Trust-Busting Big Tech
Trust-Busting Big Tech
The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed by Congress in 1890. This legislation was a response to the rapid rise of economic and financial monopolies which sprouted up across America after the Civil War. The massive industrialization of America which took place after the war led to the rise of a class of so-called “Robber Barons” who may have used the capitalist system to their advantage but who were, in fact, the antithesis of a competitive free market system.
By the 1880s and 1890s, astute observers and writers like Ida Tarbell were portraying the rise of monopolies and trusts in the United States as a giant octopus strangling the nation. This multi-armed cephalopod consisted of the oil trust, rubber trust, sugar trust, railroad trust and others who were using a variety of anti-competitive measures to force their smaller rivals out of business.
Chief among the “robber barons” was John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. A powerful and ruthless monopolist, Rockefeller expanded his company by buying out his competitors, using its sheer size and reach to extort lower shipping rates from the railroads, and quickly moving to seize control of almost all refining, distribution, and marketing throughout the embryonic oil industry. Standard Oil eventually acquired control of almost 90% of the nation’s oil production.
The Sherman Antitrust Act sought to outlaw all combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade between states or with foreign countries. This prohibition extended not just to formal cartels but also to any agreement to fix prices, limit industrial output, share markets or exclude competition. In 1914, Congress passed additional legislation to limit monopolies in the U.S. One of these bills was the Clayton Antitrust Act and the other established the Federal Trade Commission with the power to investigate possible violations of antitrust legislation and issue orders forbidding anti-competitive practices.
The Sherman Act gave the U.S. Justice Department the power to prosecute the trusts through the federal courts. In 1909, the Justice Department went after Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil was an illegal monopoly “in unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce” and decreed ominously that: “For the safety of the Republic,
we now decree that this dangerous conspiracy must be ended by November 15, 1911.” Standard was ordered to dissolve itself and break itself into 34 independent companies.
Fast forward slightly more than a century later. America is today imprisoned and enslaved by a newer and far more nefarious kind of monopoly. Instead of a trust that monopolizes commodities, this trust monopolizes our minds and attacks with astonishing relish the Bill of Rights and, especially, the First Amendment. This monopoly is called Big Tech and is dominated by just a handful of Silicon Valley trillionaires whose combined wealth is probably more than the Gross Domestic Product of many nations on this planet. Google alone is worth $320 billion. Twitter is worth $42 billion and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a personal fortune of a staggering $114 billion. It is wealth that is so staggering in its breadth and depth that it would make the Rockefeller family envious. Yet, it is a far more dangerous trust than anything John D. ever envisioned.
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