Economics, Prodigy & A Better Future

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At the S.M.U. library in Dallas, Ms. Khan was finding inspiration from books that predated the price-based era of monopoly law. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

I have resisted placing orders through Amazon about as steadfastly as humanly possible in the economic and cultural life Amazon has now taken such a prodigious role in. I have had plenty of hints of what the key points are in the growing debate about the company and why to resist it. Thanks to this excellent profile by David Streitfeld, I have a better understanding of why this is so important, and thanks to Lina Khan I have faith that the only way to counter prodigious power is with the power of prodigy:

Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea

With a single scholarly article, Lina Khan, 29, has reframed decades of monopoly law.

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In early 2017, when she was an unknown law student, Lina Khan published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

The dead books are on the top floor of Southern Methodist University’s law library.

“Antitrust Dilemma.” “The Antitrust Impulse.” “Antitrust in an Expanding Economy.” Shelf after shelf of volumes ignored for decades. There are a dozen fat tomes with transcripts of the congressional hearings on monopoly power in 1949, when the world was in ruins and the Soviets on the march. Lawmakers believed economic concentration would make America more vulnerable.

At the end of the antitrust stacks is a table near the window. “This is my command post,” said Lina Khan.

It’s nothing, really. A few books are piled up haphazardly next to a bottle with water and another with tea. Ms. Khan was in Dallas quite a bit over the last year, refining an argument about monopoly power that takes aim at one of the most admired, secretive and feared companies of our era: Amazon.

The retailer overwhelmingly dominates online commerce, employs more than half a million people and powers much of the internet itself through its cloud computing division. On Tuesday, it briefly became the second company to be worth a trillion dollars.

If competitors tremble at Amazon’s ambitions, consumers are mostly delighted by its speedy delivery and low prices. They stream its Oscar-winning movies and clamor for the company to build a second headquarters in their hometowns. Few of Amazon’s customers, it is safe to say, spend much time thinking they need to be protected from it.

But then, until recently, no one worried about Facebook, Google or Twitter either. Now politicians, the media, academics and regulators are kicking around ideas that would, metaphorically or literally, cut them down to size. Members of Congress grilled social media executives on Wednesday in yet another round of hearings on Capitol Hill. Not since the Department of Justice took on Microsoft in the mid-1990s has Big Tech been scrutinized like this.

Amazon has more revenue than Facebook, Google and Twitter put together, but it has largely escaped sustained examination. That is beginning to change, and one significant reason is Ms. Khan.

Read the whole story here.

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