Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerful - The New York Times

Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerful - The New York Times -...

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SundayReview | OPINION Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerful By ROBERT B. REICH SEPT. 18, 2015 Berkeley, Calif. — CONSERVATIVES and liberals interminably debate the merits of “the free market” versus “the government.” Which one you trust more delineates the main ideological divide in America. In reality, they aren’t two separate things. There can’t be a market without government. Legislators, agency heads and judges decide the rules of the game. And, over time, they change the rules. The important question, too rarely discussed, is who has the most influence over these decisions and in that way wins the game. Two centuries ago slaves were among the nation’s most valuable assets, and after the Civil War, perhaps land was. Then factories, machines, railroads and oil transformed America. By the 1920s most working Americans were employees, and the most contested property issue was their freedom to organize into unions. Now information and ideas are the most valuable forms of property. Most of the cost of producing it goes into discovering it or making the first copy. After that, the additional production cost is often zero. Such “intellectual property” is the key building block of the new economy. Without government decisions over what it is, and who can own it and on what terms, the new economy could not exist.
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But as has happened before with other forms of property, the most politically influential owners of the new property are doing their utmost to increase their profits by creating monopolies that must eventually be broken up. The most valuable intellectual properties are platforms so widely used that everyone else has to use them, too. Think of standard operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows or Google’s Android; Google’s search engine; Amazon’s shopping system; and Facebook’s communication network. Google runs two­thirds of all searches in the United States. Amazon sells more than 40 percent of new books. Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion active monthly users worldwide. This is where the money is.
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