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The Growth and Development of Online Commerce: E-commerce and Antitrust

By Sammy J. Chapman Jr.

E-commerce and Antitrust

The digital marketplace enabled companies like Amazon and Google to become some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world. There has been an increasing number of calls for antitrust investigations into the activities of these tech giants. In addition to his book on advertising, Wu gives an overview of antitrust policy in the United States since the 1980s in The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. He suggests that the weakening of antitrust policies has led to a new gilded age, where a few, large companies—many of them online tech companies—now dominate life. This book offers a blueprint for how the United States can recover and update its antitrust laws to deal with today’s tech companies. Without such an update, the author believes that the future of democracy could be at risk.

Barry C. Lynn was one of the first to raise the alarm about America’s new technology monopolies. Lynn’s latest work, Liberty from All Masters: The New American Autocracy vs. the Will of the People, builds on two previous books, Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction and End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation. Lynn not only discusses monopolies in the traditional sense of market power but also looks at the fragility of monopolization in global supply chains.

Other books examine specific monopolies of goods and services that have coalesced online. Matthew Hindman’s The Internet Trap: How the Digital Economy Builds Monopolies and Undermines Democracy centers on the intersection of advertising and monopoly. Detailing how digital media, like traditional media, have come to dominate the attention of audiences, the author suggests that the dream of a decentralized internet, where small content creators had an equal footing with companies, was never realized. Several books deal with how digital platforms created monopolies for the distribution of books and music. Notably, Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy and Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow’s Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back detail how the control of media distribution by major digital platforms has negatively impacted creative content producers, authors, and musicians. This results in creators taking lower prices for their content and consumers having fewer choices in the marketplace.

Amazon’s growing monopoly power is the focus of two books. Emily West’s Buy Now: How Amazon Branded Convenience and Normalized Monopoly is a scholarly argument for how Amazon’s increasing power through its use of technology has caused consumers to become dependent on its convenient services and resulted in the normalization of its monopolistic power. Amazon: At the Intersection of Culture and Capital is a collection of scholarly essays, edited by Smith, Monea, and Santiago, detailing Amazon’s growing power in society. Topics covered include antitrust, predatory pricing, data collection from third-party sellers, and the environmental impacts of Amazon’s vast logistical system. 

Though Big Tech is new, the problems it has created for workers and democracy are not without precedent. Vili Lehdonvirta’s Cloud Empires: How Digital Platforms Are Overtaking the State and How We Can Regain Control suggests that the digital platforms are constructing an alternative social order, where private companies replace governments as the dominating force in the lives of citizens. The author looks at how workers struggle to make a living on these platforms. Using historical comparisons, Cloud Empires points out many of the issues today’s digital workers face resemble historical precedents, such as the bourgeois revolution. United States Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age offers a broad history of antitrust regulation in the United States. It details how political philosophies of the 1980s have led to the current Big Tech monopolies and media consolidation. Klobuchar clearly lays out current antitrust challenges in the United States and the steps needed to remedy the situation.

Works Cited