Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker were named as two of the three trustbusters in the field of presidential candidates by Eric Cortellessa, with the third being Amy Klobuchar. To date, Warren has focused her attention on breaking up the big tech companies and, during a CNN town hall meeting, demonstrated her great skill at explaining a complex issue in a way that voters can understand.
Giant tech companies have too much power. My plan to #BreakUpBigTech prevents corporations like Amazon from knocking out the rest of the competition. You can be an umpire, or you can be a player—but you can’t be both. #WarrenTownHall pic.twitter.com/73y1002QVv
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 23, 2019
In that clip, Warren used Amazon as an example of one of the two prongs of her proposal. In addition to not allowing tech giants to be both the platform and the seller, she wants to roll back some of the mergers and acquisitions that have made them so dominant. Warren explained all of that in a Medium post titled, “It’s Time to Break Up Amazon, Google, and Facebook.”
Last summer, Cory Booker introduced a bill that would place a moratorium on agricultural mergers. He had previously called on regulators to do a better job of policing the power of monopolies to suppress the wages of workers. During a recent interview with Jonathan Karl, the issue of tech monopolies came up.
KARL: So I want to ask you, Chris Hughes who helped co-found Facebook has now come out to say that it should be broken up. He says that it is unprecedented and un-American to have this much power in one company. Where do you stand on breaking up Facebook?
BOOKER: I don’t care if it’s Facebook, the pharma industry, even the agricultural industry. We’ve had a problem in America with corporate consolidation, that is having really ill effects.
And we should have — if I’m president of the United States, I will have the Justice Department that uses antitrust legislation to do the proper investigations and to hold industries accountable for corporate consolidation.
KARL: So Elizabeth Warren’s already out there saying break up Facebook, break up Google, break up Amazon.
BOOKER: But I don’t think that a president should be running around, pointing at companies and saying breaking them up without any kind of process here.
It’s not me and my own personal opinion about going after folks. That sounds more like a Donald Trump thing to say, I’m going to break up you guys, I’m gonna break – no.
We need to create systems and processes that work —
Comparing any Democrat to Donald Trump should be verboten, so I’ll call a major foul on that one. But on the bigger issue, he has a point. It is not the job of the federal government to target a company unless and until they have broken the law. It is, however, their job to put in place processes that curtail the power of monopolies. That starts with legislation to lay out the ground rules and then moves on to enforcement by the administration. Laws written specifically to break up a company like Amazon are likely to create a whole host of unintended consequences and should not be the focus of congress or a presidential administration.
Going back to the video clip of Warren, the problem for a presidential candidate is that laying out a process for breaking up the giant tech companies would not only go over most people’s heads, it would be a total snoozer. The reason Warren’s presentation was so powerful is that she put it in terms that we can all understand based on our experience with a company like Amazon. In other words, Warren demonstrates the poetry of campaigning, while Booker emphasizes the prose of governing.
As you can see, I find merit in the approaches of both Warren and Booker. That is precisely why having a vigorous discussion during these primaries could be so helpful on policy issues. There is no need to take sides or assume that one candidate is right, while the other one has suspect motives. We can glean the best from each of them in a way that is helpful to the eventual nominee.