To Take Down Big Tech, They First Need to Reinvent the Law

When Americans fear the future, they turn to antitrust action.

It happened in the 1890s, when the United States was rapidly moving from a farming economy to an industrialized one. It happened again in the late 1940s, when nuclear war seemed imminent. And it is happening now, as big technology companies work on artificial intelligence that threatens to create a world where human beings are eternal losers.

“There’s an old saying about how history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes, and we’re definitely in a rhyming mode,” said Edward T. O’Donnell, a historian at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. “Our worries about our technological future are sending us back to solutions in our industrial past.”

For decades, antitrust regulation has been overwhelmingly focused on the welfare of the consumer. No cost to the consumer, no problem. That opened the door for Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon — which offered digital services that were cheap or free — to become immensely profitable and powerful.

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