and in fact a lot of the scary parts of them can also potentially give them an escape from typical quarter-to-quarter thinking. Some of the key foundations of our current tech trace right back to places like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, R&D outfits that performed long term research which their parents often didn't even profit from, but were themselves backed in part by the massive economic power of their parent corps.

And no discussion of this would be complete without getting back to one area the government directly plays in monopolies: intellectual property. Maximalism there long since got out of control. The Economist piece doesn't give this the right level of attention IMO, particular wrt tech where rather then merely having (overlong incorrectly implemented) copyright and trademark, there are "software patents" and "business method patents" that don't just cover an implementation but basic mathematics and fundamental ideas themselves. This is a big practical part of the "moats" they talk about in their conclusion, and the difficulty small firms have in competing because that would depend on interoperability.

The capex part is just really hard, and I didn't even touch on things like the space exploration SpaceX (and hopefully Blue Origin soon) has started to revolutionize after decades of doldrums. It's one thing to talk grandly about "splitting up the bad guys" and such, but asking the public to pony up tens of billions to take their place might be different (if it can't be disguised another way, like military spending maybe). And that's even assuming it'd work and government could do the job there, which it might not. R&D is more promising and the open research initiatives gaining steam now are an important part of that, but also unfortunately doesn't seem a slam dunk or very safe from politicians looking for easy things to cut and attack. "What is this even any good for anyway huh?" etc.

IP is promising if only because it's purely within the power of government itself in principle, it's a creation of government in the first place anyway. Making copyright function with software like it does all previous media (source escrow for non-open/available), reducing its term to levels that reflect how modern electronic distribution has reduced costs and increased audiences along with desired churn, eliminating software and business method patents entirely, carving out far more powerful interoperability exceptions, requirements that at the least technical protection measures cannot be stacked with legal protections (or must be very term limited), would all go a long way towards increasing dynamism there. So would legal changes to cut down the EULA tape, and not just for buyers either. Producers should also be fully protected from liability by default without any contract, and contracts reserved for sufficient sophisticated entities in bespoke arrangements that wish to affirmatively bargain standard rights.

It'd be good if popular anger here could be channeled towards some real positive changes, but I do fear that between lack of public or political understanding and powerful entrenched interests it will instead be channeled unproductively at best or into a real baby-and-bathwater situation at worst. To some extent big corps have even perversely taken a role defending some of our interests from governments in a way individuals cannot, would we be able to oppose intelligence agencies efforts to backdoor crypto as well as Apple for example? Of course conversely big companies have often been directly complicit and key to government authoritarian impulses and intel gathering too. It's really hard to figure out where to start, though I think IP at least is a relatively easy pickings place.


1: https://semiengineering.com/big-trouble-at-3nm/

Or as my boss likes to say, it takes a lot to grow a redwood tree and after you are done you can't turn it into a blue whale. So you just sit there making sure no one cuts it down.

Replacing one supergiant with a small cartel of giants doesn't make a major difference in the balance of power.

What's needed is actual decentralization, where consensus occurs without a trusted third party.

In other news, green grass gets greener, at least in Michigan

I feel that we should at least mention decentralized technologies in this discussion.

Please consider how systems like cryptocurrency, smart contracts, types of content-oriented networking, etc. may enable open platforms that can be an alternative to the monopoly companies'.

Cryptocurrencies are wasteful and “smart contracts” are neither smart nor contracts. I’m all for decentralisation, but IMO git helps more than all of crypto.

Don't stop there, there is a push for Decentralized Planned Economies. ( https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Decentralized_planning_(economic... )

That's just an empty page, you probably meant https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decentralized_planning_%28econ...

The problem with the free market is really language. Humans tend to converge to a small number of words for everything. It's Google for search, iPhone for phones, and Coke for cola. If we solve this language problem, then we can hope to solve the problems caused by monopolistic behavior.

It's an intriguing idea that language might cause humans to be biased towards exploiting knowledge about common brands rather than exploring new ones. Do we derive utility from having a thinner "tail" on our (shared societal) vocabulary?

Unfortunately, the distinction between "brand" and "corporation" makes this point, while interesting, somewhat moot. Consider that the Koch brothers have been able to consolidate brands ranging from TIME to Sports Illustrated, from Brawny towels to Dixie cups. In a world where users desire a "long tail" of brands, corporations continue to consolidate but simply invest in a wider variety of brand names and marketing for them. There's still synergy to be gained from a consolidated entity operating all of those brands. And so we're right back where we started.

> In a world where users desire a "long tail" of brands, corporations continue to consolidate but simply invest in a wider variety of brand names and marketing for them. There's still synergy to be gained from a consolidated entity operating all of those brands. And so we're right back where we started.

Exactly. An example: Whirlpool owns many major appliance brands (e.g. Maytag and Amana). They can afford to make ever crappier products, because they know when a customer is unsatisfied, they'll more than likely buy another Whirlpool under a different brand name.


Or you can just prevent companies from having too much market share within an industry, which we've enforced before and worked pretty well.

Removing the consumer price standard for anti-trust enforcement would go a long way to preventing these huge oligopolies from forming

If a company grows organically to have a large market share due to superior product, service, or even luck, don't break them up. But I would say having a dozen serious competitors in a market really prevents a lot of problems. Don't let companies buy each other when it would put the combined company over 10% of the market. Of course this rule can be immediately gamed in many ways but might be able to be done in some decently reasonable way.

Even further.. only allow humans to own shares in companys or units in trusts..

this would help prevent things being hidden or manipulated.

Technically humans do own everything. The problem is not being able to find out who owns what because at some point in the chain, there's an entity outside the country or somewhere that has different disclosure rules.

This seems like an interesting idea — a very complex constraint but easily said...

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.

> The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules."

-- Hannah Arendt, "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"

> When daily life requires turning a blind eye to the falsity of countless things we’re told, it weakens the power of language to sort truth from fiction.

-- Oliver Burkeman

> The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.

-- Philip K. Dick

> The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

-- George Orwell

> All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. [..] But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

-- George Orwell

If it's iPhone for phones, why are they far from being a monopoly? That theory seems suspect even with your examples.

There is not one of those without a giant marketing budget and a powerful corporation behind it. Further, you're confusing market monopolization with specific terms sometimes becoming generic. You could look at Xerox as a counterexample: the term became generic for "photocopy", but that doesn't mean they're dominant like Google. Xerox has something like 17% market share for copiers; they're third place in a robust market.

The Sapir-Whorf-Coke hypothesis?

> The problem with the free market is really language... If we solve this language problem, then we can hope to solve the problems caused by monopolistic behavior.

Do you have evidence for any of this?

So the rich are getting richer and the powerful more powerful. Unfettered capitalism is working as it's supposed to be. What else is new?

> “Competition is for losers,” writes Peter Thiel, an American venture capitalist, in his book, “Zero to One”. Monopoly is the goal, he says.


It's specifically in reference to tech firms. He postulates that competition causes human suffering since people work harder and harder for diminishing rewards as things get increasingly competitive. On the other side, monopolies are established because they invented some novel technology that other people couldn't easily reproduce, or did something so much better than the competition that everyone chooses to use them. Thus, he says monopolies are responsible for making society richer. Moreover, he says they reduce human suffering because 1. the great societal value produced by the monopoly, 2. the workers at the firms don't need to work as hard since they don't have competition, and 3. they can spend more on r&d, thus adding even more value to society.

The statement is surprising on its face, but he plays a good devil's advocate. There are plenty of holes to poke in his arguments, so have at it.

This is all stuff covered in my undergrad International Political Economy class in the early 2000s, and I'm pretty sure none of it was fresh then. The benefits of the market largely exist in the margins between awful centralized abuse on one side and the unsustainable misery of the econ 101 perfect competition market on the other. States can, to some degree, determine where on this field the economies they create and guide land.

> There are plenty of holes to poke in his arguments, so have at it.

1. You're not going to truly release the social value of a monopoly unless you socialize it, either through social control or regulation. Without that, the monopoly will mainly serve to benefit its owners.

2. Monopoly R&D expenditure will likely be less than the excess profit captured by the monopoly's owners, and mainly motivated by potential regulation. IIRC, the main raison d'être for Bell Labs to exist as it did was to convince regulators to not break up AT&T. Without that threat it would have likely been more focused on AT&T's profit motive and less on generalized scientific advancement.

3. Monopolies (socialized or otherwise) will more likely end in stagnation.

> 1. You're not going to truly release the social value of a monopoly unless you socialize it, either through social control or regulation.

I somewhat disagree. There are some monopolies which become more valuable to society the larger they are due to network effects. One example is Google maps. I suspect the more people use maps, the more accurate their live traffic data will be, which gives every other user more accurate information. Marketplaces are another example of network effects benefitting users - the more buyers and sellers in one marketplace, the easier it becomes for them to find one another.

> 2. IIRC, the main raison d'être for Bell Labs to exist as it did was to convince regulators to not break up AT&T

Interesting, I was going to use Bell Labs as an argument in favor of monopolies producing r&d. It seems like they invented everything!

i want to state in stronger words than my sibling that the entire value of networks emerges directly from their inherent monopoly

This is taken significantly out of context. From what I recall (and I could be wrong, it was a while ago), in the book he explains that those startups that "follow" others by imitating the first movers have a harder time becoming successful (those are the "losers"). This is because the first mover tends grab the most market share. When he says that monopoly is the goal, he argues that the best startups create something really hard to replicate, obtain a lot of market share, and then become hard to compete with.It can be interpreted in many ways, but I didnt get from the book that he was in favor of monopolies.

Whenever I hear stuff like that, I wonder what their parents were like, or where else that need for external validation comes from. Even having to be the best is for "losers" IMO, but cheating to overpower people better than you, that's some hardcore stunted development on bold display.

> "Even having to be the best is for "losers" IMO"

This makes no sense. Being extremely competitive and taking personal pride in being the best makes you a loser? By what logic?

I didn't say "being extremely competitive and taking personal pride in being the best", I said "having to be the best". If you ignore all that, including "cheating to overpower people better than you", of course it makes no sense, but that's of your own making.

If you want me to elaborate on something that you asked, and nothing something I made up, then ask me about something I said, not something you made up.

As I see it, "having" to be the best would be synonymous with being extremely competitive and placing a large amount personal pride in that. It's why I was asking why you felt that way. You separated it from cheating to overpower people, as if strong desire to be the best is a bad thing.

Would the phrasing "having to be 'the best' at all costs" clear it up? I didn't separate it from cheating, I meant that as an example.

It's perfectly fine to be competitive, but this is in the context of someone who said they don't WANT competition, but a monopoly, and that this would somehow make them the "winner". Being just very competitive and taking personal pride in achievements is not what we're talking about.

If everybody played fair and the playing field was level, then winning would mean you're the best. But many people got confused, ignore the uneven playing field, cheat "because everybody does it", and then think winning says anything about them other than that they're needy. They can't "win" that way, and then brag about it, without being "losers" in another way.

When I said I wonder what their parents were like I wasn't being snarky, I meant whether their self-esteem is based on how others estimate their achievements. E.g. were they loved unconditionally, or were they blackmailed and rewarded with pseudo-love?

It seems obvious to me that many people were denied the means to build an inner foundation for themselves, and went from needing to be a certain way to be "loved" by their parents, to needing to be a certain way to be accepted by their peers, to do a certain thing to be considered successful, and so on. Yet a person could own the world without necessarily owning themselves, and not even owning the world can make up for not owning oneself. So many are floating over an abyss they have inside, and the moment they stop moving, consuming and/or subduing, they plummet.

More fortunate people simply have a bedrock of self-esteem, and then ambitions on top of that. They can compete without having to annihilate, they can give credit where it's due, and they build things because they can, not just because their mental floor is lava.

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