On Luck

Standard

1

On Luck

One of the few things I often think about is just how lucky I have been in my life. Routinely when people ask me how my day is I give them the same answer – “Every day is a great day.” When I utter this statement people frequently look at me perplexed. No doubt the first thing they think is that I must be lying or exaggerating. I can confidently say I am not. My reasoning is simple – I quite literally have no problems in my life and am not apprehensive to state that any potential “problems” that I can state I have experienced are not meaningfully significant.

The following is just a short list of some of the things I have never had to deal with or endure in my entire life: a physical or intellectual disability, lasting hunger, 2 police brutality, leaded water, any disease or infection of any significance, homelessness, poor education, any sort of direct racial bias/racism, abusive parents, gun or drug violence, lengthy periods without access to a computer, internet, or informational database, political instability, any sort of environmental disaster, or financial instability of any kind.

What may not be obvious to the average reader is that my inexperience with almost all of these circumstances comes down to pure luck. Yes, some of these events can be received from my work ethic, but luck is certainly the dominant factor. I cannot control the weather. I did not choose my parents. I did not choose the color of my skin. I did not choose my genetic composition. I did not choose where I was born or grew up. I did not choose the school system I attended. The easiest example I can conjure that can explain this point succinctly is leaded water and hunger. The severe and irreparable adverse effects of leaded water and hunger are well documented. 3 I could for a second believe that I am smart, that I work harder than most people, it is because of my sheer effort that I am as successful as I am, and I deserve it. However, this is simply not true. Here is the proof. All I have to ask myself is the following – would I still be as successful as I am today, would I still be as hard of a worker, and would I still be as smart as I am today if I had 10% more lead in the water I drank when I was a child? How about if I had 10% fewer calories? What about 20%? The answer is simple – I would not. If everything I have ever worked for, and everything that has supposedly been a result of the work I have done in my life can all be erased with just either of these two variables – did I really work harder than most people or it is luck. Staying true to my framework for choosing ideas 4 and general notions of logic, the likelihood of each event must be weighed against each other – luck is the most likely variable that has determined most of my success.

I believe there are several points to take away from this conclusion that are worth elaborating on. First, those who have never faced any of the above problems, they should be thankful to the individuals that were capable of providing them the privilege they take advantage of and the luck they experienced. More importantly, individuals should understand that when they see struggling individuals remind themselves of the advantages that they had that they did not take any part in determining and the privileges absent from the other person’s life. Unfortunately, there is still a pervasive belief that people can simply get ahead by working harder. 5 For those that believe this, consider for a moment how different your life would be if any of the aforementioned factors changed even slightly. Moreover, I plead with those who still believe this principle to ask exactly how much harder do we want people to work. 6 I implore those to determine for me how does a teacher work harder? How about a coal miner, a waitress, or a truck driver? Move faster or work longer? Such modest acts could have an impact, but I am near certain they will not radically or even moderately change one’s overall situation. The fact is there are innumerable jobs where working even 10% longer will most likely not change the current situation, decrease one’s overall happiness, or worse endanger their life and the lives of others. Would we want a truck driver driving two or three hours longer? Do we want teachers devoting even more hours in the day to their students? 7 Should coal miners extract even more coal in some of the abysmal working conditions at the expense of their physical health and well-being? I do not think it is radical that the answer to all of these questions is no and I am not sure of how anyone could justify such as position.

Lastly, I believe people should recognize, given the dispositive impact luck has on life’s outcomes, encouraging people to reflect on the role luck plays can be a method to garner support for a redistributive society. If much of one’s success can be attributed to luck – a fundamental contradiction to a meritocracy – should we want a society that rewards luck and not compensate those with the most unfortunate of circumstances. The ideological divide between those that desire a redistributive society or not is undoubtedly a fundamental division between liberals and conservatives, and a recognition of the determinative impact luck has is necessary to critically evaluate how our political, economic, and social systems are currently constructed and how they should be designed.

 

Reddit comment link: https://redd.it/8fxvvo 

Antitrust in Film

Standard

 8

Antitrust in Film

In this short post, I would like to list some excellent and highly recommended movies that either explicitly or implicitly discuss antitrust issues such as corporate consolidation, corporate power, or corporate control over our social, economic, and political life. All of the movies detail a disastrous problem that is inexorably linked to monopolization of markets, corporate control over our politics, inadequate or nonexistent government regulation, and relentless pursuit of profits from corporations. If I missed any, be sure to leave a comment on my Reddit page. 

Reddit Comment page: https://redd.it/8czl63

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Warren

Standard

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren,

As a second-year law student, antitrust advocate, and concerned citizen, I have a simple and straightforward request for you – run for president. Just do it. Erase any qualms you may have about the potential failure you think you will experience. Ignore the fatigue a campaign will bring you. Plead with your family for their support once your campaign commences and just do it.

I am aware that you have stated that you are not going to run, but I am going to respectfully dismiss your statement and simply plead for you to reconsider. 2

My reasoning is simple.

First, you are popular. 3 

Second, even removing the first reason, you have the vision to push the Democratic Party to be more progressive. Your stances are well-known and your direct non-ambiguous policy positions leave nothing for interpretation as to who you will fight for once you step into the Oval Office.  4

Third, the issues you advocate and support are on your side nationally, just consider marijuana legalization, 5 gay rights, 6 universal health care, 7 corporate consolidation, 8 financial regulation, 9 and many others. 10

Fourth, you are everything Donald Trump is not. A fierce and determined woman. 11 An intelligent academic. 12 A true advocate for the common person. 13

Fifth, even if you lose, your efforts, analogous to that of Bernie Sanders, will continue to be a loudspeaker for the progressive message. 14

Should you choose to pursue this venture, you need to start as soon as you are reelected to your senate seat in 2018. Additionally, before you embark on this long road ahead, be warned of the inevitable obstacles and events that will take place.

You will be attacked, hated, and despised because you are a woman. 15 Accept this now, call out the bigotry, and stay on message.

You will be called a radical, communist, socialist, and potentially even a godless heathen; again call out the absurdity and focus on the communication of your message and your positions on them. 16

Have a message and stay on message. Weave this message into every aspect of your campaign. This is something that often is forgotten with Democrats in general and is consistently followed by Republicans. 17

Although by some measures you do not need conservatives to win, I believe you need to win them over if you want the change you seek. Winning an election is not enough for change you seek – you need supermajorities. 18 The demographic shift toward urbanized communities, as evidenced by the 2016 Presidential Election, 19 do not carry enough of a nation-wide victory for the majorities you need – and some scholars even point out that Democrats need conservative support to win. 20 Thus, at least appealing to, although not necessarily enticing, conservatives is essential. 21 I am not proposing that you have to change your positions, but you need to communicate in a way that conservatives will understand and accept. You need to have bold ideas and a plan that is understandable and palatable to the common person. 22

Take absolutely nothing for granted. 23 Always think you are losing. Always think there is more that can be done. Never think anything is a sure thing. 24 Always be on the offensive and make all of your positions clear, direct, and unambiguous.

Be yourself. We have seen too many fake politicians trying to be something they are not. Just be yourself. Not being yourself has consequences. 25

Be direct, cite evidence, call out bullshit when you see it. Defer to experts, be organized, build your team now. Show the American people you do not just have a vision for America, but you are organized and ready to hit the ground running. Have candidates in mind for major positions – you want to communicate that from day one things will change. Have a sense of urgency to keep your team motivated, which will show the American people you understand that many problems we face as a nation need to be solved quickly. 

Support conservative policy positions that are popular and make sense. In fact, there are many conservative principles to support from their 2016 platform. 

Get all of your potential skeletons out of the closet early. Everyone has them; it is just a fact. You must work to ensure there are no October surprises. 34 Tie up any loose ends or conflicts you have with people. Remember staying on message is your most important objective and distractions will only cause you to lose. 35

Be secure. Use the highest end security software for communications. Never think that any shortcut is worth it or that any precaution is sufficient. 36

Recognize that your populist and progressive message is not and should not be your only policy point – your message is about securing American Democracy, strengthening our institutions, and creating a government that fights for and assists the common person. You, more than most people, understand it is imperative that these issues are fixed as quickly as possible. 

Use and appear on alternative news streams. For example, The Waking Up Podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, The Rubin Report, Vox.com, The Young Turks, Now This, AJ+, Bill Maher. These underutilized media outlets have a more dedicated following geared toward the audience you need. Remember Millennials will be the dominant voting group, and they obtain their information mostly from internet sources. 37

Your platform needs to be two-fold: strengthening our republics institutions and fixing our economy. Most importantly, your platform needs to push for big changes, strong enough so that it cannot simply be undone in one year by a new president. 38

When you win, you need to move fast. Get results. Organize your party. Most importantly, have an agenda from day one. Seek to institute a 21st Century New Deal. 39

An Economic Agenda for the Middle Class

Strengthening Our Institutions

While your platform should include policies to fix our broken economy and help revitalize the middle-class, your platform should also include common-sense reforms to rebuild our governmental institutions and further insulate our government from tyranny. Clearly, there is a growing discontent with democracy, which I fear will only get worse.

45

You should seek to propose amendments with no expiration date to:

I understand the road ahead will be steep and that the days will be long, but I believe in you. Just do it. Please run for president. You have my full support.

Reddit comment link: https://redd.it/80tfsw

On Choosing Ideas Part 2 – You Are Not Entitled To An Opinion

Standard

53

On Choosing Ideas Part 2 – You Are Not Entitled To An Opinion

Introduction

In a previous post, I detailed my method for choosing ideas, and while I plan on releasing at least three more posts in addition to this one explaining my method in depth, this post addresses one of the most pernicious tactics that I have too often witnessed and encountered when debating ideas. That tactic is the claim that individuals are entitled to an opinion. 2 This dangerous idea has seeped into the mainstream media, been asserted by President Trump, and has been implied by Chief Justice John Roberts. 3 Of course, there are a plethora of logical fallacies each deserving their own post and analysis of the consequences of their harmful effects, but it is this seemingly innocuous action that I believe is the most repugnant. 4 

To start, obviously there are conditions when opinions must be allowed which I will detail in this post, however, I must be clear by what I mean by opinion. Opinions can be categorized into two types of statements. The first type of opinions are objectively measurable. For example, consider the statement “radishes taste sweeter than strawberries.” Inherent in this statement is an objectively measurable and quantifiable variable – sweetness. This variable can be verified by scientific testing the result of which is essentially irrefutable. 5

The second kind of opinions are based on ethics, morality, and philosophy. For example, consider the statement “sentencing a thief to death is a better way to teach individuals not to steal things than simply putting them in jail or fining them.” 6 While “better” could mean that the action is a more effective deterrent that prevents or dissuades individuals from stealing, which is a quantifiable variable, the statement could also mean that either of those actions are a more “just” punishment for the action. 7 The essential point of division between the types of statements is the presence of an objectively measurable variable. This post will focus on the first type of statements, and while the second is discussed in part they will be more adequately addressed in a future post. Nevertheless, both types of opinions generally require the same analysis. 

A Simple Request

Individuals must accept facts as they are and subject one’s position to change upon the introduction of new, sufficient, and accurate evidence. This statement I believe underpins the formation of modern society and allows for its advancement, and perhaps if accepted and practiced by all, is the greatest inhibitor of tyranny and authoritarian rule. Let me be clear on my point. A submission to a mere opinion without any scientifically valid evidence is a surrender of the most important neurological capabilities of our species – critical thinking, rationality, doubt, and the capacity for intellectual change. There are no words that can stress how important this idea is.

It is hard not to find a single issue advocated by both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum which does not originate from an abandonment and deflection of facts and evidence. Take for instance climate change. 8 The evidence could not be more prevalent, available, and obvious. 9

Now there are those who will continue to state that they are entitled to say what they want about a subject. At least initially, I will emphatically agree with them that we as individuals deserve an opportunity to debate a topic in furtherance of the social nature of our species, 10 but the moment one claims that they are entitled to an opinion is where I draw the line.

Why People are Not Entitled to an Opinion

I can think of five definitive reasons why an entitlement to an opinion should be rejected. First, the invoking of such an entitlement is often used to shield individuals from opposing positions regardless of the facts, validity, and potential consequences of their ideas – a practice I personally believe to be pure ignorance and shameful.

Second, acceptance of the entitlement, or affirmative pronouncement of it, only continues the cycle of ignorance for the individual touting the expression. Such ignorance has two other consequences. First, by merely stating that you are entitled to an opinion or accepting such a conclusion incentivizes individuals, perhaps unknowingly, to be participating in intellectual laziness. It seems sensible that should an individual decide to articulate their opinion on a given subject matter that they have at least educated themselves on the basic principles. Second, this undesirable positive feedback loop can foster more ignorant people, which will subsequently continue to deepen the divide between individuals who are fact-based and those that are not. I will detail the additional consequences of this later in the post, but given the current political environment, it seems fairly evident what they are. 

Third, invoking the statement inhibits individuals from having a consensus on ideas. Consensus on ideas allow society to extrapolate reasonable, although unproven, conclusions from those ideas, which in turn leads to a testable hypothesis to ultimately establish a fundamental truth about a given situation. Additionally, consensus, in one form or another, provides exponential human capital economies of scale to tackle a problem and is necessary for mass market adoption. It is simply blind ignorance not to acknowledge the importance of every additional unit of human capital to solve a problem, even if people do not completely understand the idea.

Fourth, if individuals are allowed or invoke that they are allowed to fabricate their own facts derived from their opinions, then it is axiomatic that they are also allowed to procure their own conclusions or even their own reality from those facts. Such a situation only exacerbates the potential harms caused by an idea and is contrary to the fabric of the scientific process. 11 One must recognize that adhering and practicing the scientific method is not only a process by which to test claims, but also can be a set of guidelines for how to interact and engage with our growingly complicated world. To quote Carl Sagan, “science is more than a body of knowledge, it is a way of thinking.” 12 Allowing the creation of individualized facts is also an abdication of one’s duty to defend evidence, science, and reason, and subsequently provides permission for individuals to believe in whatever they want regardless of the harms they cause to themselves or society.

Fifth, the invoking of an entitlement to an opinion, particularly by those in power is an entryway toward the degrading of republican values and the imposition of tyranny. 13

Application

To better explain these reasons, it is helpful to apply them to specific situations – take for example vaccines. One of the signature benefits of vaccines, outside of their disease preventing properties, is that if one person were to be infected so as long as there is a sufficient number of people that are immune the disease would eventually be thwarted and thus an epidemic or in the extreme case a pandemic would be inhibited. This concept is known as herd immunity. 14 Quickly preventing the spread of disease also has another signature benefit, the quicker a disease can be suppressed the lower the chances are of mutation which would make the vaccine obsolete through the process of evolution as pathogens, similar to all life, seek to adapt themselves to their environment through the passing down of successful genes to the next generation. 15 Vaccines provide one of the best examples of the benefits that consensus has and the harms of fact less and opinionated assertions can have. When there is a consensus on the idea that vaccines are good and that they work because people who have spent the better part of a decade or more are telling you they do and all of the evidence corroborates that idea – both society and the individual benefit. Stated simply, just by believing in this idea, never mind convincing other people that the idea is good, has incalculable benefits. One such example includes the eradication of Small Pox as there is no reason this process cannot be applied to other diseases such as Polio. Unfortunately, there are hordes of people who continue to believe that vaccines cause autism contrary to all of the evidence, 16  or that taking them is an attempt by Western Powers to sterilize Muslim children. 17 It is hard to imagine a person more wicked than one who willingly, knowingly, or ignorantly putting people and humanity at risk.

Another analogous situation is present in the context of educating students on evolution. For example, we still have a faction of people that not only do not believe in evolution, but who are also actively trying to suppress its teaching in schools. 18  The consequences of this practice are already present in schools across our country that are graduating legions of scientifically inept students. 19  Meanwhile, the lack of knowledge in this domain by itself are enormously consequential since almost all biological research, development of medicines, understanding the mutations of diseases, combating antibiotic resistance, and the development of genetically modified plants and organisms are derived from a literacy in evolution. 20

Each of these examples elaborate on how stating that you are entitled to your opinion is utterly reprehensible and destroys the signature benefits that accepting facts and evidence has – reaching a consensus on a set of ideas, the consequences of ignoring science, logic, and reason, the effects of being able to procure one’s own conclusions, and the problems of continuing the cycle of ignorance.

Setting the Stage for Debate

It is practically certain that when opinions and positions on ideas are invoked a debate is necessary. With this in mind, it must be established that there are at least three requirements for people to be willing to debate an issue. First, both participants must be able to arrive at a consensus on the facts by accepting them as true (so long as the facts are scientifically accurate), regardless of any personal bias against them. 21  Second, each position advocated by each party must be defeasible, such that there is a situation where if certain provable conditions are met then an individual would be willing to change their position.22 For example, if you advocated that all lobsters are red, you must be willing to acknowledge that your position is incorrect based on seeing a blue lobster or at the very least admit that it would take you finding evidence that there are lobsters other than ones that are red. In the case where something cannot be visually provable, such as the existence of black holes or gravitational waves, then you must sight information that you need to confirm or deny your position. It is worth explicitly noting that the burden of defeasibility is on the person asserting the claim(s). Third, statements made or positions argued must be falsifiable. Falsifiability means that the statements made must have, intrinsic to their utterance, a probable and describable situation or circumstance that make the statement untrue. Such statements are the foundation of scientific thinking and hypothesis testing. Utilizing our lobster example, if the statement was made that all lobsters are red, then it would be falsified upon the viewing of a lobster of any other color. Only after these three conditions are met may a meaningful debate and thus the advancement of the collective knowledge on a topic can commence.

From this point, you could be asking, “why do I have to care about what other people think and do.” While I plan on expanding on the need to advocate for collectivism over individualism and its limits in a future post, here I will provide a basic introduction as I think it is necessary to explain this fundamental position I have asserted. To summarize, almost every human advancement from farming to the building of cities, and nearly all human inventions or at the very least the mass market infiltration of them have arisen from the collective organization and behavior of individuals. Debate inherently leads to collective action and consensus on ideas, thus an attack on the ability for our species to form collectives must be judged and criticized under the highest possible scrutiny.

The Great Enabler to Tyranny

The imposition of tyranny is a prospect that both the left and the right should fear. I have purposefully separated out this reason mentioned above until this point to emphasis rejecting the entitlement to opinions is an inhibitor of tyranny and its acceptance enables it. Debate and the need for scientifically valid facts and evidence to drive it, what I find most heinous is that Republicans – members of the party that purports to be the ones of freedom, liberty, and limited government – are not radically accepting this idea and perhaps it seems that they are wholeheartedly rejecting this premise. 23

It is well understood that dictators and tyrannical leaders who wish to entrench their hold on power first seek to distort the facts of any story and replace them with their versions of the “truth.” 24 Take for example some of the most dictatorial regimes on our planet, Russia, China, and North Korea all have predominantly or exclusively state-run or state-sanctioned media and internet outlets only. 25 The control over the streams that disseminate fact in turn controls which facts are actually released and known by the public. It is also a common tactic for dictators to over-load the media with a barrage of either misleading, false, or outright ostentatious statements to distract the public from the core issues at hand – a practice nonetheless currently being implemented by President Donald Trump. 26 More disturbing is the persistent support of Mr. Trump despite the overwhelming evidence against him that at least some collusion took place between himself and the Russian Government all while he and his army of surrogates continue to deny almost every documented and verified incident. 27 Once again the problem is clear, but not accepting and disseminating the facts as they are is inhibits the public from coming to a consensus about what is true, which deprives society of understanding the gravity of the situation and the ability to accurately respond to it. I will go further to state that any action seeking to encourage this behavior, especially from those that are in power, should only be seen as tyrannical and the research shows that many societies have faced such an unfortunate fate and I know of no evidence that shows that the United States is immune from tyranny. 28

Understanding the Deeper Political Consequences of Baseless Opinions and Detailing a Model for Assessing Ideas

What we as a society must recognize is that although it is difficult for us to accept the truth and change our minds, 29 we must do it. We cannot continuously allow ourselves and others to be sheltered by disbelief of science, reality, facts, logic, and reason. All of them must be persistently practiced and demanded from others. Absent this demand, I fear that the inability for individuals to be fact-driven will only further deepen the political partisanship present in our society. 30 Such partisanship only weakens our government designed on a consensus-based model to actually achieve any significant policy goals. 31 Worse I propose continued partisanship actually erodes the belief in the necessity and effectiveness of government itself. 32 The only reasonable remedy for this situation is whenever you engage in any form of debate with any person it is necessary and prudent to cordially i) Discuss the source of the facts, and ii) Discuss the validity of those facts, and iii) Arrive at a consensus about what the facts are. Only then may a substantive debate on the topic take place. I also propose, for the sake of both sides of an argument, that the following proposition be adopted. The required degree of scrutiny of an idea and evidence required to implement an idea is exponentially proportional to the harm caused and adoption potential by society, which I call the SEHA (“see-ha”) Framework. Stated another way. Scrutiny and Evidence Required for the Implementation of that Idea = (Harm + Adoption Potential)². Put visually  

Asserting an Opinion

Although the title of this article can be seen as provocative and hyperbolic, nevertheless I do think that there are in fact very limited circumstances where opinions are allowed. Opinions only have value when the facts surrounding a claim are uncertain or unknowable (whether at the current moment or ever). If an opinion is going to be asserted, the grounds for the opinion must be detailed. First, the assertion of an opinion should be clearly disclosed. Second, the opinion can be asserted only after the unclear, unknown, or unknowable facts are clearly stated. Third, the person asserting the opinion must state their claim and authority to assert an opinion by stating their expertise (Ph.D., Lawyer, etc) and their experience (years in an industry). Fourth, any assumptions, the reasoning for those assumptions, and the evidence that is the basis for those assumptions must be explicitly stated and detailed. Fifth, the conditions for falsifiability and defeasibility must be stated clearly and unambiguously. Sixth, the opinion must be judged by its relationship (given what we know about the position) with the Foundational Elements detailed in the first post of this series. Stated here, any good idea must incorporate and facilitate the following:

  1. Logical reasoning and rationality to utilize evidence-based scientific thinking;
  2. An equitable and socially mobile society;
  3. Individual self-sufficiency and personal liberty;
  4. Ethical and productive discourse and commerce between peoples;
  5. Justice for all individuals by ensuring and securing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of privacy, and enforcing reasonable rehabilitative punishment for individuals when just laws are broken;
  6. Continuously balancing environmental costs with societal costs; and
  7. Recognizes and acknowledges human frailty and the influence of emotions when making decisions balanced against our species’ limited place in the Universe

In short, opinions need to facilitate the Foundational Elements and the basis and authority for the assertion of the opinion should be clearly disclosed. Again, I will detail why the Foundational Elements are good, necessary, and beneficial to society in my next post in this series.

Here is a visual of the entire process described. 

Conclusion

We have a moral obligation to believe in reason, science, and logic they form the basis by which debates, and thus progress toward solutions to the most challenging issues of our time, take place. Debates can only be resolved by presenting sound arguments with supporting evidence. Stating one’s rights or entitlement to an opinion adds nothing to the debating process, continues to allow individuals to be disillusioned with their own statements, inhibits consensus on facts thus depriving society of the potential human capital gains of that consensus, allows the extrapolation of false conclusions, and can be used as a wedge for tyrannical governments to consolidate and expand their power to supplant the democratic process and splinter the foundation of necessary norms for a well-functioning republic. 33 The entitlement deserves no utterance in our discourse and should only be used in accordance with the limited circumstances and strict adherence to the procedure described above – otherwise, it should be outright rejected.

It seems to be the easiest thing to do to benefit our society is to believe in facts, science, logic, and reason – to constantly be skeptical of ideas and acquiring knowledge, as no major human advancement is devoid of these abilities. Such an ask is not just a way of living but is a means to question those in power and hold them accountable to the truth, which only seeks to insulate our society from the constant threat of tyranny. Simply nothing less can be asked for. The principle “quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur” (“What is freely asserted is freely dismissed”) must be abided by and practiced, and all ideas should have sufficient evidence and be scrutinized by their harm and adoption potential – the alternative should not be tolerated.

 

Reddit Comment Link: https://redd.it/7iqux8 

Network Effects: The Problem of Antitrust and the Internet

Standard

34

The following was an article I published in the Pro Se, the University of Connecticut School of Law student newspaper, in November 2017 and can be downloaded here.

Network Effects: The Problem of Antitrust and the Internet

I implore you to list five sites on the internet where you purchased something. Now, ask yourself when was the last time you purchased something from each of them.

I am practically certain Amazon was put as your number one choice and your last purchase from them was within the previous six months. Unfortunately, this deep affinity for Amazon, along with other technology companies including Facebook and Google, represent a growing and persistent trend of large, near monopoly, corporations flexing their financial and political power over the infrastructure of our economy, while dominating nearly every aspect of our consumer life. 2

A typical citizen might believe these companies are just trying to make money and provide innumerable goods to people at the lowest possible price. Truth be told, you would not be incorrect as 55% percent of online shoppers start their shopping on Amazon. 3 Google has two-billion monthly active users on Android alone and Facebook has nearly 90% of the US population on its platform. 4 While all of these services are provided to people for free, your initial conclusion would also be applauded by the supporters of the Chicago School of Antitrust as they believe the central goal of antitrust is to ensure low prices and such a policy is exactly what has been the instituted by the courts since the 1980s.5 

The rise of Amazon, Google, Facebook and other internet companies is a troubling sign for our republic and presents a vexing problem to determine how to regulate their industry and business models. Although the business models of these companies can generally provide low prices, we have seen that they detrimentally affect the competitive conditions that are needed for markets to thrive. Understand that all of their business models are based on network effects, where the value of each additional user exponentially increases the service’s value. Facebook is the simplest example to explain this concept and its anticompetitive effects. Even though users dislike many features of Facebook, given the innumerable users are on the platform it is simply too hard to ignore. Additionally, for those that are currently on the platform, the fact that it is nearly impossible to switch to another service, and the unwillingness of others to either stop using Facebook means that for all intents and purposes you are stuck using the service to derive the benefits you need to communicate with your friends, store your photographs, read the news, or promote your business. 6 Moreover, why would you stop using a service where the largest quantity of people are located if you want to grow your business through social media. And it certainly does not help when you know more than 50% of all users log in every day.7

Now you may believe that a networked company, like all other businesses, can be duplicated and another competitor can displace it. However, let’s revisit a past situation. Google, one of the largest and well-known companies, tried four times to replace Facebook as a social network by creating Orkut, Google Buzz, Google Wave, and Google Plus and still it has failed. Moreover, all of Google’s attempts were before Facebook became the powerhouse of advertising that it is today. 8 Google’s failure is certainly not because consumers do not like using their services and cannot plausibly be because Google lacks financial or intellectual capital. Google’s failure is just small example of the near insurmountable challenge to displace a networked company. The same failure can be seen in Microsoft’s failure to create a viable phone operating system to displace Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. 9 In a sense, it might take a significant market paradigm shift to convince users to switch or simply use another service to accomplish the same goals.

Moreover, these companies are continuously leveraging their market power to incrementally take over new industries. For example, try and think of a business Amazon is not a member of – to put it lightly there are not many. Lina Khan of the Open Markets Institute states it succinctly in her recent publication Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.

[Amazon is a] retailer, it is a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading provider of cloud server space and computing power. 10

The same could almost be said for Google. Now consider applying this concept to a more recent event by contemplating Amazon’s acquisition of Wholefoods. Why would Amazon acquire Wholefoods? Do you think it was out of love for the Wholefoods’ brand and its devotion to locally cultivated food products, out of a desire to sell organic soap and homemade chicken noodle soup? Or perhaps the purchase of Wholefoods was designed to provide Amazon 460 distribution centers in the wealthiest areas in the country where it can further increase its economies of scale to provide the most expedient delivery of goods and services to the people with the greatest purchasing power knowing that at least 50% of them have a Prime subscription and continue to supplant all other retailers. 11 All of the reasons are plausible, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive, but we all know which one is practical and reasonable. 12

But Amazon is not alone in engaging in business practices with sinister motives by overtly flexing its business prowess. Google as well has its own share of controversy, such as preferring its services over others or stifling opinions it disagrees with. 13 Facebook as well has engaged in practices designed to test the limits of its platform such as purposefully manipulating user emotions. 14

These fiendish practices are indicative of the fact that companies are willing to engage in any behavior, however nefarious, as long as it grows and locks in customers on to their platform, and all market power abuse concerns can be dismissed under the guise of low prices. What’s worse is that these practices are incentivized given the nature of a networked market and are not currently part of our antitrust analysis, which only causes other companies to adopt them.

What I find most perplexing is that citizens across this nation, at least for a brief moment, accepted the premise that there is an economic and social cost to low prices, convenience, and big business as in the case of Wal-Mart. I will never forget the ending credits of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price where the movie listed all of the local resistance movements taken against a Wal-Mart due to the damage its presence imposed on communities – and that was twelve years ago.

To overcome such a difficult situation, we need to rethink the effects our purchasing habits and the role that our antitrust laws have in regulating the business practices of networked internet companies. Legislatures and Courts need to expand the goal of our antitrust laws beyond the purview of providing low prices to consumers and incorporate into their analysis the anticompetitive effects network business practices have on markets. 15

Consumers once recognized the dangers a pure pursuit of low prices has on communities and markets; we need to reinvigorate that desire and fight back.

 

Reddit Comment Link: https://redd.it/7du1sv