Google’s Antitrust Lawsuit Could be Smoke and Mirrors
November 25, 2020
“Antitrust” is a word that has rarely appeared in American headlines in recent years. Not since the breakup of AT&T’s telephone monopoly, which took nearly a decade to complete after antitrust proceedings began in the Nixon Administration has one really affected the life of most Americans.
Still, the allure remains. For those on the political left, memories of the “trust busters” who broke up a number of monopolies early in the twentieth century remain strong.
More recently, a newly populist Republican party has sounded similar themes, with President Trump recently railing about a sinister group made up of “big business, big media, and big tech.” Leaving aside the inherent oddness of someone who came to fame through the New York tabloid press and built on that fame with a reality TV show before rising to political prominence thanks to cables news and Twitter denouncing both the media and technology, this represents a notable change for the GOP.
Google is headquartered in San Francisco, with a corporate ethos that reflects its Northern California roots. Nonetheless, with several hundred employees and full-time contractors in Pittsburgh, the company has a presence in western Pennsylvania that rivals the largest of the region’s surviving steel mills.
A few of their local employees were willing to offer their off-the-record observations about the recently-filed antitrust suit.
One not unreasonably pointed out in many fields Google’s market share is declining as new competitors emerge and the industry stabilizes, which is not generally thought to be a feature of monopolies.
Another, plainly born some years after the breakup of the Bell Telephone system, still pointed to that bit of history up with the observation that “its not as if those jobs went away—all that changed was the name at the top of the paycheck.”
A third was utterly dismissive, describing it as “just another round of smoke and mirrors from Donald Trump.”
There is probably an element of truth in all three views, although it remains to be seen whether the new Administration will quietly let the proceedings fade away. Joe Biden, too, is born of a political tradition shaped in part by economic populism and had some biting words of his own about Big Tech on the campaign trail.
The bottom line is probably that high technology is so new—thirty years ago, personal computers and fax machines were the latest novelties in most offices, while e-mail and video calls remind largely the stuff of science fiction—and as with other basic changes like the development of railroads and large-scale factories, it will take a while for the American law and public sentiment to catch up.