Should Washington break up Big Tech?

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Event Transcript

Event Transcript

Event Summary

On November 27 at AEI, experts convened to discuss the technology giants’ impact on the economy and society and whether the federal government should regulate or even break them up. The panel, moderated by AEI’s James Pethokoukis, discussed issues including the suitability of antitrust as a tool to use against these large tech firms, how these firms are affecting innovation, how much history’s lessons apply to the current moment, and whether Big Tech threatens democracy.

The Chicago Booth School’s Luigi Zingales voiced the most skepticism toward these tech firms and argued that previous cases of government action or threats to act against AT&T, Microsoft, and IBM suggest that regulating the current dominant firms is warranted. He added that these firms’ size and control of information render them potential threats to American democracy. Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology countered that Microsoft’s inability to prevent the rise of Google and Apple stemmed not from government decisions, but from Microsoft’s failure to foresee the importance of search and mobile. The Niskanen Center’s Ryan Hagemann added that the problems confronting American democracy are less about the platforms themselves than they are cultural. AEI’s Michael R. Strain stressed the immense consumer welfare the Big Tech firms generate, as many of their products are free or provided at low costs.

–Matt Winesett

Event Description

Silicon Valley increasingly finds itself under fire from both the left and right. Some fear the sheer size of large technology firms, labeling them the robber barons of the 21st century. Others worry their market dominance is stifling innovation. Still more voice free speech concerns, fearing Google’s and Facebook’s ubiquitous presence in our lives.

These fears have spawned various proposals for reining in these firms: The government could block any new acquisitions, classify these firms as public utilities, or perhaps use antitrust to break them up. But should the government act against these companies at all? Join AEI for an expert panel on the wisest course of action.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.


1:10 PM

1:30 PM
Panel discussion

Ryan Hagemann, Niskanen Center
Andrew McAfee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michael R. Strain, AEI
Luigi Zingales, George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago

James Pethokoukis, AEI

2:40 PM

3:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Isabelle Staff at [email protected], 202.862.5885.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Ryan Hagemann is the director of technology policy at the Niskanen Center. His research specialties include privacy and surveillance, robotics and automation, decentralized networks, internet policy, and issues at the intersection of sociology, economics, and technology. He has previously authored works on the economic and social ramifications of autonomous vehicles with the Mercatus Center. He has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The Washington Examiner, US News & World Report, The Hill, and elsewhere. Mr. Hagemann graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in international relations, foreign policy, and security studies and holds a master of public policy in science and technology policy from George Mason University.

Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studies how digital technologies are changing business, the economy, and society. His most recent book, written with Erik Brynjolfsson, is “Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017). Their book “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014) was a New York Times bestseller and was shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey business book of the year award. He has written for publications including Harvard Business Review, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and The New York Times. He has talked about his work on “The Charlie Rose Show” and “60 Minutes”; at TED, Davos, and the Aspen Ideas Festival; and in front of many other audiences. Mr. McAfee and Mr. Brynjolfsson are the only people named to both the Thinkers 50 list of the world’s top management thinkers and the Politico 50 group of people transforming American politics. He was educated at Harvard and MIT, where he is the cofounder of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

James Pethokoukis is the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at AEI and editor of AEI’s public policy blog, AEIdeas. He is a regular columnist for The Week Magazine and an official CNBC contributor. Previously, he was the Washington columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters. He was the business editor and economics columnist for US News & World Report from 1997 to 2008. He has written for many publications, including The New York Times, Financial Times, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review, The Washington Examiner, USA Today, and Investor’s Business Daily. In addition, he has appeared numerous times on MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, “The McLaughlin Group,” CNN, and “Nightly Business Report” on PBS. A graduate of Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism, Mr. Pethokoukis is a 2002 “Jeopardy!” champion.

Michael R. Strain is the John G. Searle Scholar and director of economic policy studies at AEI. He oversees the Institute’s work in economic policy, financial markets, poverty studies, technology policy, energy economics, health care policy, and related areas. Before joining AEI, Dr. Strain worked in the Center for Economic Studies at the US Census Bureau and in the macroeconomics research group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Dr. Strain’s own research focuses on labor economics, public finance, and social policy, and his papers have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals and policy journals such as Tax Notes and National Affairs. He also writes frequently for popular audiences, and his essays and op-eds have been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Review, and The Weekly Standard, among others. He is a columnist for Bloomberg View. A frequent guest on radio and television, Dr. Strain is regularly interviewed by news networks including CNBC and NPR. Dr. Strain has a Ph.D. in economics from Cornell University. He is a graduate of Marquette University and holds an M.A. from New York University.

Luigi Zingales is the director of the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago, the intellectual destination for research on regulatory capture, crony capitalism, and the various forms of subversion of competition by special interest groups. He is concurrently a faculty research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research, a research fellow for the Center for Economic Policy Research, and a fellow of the European Governance Institute. Dr. Zingales also serves on the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, which has been examining the legislative, regulatory, and legal issues affecting how public companies function. His work has been published in the major economic and finance journals, as well as in Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and his research has earned him the 2003 Bernácer Prize for the best young European financial economist. He is the author of “A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity” (Basic Books, 2014) and “Saving Capitalism from Capitalists: Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity” (Princeton University Press, 2004), coauthored with Raghuram G. Rajan. Dr. Zingales received a bachelor’s degree in economics summa cum laude from Università Bocconi in Italy in 1987 and a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992.

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