Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Today’s issue is about how a subtle form of speech control works in 21st century America, as seen through two ongoing antitrust cases. The first is a merger trial where the government is trying to block the combination of publishing giants Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster, and the second is a lawsuit where conservative video service Rumble is suing Google for monopolization.

In both, dominant firms are trying to gain or protect market power, and in doing so, end up with too much power over the public square. It’s not intentional, but monopoly power fosters centralized control of what we can discuss.

Speech and Concentration Creep

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star as two business rivals who hate each other in ‘real life’ but connect and fall in love anonymously over the internet. Hanks plays Joe Fox, a tycoon who owns a Barnes and Nobles-style corporate book chain, trying to crush the small store owned by Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan. After a noisy but adorably silly protest, the movie ends with Kelly losing her store, but getting Tom Hanks as a soulmate. It’s a delightful film, a Nora Ephron-written classic.

What’s interesting about this movie from an anti-monopolist standpoint, however, is not the romance, but the politics. The movie is almost aggressively apathetic about concentrations of power. We tend to look at corporate concentration as a relatively recent phenomenon. Big tech emerged in force in the 2000s, that’s when offshoring to China happened in force, and the key major ruling ending monopolization cases didn’t occur until 2004. But here’s a movie showing that almost 25 years ago, before all that, consolidation was so well-known as to be a relatively unremarked central plot element of a popular film.

You’ve Got Mail is also a movie about a specific industry, publishing. Indeed, in many ways, the book industry has been a canary in the coal mine for concentration in the American economy. Books were the very first industry dominated by Amazon, but it isn’t just the retail giant. Every part of the book business, from retail stores to distribution to printing to retail to audio and ebooks to publishing houses, has been consolidating for decades. In the movie Tom Hanks is kind and charming; in real life, Barnes and Nobles used its power over shelf space to act as the industry bully, until Jeff Bezos came along and turned market power into performance art. Then, ten years ago, Penguin and Random House merged, allowed by the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers. The book business is an increasingly cruel and lawless world, not a romantic one. . .

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

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