On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and chairman of the House Judiciary Committees antitrust subcommittee, opened a half-virtual hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power with a combative opening statement: Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.
That set the tone for the hours of sharp questioning of four of the wealthiest people on the planet: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Sundar Pichai of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, whose companies have a combined market value roughly equivalent to the GDP of Japan.
Given the history of Silicon Valleys relationship with Washington, the intensity and precision of some subcommittee members questions were remarkable. It is a sign that significant tech regulation may be closer than we think.
Despite its techno-libertarian image, the tech industry has had close political ties for decades and remarkable success in getting what it wants.
In the late 1970s, venture capitalists and semiconductor chief executives got Capitol Hill and the Carter White House to agree to tax cuts and looser financial regulations. In the 1980s, a group of young legislators became such boosters of the industry that they were known as Atari Democrats. Ronald Reagan extolled Silicon Valley entrepreneurship and helped tech companies fend off Japanese competition.
The bipartisan love affair intensified in the 1990s as Bill Clinton and Al Gore invited tech executives to shape early internet-era policymaking. Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House, talked up cyberspace and formed close alliances with libertarian-minded tech thinkers. His partys leaders convened high-tech summits on Capitol Hill.
The lightly regulated online economy we have today is a product of that decade, when Silicon Valley leaders persuaded starry-eyed lawmakers that young, scrappy internet companies could regulate themselves.
Washingtons embrace of tech continued even as questions emerged about the industrys wealth and power. A 2013 Senate hearing to interrogate Cook about Apples tax avoidance quickly was sidetracked by lawmakers gushing to the chief executive about his companys innovative products. Pichai faced tough questions at a 2018 House Judiciary hearing, but also was showered with praise.
Google is still the story of the American dream, declared Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the committees chairman at the time.
Those days seemed a dim memory Wednesday. Instead, the mood recalled the traffic safety debates of the mid-1960s that helped catalyze significantly more regulation for the auto industry. After a steady drumbeat of studies and some short-lived congressional inquiries, traffic safety exploded into the public consciousness starting with Senate hearings in the summer of 1965, where top auto executives faced sharp questions about their lax approach to safety.
The evening network news programs showed Robert F. Kennedy, a newly elected senator from New York, grilling the leaders of General Motors about the tiny amount the company spent on safety research. Later that year a young lawyer advising the Senate committee, Ralph Nader, published a blockbuster expos of the industry, Unsafe at Any Speed.
This combination of political and media scrutiny led to passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which mandated seatbelts and additional car safety features, as well as road improvements like guardrails and traffic barriers.
Wednesday felt like Big Techs Ralph Nader moment: the pointed questioning by committee members, notably its Democratic women like Reps. Val Demings of Florida, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Lucy McBath of Georgia and Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania; the crescendo of investigative journalism that, in part, led to this weeks hearing by shining a critical light on Big Techs practices. And now, this House subcommittee is merely one of several legislative or regulatory bodies considering limits on Big Techs power.
There are of course many reasons tech regulation may not come to pass. The issues at stake are wickedly complex, and quite different for each of these companies, something chief executives sought to underscore in the hearing.
It appears to me, Bezos observed, that social media is a nuance-destruction machine, and I dont think thats helpful for a democracy. (Zuckerbergs reaction to that statement sadly was not visible to the audience.)
Large tech companies also have prepared for the regulatory onslaught by starting some of the most well-funded lobbying operations in Washington. They learned a lesson from Microsoft, whose presence in the capital before its antitrust case in 1998 consisted of one employee who worked out of the back of his car because he lacked proper office space.
Although the trial didnt end with Microsoft being ordered to break itself apart, it taught the company that government regulators needed to be taken seriously. And as a result Microsoft tamped down its most aggressive market practices, and escaped much of the yearslong policy scrutiny now facing its peers.
Then there is the sticky problem of public opinion. During other seminal moments carmakers in the 1960s, tobacco in the 1990s the problems posed by unregulated bigness were clear-cut. Cigarettes killed people. Cars were unsafe.
Techs consumer dangers are harder to see and acutely feel on an average day: misinformation, an incomplete search result, a unfairly promoted link, privacy erosion, a skewed algorithm. We may wish we used our smartphones less, or worry about what overuse of social media is doing to our communities and brains.
But we still routinely check our Facebook pages, buy apps via Apple, and click buy on Amazon Prime. Even if, as some representatives noted, we do so because we have little alternative.
What happens next will depend on many things, including the November election. But this week marks the end of Washingtons great love affair with tech, one that helped make these companies bigness possible in the first place.
Margaret OMara is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a history professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is the author of three books, most recently The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, and has published widely on the history of the high-tech economy.
See the article here:
- The Libertarian Moment That Never Comes - The New Republic - November 7th, 2020
- Meet Marshall Burt, Who's About To Become the Libertarian Party's Only Sitting State Legislator - Reason - November 7th, 2020
- Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate puts a wedge in a race that is too close to call - WCNC.com - November 7th, 2020
- Newly Launched Chicago Thinker Aims to Promote Conservative and Libertarian Views on Campus - The Chicago Maroon - November 7th, 2020
- Maybe Jo Jorgensen Finishing With 1% Would Actually Be Pretty Good? - Reason - November 7th, 2020
- Libertarian candidates share conversation and coffee - The Wellsboro Gazette - November 7th, 2020
- Cotton win good news, say parties of two rivals - Arkansas Online - November 7th, 2020
- Libertarian Free Will and the Kalam, Revisited | Jonathan MS Pearce - Patheos - August 17th, 2020
- Floating Cities and Sea-Level Rise - an unsinkable idea - Anthropoce - August 17th, 2020
- When Joe Biden Tried To Paint Clarence Thomas as a Crazy Libertarian - Reason - July 31st, 2020
- Libertarian Assembly candidate calls for line item veto to rein in spending, elimination of property taxes and more to get rid of 'tyranny' and bloat... - July 31st, 2020
- Buchanan and Anarchism | Mises Wire - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - July 31st, 2020
- Trump Wanted To 'Throw Massie Out of Republican Party!' but the Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Just Won His Primary Anyway - Reason - June 24th, 2020
- Google's warning against the Federalist is why libertarians will lose fight over Big Tech - Washington Examiner - June 24th, 2020
- Texas-based conservative group funding 'green' PAC in MT - KTVH - June 24th, 2020
- Non-mask wearing fools - The Real Nurse Jackie - McKnight's Long Term Care News - June 24th, 2020
- Morelle with big lead over Wilt but absentee votes still to be tallied - WXXI News - June 24th, 2020
- Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard - June 24th, 2020
- How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism - The Guardian - June 24th, 2020
- Radley Balko on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Libertarian Case for Criminal Justice Reform - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- While pro-marijuana parties thrive, other minor parties struggle - Southernminn.com - June 17th, 2020
- Letters: 'It is suggested that Boris's Libertarian beliefs were the reasons for delayed Lockdown' - The Northern Echo - June 17th, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | At the center of that Supreme Court ruling were people - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- The other Jo, wants your 2020 vote, if youre fed up with the two-party system or if youre not - WIZM NEWS - June 17th, 2020
- 'Where Are Libertarians on Police Reform?' Right Where We've Always Been. - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Protests: Meet the Romney-Gary Johnson-Bloomberg voter embracing Black Lives Matter - Vox.com - June 13th, 2020
- What the Pandemic Revealed - Niskanen Center - June 13th, 2020
- Santa Cruz Shooting Suspect Preached Libertarian Ideals, Was Pushed Over the Edge By Police Actions Against Protesters, Friends Say - SFist - June 13th, 2020
- Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosis Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable - Mediaite - June 13th, 2020
- How Not To Build a Transpartisan Coalition for Police Reform - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Primary Election ballots are in the mail | YourHub - The Know - June 13th, 2020
- Scared for their jobs, Iowa Republicans are gaming the democratic process - The Gazette - June 13th, 2020
- 61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth | Jon Miltimore - Foundation for Economic Education - June 13th, 2020
- Nelson lead up to 23 votes over Tarkanian - The Record-Courier - June 13th, 2020
- Amash decides against Libertarian campaign for president | TheHill - The Hill - May 19th, 2020
- Libertarian Group Sues Ohio Again On Behalf Of Closed Gyms - WOSU - May 14th, 2020
- The Libertarian Party Critique of Justin Amash - Reason - May 14th, 2020
- Third Parties Unlikely to Wreak Havoc in 2020 Election - New York Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- Modest meat reforms would help Americans stay fed during the pandemic - The Maine Wire - May 14th, 2020
- Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Drop off or in person, 8 p.m. is deadline to cast your vote in the primary election - North Platte Telegraph - May 14th, 2020
- Another ludicrous Thought of the Day from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will - stopthefud - May 14th, 2020
- Live Blog: Nebraska 2020 Primary Election Results | netnebraska.org - NET Nebraska - May 14th, 2020
- Will COVID-19 block third-party ballot access? - The Aggie - May 14th, 2020
- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash on Why Hed Run for President as a Libertarian and the Culture of the GOP - TIME - May 9th, 2020
- Governments Have Screwed Up Mask Purchase and Distribution. Maybe Everyone Should Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic. - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- We Need Economists, Civil Libertarians, and Epidemiologists in the COVID-19 Discussion - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- Is the Chinese Communist Party Really Trying To Take Over the World? - The National Interest - May 9th, 2020
- 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters - Missoula Current - May 9th, 2020
- The Coronavirus Might Force Minor Parties Off the 2020 Ballot - New York Magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Who should be included in the libertarian canon - UConn Daily Campus - April 21st, 2020
- The Government Has a Lot More Emergency Powers Than Libertarians Like, but It Still Can't Control Everything - Cato Institute - April 21st, 2020
- Opinion | A new populist revolution is here. Don't buy in. - The Daily Northwestern - April 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 is killing minor parties' ability to get candidates on the ballot in Minnesota - MinnPost - April 21st, 2020
- Why You Should Be a Socialist and a Marxist - Jacobin magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Mark Cuban To Run For President? Billionaire Dallas Mavericks Owner Does Not Rule Out 2020 White House Bid - International Business Times - April 21st, 2020
- Berkeley institution Top Dog is on the ropes. But they still wont take federal aid. - SFGate - April 21st, 2020
- No One Is Coming - Tom Webster - Elemental - April 21st, 2020
- Briefs filed in case over whether NM will move to vote-by-mail primaries during coronavirus emergency - New Mexico Political Report - April 9th, 2020
- Construction Accidents and Personal Injuries, Everything You Ought To Know - The Libertarian Republic - March 24th, 2020
- 'Tiger King' is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - WICZ - March 24th, 2020
- As Science And Business Go To War With Each Other, President Trump Pours Fuel On The Fire - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Vermin Supreme's quest to win hearts, minds and the Libertarian primaries - The Spectator USA - March 22nd, 2020
- Where the 2020 Libertarian candidates stand on Jewish issues? - The Times of Israel - March 22nd, 2020
- COVID-19 and . . . 2024? - National Review - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul Proves He Is Too Good For Us, As He Upsets the Right People - The Liberator Online - March 22nd, 2020
- Tiger King is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - Q13 News Seattle - March 22nd, 2020
- Campaign Beat: The Pandemic, The Primary And Third Parties - MTPR - March 22nd, 2020
- The Right to Assemble Not Erased By Government Emergency Libertarians to Continue Meeting in Keene Sundays at 5pm - Free Keene - March 22nd, 2020
- Just Send the Checks - Reason - March 22nd, 2020
- Opinion | Rufus Woods, Art of Community: Now is the time to sacrifice for elders and the vulnerable - wenatcheeworld.com - March 22nd, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | Amid the outbreak, Minnesota's minor political parties will struggle to get on the ballot - Minneapolis Star Tribune - March 22nd, 2020
- The small-government case for giving everyone a big check - The Week Magazine - March 22nd, 2020
- Armstrong: Liberty in the midst of a pandemic - Complete Colorado - March 22nd, 2020
- At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing - Telegraph.co.uk - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight | TheHill - The Hill - March 8th, 2020
- Our Standards on Civility are Trash - The Libertarian Republic - March 8th, 2020
- Freelancers Shouldn't Betray Other Gig Workers By Allying with Anti-Union Opponents of AB5 - Common Dreams - March 8th, 2020
- Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020