#1410 Anti-Monopoly Activism for a New Era (Transcript)

Air Date 4/10/2021

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall learn about the need for a modern assessment of the corporate monopolies who dominate our online and offline experiences, including seeing the negative consequences of monopolies through a racial justice lens. Clips today are from Exponential View, Follow the Money, Off Kilter and the Economic Security Project.

Big Tech and a Decade of Antitrust with Cory Doctorow Part 1 - Exponential View with Azeem Azhar - Air Date 1-6-21

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:00:27] I asked Cory why it was that Western democratic governments appeared to be ineffectual at meeting the clear needs of their constituents while appearing to be very competent at satisfying the desires of corporate lobbyists. Here's what he had to say. 

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:00:41] I think that it's the concentration of power into a small number of hands. Thinking about just industrial concentration, which is of course, very closely related to wealth concentration, that the shareholders of monopolists are able to realize dividends based on monopoly rents so they do very well by themselves. And the contraction of industries has been endemic for the last 40 years, and it's not a mystery why. We stopped enforcing antitrust law. We adopted the theories of Robert Bork, who was Ronald Reagan's court sorcerer, who said that we shouldn't enforce antitrust law except when we can prove a consumer harm, generally in the form of a higher price in the immediate aftermath of a merger acquisition or other anti-competitive act.

And now we're down to three or four companies in every industry. An example of this from the British context that I always think about is what happened when David Nutt was the drug czar of the United Kingdom under the Brown years. And he is a psychopharmacologist, evidence-based scientist, and he saw that the drinks industry was making profit from binge drinking, from dangerous binge drinking. And so David Nutt did a randomized trial where he designed his own anti-binge drinking program. And he found that he could get people to stop binge drinking, in large part. David Nutt was subsequently fired because he refused to state that alcohol was safer than cannabis, which scientifically it isn't, and the drinks industry continues to make its own anti-drinking rules. And how do we end up in a place where lobbyists are able to turn truth seeking exercises into auctions, where the official truth is determined by the highest bidder and not by the evidence? They mobilize monopoly rents, and they solve collective action problems by being monopolies.

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:02:27] Borkism and the weakening of American antitrust laws through the seventies and the eighties: antitrust has been a big question in the tech industry for many years, and we've just seen in the past few weeks some new meaningful claims made towards Facebook and Google, amongst others. What's your reading about whether those cases will have an impact? 

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:02:52] Oh, I think that they're definitely going to have an impact. I think that even if they lose, they'll win. The remedies in the US that they're seeking are not money damages, right? They're structural remedies. They want these companies to allow interoperability. They want them to get approval for mergers. They articulate some consumer harms. They also go to enormous lengths to articulate a bunch of non-consumer harms and say, now we're not addressing those here; we just wanted to get them in the record. And the implication is, we are getting them in the record in part to demonstrate the poverty of Borkism.

But the other thing that's going to happen during these antitrust cases, which are going to drag on for a long time, is that they are going to, on the one hand change the character of the firms that are themselves under investigation, and on the other hand they're going to send a signal to their rivals in the marketplace.

I often think about my own history as a a computer user. So, I started getting online in the early 1980s, and I was able to dial up bulletin board systems all across America. AT&T's major project before the antitrust suit had been blocking the growth of digital telecommunication service that operated at the edge instead of in the center; they wanted minitel, where every key press generated revenue for ATT.

And then, and by 1984, suddenly there was this explosion of people I could talk to. And the reason for that was that IBM made a PC. And when IBM made the PC, it didn't make the operating system because it was scared that even though it had beat the DOJ during its 12-year anti-trust sojourn -- and during those 12 years, IBM spent more on its legal defense than the entire DOJ spent on all antitrust action against all companies in America every year for 12 years -- so IBM had finally emerged from this allegedly victoriously, but they knew that one of the things that the FTC really didn't like was when hardware manufacturers tried to corner of the market on software.

So, they summoned a couple of nerds named Paul Allen and Bill Gates to them and got them to make the operating system. And then along came this punk hardware engineer Tom Jennings, who's a friend of mine. And Tom was employed by a company called Phoenix. He went and reverse engineered the ROMs for the IBM PC, and they sold it to the likes of Compaq, Dell and Gateway and created the PC clone industry, all of which IBM exercise forbearance over because they were frightened that they would end up back in the DOJ's crosshairs. Remember, they won the DOJ case, and they were frightened that they would be back in the DOJ's crosshairs. 

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:05:27] So Phoenix became the Phoenix BIOS, the Phoenix basic input-output system that was powering many IBM clone PCs for 10, 15 years to come.  

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:05:36] That's right. Yeah. But by the mid-nineties, along came the Microsoft antitrust suit, and it was pretty clear that Microsoft had a monopoly --  95% of the desktop -- and that they were abusing it. We'd all watched what had happened to Netscape. It wasn't pretty.

And I was like, all right, whatever happened to AT&T is happening again now. That's good. I didn't realize that  DOJ's antitrust division had been like reeling along gut shot by Ronald Reagan and this was its last dying gasp before it croaked. And it went after Microsoft and it lost, but seven years of antitrust hell with Microsoft completely changed the character of Microsoft's boardroom, right? Every time someone wanted to do something really evil, Microsoft exercised forbearance because the last thing anyone wanted was another viral video of Bill Gates on the stand looking like an absolute nutter. You feel sympathy for him. 

And so of course it's only natural that Google is back in the cross hairs. And it also tells you that Google is not especially evil or especially good, that Google is run by the same kind of mediocrities that, in the absence of incentives not to go off and be monopolists, go off and do monopolist stuff. And so, now we just have to deal with the monopolists and give them the same spanking we've given all the monopolists before them. And if we do that, all of Google's competitors who are currently dreaming of being a Google someday will wake up and say, perhaps I don't want to spend 15 years having all of my emails put on the internet during the discovery process and being deposed and having it live-streamed, and so on.

Google and the use and abuse of economic modeling - Follow The Money - Air Date 2-16-21

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:07:05] So, just before we wrap up, I want to come back to the actual issue that we are trying to solve here, which is the huge and incredible market power of Google and Facebook. And the ACCC was really careful to point out that they're prioritizing this issue because it's harming journalism and journalism is important to democracy. Given where we are at the moment, Google's really done nothing to avoid shining a spotlight on how huge their market power is here. All the threats, this modeling, everything that they're actually doing, is actually showing how much market power they have. 

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:07:42] Absolutely. And, look, once upon a time, in a complete fluke coincidence, newspapers were the best way for someone that wanted to sell their car, to find someone who wanted to buy a car. Or, it was a great way for an employer that was looking for a new employee to find that employee. So the classified advertising used to be called the rivers of gold. All right. And by the way, that had nothing to do with journalism. It just happened to be that a lot of people liked the idea of buying the Saturday paper and getting some news and some sport, and everything they could possibly want to buy was there for them. And there was competition. There were things like the trading posts that just had the classified ads and no news, but historically newspapers around the world made a lot of money out of those classified ads. And right now newspapers still make a lot of money, I don't know, with an ad for Kohl's or Woolworth's, with an ad for a car, with an ad for a tennis racket. 

So advertising is the main source of revenue for newspapers who employ journalists, and because eyeballs buy the newspapers, they're attractive the advertisers. But in the online space, and this certain thing is quite well enough understood, in the online space something really different happens. If you want to advertise a new car it makes sense to put the car ad in the car section of the paper, sell a tennis racket, you stick it in the sport, right? So if you go to the Sydney Morning Herald website you might see an ad for a car or a tennis racket, but newspaper's website can't ever charge as much as Google can for an ad because Google knows everything you've ever done online, ever. 

So when Ebony types in Australian Open to Google the ad that's displayed next to your search results is not just a random ad for a tennis racket, it's the ad that the best algorithms in the world think, given everything we know about Ebony's entire search history, her online viewing habits, you name it, all of that information about Ebony means I can display the perfect ad for you, in the Google search. 

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:10:08] The perfect, Rose Gold, glitter tennis racket. 

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:10:12] Just where I was heading. And when your newspaper tries to sell an ad, they can't say to the advertiser, they can't say to the tennis racket company, when Ebony comes to the Sydney Morning Herald website, we know everything's should ever done! So what's actually happening here is that because Google owns all of Ebony's data, google can pitch ads at Ebony far more effectively than the newspaper ever can. 

So their bargaining power is not just about the market share, there's this incredible barrier to entry that if I set up Floogle tomorrow, I don't have your whole back catalog of search. So I can't say to an advertiser, hey, give it to me, I'll match your tennis racket ad to the people in Australia most likely to feel that buying a tennis racket right now. So the market power isn't just how big they are, it's how much they know and how hard it is for a newspaper, or Floogle or anyone else to start from scratch and try and compete with them.

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:11:15] And so what Google is to search advertising, I think Facebook is to display advertising. 

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:11:22] Facebook knows everything you've ever paused to watch on Facebook. Facebook knows all the things that you've engaged within Facebook. So when I, as a person trying to sell microphones or iPads or tennis rackets, approach Facebook and say I'd like to put an ad in front of the right kind of people, Facebook knows more about who the right kind of people are than the newspapers or anyone else ever can. So their market power is not just enormous, but it's very hard from a free-market point of view for any competitor to ever catch up. 

Big Tech and a Decade of Antitrust with Cory Doctorow Part 2 - Exponential View with Azeem Azhar - Air Date 1-6-21

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:11:56] You look at Google, which is obviously one of the great monopolists of the tech world, and they are a company that has only ever made one-and-a-half successful products in-house. First, they made a really good search engine. Then they made a pretty good Hotmail clone, and then everything else they built in-house crashed and burned, and everything they did that was successful they bought from someone else, from Android to YouTube, and if we had just exercised the traditional contours of antitrust scrutiny against predatory mergers and the creation of vertical monopolies, then Google would be a one-and-a-half product company still. 

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:12:30] But sure. It's such a problem that companies go off and buy their innovation, their bright ideas from elsewhere. Firms have been doing it for a pretty long time. And Cisco is a great example of a firm we don't really think of that much these days, but it was the sort of case study for how you grow a culture, grow a business by buying other people's inventions and pumping them through your distribution. Isn't that just a reasonable toolkit in the executive's armory? 

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:12:58] I don't know why. If the purpose of a market is to create lots of choices for consumers so that the best ideas can bubble up to the top, then taking all the best ideas and sticking them under one roof means that you don't get to have multiple best ideas.

When you look at why Zuckerberg bought Instagram, he specifically bought Instagram because people didn't like Facebook, and they liked Instagram better. That was the purpose of it. You look at WhatsApp, which hypothesized that charging small dollar subscription fees could obviate the need for advertising, and Zuckerberg was invested in the ideological proposition that shouldn't work. And so he bought them, and he wiped out that alternative that some people wanted. If you believe that markets are efficient capital allocators because consumers make choices that indicate what is good and what is not, then depriving them of those choices means that you deprive the market of its ability to aggregate decisions.

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:13:56] I suppose one could argue that it didn't prevent other entrepreneurs coming up with similar, better products than Instagram. 

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:14:04] It certainly has at this point. If you read that antitrust case against Facebook, you find that people who --  first, investors are just completely uninterested in investing in direct competitors to Facebook, and any line of businesses adjacent to it. They call it the kill zone. I mean, you look at Snapchat, Facebook had used vertical integration to, among other things, acquire Onavo which was a piece of spyware that masqueraded as a battery monitor. And they used Onavo to gather market intelligence on  how people use Snapchat so that they could predate Snapchat; they could ensure that no one ended up using Snapchat and today Snapchat is probably not long for this world.

So yeah, I think that it's absolutely the case that an aggressive acquisition strategy that includes predatory acquisitions and mergers to monopoly as well as the creation of vertical monopolies that that does preclude investment in and creation of competing firms that make better offers to consumers.

The Facebook News Blackout and the News Media Bargaining Code - Follow The Money - Air Date 2-23-21

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:14:58] So, what is the News Media Bargaining Code? 

PETER LEWIS: [00:15:02] Well, it all goes back to the last time that we looked at media laws, back under Malcolm Turnbull. Remember him? There was a change of media ownership laws that would allow the breakdown of the old two and three rules that you could. There was really limiting media ownership to the old technologies of radio, TV, and print. And the Nick Xenophon team actually required there be a review in the way that the media operates and the impact of the digital platforms. 

This is 2017 and Rod Sims and his team at the ACCC went off and did their research and they looked around the world and he realized that no one had really got their head around this and that there was a big issue and he calls it monopoly power of advertising companies, and that's what Google and Facebook have become. Their primary business is advertising and that market power had had a bunch of consequences, but particularly with the media who was not only a competitor for ads, but what he called an unavoidable trading partner in that they needed the platforms to distribute their news content.

So Sims took this big global helicopter view, and he came out with a really robust report that anyone that is interested should download and read. It sets this scene of the market power of tech and a range of why's that government could intervene in that monopoly power to promote the public interest. He looked at privacy, how we control the information that tech platforms take. He looked at disinformation. He looked at the creepy world of ad tech, which is this weird online trading system that happens in real time whenever you go to a website. And he also looked at the case that news companies should have a right to receive payment for the value of their journalistic content to the network. 

Now, the cynical might say, "surprise, surprise, guess what ended up being at the front of the queue?" And of course it was the news bargaining guide, which would deliver significant money to media outlets, which was the first cab off the rank in terms of reform. And it's been the law that's been making its way through our parliament. 

So the way the bargaining code operates is it initially said we've got a problem because traditionally media has been valued based on the number of ads that you could sell. And what the monopoly of Google and Facebook has done is separate out news from advertising. They become different industries and we've got no way of knowing what the value of public interest journalism is.

We know the cost if we don't have it, because we're seeing democracies collapse around the globe, but we don't actually know the value. So you platforms and you news outlets, you go and work out what that market is and what the value is. And originally the ACCC said, go and come up with a voluntary agreement on the value. And the monopolist, Google, and Facebook, didn't think that was such a great idea and they didn't really enter good faith bargaining, and the fallback was the mandatory code.

 So it's a mechanism. So underneath those negotiations is law that says, if you can't reach an agreement, a third party will ask each of you to put your best offer on the table and we will pick the most reasonable of those. So that's code. 

"And Facebook has committed to entering into good faith negotiations with Australian news media businesses in seeking to reach agreements to pay for content." 

On top of that sits the discretion of the treasurer to designate platforms into the code. Now, originally there was Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram that were going to be in the code. The first round of amendments before Christmas pulled out YouTube and Instagram. The TV stations are really unhappy about YouTube being out because I see them as a big competitor.  And so Google and Facebook remained. Google and Facebook don't want to be designated... 

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:19:08] The treasurer would still have discretion if... 

PETER LEWIS: [00:19:11] To bring them in at a future time. Or, if TikTok became ubiquitous as a source of news, or if the Australia Institute set up a platform and got ubiquitous and got a degree of power. You could be designated or we could be designated into the code. So, then over the last couple of months, the prize for Google and Facebook to stop a global precedent has been to stay out of the code. And the leverage the treasurer has had has said to Google first, after they threatened to go to the edge of the cliff, go off and make your own deals and you won't need to be designated in the code.

And now I think this is where Facebook ends up, they didn't go to the edge of the cliff, they jumped off, but now coming out of the ruins, they're saying, well, if you don't want to be in the code, do the deals. 

"What we saw with Google, and that was a pretty protracted and difficult negotiation as well, but what we saw with Google were significant deals. Millions of dollars flowing to support public interest journalism in this country with a range of players."

Now, one of the problems is that it's all commercial incompetence, so we don't quite know what the deals are. And there are also issues in terms of ensuring that money goes to journalists. But in terms of forcing a transfer of a significant amount of money from the tech platforms to journalism, the code's kind of done its job or it's doing its job before it's even become law.

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:20:30] There has been a lot of pushback, that this code really needs just to help Rupert Murdoch, but is that accurate? 

PETER LEWIS: [00:20:38] Well, it will help Rupert Murdoch. It's not only it will help The Guardian, it will help Nine-Fairfax, it will help smaller publishers, any publisher earning over $150,000 a year. It will create more viable business models for journalism in Australia, because rather than having to choose between clickbait driven advertising, or echo chamber fueled firewalls, or the novel charity model of The Guardian, there is now an extra plank of income that just gives those businesses ballast. And I think we will have a stronger and more diverse media ecosystem because of it. 

I don't think the Murdoch critique is the most effective. In terms of the tax, I love the idea of taxing advertising on the platforms. I'm less sure about whether that should be a hypothecated for journalism and then a government chooses where that tax goes. I think in terms of dealing with Google and Facebook being world-class tax providers, definitely let's get a tax in and use it to fund an increase in newstart or better services. Given that pay on under, like it's single figures, the amount they pay is ridiculous because Facebook in particular, repatriates all of their profits to Ireland. 

But the one that I'm more concerned about, and none of this stuff is black and white, there is a really valid argument that what this code does is actually make our media more reliant on Google and Facebook. And that they will have - there were two concerns, there. One is, does it mean that they become part owners and there's a tendency for some organizations not to scrutinize them with the same degree of independence. But the second one, which it's come out over the last few days after Facebook turned off the tap. A site like Junkee has basically been set up to push content on Facebook, so if all our new sites end up being - the ABC totally relies on Facebook for their community. So, if all this does is entrench journalism to be delivered by the platforms then, yeah, I think that would not be the optimum outcome. 

So look, I think there's a lot of really intelligent, well-meaning people trying to get they head around this. What holds us all together is that we do want to see a vibrant public square that isn't dominated by Murdoch, but, you're right, this was the proposition in front of us. So it wasn't a bargaining code or a tax, it was a bargaining code or nothing. So, where do you go with that? I feel comfortable in the position we've taken as an institute. 

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:23:20] The problem that the ACCC was trying to solve, which is the market power and the monopolies of Google and Facebook, I have heard people talking about setting up an alternate social media and why is the media so reliant on Facebook, but that is a function of their market power. Because even if you do manage to set up a really successful alternative, how long is it before Facebook or Google just buys that and adds it to the conglomeration? 

PETER LEWIS: [00:23:48] And that's a lot of the focus of antitrust in the States. That's what happened with Instagram, it's what happened with WhatsApp. When a good network builds, these guys acquire them. One other point I'd make is I think it's interesting, Google and search, there were credible alternatives for search, they wouldn't of been as good, but you could of used Bing or DuckDuckGo. I have this thing now where it's a bit like with day-to-day search I'll go to DuckDuckGo because I know my data is not being collected. It's only if I really need to find something, I go to Google. I only give the data up when you really need to. 

But Facebook, there isn't an alternative for a lot of people because it's the human network, rather than the service that you go in there for. There's really interesting discussions going on in the States around the idea of public digital infrastructure, and I think we need to be part of that discussion. I think one of the things over there is they struggle to comprehend what could be the solution, like networks of not-for-profits or co-ops, cause they don't and have a history of public broadcasting. Where as we in Australia have a public broadcaster with a really active network of users and a really strong brand. 

Unfortunately at the moment, they've outsourced all of their community operations to Facebook because it's cheaper and legally safer. But, I think there is a world in which we spend a bit of time re-imagining what a public network could look like and make a call on whether that's a long-term future for the ABC. Because at the moment, for all of its fantastic digital product, it's still a broadcaster and we're living in a network world, not a broadcast world. So I think it's interesting ideas to embrace. I think one of the upsides this whole episode is I think it's allowed mainstream Australians to recognize their reliance on these platforms and maybe pause a little bit too to contemplate.

Reimagining Anti-Monopoly Activism Through Racial Justice -- feat. Liberation in a Generation's Jeremie Greer Part 1 - OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas - Air Date 3-26-21

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:25:33] I want to read another paragraph from this report. You write, "Imagine a world where the unemployment rate for people of color is zero. The unhoused rate for people of color is zero. A world in which 100% of people of color have quality healthcare, a livable wage, quality education. We at Liberation in a Generation," you write, "believe that this is possible, if we strive to create a liberation economy where all people of color have their basic needs met, are safe and secure, are valued, and fully belong, including people of color who are immigrants, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ, and have a disability." You finally write, "In order to get to this liberation economy, we must dismantle the oppression economy that monopoly power has colluded with the government to maintain."

And this gets us into really talking about the topic in this report, which is, anti -monopoly activism. Start with a little bit of a primer of what we're facing. I mentioned a couple of stats up top in the intro helping put a recent and updated lens on how good it is to be a monopolist these days, right? By contrast to everybody else who's living through this pandemic and not experiencing billions and trillions of dollars of wealth increases. Start with a little bit of a primer of what we're facing: the rise of unchecked capitalism and monopoly power, such that we're essentially living in a new gilded era, as the report argues.

JEREMIE GREER: [00:27:00] Yeah, and just, you have to fully understand the power of monopoly. You have to understand that through the lens of people of color who have to deal with it. 

In Iowa and there's folks with People's Action that are organizing people in rural communities around the threat of monopoly. But if you look at an Iowa, a corporation like Tyson Foods has managers who are sitting around on the floor -- and this was documented in the media -- making bets about what worker was going to get sick and die from COVID. 

The inhumanity of that I think is just appalling. It just shows the dehumanization that monopolies have created for workers, for consumers, for small businesses and everybody that's impacted. And the reason why is because, at the core, monopoly power is about exactly that: power. Who has it. And what they do with it. And what we have when you have monopolies, it's not just about the size of the firm; there's a lot of focus on the size of the firm. But what it's really about is, does that firm have a disproportionate amount of power, and what are they doing with that power?

 And what monopolies today are doing: Amazon. Moderna. Pfizer. JP Morgan Chase. Bank of America. Wells Fargo. Facebook. Google. They're taking that, the power that they have around consumer prices, around workplace conditions, around wages, around the impact that they have in community, and the influence that they have on government. And they're using that power to profit off of blatant systemic racism that is falling down upon Black and Brown workers.

And that is for us, the real fight that we feel when you look at monopolies, and that the current system in which we use to try to govern monopoly power is totally inadequate in dealing with the kind of impact that the monopolies have on Black, indigenous, LatinX, and Asian American people in this country.

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:29:10] Now, folks who are listening probably all assume that they know what a monopoly is, but I'm gonna poke a hole in that and say, you may think what a monopoly is, but Jeremy's got a slightly broader, and I think more updated definition that's used in this report. How do you define a monopoly, for purposes of what you guys are doing in this work, and why do you propose a somewhat broader definition? 

JEREMIE GREER: [00:29:32] Yeah, so you're right. That the current kind of anti-trust definition of a monopoly really focuses on the impact that monopoly power or corporate power has on consumers, and particularly on consumer prices. So will you pay more for a product because of the monopoly power that a company has?

And as I mentioned, we believe that's totally inadequate to really understand the full breadth of what a monopoly is. Monopolies have, yes, they have incredible control over consumer markets and prices. And we see that in healthcare. So the price of insulin is much higher because of the monopoly power that the pharmaceutical companies hold. 

But monopolies also have power over worker wages. The working conditions in which workers show up to work and have to live through. They have incredible power over small businesses. All across the country we, see small businesses being crowded out by monopoly power. 

They have the political power to almost dictate to local communities how much they're willing to pay in taxes. Which means the crowding out of essential services that are provided to communities. And what we observe in the report is that too often, that the impact of that monopoly power falls squarely on the shoulders of people of color, whether they're workers of color, consumers of color, whether they're small business owners of color, or whether they're just people of color living in communities that are looking to their local government to really help them navigate life in the economy.

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:31:18] And I want to quote you because you offer, I think, a really smart definition here in the report. You say, "We define monopoly as a corporate entity, a single corporation, or a group of corporations whose sheer size and anti-competitive behavior grant it disproportionate economic power and governing influence."

And as you've been describing, you say this negatively affects the well-being of workers, consumers, markets, local communities, democratic governance, and the planet. That's a somewhat broader definition than maybe that the sort of technical anti-trust definition of monopoly, but for all the reasons you're starting to get into, you argue in this report that it's necessary that we think a little more broadly and a little more functionally about who's operating like a monopoly and therefore where we need to be thinking about challenging.

Big Tech and a Decade of Antitrust with Cory Doctorow Part 3 - Exponential View with Azeem Azhar - Air Date 1-6-21

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:32:02] What would that mean in practice to the 2.7 billion people who use either Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp? 

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:32:09] Interoperability gives you a lower barrier to entry by allowing you to use the parts of the existing service that make sense for you without having to submit to the whole service.

So, imagine an interoperable Facebook service that let you leave Facebook but continue to talk to your Facebook friends. And that was what Facebook did for Myspace. Facebook allowed you to give a bot that it had designed so that your MySpace friends could continue to talk to you on Facebook  so you didn't have to decide, did you want Facebook's superior interface --  and Facebook, you may not remember this, but Facebook for its first 10 years also advertised its superior privacy policies; they said we're a walled garden. We don't let Google crawl all of your private updates. This is the place to go if you want private social media. So you know, if you wanted the enhanced privacy of Facebook, but you also want it to talk to your friends on Myspace, you didn't have to choose between privacy and Myspace. And there are so many opportunities for siphoning off the most valuable users Facebook has, who are engaged in a kind of mutual hostage taking where the fact that I continue to use Facebook is why you're using Facebook, and the fact that you're using Facebook is why I'm using Facebook. And we really are just stuck like a Chinese finger puzzle, and there is no way for us to get out. And this is a way to cut through that, that impossible puzzle. 

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:33:28] I think it's important to remind people that for its first few years of its life --  so the point at which it had less than a couple of hundred million users and 95% of its users have arrived since then  -- Facebook and these other social networks were rather more interoperable. They were crawlable. They did have what was known as an API, an application programming interface where you could access the newsfeed in all of its glory. And so you could access Facebook's newsfeed and post messages and read them through a product called FriendFeed, which could also access your Twitter and it could access the other social networks you're on. These types of aggregators --  and from the early part of the 2010's, the networks made it harder and harder to access their information, your own information through third party products. And the argument they always gave was we want to give you a consistent user experience, when the real argument was we want to control our ad inventory, and we want to keep you in our walled garden where we have much more control over what you can and can't do.

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:34:29] So, that is 100% true. But the other thing that was different back then was that interoperating without permission was largely lawful. Software patents were effectively unheard of. Software copyrights did not extend to anti-circumvention for most of these services. 

We didn't have Oracle's bonkers theory that APIs are copyrightable. Terms of service were not viewed as enforceable by public courts. We had so many flexibilities in our law that allowed new market entrance to do things that displeased the shareholders of the dominant firms. And what these dominant firms have done is they've mobilized their monopoly rents and their ability to form a consensus to turn these doctrines into a kind of new doctrine that you could call felony contempt of business model, where failing to arrange your affairs to benefit shareholders becomes a literal crime, as it is with save buying your apps from someone other than Apple.

AZEEM AZHAR - HOST, EXPONENTIAL VIEW WITH AZEEM AZHAR: [00:35:25] Can you just clarify what actually happened? Was that something that happened in the 2010's that changed the dynamic?

CORY DOCTOROW: [00:35:32] Yeah, it's been a long project, but the expansion of software patents, for example, which was a very hard fought activity on both sides of the Atlantic, was taken through a combination of legislation and litigation and practice where you had really aggressive patent filings that effectively asserted the patentability of things that really shouldn't have been patentable.

And then, periodically, you would have a patent examiner who would fail to catch the fact that they've been asked to sign off on an unpatentable invention. And then the fact that there was that unpatentable invention would become a kind of social if not legal precedent, and normalize the idea that one click e-commerce, or whatever, should be a patentable invention.

And then you had lots of money pour into it, filing a software patent became de rigueur for startups because it became an asset that venture capitalists could liquidate on the event that you failed, which is what most startups do. And then it could end up in the hands of a well-capitalized patent troll who could then take it out and weaponize it.

So, you have all of that, but you also have new interpretations of existing laws. You mentioned FriendFeed; there's a law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act on the books in the US. It's an ancient computer law; it dates back to 1986. And literally its origin story is that Ronald Reagan saw the movie War Games with Matthew Broderick and panicked that America didn't have strict enough cyber crime law. And he passed this extremely broad cyber crime law called the CFAA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act .Facebook argued successfully in court that under CFAA it was illegal to violate its terms of service, that violating its terms of service was the same as hacking. And they shut down a company called Power Ventures that was just making a shared dashboard so that you could read Facebook combined with your LinkedIn inbox and your inboxes from other services all in one place. And now they're doing that again with a new browser called Friendly Browser. They used it against a group of NYU researchers who have a nonprofit academic project called Ad Observer, where Facebook users voluntarily submit the ads that they see on Facebook, and these go into a repository called the Ad Observatory that accountability journalists, scholars and researchers use to detail whether or not Facebook is living up to its own policies on the promulgation of paid disinformation. And they've said that you violate our terms of service, so attacking so it's a felony, so you've got to stop. And this is only to protect our users' privacy. It has nothing to do with the fact that you're embarrassing us and showing that we're not living up to our promises. That's only incidental. 

And you have these extraordinarily expensive forms of legal entrepreneurship that are combined in ways that change both the letter and the practice of the law and policy so that doing unto Facebook what Facebook did unto Myspace is a felony. 

Reimagining Anti-Monopoly Activism Through Racial Justice -- feat. Liberation in a Generation's Jeremie Greer Part 2 - OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas - Air Date 3-26-21

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:38:20] You have a very powerful way that you phrase this. In this report, you say, "Racial wealth inequality" -- and you specifically are talking there about racial wealth inequality -- "is the consequential disease caused by the oppression economy." I can't remember reading another publication about monopolistic behavior and the need for an antitrust movement that draws such a direct causal link between monopolies and the ways that they operate and racial wealth inequality and structural racism. Talk a little bit about how monopolies are contributing to the immense and historic levels of racial wealth inequality that folks are maybe more familiar with but not aware of that link.

JEREMIE GREER: [00:39:03] Yeah, no, thanks for that question. And what I think of an important distinction around the framing there is that yes, monopolies are driving racial wealth inequality. And yes, monopolies are a product of an oppression economy where racism is baked into the design of the economy. 

But they are gaining profit from the existence of that oppression economy. So what is it in their interest to sustain it and maintain it and to keep it going. And an example that we draw out in the paper that I think is so important and I think really illustrates, this is, as we mentioned, one of the pillars that holds up the oppression economy is the criminalization of people of color. That people of color as criminals or defined as criminals, and mass incarceration, the over-policing of Black and Brown communities is something that upholds the suppression economy. And then when you have a company like Amazon, who purchases the Ring Corporation. And for those of you that may not be familiar Ring is is a product that's provided by Amazon in which they provide surveillance and home security to everyone. You can get a little Ring doorbell where someone rings the door, you could be at work, you can open, and it's oh cool, leave my package there. That's how they market it. But what that does is that Ring device pulls in a lot of data. And what we have is cameras in homes all across the country that can be used to surveil people. And what we know is one of the things that police do is they over surveil Black and Brown communities, which leads to the type of mass incarceration that we've seen in this country. Amazon has contracts and in fact, 770 contracts with police departments, so that they can get the data from those Ring devices.

So I think that really illustrates that not only are monopolies driving racial inequality through the low wages that they pay workers, through the way that they crowd out Black businesses, from the way that they treat immigrants at the workplace. But they're also actively doing things to prop up and uphold this oppression economy because they are profiting from it.

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:41:29] That's another really I think significantly unique aspect about what you guys have done here. This isn't the kind of think tank report that you traditionally read, right? In a lot of ways you actually really wrote this for and almost to grassroots leaders of color as a primer on anti-monopoly activism, but also as something of the beginning of a toolkit that really could help people start to take this on as part and parcel of their work. I'd love to get a little bit into why you structured the report this way, why you took this somewhat different approach in writing, not just for the media and for policy makers and for the Washington elites, but actually for grassroots leaders of color on the ground. I'm going to quote you again. You write, "This paper aims to contribute a major step in the long journey of bridging the divide between anti-monopoly researchers and policy advocates and grassroots leaders of color. The first step on that journey is knowledge."

What is the current anti-monopoly fight look, and why do you believe -- and Solana [Rice, co-founder of Liberation in a Generation] as well -- why did you guys prioritize bridging this divide? 

JEREMIE GREER: [00:42:37] Yeah. As I mentioned in my opening about Liberation in a Generation, we believe that the leaders that are going to lead us into having a liberation economy and dismantling this oppression economy that we've been talking about are grassroots leaders of color who are building power in communities. And the reason why we believe that is, one, they're closest to the people who are experiencing the pain and harm of systemic racism. They are in there with them. They understand they hear their stories, and they're organizing them for change.

The other thing that we believe is so important is that they are in the business of building the power, the political power of those people. They're not there to serve them --  there's people that do that, and there's a reason for that and it's important -- but they see their role in helping those people build power so that they can have the agency to force their government, whether it's a local, state or federal, to act on their behalf. And we believe that if one of the government's roles is to curb corporate monopoly power, they should be the ones driving that change, because they will become with the experiences -- which we try to reflect in the report -- of how monopoly power is impacting communities. How the Amazon distribution center in the Inland Empire in California is impacting, not just the economic life, but the quality of life of people in those communities. They could speak to that in real terms. And that not only does the advocacy need to be informed by that, but also the policy making needs to be informed by that.

What we did was, with that kind of assumption, we went to groups like the Athena coalition, who is organizing people against Amazon across the country. We went to Color of Change, who's an organization that is focusing on curbing the power of big tech, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple. We went to ACRE, Action Center for Research and the Economy, and they're doing a lot of work focusing on big banks and the corporate and monopoly power of big banks. And we said, what is holding the kind of grassroots movement back from really diving in into this anti-monopoly issue, and they came up with well, there was a lot of reasons, a lot of barriers they identified, and some of them that we're working with them to solve. But one of them was, we don't have a global understanding of how monopoly power impacts people of color in particular. We understand it through the lens of a particular firm: Amazon, Bank of America, like that. But we don't really have a good grounding in how it happens globally. Therefore, our policy-making doesn't have kind of an eye towards how could we globally and more broadly address this problem.

Google and the use and abuse of economic modeling Part 2 - Follow The Money - Air Date 2-16-21

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:45:34] How does economic modeling and approaching a company to do that kind of thing work? So say you're a company called Floogle and you're facing some regulations. You're facing some regulation you're not into, you want to show how valuable you are. How does that process work to commission some economic modeling? 

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:45:55] There's all sorts of consulting firms around that you can go and ask any question you want of. And then you discuss with the consultant what it is that you'd like to model, I'll explain what I mean by that in a minute, and then the consultants model that. And to be clear, the consultants that Google have used here have been quite upfront about the assumptions they've made to generate this scary $39 billion number. So, we need to reflect on that.

They, as the modelers, said, well, if the following assumptions are true, then we reckon the cost would be $39 billion, they've been transparent about that, but the headline that people read is the $39 billion. Most people reading $39 billion didn't realize that one of the assumptions on which that $39 billion claim is made is that if Google didn't exist, we'd all go to the library and get books to find out the things we currently search.

You laugh, but you know, and again, the consultants make this very clear. I always encourage people, my key skill, read things. Just read, it's very handy. So if you read the report, you'll see that, in fact, $5.1 billion worth of the cost to our economy is the time that I'm now gonna spend ducking down to the library to find that the population of India. Because if apparently, and let's be clear what Google are saying, if they leave, they're saying there's no other product that could perform that search function. 

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:47:23] So just ignoring Bing, ignoring DuckDuckGo.

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:47:28] Like most of us have, to be fair. The modeling assumes that were Google to exit Australia that effectively internet search would be exiting Australia. Now, I don't know that that was the smartest assumption to make, for two reasons. One, it's easy for us to mock it now and make people realize maybe this modeling is not all it's cracked up to be, or these headlines aren't, but also implicit in this modeling is Google saying we are complete monopoly. We own internet! And if we go, you're stuffed 

Now, to admit that you have that much market power, to model that you had that much market power and be surprised that a government might want to regulate you, seems ridiculous. So $5.1 billion worth of the cost to the economy is the time that Ebony and Richard are now I'm going to have to spend dusting off the Funk & Wagnalls. 

EBONY BENNETT - HOST, FOLLOW THE MONEY: [00:48:24] There's some other curious claims in here such as 97% of its benefits, i.e. its customer usage, come from outside the technology sector. So why do we need to know that? Is that important at all? 

RICHARD DENNISS: [00:48:37] Yeah. What they're trying to say is it's not just a tech problem - we're going to hurt everyone. So you might think, oh that's just a Google problem and I don't work for Google and I don't work for Bing and I'm not in online advertising, so what do I care again? The whole point of these scare campaign is to say, we're going to hurt everybody. Everybody! What they've done, what the modeling suggests is that a were Google to leave and were are we to be left with no search function and we will have to go to the library, effectively they're saying that all of the products that are sold to you and I as a result of Google advertising, effectively they're saying those products would never be made and sold. 

Now this is again, ridiculous. Again, we can thank the modelers for being transparent about it, but having been transparent, I get to tease it. So imagine that you made leather and there were cars that had leather car seats. Well, we could add up the value of every car that's ever contained your leather and say without your leather these cars would never have been made. So we're so vital to the production of cars, my $10 million worth of leather has led to a hundred million dollars, a billion dollars worth of cars, but most people would probably say, "uh, wouldn't they get their leather from somewhere else?" or "could they use cloth?" right, there are substitutes. 

So built into this kind of economic modeling is this idea that there's all these goods and services out there that have a little bit of Google ad in them. And that's true. There's all sorts of services sold through the community that have a little bit of Google ad in them. But to suggest that without a little bit of Google ad the whole product wouldn't exist, that no one would ever buy it and no one ever make it is just silly. 

Now of course, the modelers go further than that. Imagine you not only made leather and people use leather to put in the seats and put the seats in cars, so you added up the entire value of all the cars that ever had a leather seat. What if you then added up the value of all the things that everyone did with their cars? Cause again, that's what this modeling does. It's like, okay, so it's not just that the things that were sold with a Google ad in them that mattered, it's all the intermediate goods that went into that as well.

So again, Google are the dominant suppliers of online advertising in Australia. If they left tomorrow, it would be disruptive. If we switched from paying Google to advertise gadgets in the lead up to Christmas, to paying Bing or a newspaper directly to advertise a gadget in the lead up to Christmas, maybe that's not quite as good for the advertiser, maybe that's not quite as good for the customer. There might be some costs, but $39 billion? No way. 

Anti-Monopoly Activism with Liberation in a Generation -  Economic Security Project - Air Date 3-29-21

SHAWN SEBASTIAN: [00:51:30] So I'm from Iowa and post-2016, I woke up and was like, how is my congressman a Nazi? My congressman was Steve King. And I just was like, what happened, right? Like I'm Brown, I'm Indian. I grew up in a 95% white state, but I was not contending with Nazis in the cafeteria or anything like that. It was the thing that was like, what happened? 

So I moved back to Iowa and I embedded with the organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. And I was like, why is my congressmen a Nazi? And they were like, you cannot understand the politics of Iowa without understanding corporate ag monopolies.

So for me, my entry point was white supremacist authoritarianism, and it led immediately to corporate monopolies. And as I was like digging in and doing more work on this, a lot of people think of rural areas as rural equals white, rural equals conservative. But one in five people who live in rural areas are people of color.

And as I was digging in and connecting with folks like Navina Khanna  from the HEAL Food Alliance who's on this call and whose been like an amazing teacher on all of these things, when we look at the Latino meat packing workers who Tyson Foods managers were taking bets on which one of them would get sick and die, their enemy is meat monopolies.

When I look at indigenous folks who are trying to secure clean water, their enemy is these massive CAFOs that are poisoning the water. 

When you look at Black farmers whose land has been stolen from them, not just a while ago, but extreme like every year right now, ongoing, that is a function of corporate ag monopolies.

And everything about our politics is being driven by that. And in some of these places like Midwestern States where extreme right wing white supremacists are taking over the major levers of government, they're making moves at the behest of corporate ag monopolies. The first thing in Iowa that governor Kim Reynolds did was give meat monopolies carte blanche to decide how safe the meat packing companies should be, to regulate themselves. That's the first thing that happened. 

And you can trace back a lot of these people, what are they doing in addition to pushing extremely racist, fascist authoritarian ideas? They're serving corporate ag monopolies as well. 

Reimagining Anti-Monopoly Activism Through Racial Justice -- feat. Liberation in a Generation's Jeremie Greer Part 3 - OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas - Air Date 3-26-21

JEREMIE GREER: [00:54:14] So today, it's your Congress, of course, has a lot of power because I believe there's a need for new kind of legislation, that new powers to be created, new constructions of how we regulate monopoly that only Congress could do by passing laws. But under our current laws, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for responding and being the "cop on the beat" to make sure that companies aren't violating any of our current antitrust laws. They can issue criminal and civil penalties, and they are the ones who are in charge of enforcing those kind of monumental legislation that that we've talked about.

The Justice Department also has an important role in moving legislation forward. In fact, they are the entity that when we talk, when you hear about breaking up corporations, the Justice Department is the one that usually does that, and they've done it in the past. They did it, they broke up the big railroad monopolies of the past and they broke up AT&T in the 1970s into what they call the Baby Bells. And they currently have a lawsuit today against Google to look at Google's monopoly power and  in the lawsuit, there's a call for breaking it up into smaller pieces. So there's also that. And then there's other agencies, as it relates to banking, it's the Department of Treasury that what the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Agency, the CFPB in banking. In agriculture it's the US Department of Agriculture. In energy it's the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Each of these industries have their own government entity that is responsible for regulating the work that they do, and they play a role in curbing corporate power.

And one other one that I'd mentioned is States. State attorneys general also have a lot of power to curb corporate power because of one thing that's a little known is that States are the ones that incorporate corporations. And so they have a lot of ability and a lot of power to regulate agencies. 

As far as solutions go, there's a lot of solutions that are out there. And what this report does not do is propose to put forth a particular solution that would work for people of color, because we actually think that's the work that grassroots leaders of color should embark on in the future, designing and developing those particular solutions. 

But some of the solutions that we have in our toolbox today are, for example, breaking up large corporations. That is something that we can do today. We can also regulate, tightly regulate corporations using the existing tools in the toolbox. The CFPB and what it's done in the banking industry is a good example of that. 

But one idea that's been batted around, and I think Elizabeth Warren proposed this for big tech in particular, is new enforcement agencies that are more in line with the realities that we see in the economy today, and the way in which monopolies form. A lot of our laws are meant, were developed to regulate railroad and steel monopolies, and those aren't the monopolies that we're seeing today. So there is a group of folks out there talking and saying that there's a real need to think about new agencies with new authorities that could regulate monopoly power.

REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER WITH REBECCA VALLAS: [00:57:36] You also say it's not enough to speak virtuously about racial equity and economic justice. We have to intentionally center people of color in the development of policy change. And you call explicitly for a reimagination of this movement through a racial justice lens that broadens the tent, and that intentionally makes this work more accessible and more human impact-focused so that it's not just about bringing folks in and centering the work differently, it's actually about doing the work differently entirely. So that it's not just that technocratic and sort of small tent DC elite approach to changing these policies.

What would that actually look like?

JEREMIE GREER: [00:58:18] Yeah. And thank you for this question, Rebecca. I've mentioned that history, and I think what we know about public policy in the history of public policy in the United States, whether it was this antitrust movement in response to the Gilded Age, whether it was the New Deal, is that when it's done in a race-neutral way, it doesn't just leave people of color behind -- Black, indigenous, Latin X, Asian Americans. It also harms people of color. And what we need to do is of course, what we can learn from that history is that we should not repeat it. And we should not repeat it by centering people of color as the core beneficiaries of the policy. Because we believe if that is done, not only will they be served, but we will all then be served, because we're ensuring that we're not leaving anyone behind, that we're not intentionally harming anyone.

And we think that's so critically important in this kind of new era of antitrust policy that could come forth. We talk about this renaissance of antitrust back in the early part of the century. But at the time, many Black people could still not join a union. Many Black people could not get jobs in these new corporations that were being formed by the breaking up of the railroads. So we have to acknowledge that the implementation of policy and ensuring that all people are a part of it are critically important. And we believe that no one is better at that than people that organize, that are in fellowship and work with people of color every single day, closest to the problem, can do.

And that knowledge that they have, that expertise that they have, in those folks' lived experience, is exactly what policy makers need to craft the type of policies necessary. It is what the think tanks in Washington need. It is what the policy makers on Capitol Hill need. It is what the entire advocacy apparatus needs.

And we would like to see that being applied to this area. But what that means is not bringing people to the table in a kind of " tell us what you think and then we'll get back to you." We actually believe that those folks should be leading those conversations. They should be leading the crafting of that policy. And that the role of the think tank or of the policymaker or of the antitrust lawyer should be to support them in that endeavor. But with them at the helm. 

And we think that is critically important in all areas of policy, but especially in this one that has been so technocratic, so legalistic, so academic, and really devoid of many of the lived experiences that people have navigating the economy and fighting back against these monopolies.


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:01:17] We've just heard clips today, starting with Exponential View explaining the history of how we changed our anti-monopoly regulation to the Bork paradigm. Follow The Money described the inherent market dominance of Google. Exponential View also explained that Google has only ever made one and a half decent products, think about that. Follow The Money laid out all the details of Australia's battle with Google and Facebook over bargaining with media outlets. Exponential View explained the benefits of interoperability and the legal war waged by Facebook to prevent it. And OFF-KILTER, in two clips, looked into anti-monopoly activism through a racial justice lens.

That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Follow The Money who looked into some of the absolutely ridiculous arguments Google was making to defend their position against Australian regulation. The Economic Security Project looked into other monopolies, like agriculture, and pointed out the connections between the dominance of big ag and other far right policies of the politicians that they own. And OFF-KILTER looked into the details of which government agencies are responsible for enforcing anti-monopoly laws and explained why a race neutral approach inevitably hurts people of color. 

For non-members, those bonus clips are linked in the show notes and our part of the transcript for today's episode so you can still find them if you want to make the effort, but to hear that and all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship, a membership, because we don't make a lack of funds, a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked. 

And now we'll hear from you. The very beginning of this first message was cut off, but you may recognize Erin from Philly.

Child tax credits don't cause population booms - Erin from Philadelphia

VOICEMAILER: ERIN FROM PHILADELPHIA: [01:03:15] Totally calling in. I wanted to reply to a couple of voicemails left on the subject of the child tax credit a couple episodes ago. And I actually want to call to disagree with both points of view from those voicemails, because I feel like those arguments were both coming from a vacuum, and not looking at places where, just paying people when they have a kid is already the norm. And the first example that comes to mind just because it's the non US country I know the best is Germany. 

When somebody has a kid, they get a monthly child allowance from the government there and, like most of Western Europe, Germany is not in fact experiencing a population explosion. It is in fact below replacement birth rate, as they call it, where there are fewer kids being born every year than there are people dying every year. Despite the fact that parents get money for kids, it just doesn't cause any sort of population explosion. And I fear that argument sounds a bit like the kind of welfare queen argument that, you know, was trotted out by Reagan back in the seventies and eighties that, Oh if we just pay people money to take care of their kids, they're just going to keep having kids and get free government money.

And that's just the discredited theory at this point. it doesn't work that way, from the evidence that we've seen and from the evidence of other countries. 

And as far as the idea of, that we shouldn't be giving people money because it just feeds into the privatized neoliberal system, rather than just getting people things like education and healthcare at no extra cost, those things are good too, but I see that as a "both-and" situation. Again, going back to Germany, they have not exactly the Canadian- or British-style Medicare For All, but they do have government-mandated health coverage that everybody gets, and you can go to university for free as far as I know, even for graduate degrees there.

That's all well and good, but you still gotta to buy food for your kids and, maybe when you have a kid, you realize, Oh, you know what, maybe I need to get a slightly bigger place to live. And having that child stipend is the difference between you having to stay in your current apartment and go somewhere, move somewhere a little bit bigger so you have a little bit more room for your kid to grow up, not living directly on top of you. 

Yeah, there's always going to be things that parents have to buy for their kids that cost money, even if it's not education and healthcare. And so again, it's just, I think it just symbolizes the idea that it's the responsibility of the whole community to take care of the next generation. And one way of doing that is to make sure that every kid is getting the amount of money that they need to have the necessities of life covered. 

I suppose you could just start sending food to every family instead of giving them cash, or send them clothes and food and everything else. That would certainly be a way to do it. But I just think handing parents money for buying stuff for their kids is probably the more efficient way to handle that. I'm open to disagreement. 

So that's all I had to say on that. Thanks as always for doing the show and stay awesome.

Biden and China - Jonathan from New York

VOICEDMAILER: JONATHAN FROM NEW YORK: [01:06:40] Hi Jay, this is Jonathan from New York.

I finally got around to listening to the Biden comments you analyzed at the end of the foreign policy episode after he had a conversation with Chinese leader Xi. At the same time, I agreed with your interpretation and disagreed with your reaction to it. You interpreted Biden as saying that he had brought up the oppression of the Uighurs to Chinese president Xi but that he acknowledged he was just going through a dance with him, that he knew Xi would ignore him, and Xi knew he knew that. 

You also had some extremely well-deserved criticism of how poorly he explained himself which is pretty remarkable for someone who has made a career of public speaking, depressing as he is the leading representative of our country. 

But, on substance, you found this frustrating because you thought he should be doing something more effective and shouldn't have admitted he was just going through the motions. I found it comforting that he was realistic about our powerlessness and wasn't trying to do more than we are able to do. I get more worried when our president claims he will fix something that he can't. Biden correctly noted that the only way to influence China is a collective effort of nations they need to deal with. As he said, China needs good relations with other countries and their oppression of the Uighurs harms that and, hopefully, an international consensus will pressure them to stop. I think that's a realistic assessment even if not very optimistic. 

The U.S. can't do much alone. We should speak out, as he has.   As you noted, should learn to be much clearer and I'd note the State Department was much clearer and direct recently. But trying to do more would be useless counterproductive. So, I think it is actually good he acknowledges our lack of influence -- again, he could say it much better. The U.S. should recognize that, bad as the Uighur situation is, we have very limited influence. So, we should focus our efforts on stopping humanitarian crises where we do have influence, or even culpability, such as Yemen. 

So, I credit Biden with doing something on Yemen but criticize him for not taking much more forceful steps because we do have the power to change things. But on China I think he is doing about as much as we reasonably can. The two are connected because only if we stop doing terrible things ourselves in places like Yemen, will we have some moral standing to call out others and perhaps be able to organize an international effort to help the Uighurs.

Final comments on child welfare programs, birth rates and uncomfortably honest political talk

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:08:40] Thanks to all of those who called into the voicemail line or who wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected].

First, in response to Erin from Philly, this is such a great example of what I sometimes refer to only in my own head as strategic silence. We heard a couple of voicemails from people talking about child tax credit and giving money to parents of children and all of that. And I thought, you know what? I'm not going to touch that one for an episode or two. Let's see if someone wants to put in the mental energy to addressing that. And lo and behold, Erin from Philly comes in from the wings. So, I'll start by adding just a slightly nuanced point on the idea of giving money to people further entrenching neo-liberalism. I just want to point out that there is a sort of parallel that was already touched on a little bit between the arguments between universal basic income and a universal job guarantee program. An echo of that same argument comes through in that debate. And the argument goes that a universal basic income will, just as the caller suggested, relating to parents and kids would further entrench the neo-liberal capitalistic mindset, and a jobs guarantee does that to a far, far less degree.

So beyond, well, Germany does it and it seems to be okay, all the countries are functioning in this same model to two different degrees. Europe and particularly Scandinavia are much farther along in their social democracy, welfare state system than we are, but they're still living in the same neo-liberal capitalistic world that we are, just in a slightly different place on the spectrum.

So, if we're talking about fundamentally changing things, warnings about what actions we could take now that is further entrenching the status quo rather than moving us to a new place that is fundamentally different than the status quo, I think those sorts of conversations are good and interesting to have and should continue.

Now the less nuanced point. I just want to call out the caller Rich, who was most forcefully speaking out against the child tax credit, for this particular turn of phrase he used, because for me, this is where he went off the rails.  

VOICEMAILER: RICH: [01:11:33] For these parents, knowing the government will give them a substantial cash payment every month will enable more of them to afford to have a child. I don't need a study to know that this will increase population. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:11:45] As a general rule, I would warn people against ever uttering a sentence that begins with the phrase 'I don't need a study to know." It's not a good look, and it is going to lead you into bad ways of thinking. At the very least, it implies that you have not read a study on the topic, and yet you have a very strong belief about it, anyway. And at worst, it vaguely implies that you don't really intend to change your mind should new information come about. And I don't know exactly where on that spectrum Rich is. However, I will say that Rich made that comment in response to me already making the same point that Erin made about existing social welfare programs that specifically target parents and children and how they do not in their current incarnation, not just in America but elsewhere, encourage runaway population growth to any degree. So, I already made that point, and Rich sort of doubled down by insisting that he doesn't need a study to know that what he believes to be true is definitely true. 

And I would say there are a handful of things that you can know without a study. I generally think that I don't need a study to know that if it rains that the ground will be wet. But that's pretty baseline. Once you get into the realm of talking about behavioral economics, yeah. I am going to need to see a study to understand the incredibly detailed and nuanced and very often irrational actions of groups of human beings.

Yeah. I'm going to need to see that study. In the real-world examples that we have, it doesn't seem that social welfare programs that target parents and children increases birth rates. Now, the point I made is that there is a tipping point. There must be, because, to take it to an absurd example, if you give everyone a million dollars for every kid they have, then I would agree that that is very likely to increase birth rates. But given the examples of welfare programs that we currently have to look at, that isn't the case. So, apparently they are not hitting that tipping point yet. Now secondly, just a quick response to Jonathan about Biden speaking about China. I actually agree with Jonathan's analysis. I guess my thoughts initially were that it's just gross to say it all out loud instead of just doing it.  If you're going to play patty cakes for now but you're going to try to build a coalition later, just do that. Saying it feels gross. However, on the other hand, maybe I just think it feels gross because honesty isn't something we're used to from politicians. So, it feels simultaneously refreshing and utterly uncomfortable. I don't know. Listening to Joe Biden is like taking a communal shower. 

So, with that image now in your mind, keep the comments coming in as always by dialing (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]. That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work on the show. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio Ben, Dan and Ken for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic design, web mastering, occasional bonus show co-host as you hopefully heard a little sample of this week, and thanks to those who support the show who also get to listen to all of that bonus content by becoming members or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, because that is absolutely how the program survives. And everyone can earn rewards and support the show just by telling everyone you know about it using our Refer-o-Matic program at bestoftheleft.com/refer.  So, definitely check that out. For details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources of music used in this and every episode, all of that information can always be found in the show notes on the blog and likely right on the device you're using to listen.

So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.


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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2021-04-10 22:22:53 -0400
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