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Big Tech Regulation Explained – What Happened With Sears Roebuck, Littlewoods?

Everyone and their cat is screaming out that we’ve got to regulate Big Tech. They’ve all – Amazon, Google, Facebook, whoeverlabetedujouret – got much too much power and we want to steal that from them. As is usual about this modern world our real problem is worrying that we’re not being cynical enough. For there’s very definitely that suspicion that those calling for that bureaucracy and planning are confirming Kip Esquire’s Law, that the would be planners but always see themselves as being those planners in that new system. Those calling for Big Tech regulation see themselves as being those future regulators. That is, if Tech has power then the would be regulators can coopt that and gain power over the society. All else being just a smokescreen for this.

Hmm, paranoia does indeed exist as a real thing as do reasons why it’s not, always, misplaced. Sometimes they really are out to get you.

However, an interesting question. So, yes, Amazon is gaining lots of profits now. Sales are through the roof, Jeff Bezos has just afforded to make his soon to be ex-wife the third richest woman in the world and yet he’s still, after that slice, the world’s richest man. To some that’s quite enough to be getting on with as a justification for more regulation.

But think of the justification being used. Which isn’t that rich bastard we’ll ‘ave ‘im. Not in public at least. It’s that Amazon has market power to the detriment of the consumer. Something that’s a rather more difficult sell. For at the level of the household Amazon is an extra potential supplier to each and every postcode in the country. One shop villages simply do not exist any more. And if we think of Amazon as a marketplace – the Marketplace – then there’s no hamlet without tens of thousands of shops today.

This is not obviously an increase in economic concentration to the detriment of the consumer.

At which point well, do we have any historical precedent for this? Anything that might guide us?

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Leave aside the current day just for a moment and think of Britain a century ago. Then it was Littlewoods growing into a vast combine. But was that extension of catalogue shopping an increase in market concentration to the detriment of the consumer, or a freedom through competition from the grip of the local retailer?[/perfectpullquote]

Littlewoods grew through the 1920s. Sears Roebuck is the American equivalent with their catalogue in the 19whatevers. The claim that Amazon is harming consumers is the same as the claim that those two harmed consumers back then. So, anyone actually want to make that case?

No, not that the catalogue companies harmed Mom and Pop stores, for sure they did. That being one of the proofs that they benefited consumers. Is there anyone who want to try to claim that Littlewoods and Sears Roebuck harmed consumers with their catalogue empires? And if not then what is the justification for the insistence upon regulating Amazon to reduce consumer harm?

Other than just they’ve power and economic wealth and we want it?

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Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp
5 years ago

Let’s regulate Myspace, Netscape Navigator and Alta Vista. Oh, and Woolworth’s

Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer
5 years ago
Reply to  Rhoda Klapp

Netscape Navigator is an interesting example. That did not need ‘regulating’, since it was closed down by extreme predatory behaviour by Microsoft, who simply bought a second-rate browser (cheating the owners of that, incidentally) and then gave it away for free to close down any competition for accessing the Web. If it were not for the Open Source movement providing free optional software the Web would currently be Microsoft’s. Unfettered competition may initially be ‘good for customers’ if a monopoly supplier undercuts competitors to drive all others out of business. That has been Microsoft’s business model since its inception. It… Read more »

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