The World in Time: Lapham’s Quarterly

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with Matt Stoller, author of Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

“There are many arguments for what is at the root cause of our current social dysfunction,” journalist Matt Stoller writes at the beginning of his book Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. “Various explanations include the prevalence of racism, automation, the rise of China, inadequate education or training, the spread of the internet, Donald Trump, the collapse of political norms, or globalization. Many of these explanations have merit. But there’s another much simpler explanation of what is going on. Our systems are operating the way that they were designed to. In the 1970s, we decided as a society that it would be a good idea to allow private financiers and monopolists to organize our world. As a result, what is around us is a matrix of monopolies, controlling our lives and manipulating our communities and our politics. This is not just happenstance. It was created. The constructs shaping our world were formed as ideas, put into law, and now they are our economic and social reality. Our reality is formed not just of monopolized supply chains and brands, but an entire language that precludes us from even noticing, from discussing the concentrated power all around us.”

Stoller discusses the backstory and history of this idea on this episode of The World in Time.

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American workers are bored and disillusioned. Here’s what may bring them back

In Silicon Valley, Elizabeth Warren — who is running on a platform that includes breaking up Google — is getting more employees at Google to donate to her campaign than any other Democratic presidential candidate.

Google is renowned for its luxurious treatment of its engineers, with Business Insider running a story focused entirely on pictures of the free food the corporation offers to employees, including “Banana cheesecake, lobster for lunch, poké bowls.” It’s a famously idealistic company; people work at Google to make the world a better place. So the donations to Warren seem like a paradox, if you think about Google as a company where all employees and executives are aligned around the same goals of organizing the world’s information.

But something has gone wrong in paradise, the utopian idealism of the corporation is now being strangled by the monopoly power wielded by its executives.

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Tech Companies Are Destroying Democracy and the Free Press (NYT)

Ad revenue that used to support journalism is now captured by Google and Facebook, and some of that money supports and spreads fake news. (New York Times)

As the presidential election approaches, the cracks in the digital facade are once again showing.

Facebook just removed an “I Love America” page, run by Ukrainians, which pushed recycled pro-Trump imagery from the Internet Research Agency, the Russian group that tried to influence the 2016 electionAs it turned out, “I Love America” wasn’t state sponsored — the Ukrainians were just running the page for the advertising money. A similar page with falsified content, “Police Lives Matter,” is now run out of Kosovo.

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Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law (Wired)

Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out. (Wired)

Last month, after a fierce lobbying battle, California passed a law that will likely end up mandating that companies in the “gig economy,” such as Uber, treat gig workers as employees. After losing the battle to carve out an exception for Uber drivers, Uber’s general counsel, former Obama official Tony West, announced the company simply did not believe the law applied to it. Disrespect toward law is not a surprise at Uber. From the very beginning, leaders there have often seen laws as something to be tested, not followed; at one point in 2017, the company was under five separate criminal investigations.

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Why U.S. Businesses Want Trustbusting (WSJ)

The loudest complaints against today’s monopolies come not from Occupy Wall Street types but from leaders of firms seeking freedom of commerce (Wall Street Journal)

Trustbusting is back, and it’s a bipartisan effort. Last month, 50 state attorneys general, led by the conservative Republican Ken Paxton of Texas, announced an investigation of Google for anticompetitive conduct. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has been a fierce critic of big tech, as has the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, which is probing the sector. Several Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to address the problem of concentrated power not just in tech but in agriculture, defense and media too.

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A Return to 1912: The Antitrust Center Will Not Hold

Matt Stoller discusses the current ideological shift in antitrust law, relating it to lax enforcement of antitrust and the resulting radical concentration of corporate power over the last forty years. (Concurrences)

In the crises of the 1930s, one of the great investigations in American history was done by a pugnacious working-class lawyer, Ferdinand Pecora, who embarrassed the lords of Wall Street in 1933 as the lead counsel for the Senate Banking Committee. A few years later, as a judge, Pecora observed why countries all over the world were taking the road to fascism or Communism. “In other lands democratic government has abdicated to dictatorship,” he said, “not because men no longer wished to be free, but because democratic governments become impotent to deal with economic problems.”

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WeWork and Counterfeit Capitalism

WeWork illustrates everything that’s wrong with the economy and with our capitalist system — and shows just how far that system has gone off the rails (Business Insider and my own newsletter BIG)

Today I’m going to continue on this theme, and discuss the increasingly common tendency of capital markets to finance loss-making companies, which is an important trend I call “Counterfeit Capitalism.” The most hilarious example is WeWork, because it’s just such an obvious example of self-dealing couched in New Age management consulting speak. Its CEO, Adam Neumann, was just forced to step down. Both Neumann’s rise, and his fall, have important lessons if we want to correct serious errors in our political economy philosophy as a society.

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The fraught debate about the nature of China

There’s potential for gigantic miscalculation between a rising power and a defensive hegemon (Financial Times)

This is a response by Matt Stoller to Ed Luce of the Financial Times.

Diligent Swampians might recall that in my last Swamp Notes I took up cudgels against those who compare China to Nazi Germany. Though I did not name the person who triggered my note, he requested the right of reply. He is Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Washington-based Open Markets Institute, and author of the forthcoming book, Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

Here is Matt’s response:

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