Antitrust

Should the Government Break Up Companies Like Amazon and Facebook? A Soho Forum Debate

Law professors Tim Wu and Richard Epstein went head to head at a live event.

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Antitrust should take the initiative to control the size of big tech companies.

That was the resolution of a public debate hosted by the Soho Forum in New York City on March 9, 2020. It featured Tim Wu of Columbia University Law School, and Richard Epstein of New York University Law School. Soho Forum Director Gene Epstein moderated.

It was an Oxford-style debate, in which the audience votes on the resolution at the beginning and end of the event, and the side that gains the most ground is victorious. Richard Epstein prevailed in the debate by convincing 17.48 percent of audience members to change their minds. Wu convinced 2.91 percent.

Wu, who was arguing for the affirmative, is the Julius Silver Professor of Law, Science, and Technology at Columbia Law School. He is also the author of The Master Switch, The Attention Merchants, and The Curse of Bigness.

Epstein is the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. His most popular titles include The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government,  Why Progressive Institutions are Unsustainable, and Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain.

The Soho Forum, which is sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village.

Produced by John Osterhoudt.

Photo: Brett Raney.

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  1. Should the government break up big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook? Well, Amazon and Facebook aren’t actually anything alike and I’d argue that Amazon is no more a tech company than Walmart is a tech company. Amazon is a retailer that’s figured out how to use tech to better sell their products, Facebook is a data-mining computer virus that’s managed to convince suckers they’re a benevolent data-mining computer virus.

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  2. Should the Government Break Up Companies Like Amazon and Facebook?

    No.

    Next!

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  3. “Antitrust should take the initiative to control the size of big tech companies.”

    With “Antitrust” being an entity that is a perpetual motion machine in its own growth and permits no competition with itself? What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Given that Google hasn’t been busted for anti-trust, I really have a tough time seeing why Amazon or Facebook should be busted.

  4. Tim Wu refers to a comedy routine that immediately proceeded the start of the debate. Why isn’t the comedy routine part of the podcast and/or video?

    Wu makes some good points about the old bell system, and the old IBM, etc. But I really don’t want amazon broken up. Amazon’s ruthless pressure on startups and their ability to crush the weak gives me more cheap and/or free stuff. Google is pure evil, but they kill it in search – and I can work around their tracking nonsense.

  5. This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the coronacircus. Why is it here?

  6. If Koch bites the dust maybe Reason is fishing for a new sugar daddy.

  7. No, but we should break up the government. We have 23 trillion reasons to do so.

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  9. “Should the Government Break Up?”

    Sounds like a good idea.

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  11. The monopolies that are the dangerous ones are the ones that government gives them the power of exclusivity and uses the hammer of the courts to destroy or prohibit competition. Such was the case of Ma Bell and others.

    I don’t like Amazon or Apple, but they built one hell of a mousetrap and the world came. Yet obviously they don’t knock out the competition as they have plenty. They’ve just changed the way business is being done.

    Google may be a different story, as they certainly lay in bed with the government daily, been given access to government resources that others don’t have, and they’ve used patent to make it virtually impossible to invent any competitive function without tripping over one of their obscure patents backed by billions covering an army of lawyers to bury any attempt that threatens even the smallest of competitors.

    As for FB, everyone could turn off that platform tomorrow and the only real downside would be that people suddenly have twice their productive time and realize their real friends can be counted on 1-2 hands. Until they start blackmailing people with what they wrote in a stupor or to gain political power, their actual power is what anyone chooses to give it on any given day.

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