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Big Tech Con: Big Tech Leads to Wealth Concentration and Poverty Answsers

Financial power doesn’t mean big tech will control the government

 

Tyler Cohen, June 13, 2019, Slate, Breaking Up Facebook Would Be a Big Mistake, https://slate.com/technology/2019/06/facebook-big-tech-antitrust-breakup-mistake.html, This essay is adapted from the recent book Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, published by St. Martin’s Press.

Another claim you hear is that the big tech companies must be taken down a notch because otherwise they will control our government. But the evidence does not support that assumption. Over the longer haul, farming, big pharma, and banking lobbies, or for that matter Boeing, have had a much better record getting their way with the federal government. The tech companies are spending more and more on lobbying as time passes, but for them and their revenue models the D.C. scene remains a sideshow. The tech companies also have been losing plenty of political battles. In general, they did not favor the election of Donald Trump, nor have they pushed for an immigration crackdown—quite the contrary—or the current spate of trade wars. To see the limits of Amazon’s influence, even at the level of local government, consider the company’s withdrawal from its planned Long Island City location in Queens, New York. If the company really is pulling all of the strings, why did it find the hostile political environment so troubling? Why didn’t it just stick around and bulldoze the opposition into submission?

Big Tech important to AI development

Steve Lavrouck, 1-12, 19, https://www.gurufocus.com/news/893314/calls-to-break-up-big-tech-are-growing, Calls to Break Up Big Tech Are Growing

Not everyone agrees there is actually a problem. In a recent interview with CNBC, billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller (Trades, Portfolio) lambasted politicians for their attacks on big tech, saying: “We are attacking our companies that are the leaders in this stuff [artificial intelligence]. But man, it’s great. We are supporting our steel industry, our coal industry, our aluminum industry. Way to think about the future, President Trump, just genius”.

Turn — AI solves poverty

Borgen Project, 2018, USING AI TO FIGHT POVERTY WORLDWIDE, https://borgenproject.org/using-ai-to-fight-poverty/

Discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) often center around one of two ideas: the first looks at the exciting prospect of driverless cars and other advanced technology. The second investigates the irreversible rise of AI and how it could leave an entire socioeconomic class jobless. But it is time to initiate a third discussion around AI: specifically, using AI to fight poverty and helping 3 billion people around the world. AI is on the Rise Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N. Amina Mohammed said the greatest global challenge today is eradicating poverty. The elimination of poverty worldwide is the main U.N. Sustainable Development goal, and AI is making this problem easier to solve. So pressing is this issue that the XPRIZE Foundation announced a $5 million prize for projects that are using AI to fight poverty and tackle socio-economic challenges. Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab is a prime example of the recent proliferation of companies and incubators dedicated to finding technology-based solutions to poverty and gross inequality. “Poverty and economic immobility is clearly a huge problem in the U.S.,” said Elisabeth Mason, founding director of the Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab. “It’s time that we get serious about designing 21st-century solutions.” AI is Adaptable While the expansion of AI may threaten blue-collar jobs, the data-mining abilities of AI could also be used to speed up job searches and predict which skills and training will be needed for them. Using AI to fight poverty extends beyond curbing unemployment levels. AI could also provide the poor with a quality education that responds and adapts to the users’ specific needs. “Access to information has always been a big differentiator with poverty,” Mason said. “If we can use the right tools and develop the right programs, we’re looking at a different world.” AI could help address or predict some of the primary causes of poverty, including food shortages, epidemics, illiteracy and natural disasters. In times of natural disaster, AI is widely used to determine the location of casualties by analyzing social-media communication and parsing satellite and drone imagery. Scientists at Stanford are using AI and satellite remote-sensing data to anticipate food shortages by accurately predicting crop yields months in advance. AI is Helpful in Agriculture Predicting crop yields is not enough, though. Data provided by the World Bank shows that 65 percent of poor working adults make a living through agriculture. Technology companies such as FarmView are working to solve the global food crisis by improving the agricultural yield of various stable crops. Sorghum is a valuable cereal crop in developing countries, India, Nigeria and Ethiopia in particular, that could be cultivated more efficiently with the help of AI. The highly sophisticated and selective crop breeding that exists in the U.S., with valuable foods like corn, does not exist in developing countries. FarmView utilizes AI and four-wheeled robots to drive through fields to measure everything from potential signs of disease to plant color, shape and size in order to give poor farmers the “information they need to cultivate the most nutritionally-packed crop of sorghum possible for their environment —at the highest possible yield.” These are some examples of the ways AI is making the world a better place not just for the affluent but for those in need, too. While advancements in AI technology will no doubt present us with moral, ethical and socio-economic challenges, it is also one of the most promising tools to end extreme poverty and stimulate economic growth. Using AI to fight poverty can once and for all help bring an end to what is widely considered the greatest challenge facing mankind.

Antitrust won’t solve wealth concentration

Gene Kimmelman, February 22, 2019, Public Knowledge, , To Make the Tech Sector Competitive, Antitrust Is Only Half the Answer, https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/to-make-the-tech-sector-competitive-antitrust-is-only-half-the-answer

t seems antitrust is finally having a new moment in the sun. From Attorney General Nominee Bill Barr to Senator Amy Klobuchar, to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to and even President Trump, everyone is talking about antitrust in the context of Internet platforms. While antitrust is a powerful tool and essential to the proper functioning of the economy, antitrust alone cannot eliminate the full array of harms caused by highly concentrated markets. The excessive market concentration and corporate power we see today resulted not only from conservative jurisprudence and lax antitrust enforcement but also excessive deregulation. Antitrust is not sufficient to rectify the very real problems reform advocates identify.

I have tried to rein in the power of telecommunications, media, and cable giants for more than 30 years. In these important industries, strong antitrust has only worked when paired with equally strong regulations that promote competition and markets. The goal of antitrust is to preserve competition and free flowing markets, but some industries have no competition to preserve, and instead need regulation to help competition flourish. Antitrust enforcement can punish companies that are out of line, but often not in time to save competition, and strong regulation is the best and fastest way to revive competition.

Our History

Even in the “golden age” of trust busting in the first half of the 20th century, antitrust was never seen as enough to protect consumers on its own. That’s why the first wave of comprehensive consumer protection law was developed in the same period. Louis Brandeis’s arguments in favor of the creation of the Federal Trade Commission emphasized the need for additional authority to protect consumers as a necessary supplement to antitrust. And even in the heyday of antitrust (ca. 1940-1970), it also took regulatory agencies being created and active to constrain the abuses of airline, pharmaceutical, and agricultural behemoths.

Regulation was crucial to the survival of U.S. Department of Justice’s effort to breakup AT&T. Once broken up, the local phone companies sought almost $20 billion in rate increases, claiming the antitrust case made this necessary. Fortunately, state regulators blocked the price hikes and helped consumers navigate a smooth path to a competitive marketplace. Regulation provided basic rules for interconnecting telecom networks and nondiscrimination for access to the internet. And today, regulation is our best tool to protect our privacy from overzealous advertising practices.

As the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed over the last few decades, antitrust law’s broad language has been constrained substantially to limit enforcement. A series of important cases narrowed the definition of what can be considered an antitrust violation. Economic theories adopted by the courts, such as the idea that barriers to entry are generally low, tipped the scale toward under-enforcement. At the same time, a deregulatory ethos has restrained regulation. In the past two decades mergers in the cable and telecom industries – as well as the airline, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries – have been approved that once would have been rejected.

The Problem

As today’s digital marketplace has exploded, the tech sector, in particular, is starting to look a little like the old cable and telecom world, with a few firms growing enormous and facing limited competition. Yet unlike cable and telecom, or virtually any other industry sector, no regulatory agency is empowered to deal with the broad public interest questions facing tech companies. The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces consumer protection across the economy, has been in the lead on privacy but it has no rulemaking or fining authority and its purview is limited.

The broader public interest requires ensuring small innovators can compete fairly in markets dominated by large platforms and even challenge the platform itself if they want. The public interest means content creators, journalists, bloggers, and individuals can be compensated for their work and are not kept from the public square by overzealous moderators or by unchecked harassment. Antitrust alone cannot create competitive markets in these industries characterized by heavy network effects and sometimes perverse incentives. And competition alone cannot foster innovation and entrepreneurship, personal privacy, diversity of media and content ownership, or the integrity of individual speech, which is essential to democratic discourse.

Solutions

We need new tech sector-specific guardrails to open the door to new competition, ensure diversity of ownership and viewpoints in our public discourse and prevent dominant companies from abusing their power — both economic and political. In markets dependent upon digital platforms, where the platform also owns services riding on the platform, we may need non-discrimination requirements, rules against exclusive dealing, and obligations to carry independent content to combat integrated firms’ gatekeeper power and harm to small start-ups and innovators. We need rules governing data flows, both for consumer privacy and for fair competition. Rules requiring interoperability protocols could make competition feasible in the face of strong network effects that make customers feel locked into dominant incumbents.

We can learn from the history of the 1992 Cable Act. Just as Comcast should not favor NBC programming over independent networks like the Discovery Channel, maybe Amazon should not favor Amazon Basics products in its Marketplace and maybe Google should not discriminate against others’ apps. Just as AT&T, the owner of DirecTV, should not charge an inflated price to Dish, DirecTV’s biggest competitor, for its Turner Network programming, maybe Facebook, the owner of Oculus, should not charge extra to HTC for advertising its Vive VR headset.

If we can galvanize support for stronger antitrust, then surely we can create the additional accountability tools and enforcement practices needed to thoroughly challenge the dangers of economic and political concentration of power. One tool is not enough — we need a full array of public oversight to begin undoing past mistakes and meeting new challenges posed by digital platforms in ways that promote competition, transparency, and democratic values. Achieving more competitive economic markets that expand the marketplace of ideas and protect our democracy requires both antitrust law and regulation working hand in hand.