I just love this confluence. The manner in which Inman, at The Guardian, licks his lips over the power the European Union will – or should – have over Big Tech. As compared to what actually happens with that power over Big Tech when someone has it, as in China.
In the twilight years of the Obama presidency, it seemed that political flag waving by Democrats and Republicans for Silicon Valley might be over. That was until China became Congress’s chief enemy and it was clear the Russians were using cyberwarfare as a political weapon.
These days the large digital firms seem to have the same kind of power as cold war defence contractors, which could name their price when asked to provide sophisticated support to government departments.
The EU has made clear that anti-trust laws – ones that seek to restrict monopoly power and promote the rights of consumers – come first during long battles with Microsoft and Google. In April, the European Commission accused its latest target Apple of gouging app developers by charging a 30% fee for selling through its online store, a fee it said was passed on to consumers in higher prices.
There were other monopolistic tactics, said the EU, including “a dominant position” in the distribution of music streaming apps.
Brexit means Britain could take a similar or even tougher stand. After all, consumers in the UK suffer the same higher prices as those in the EU and US.
We need state power over that chaos of markets, d’ye see?
And then we do go see what happens when there is that state power:
Roosevelt’s Trust Busters confronted the Rockefellers and JP Morgans before the First World War, breaking up Standard Oil, US Steel, and the railway monopolies. His Square Deal is the best known of America’s episodic responses to overweening and abusive corporate power, each aimed at preserving the country’s Jeffersonian spirit and preventing the rise of an entrenched oligarchy.
Xi Jingping is doing the exact opposite. His purpose is to bring all centres of rival power under tight control and reassert the total political monopoly of the Communist Party. He is striking on multiple fronts at once, and the tally so far is a 43pc fall in the Hang Seng Tech index since the peak in February.
It is presented as a form of commercial cleansing, a necessary step to ensure data protection against predatory business elites, as well as a blow for consumer rights and the spirit of equality.
When those in power have the power to ensure that those in power will stay in power then the power will be used to maintain those in power. That’s just how power works.
Our task is to ensure that power does not so accumulate of course. Which means less, not more, state power over Big Tech.
After all, the two totalitarianisms of the 20th century claimed very different motivations but ended up being really very similar indeed. Starving the kulaks and boiling the Jews down for soap are different actions but there’s not that much moral difference between them.