Dawg on the WallJuly 31, 2020
Since the age of five I’ve enjoyed peeing outdoors. Forty years later, peeing has become something I must do several dozen times a day, and I don’t like the outdoors. But life mimics math, and the product of two negatives is a positive. More math: grilled cheese or tomato soup as individuals I find boring. But together, they’re my favorite thing at the Crosby Hotel bar. God, I miss eating at bars alone, with strangers around me.
I’m staying alone in Montauk at a friend’s house while he’s in Portugal (something about taxes and quality of life). After my morning coffee and power shake, it’s time to water the plants. Look, it’s a bayberry plant, and there’s a crape myrtle. I hear something and startle. I just came from Montana, where everyone tells you to be mindful of bears. My fear escalates to DEFCON 2 when I see not a bear but five men standing in the backyard witnessing my divertissement. Four of them are wearing cargo shorts and could be quadruplets. The fifth is in a suit. The only guy that wears a suit on 92-degree Saturday morning is a real estate broker. Now I remember, the broker is showing the house this morning.
They act like my Vizsla when she’s done something wrong: freeze in their tracks and avoid eye contact. Who would blame them.
The smartest and most noble people in the world — according to the IRS, DC, and CNBC are really, really rich people who made their money in tech. The Jesus Christs of our generation. More than that … Innovators. So, taking my cues from our role models, I turn to the five men and say:
“We live in a great country. I was raised by a single mother who lived and died a secretary.”
This week, the CEOs of the largest tech firms were all under consensual hallucination that an emotional opening statement absolves you of monopoly abuse. Bezos must have thought he was being filmed for his A&E biography. Pregnant teen mom, immigrant father, we get it, you were once poor.
Jesus (i.e., Elon), make them stop.
Pattern Recognition: He’s Brown, He Must Be Un-American
Struck me right away that the GOP seemed to be more prone to questions about a lack of patriotism when questioning the one brown guy, Pichai. The word American popped up 15 times in questions to Sundar Pichai, a US citizen born in Madurai, India. To Zuckerberg, whose platform has wreaked considerable damage on American elections, American politics, and American news, the word was only used nine times. Representatives on the panel felt the need to remind the witness what country we live in just once when questioning the guys born in Albuquerque, NM, and Mobile, AL.
Visible in His Absence
For the first two hours the witness who was subjected to the toughest grilling was … Jack Dorsey. Of course, Mr. Dorsey wasn’t there. Any problem regarding the rage machine that is Twitter has nothing to do with antitrust. Forcing the microblogging platform to divest Kanye’s account, and let it trade on the NASDAQ, doesn’t make much sense.
Or does it?
Many of the GOP panelists came to the wrong hearing. Twitter is worth $29 billion; the others are worth an average $1.23 trillion. I know, market cap isn’t a signal of monopoly behavior that warrants antitrust. But here’s the thing … it is. To be fair, if Jack had testified, we’d only really understand the respective scale of the problem if Jack were 2 inches tall and weighed 4 pounds. Pretty sure the last sentence is a hate crime.
Sisters Doing It for Themselves
Rep. Jayapal stood out as the most effective examiner on the committee. Her questioning of Bezos around third-party seller data was pointed and effective, as well as her grilling Zuckerberg over copying apps. Politicians are sometimes overmatched in these hearings, but Rep. Jayapal demonstrated she was more than talented enough to have been in the opposite seat, testifying in front of Congress about the anticompetitive practices of her firm — but instead decided to serve her country.
The Samurais of the world’s greatest deliberative bodies increasingly have one thing in common: pantsuits. Reps Jayapal, Porter, Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Warren have created a super-featherweight class whose fists of preparation and faculty make Floyd Mayweather uneasy. They will likely play a central role in the breakup of the world’s most powerful firms. However, this pales in comparison to another contribution — there are likely millions of young women who watch them and think, “Why not me?”
Put Your Mask on, There Is No Conservative Bias
When they weren’t questioning Pichai’s patriotism, most of the Republicans on the committee spent their time complaining about alleged bias against conservatives, rather than addressing the actual subject of the hearing: antitrust. Were they just playing to the millions who watch Fox News? That’s half right. They are playing to one person who watches Fox News. It’s clear most Republicans still fear Trump and are desperate to please him. The persecution complex plays well, especially on Fox.
There is no conservative bias on Facebook. There is a “bias” (open community guidelines) against spreading dangerous health information. It’s just that the two (conservative sources and misinformation) are often one and the same. But a “conservative bias” might as well mean, “the best place to get your conservative news, conservative opinion, and conservative conspiracy theories fed to you in a constant drip feed of enragement.” In May, a study found that most of the top news publishers by interactions lean right (as they have for years). The top ten political publishers with highest engagement are: Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, NowThis, The Hill, The Western Journal, The Young Turks, The Blaze, IJR, Washington Examiner, and CNN Politics.
“I’d Like to Clarify My Comments”
Two “oops I f***ed up and told the truth, corrections coming”:
- Rep. Jerry Nadler challenged Zuck based on emails from before the Instagram acquisition. In the emails Zuck acknowledges he wants to buy the company in order to neutralize Facebook’s competition. Nadler got much more than he could have hoped for. Zuck went on to acknowledge, even brag, that once Facebook bought Instagram, they crushed all of Instagram’s competition. Zuck’s answer made clear that Facebook’s market power is so great, they can terminate an entire market category simply by appending it to their business. When the committee’s report comes out, expect to see a recommendation that Facebook be required to spin Instagram, citing this answer and an assessment of how Facebook used its resources, network effects, and other powers to grow Instagram and push its competitors out of the market. Nadler knew a gift when he got one: “Mr. Zuckerberg, you’re making my point.”
- A few dozen lawyers in Seattle likely swallowed their tongues when Bezos fessed up to predatory pricing. Tim Wu, Columbia law professor, said this on this week’s Prof G Show: “The big policy question that comes out of this hearing is what do we do when the monopolist starts eating up all of their competitors on their platform? What happens when they run the platform but they invite you over for lunch and then have you for dinner?”
Michael from Ronkonkoma
David Cicilline, chairman of the committee, claims he’s from the first district of RI. He’s not fooling us. He’s clearly from Ronkonkoma and he’s a Michael, not a David. Anyway, Chairman Cicilline comes across both very smart and as someone who, when you order a frozen mai tai from a lobster stand in Westhampton, would lean over and recommend an extra rum floater. And he’d be right.
Rep. Cicilline’s opening statement gave me hope: “This investigation has been bipartisan from the start. … As my colleague Congressman Ken Buck recently commented, and I quote, ‘This is the most bipartisan effort that I’ve been involved with in five and a half years of Congress.’” His rhetoric was also powerful: “Our founders did not bow before a king, and we should not bow before the emperors of the online economy.”
It’s not You, It’s Me (What’s Best for the Country)
We should also stop thinking of the breakup of big tech as punishment for doing something wrong, or that they’re bad people. We break companies up to restore competition to markets, which is the gangster app for a growing economy that demands better behavior. As a result, there are more options from other players who must then … behave better.
So, I’ve decided to run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Senator Rubio in 2022. I’ve already drafted my closing remarks for a similar upcoming Senate panel:
“Mr. Cook, you are an inspiration and reek of grace. Mr. Pichai, you are the best of America, an exceptional young immigrant who creates greatness in the agency of others. Mr. Bezos, you are just so damn rich, and even more jacked … we should roll. And Mr. Zuckerberg, you are an awful person, but a brilliant business mind. Your successes are nothing short of remarkable. It must be tremendously rewarding to know your grit, intellect, and vision took your firms to heights that made it difficult not to abuse your positions of power. Our separation of your assets will unlock tremendous value for tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people. Well done, and thank you.”
This may be (and I’ve said this before) the beginning of the end of big tech. However, it could also be a new beginning for the country, entrepreneurs, and markets. I find it all quite exciting. It makes me want to venture outside.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Tim Wu, author of The Curse of Bigness, is my guest on the pod this week. “Can we really have one company selling everything in the whole country?” Take a listen.