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Resurrect Antitrust

The leading technology companies in the United States, like their counterparts in the late nineteenth century, have amassed a dangerous amount of economic, political, and social power, owing to their sheer size and market dominance. And today, too, the right approach is to break up these behemoths and restore a competitive environment.

BERKELEY – America’s Gilded Age in the late nineteenth century began with a raft of innovations – railroads, steel production, oil extraction – but culminated in mammoth trusts owned by “robber barons” who used their wealth and power to drive out competitors, and then to corrupt American politics.

We are now in a second Gilded Age – ushered in by semiconductors, software, and the Internet – and a handful of technology giants are the new robber barons. Facebook and Google now dominate the online advertising market, while the advertising revenue going to newspapers, network television, and other newsgathering agencies continues to decline.

Google also hosts two-thirds of all Internet searches in the United States, and is so dominant that “to google” has long since become a commonly used verb. In 2006, Google acquired the world’s largest video-hosting site, YouTube. And Facebook, for its part, has acquired more than 70 companies over roughly 15 years, including potential competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp.