Intro. [Recording date: December 14, 2017.]
Russ Roberts: Matt Stoller... is also working on a book on the history of monopoly in the 20th century.... Now, our main topic for today is what we might call the Big Three--Google, Facebook, and Amazon--but I'm sure we'll get into other things, as well. But I'm going to start with them, as you do in some of the pieces you've been writing. What's alarming about them? They seem to be very popular. People like using the services the companies provide. What's alarming?
Matt Stoller: So, they are, Facebook, Amazon, and Google are effectively becoming so powerful, with the ability to manipulate and control the way that citizens interact with each other, information and ideas and goods and services that we can buy and sell from each other, that they are in some ways replacing democratic government. So, they've gone way beyond sort of controlling markets. Now they are controlling in some ways our political system. And I'll just give you a quick example. So, I guess it was last month, Amazon put out a bid for it to locate 50,000 jobs in a second headquarters outside of its first one, which is Seattle; and they asked cities from all over the country to bid on it. And you had cities offering to allow, to collect taxes from Amazon employees and just hand that money over to Amazon. You had some cities offering to name their cities after Amazon. You had some cities that were saying, 'We'll basically allow you to run this city and determine where your tax money goes, because we think it's ridiculous to waste money on things like fire stations in the edge of town.' You had this really weird outcry from mayors all over the country saying 'Democracy doesn't really work and we can't generate our own commercial activity. We have to beg Jeff Bezos for that, and so we are going to do whatever we can to attract him.' And that is incredibly disturbing. You see the power everywhere, in lots of different crevices of society. But I think the political power is most alarming.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, well, that particular example is a little bit--not as alarming to me as it is to you. There are other things that I think are alarming, and more alarming than that. The fact that mayors do stupid things and are desperate for something to wave about as an economic development success has been a problem for a while. They do lots of bad things to attract large corporations to their towns from giving up tax revenue, for example, not as dramatically as you've described it with Amazon, at least in the past. But, I'm much more concerned--and I'm not sure how powerful Amazon is. I'm more concerned about Google and Facebook and their control over the information we receive. Are you worried about that?
Matt Stoller: Oh, absolutely.
Russ Roberts: In what way?
Matt Stoller: Well, I mean, you know, I guess there are sort of two different ways to think about it. The first is: You have institutions that are so large that they simply can't be managed. So, Facebook has two billion users on its various networks. Google has 7 products with more than a billion users. And what you find is all sorts of areas where the people that are managing these networks are just not paying attention to parts of the networks that are damaging people. So, as an example, Google organizes the world's information; they've engaged in a whole range of conduct to make sure that specialized search engines don't emerge and potentially challenge them in niche areas. And so, one of the results is: You have a health crisis. That exists already, the opioid crisis. But, when people who are addicted to opioids do a search for rehab clinics, what they will find is, first, about a year ago they would find a whole bunch of different ads from rehab clinics that weren't particularly good but were from out of state, would rip them off, and most importantly, wouldn't help them off opioids. And when Google found about this, they got rid of the advertising. So, they weren't--they were making a bunch of money off of this but they stopped making money on it. And then afterwards, Google's search engine was actually manipulated and gamed by some of these kind of scummy rehab clinics. And that's just an example of--the net result is that a bunch of people who are addicted to opioids and want to get off them, can't. And that's incredibly harmful. And that's not because anybody at Google was sort of a bad person. It's just because the institution, there's just--the network is too big for them to actually manage. And you see that in all sorts of ways with institutions like Facebook, where you have lots of things just coming in the back door. So, that's one problem. That's a problem of absentee ownership--no one's minding the store. The other problem is that the algorithms themselves drive extremist behavior. So, these are based, the algorithms that Facebook uses or that Google uses to sort of attract you and keep you using their technologies, keep your attention so they can sell you more advertising--they have specific biases built in that are not good for human beings. So, as an example, if you are, say, a conspiracy theorist around vaccinations, they will say--the recommendation engine will tell you--'Well, maybe you are interested in this thing called PizzaGate.' Or, maybe you are interested in this thing called, you know, 'Sovereign Citizen.' If you are--an doesn't matter if it's a Right or a Left thing. It's an extremist-generating engine. So, if you are interested in being a vegetarian, maybe you should try becoming a vegan. Or, whatever. And it keeps you and pulls you into a more and more extremist, sort of socially dysfunctional position, because essentially it's manipulating your brain in a way that is very similar to the desire to see a fight going on, where you just can't look away. And the algorithms that these guys use, because they are so attention-based, actually incentivize sort of the worst socially dysfunctional behavior. So, those are two basic problems.
Russ Roberts: You left off the third. Which is the ability, of, say, a foreign country to encourage people to look at nasty things.
Matt Stoller: Well, that's true. That actually falls under the absentee ownership problem. So, we have a huge national security issue, with the ability of foreign actors or disruptive social elements to come in and just manipulate people, because there is nobody managing the store in a lot of these places. So, Russia, could, for example, come in and organize people who are pro-Black-Lives-Matter, or against-Black-Lives-Matter, to all come to a, you know, to a protest together outside a mosque and encourage people to engage in open carry. You know, this is really dangerous stuff. And it's because there are no actual community leaders in Facebook. Facebook is just a giant kind of platform where there are no rules and there are no real community leaders. So, that's a subset of the absentee ownership problem. But it is a massive problem. Then you have all the other problems, too--I mean, the monopolization issue it's just chewing apart--local media in particular but also just funding streams, financing streams for media; Amazon is crushing the book market. You know, there's just, there's just--it's just crazy what we're doing.
Russ Roberts: Well, I want to come back to that. Because I disagree with that part of the critique, but I'm very interested in the first parts. And we'll talk about all of them, I hope, if I remember. But, on the case of the extremist argument, which I think is really interesting. Now, it's not working on me. As it turns out. Because I don't use Facebook. I do use Google a lot; and I use Twitter. And I think Twitter is a little bit different: it's sort of a self-generated extremist problem--that people who want to get attention on Twitter, the louder, the better. And so, I do tend to see a lot of angry things on Twitter. But it hasn't--it's pushed me, I'd say, it hasn't pushed me at all, for other reasons. I've avoided those encouragements that you are worrying about. And, I think most people have. But, many haven't, obviously. I don't know how much of that extremism we can put at the feet of Google and Facebook for sort of that the algorithms are giving people really creepy things to look at. There's no way of--I don't know if that's true. Right? That's a supposition. Right? That to get--let me say it differently. There are a lot of things they do to keep my attention. To keep me using the product. They are not all sinister. But some of them might be.
Matt Stoller: Most of them are part-sinister. But let's start with the first premise: that it doesn't work on you. Because, I think it's absolutely the case that it doesn't drive everyone to become a Pizzagate extremist. I think fundamentally we are people who have some free will. We have some cognitive ability to control our own environment. However, let's take Twitter. Because one of the things that--these guys draw from gaming, from gaming--I don't what to call it, but basically from casinos and from video games--
Russ Roberts: Addictive things.
Matt Stoller: Addictive social, psychological tricks that work on everyone. So, as an example, when you see on your Twitter notification or on your Twitter screen, it says, 'You have 8 notifications that have mentioned you,' or 'You have 12 notifications,' that number is there to make you click on that.
Russ Roberts: I get so excited! I can't help it. That part does get me--I confess.
Matt Stoller: I mean, it does. So, that I know that when I sit down to Twitter, it may not be changing my opinions, although it puts a lot of things in front of me. And so, I'm just exposed to information that I wouldn't have necessarily been exposed to, anyway.
Russ Roberts: For sure.
Matt Stoller: And, yet, I get sucked in because of these notifications. Right? So, I might sit down and I might say, 'Oh, I wonder--I'll just take a quick look at Twitter.' And then half an hour has passed. And I didn't mean to spend half an hour doing this. It's just, I sort of got sucked in. And I can then pull myself out. But, it's very, very hard to actually--you are just kind of controlled by these things in some ways. There's a Pavlovian response that you have, and it's not going to turn you into a vegan. It might turn someone else into a vegan. But it's going to waste that half an hour. It's going to waste that hour. And you have no ability to say, 'I'd like a Twitter without those addictive properties.' You have no ability to say, 'I'd like a Facebook that doesn't generate these, you know, these types of algorithms.' So, just as a metaphor, for what these guys do--I mean, I think Facebook more so than Twitter. Twitter has a different set of problems. But, Facebook, interacting on Facebook, because they want you to--or Instagram--they want you to engage and they want you to stay addicted or stay engaging--it's kind of like having somebody in a bar, where you are talking to a friend, and there's a guy in the corner just constantly saying, 'Fight. Fight. Come on. Come on. I heard what he said about you. I heard what she said about you.' And it's like--it's not necessarily going to make you fight, right? But, like, having one person, a couple of people--and these algorithms improve. They get better. Having those people sort of in the bar, kind of encouraging this kind of conflict--it's not going to make fighting less likely.
Russ Roberts: That's for sure.
Matt Stoller: It can only make it more likely. So it's like--even, and it will work on the most peaceful person out there. They will be--they will still be incredibly peaceful but they will just be a little less peaceful. So it moves, it moves, kind of everyone. And so, that's where we are right now. We're in, just psychologically when we are dealing with these institutions, they are having this kind of massive impact on the things we see. And I was talking about the opioid sort of rehab problem; but Google governs a lot of the information that I get. Right? And Google is just choosing what information it thinks I will find useful. I don't have any--I don't know how they are doing that. They are governing what I see. And Facebook is governing the social interactions that I have with my friends on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is mediating that; these algorithms are mediating that. And I have no power over how that is mediated. And that is crazy. Because fundamentally those are not Mark Zuckerberg's friends. These are not Twitter's relationships. And the fact that they can choose how I have to interact with these people and I have no power over that--I can't build competitive systems on top of it--that's, I think, really worrisome for our society, for our markets, and for our democracy.
Russ Roberts: Well, I find it a little bit worrisome. And we'll talk about how worrisome it is. Maybe in a minute. But, let's ask the question which, I've said many times on this program, and I know you don't agree with it, which is: You don't have to use it. So, what's wrong with that argument? If you don't like the way Facebook connects you to your friends or the way it adds things to your timeline or your feed or whatever it's called--I'm not a good Facebook user: I'm a Twitter guy. I don't have to use it. And, in fact, those sort of compulsive--it's like, the guy in the bar; I can stop going to the bar, in real life. And I go less to Twitter now than I did 3 months ago because I don't like what it does to me. I don't like that guy on the corner saying, 'Fight. Fight. Fight.' So, I agree with you: there's some damaging things about it. Aren't we free to just say no to them?
Matt Stoller: You'd think you can--you don't have to use these products; you can just sort of just log off. You don't like it, just log off. And, in fact, that's not true. In fact, these institutions are mediating our society. You live in that society, they are tracking you on websites and services that you are not a part of. They are organizing the financing of the media systems that you read. You are not able to escape them. If you don't use Google, everyone you interact with does. If you don't use Facebook, you know, Facebook is still taking money from the newspapers that you read, so you have worse news. You are still living in a society where conversations about our elections are run on Facebook, so you are a part of these institutions--these institutions are governing you whether you use them or not--
Russ Roberts: Well, I'm a [?] by them--
Matt Stoller: Hang on, let me--what?
Russ Roberts: I'm affected by them. I certainly understand that.
Matt Stoller: Right, but let me give you a more granular story, which is the one about Mike Turk--but this is something I think a lot of parents are experiencing, and it is that, Mike's kid--he has a couple of them. One of them's a teenager who is using YouTube and kind of, their recommendation engine on YouTube is very good, and so his kid will just watch it all day. And YouTube has a bunch of creepy stuff, like really weird, sexualized, violent type of videos that are, just millions of kids are watching. So, Mike is like, 'Look, my kid watches video games; he watches YouTube. He hangs out in these online hangouts talking about video games; that is a problem.' And Mike just cut it off. He said, 'I'm going to block all of these sites so that--you are a normal kid.' And he did that, and his normal kid, who just has this addictive, who is addicted to the Internet, but when he's not allowed to use it, he's fine. Okay. So, Mike is like, he blocks the video games; he blocks the video game hangouts; but he can't block YouTube, for some reason. And he tries. But, it turns out that you can't block YouTube if someone is using Chrome. Chrome is a browser that's made by Google. So he's like, 'That's kind of crazy.' And Mike is from the telecom world: he's very good at tech, he's like an IT [Information Technology] guy; but he couldn't figure out how to actually block YouTube. So, he's like, 'I'm just going to delete Chrome off of my son's computer, and I'm going to put a different browser on; and then, I won't let him go to any Google sites. Because if he can go to google.com, he can just download chrome; and he knows how to do this: he'll download Chrome and then he'll be able to watch YouTube again. So, he tried to do that. So, he deletes Chrome and he puts a different browser on. But then he finds out that his son has to use Google, because Google has to deal with his son's school system; and the homework is actually done on Google products. And this is true across--there are a lot of kids who--Google is handing out Chromebooks, and Chromebooks are really cheap. They are good computers but you can't actually block YouTube. So, what Google is doing is, they have vertically integrated not just the browser and YouTube and their search engine and Maps and a bunch of other products. They've actually vertically integrated into the school system. And they have more power over what Mike's kid sees than Mike does. Mike's a conservative Republican. He's not a Democrat; he's on your side of the fence.
Russ Roberts: I'm not a conservative Republican, Matt. Just for the record. But go ahead.
Matt Stoller: Oh, you're not. Okay. Then, you're a--okay, well, whatever. He's a conservative Republican and I'm not.
Russ Roberts: That's fine. Keep going.
Matt Stoller: But the point here is that, Mike can't actually structure the environment that he wants for his kid because of the power that Google has. So, that's--if you think that you don't have to use these, it might be true for you. But it's certainly not true for millions of parents and millions of kids who are being raised on this stuff and have no choice about it.
Russ Roberts: So, that's a great example. And I read that article, where you told that story. It's a great article; it's really interesting, and I wanted you to tell that story, so I'm glad you did. The question is: Let's stick with that for a minute. What's the lesson there? What should we do? So, that's outrageous, right? So, what should you do about that? What should we favor? What policy response do you think is appropriate in that situation?
Matt Stoller: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is you have to just admit that we have a really serious problem with the power of Google. That's the very first thing that we have to do. And, once we've admitted that, and that it's a political problem--it can only be addressed through politics--then there's a whole bunch of--
Russ Roberts: Wait a minute. Why is that? I mean, couldn't I--my first thought is the school doesn't have to require that relationship. That might not be a healthy thing to have a corporation and a school in cahoots like that. Might be[?] a bad idea.
Matt Stoller: But that's a political--that's a political statement, that you're making.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, sort of.
Matt Stoller: The school is a political institution.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. It is. It's a shame. But that's a truth. And we have limited control over what our schools do. And we have limited control over what Google does. So we're kind of at the mercy of both of them. So we have a kind of a dilemma here. Neither of them are responding potentially to what we want. What's the best way to get closer to what we want without some unintended consequences? And I would just add--and I think this is the real challenge: You said you have to first recognize that Google's too powerful or harmful. Most of us love it. And again--I'm very worried about some of the things you are raising: I think they are very concerning. But at the same time, I've got this great thing going where I buy a plane ticket and I get a confirmation that I bought the ticket via Gmail. And Google just is so smart. It's not really smart, but the algorithms are so well done--that it immediately puts that trip into my calendar. I don't have to deal with it. And I really like that. I'm not alone, obviously. There are many, many things Google does that don't do anything for me. And I think a lot of other things they do people like a lot that don't excite me positively. But, part of the problem of this is that a lot of people like what they do. They love it, actually. They don't just like it. They enjoy using it every day. And that Mike Turk's kid is not protected from some gross stuff on YouTube--they'd say, 'Well, that's Mike Turk's problem.' I think it might be everybody's problem, or somebody else's besides Mike, or his school's problem. There's a lot of stuff going on there. But, isn't that a big problem with your starting point, to get people worried about? I don't see what the worry is. They like all this stuff.
Matt Stoller: Well, I think people are--I think you are not giving people enough credit. People can both enjoy the ability to fly across the country while at the same time recognizing that, you know, they don't particularly love baggage fees, or they don't particularly think that American Airlines is doing a particularly good job with that technology. So, they can love--I love the ability to use Google or Amazon to find out all sorts of great things; and I use these products constantly. But I can separate out the technology from the political power. And I think you--I think people can say, 'Yeah, I really like using the search engine. But I also think that Google as a political institution has too much power.' People are mature enough to handle that. So, you know, schools are political institutions. And, thank God they are. I mean, school boards are elected in a lot of places. And, you know, you don't have to--you can say to Google, you know, 'You want to be in this school? You are not allowed to sell Chromebooks that prevent the blocking of YouTube.' Or, you can say, 'We're going to investigate you and figure out how the company works, figure out how these algorithms work. And then we'll make a bunch of decisions about the best way to fit your system into a democracy.' And I think we have to do that, because these are not simple questions. It's very important to not sort of shoot from the hip and say, you know, we need to, you know, chop you up this way, or chop you up that way. I mean, these are multinational companies. They have billions of users. They are very complicated institutions. And what we need to do first is we need to actually investigate and understand how they work. That's kind of the first thing that I would sort of call for. So, I think you have to acknowledge they are political problems. And I think people are ready to acknowledge that they are political problems. Not that we should eliminate them. Not that they are not great--that they don't have great technologies. But, I would also note that, the things you are talking about that people like about Google--you know, Google is very well liked. And Amazon is trusted. But Facebook is not so much. But Google and Amazon are really well-liked. But these are institutions--you have to disaggregate the technology and what the engineers have built--the search engine, the video service, the various, you know, Alexa, those kinds of things--from the financial holding company structure. So, Google is a financial--it's a search engine but it's also a financial holding company called Alphabet. And it has a bunch of different products in that holding company. And those products are largely the result of mergers and acquisitions. So, nobody would care if you say, 'Split off, say, YouTube and the Google Search Engines and Google Maps,' because those are all-- or DoubleClick. Because those are all actual--Google Search Engine was developed internally. But the others were all just sort of bought, and cobbled together, and then used in ways that are potentially anti-competitive. So, it's not that you are actually destroying the technology, destroying the things that people loved. In fact, you are liberating them. And that's kind of the way that I these things--is, you have to think about it in the context of what is the financial concentration, versus what is the necessary concentration to do the really great things that we all love? But, you also have to give credit to people to people who are mature enough to see that they really like, you know, they really like being able to do these cool things, whether it's flying or whether it's driving a car or whether it's using a search engine. And the political institutions, the financial structures that are actually managing those industrial arts.
Russ Roberts: Some of this, of course, it is surely under our choice, in the following sense. Let's take the search engine part. If I think that, or if a news report comes out, that Google is corrupting search findings to benefit, say, people who pay more, in certain ways, or disrupting our political system, and I think there's some evidence that's true--let's move to a different search engine. There are other search engines. There's DuckDuckGo; there's Bing. We could use those, right? I mean, we could have a campaign to stop using Google's search engine to reduce Google's power. Do you think that's a good idea?
Matt Stoller: Well, look. I mean, we've had a campaign to get people to stop using Google's search engine. It's called Bing. I mean, Microsoft has spent enormous amounts of money to try to get people to move from[?to?] Bing, and it hasn't worked at all. So, there's sort of this notion that competition is just a click away. But the actual evidence is that it's not. It just isn't.
Russ Roberts: Well, that's because people are just content with Google. Now, maybe they shouldn't be, because they don't know about these effects that you are talking about. Which I think is a very [?]
Matt Stoller: Well, we don't actually know that. I mean, we know that people are using Google. But, beyond that we can't make a supposition that people are just content with it and if there was a sort of, you know, different and better products, they wouldn't, you know, go to that. As just an example: You know, there was this big European Union case that Google, you know, was fined about $2.7 billion dollars for. And the origin of the case is with a competitive search engine called Foundem. And Foundem, which, I don't think it exists any more, but it used to be a shopping comparison engine, which means that--it was basically a search engine, but for prices. So, if you were to type in, say, a certain brand of bicycle, you would find, you know, if you went into Foundem and typed it out, it would give you prices from a bunch of different vendors, and you could pick the one that you wanted. And there were a bunch of these shopping-by-comparison engines. In, I guess it was around 2009, 2010, Google decided that this was spam. Or they decided they didn't like it. One of the two. And so what they did is, first they created their own shopping engine. So, you could compare on the Google shopping engine as well as Foundem. And a bunch of these others. But, then, they actually downgraded all of these shopping engines in their natural search algorithm into spam. So, you'd have to go through multiple pages when you searched to even find them. And this, of course, killed all of their traffic. And naturally Google didn't actually change, do that to their own shopping comparison engine. So, people would got to Google's shopping comparison engine. And they killed all their rivals. And all these guys went out of business. Now, here's what's interesting. What happened next is that Google then killed their own shopping comparison engine, and replaced it with an ad-driven engine. So, you would type in that bicycle; and now, you don't get different prices from across the web. You get a list of people of ads for people who have paid Google to show you whatever product they want to show you at whatever price they want to show you, when someone types in that, say, bicycle. And that is a very dangerous move. And it's something that--you know, people have no idea that it even happened. But I imagine that people, when they are looking for prices, for the best prices for things, would prefer to have a comparison engine that they can look at as opposed to things that are put in front of them by merchants that are paying to get there.
Russ Roberts: And, of course, I agree with that. Except, the question is: what do you want to do about that? And, there's two issues there. One is: What level of intervention do you think is appropriate to reduce the probability of that? The real puzzle, though, to me, as an economist, is: So, these things are happening. There's a lot of things like that, I think. I'm going to assume you are right about that story. I didn't know it. But it's plausible to me. And let's say it's true. So, why wouldn't an alternative search engine that exists, and that's really good, by the way--I don't use Bing. The reason I don't use Bing is I'm not in the habit of using it. But if I did use it, I bet it's pretty good. And DuckDuckGo is, I think, pretty good--maybe very good. Maybe they are both very good. I don't know. Hard to measure. But, let's say they are. Wouldn't they want to take out some ads to remind people that they don't do that? Now, of course, you don't know if that's true. But there is actual competition. It just doesn't seem to be manifesting itself in the way that it normally would in a more competitive market. I don't think it's because there's only 3 players. I'm not sure what the reason is.
Matt Stoller: Well, I have used DuckDuckGo. And it is--so, okay. Let's just talk about the search engine, how to build a search engine 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Or, when Google started, right? There were a bunch of search engines when Google started--Lycos and all these other things.
Russ Roberts: AltaVista, Yahoo, etc.
Matt Stoller: Yeah. And what these did was they mapped the web; and then they chose different ways of splitting it to you. And Google did the same thing. And so you'd think--well, it's a web; it's the web. You can map it today if you want to compete with Google. But, in effect, Google's search engine no longer works by mapping the web. Google is so powerful that it in fact in many ways structures the web based on the data that it has about everyone else. So, Google knows a lot about you. More about your web habits than you do. Or, more about my web habits than I do. And it knows--it has a lot of other information about me. And it uses that to improve its search engine that I then access. And Google has that ability because they have access to that data, because of--and this is what I'm told; I'm not a, I don't know anything about (AI) artificial intelligence, but I'm told that these big data sets are increasingly important to actually be able to produce relevant search queries, to be able to do a whole bunch of things like, for example, Google Translate, or--there's all of these services, and search is just one of them, that can only be perfected if you have mass quantities of data. DuckDuckGo just doesn't have that data. And, you know, it's not clear that Bing has that data. And so the quality of the result is bad. So, there effectively aren't competitors.
Russ Roberts: Well, I don't know, you say 'bad'--
Matt Stoller: Well, I've used DuckDuckGo; it just doesn't work for me. And I wanted to use it. But it just doesn't work. And people will tell you, if you want to create a search engine in today's Web, you need enormous quantities of data. And there are three companies--maybe a few more than that, but basically just three--that have that quantity of data; and it's Facebook, Google, and Amazon. If you don't have that data, you just can't play. Maybe Microsoft; maybe Apple.
Russ Roberts: So, before we get to the--I just have to make an historical remark. Which, you can respond to if you like. Of course, many, many, many times in the past we've been told that this company or that is going to have too much power over us. It used to be IBM [International Business Machines]. They're not important any more. Used to be Microsoft. They're not important any more. It used to Apple, with iTunes: 'They're going to control the music market.' And Spotify crushed--seems to be crushing--them; I don't know if they really are, but to my eye, ear, and the rest of my life, Spotify is dominating my iTunes experiences. So, why is this going to be different? Why is it that, in the past, when companies got too big or too powerful, they were destroyed by upstarts? Is that not going to happen this time, do you think?
Matt Stoller: Well, let's talk about IBM and Microsoft. And before that, I think you could point out a bunch of them: AT&T [American Telephone and Telegraph]. You know, IBM was a dominant market player really until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it controlled--there was no software market. Because, you bought IBM hardware; IBM gave you software for free; and IBM pursued a range of tactics to prevent people to prevent people from actually using other companies' computers. And, what happened is, the Department of Justice, I guess it was the last day of the Lyndon Johnson Administration, filed an antitrust suit against them. It was actually, I think, the third antitrust suit: There was one in the 1930s; there was one in the 1950s; and then there was one in 1969-1982. And, that suit caused IBM--I mean, it was a crazy long suit [?]--
Russ Roberts: Yeah--
Matt Stoller: but it caused--but one of the things that it did was it made IBM act on its best behavior. So that IBM was worried. It was a very capable company, and they were able to crush rivals very quickly. But once the suit started, they got really worried that they were engaging in anti-competitive behavior. And so, one of the things that they did was they unbundled their hardware and their software. So, they said, 'You can buy the software separately.' And what this did, is it opened up the market for other software players to sell into IBM Machines. It created the American software industry. Before that, in the 1950s, the antitrust suit against IBM said--it did a number of things, but one of the things that it did is it said, 'You have to share your patents. And you have to open up what you are doing, the know-how, to other institutions, other companies.' This was true for IBM and AT&T and RCA [Radio Corporation of America]. And as a result, we had an open electronics industry; and in that decade, you had companies like Motorola, Texas Instruments, and a variety of others forming, using the patents that had been unlocked through these DOJ [Department of Justice] antitrust strategies. In the 1970s, the software industry was created. Also, another thing that happened was the first computer language--I think it was--not the first, but UNIX [not an acronym, but may have been a pun on Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing System), contrasting a unique-user to a multi-user operating system--Econlib Ed.] was a computer language that was created, actually, by AT&T, but because they were constrained into the telephone market and they were not allowed to sell computer languages, so they just gave it away to universities. And that's what created sort of open-source software. Microsoft [MS] is another interesting example. Because, Microsoft had been planning to dominate the Internet, in 1995. I mean, Bill Gates had a famous all-company memo about the importance of the Internet. And so, one of the things that they did is they first tried to buy Intuit it, which made banking software and personal finance software, because that's--
Russ Roberts: That's a company name--Intuit.
Matt Stoller: Yeah. It's Quicken, Quicken Lending, Quicken Software. Because they thought that was going to be the backbone of the Internet. But they would have continued to buy companies if they had been able to--they would have would have continued to buy companies but the DOJ blocked them from buying into it, because they said 'We want the Internet to actually be open.' And that was actually a precursor to the antitrust suit. Which had the same effect on Microsoft that it had on IBM. And I just want to say one, actual--go back to IBM for a second. In 1980, I think it was in the early 1980s, must have been 1982 or 1981 or something like that; maybe it was the late 1970s. But, when IBM decided to put together their personal computer, they did it because Apple had come out with a personal computer. And one of the reasons Apple was able to do what they did with the Graphical User Interface [GUI] is because Xerox was under an antitrust investigation. So, they were willing to share a bunch of stuff with younger companies. But, IBM was under an antitrust investigation. So, they, when they built the Personal Computer, instead of controlling all the suppliers themselves, which they used to do, they said, 'Well, we will license, we will treat you differently. We will treat you well.' And they gave this contract for the operating system to Microsoft. They gave a contract for the microchip to Intel. And it created this kind of open ecosystem for the personal computer, which allowed all these companies like Dell and--I forget, but there were a lot of personal computer manufacturers. So, you had this open ecosystem, which was an explicit creation of DOJ policy. And then, in the late 1990s after Microsoft--and Microsoft was formed after that, and that's the reason it was able to be a massive company instead of just a vendor to IBM. And then, in the late 1990s, after the Intuit acquisition was blocked by the DOJ, after Microsoft tried to buy that, then there was the antitrust suit against Microsoft. And Microsoft stopped engaging in anticompetitve behavior. They were able to sort of strangle Netflix--not Netflix--Netscape. Although Netscape wasn't particularly managed well. But they weren't able to do the same thing to Google, and to Facebook, and to the sharing, you know, the sort of web--to point out. Because they had been, their culture had been changed by the DOJ suit, not to strangle anyone in the crib[?] And so--
Russ Roberts: Yeah... I find that story, Matt--some of that I [?]--
Matt Stoller: Well, what you find is that the revolutionary who becomes the king doesn't want the next revolutionaries to come and overthrow them. And so they will do everything they can to prevent that. And the only thing you can do--that American antitrust law--was written to stop that from happening. To make sure that the King couldn't keep other people out of the market. And it worked. Companies don't just fall because of a natural cycle in the market. They fall because of political choices to open up and oxygenate the market for other people. And let's just be clear about something. Microsoft is still a very profitable company. It still exists. And IBM still exists. These companies didn't die. They just had to make way for other innovators in the ecosystem.
Russ Roberts: Well, I, part of that story I think is true. I think it's true that they may have been on their best behavior. But, I think their failures to innovate were not due to the DOJ oversight. You can argue that their culture became less innovative. I find that a little bit of a stretch, given that monopolists tend to be less innovative to start with. So, that's a debatable--I don't want to debate it, but I'm just saying, I'm not convinced. It's an interesting argument. I think most of the failure of IBM and Microsoft were that--they had more nimble, smaller companies that came along and did a better job, new opportunities. There's more, perhaps, to the story.
Russ Roberts: The question is: I'm agnostic about whether the DOJ, the Department of Justice, has been important in that kind of thing. I'm open-minded about your story. The question is: What do they do now? Right? Now, we have this very strange thing, where these companies are large in a way--the part that's alarming to me is they are large in a way that isn't the way a company was large before. If a company was--like, General Motors [GM], had a big share of the auto market. And yes, you could still buy Ford. You could still buy Chrysler. Or many imports at the time. Now that market is much more open, and all those American companies are smaller. They are more nimble. They make much better cars. It's been a great thing, as that market's been opened up, mostly by foreign competition and some domestic attempts at doing better. But, it seems to me, that what makes Facebook different, or Google different, is: First of all, the network effects--that they need lots of people, and it's no fun to be on a network of friends that only has 7 people on it. And the second is that it's become an enormously important piece of the fabric of our lives, way beyond, say, my car. Or, the, say my--some item of clothing that might have some--in theory it doesn't but it could, monopoly power. This is--it's much harder to start a new Facebook. I'm open to that fact. Now what? And I would ask you--I'm going to give you two challenges. One: Tell me what policies we should pursue to make this problem that you are identifying better. And, second: Are there policies in place now that are making it harder for new startups to innovate in these areas?
Matt Stoller: Okay, so let's just start with--
Russ Roberts: That we should get rid of?
Matt Stoller: So, the first one: What should we do now? And, I--it's a big question. I think we need to do a lot of investigating. But, that's kind of--I don't want to make that a dodge. Because it sounds like a dodge, to be like: 'We need to know more.' But, we really do need to know more--
Russ Roberts: For sure--
Matt Stoller: We don't understand how these companies work. But I think a very simple thing that we could do is to block all acquisitions by Facebook, Amazon, and Google. I mean, just stop them from acquiring companies. Then you would see that they couldn't, they wouldn't be able to block the emergence of new competitors into the market. It would be much harder for them to do that. Because, right now, what Facebook does is they have--they have this--I think it was about 2011, they bought a company called Onavo[?], which is--it doesn't really matter what it is. It's just a bunch of phones. And people--it's like a malware tracker and a bunch of people downloaded it. And it essentially, enough people have downloaded it that it gives--it gives--Facebook can--Onavo can like see what you are doing on your phone. See how you use your phone. Track you in real time. And there's a statistically large enough people who have Onavo so that if you own the company you can see how the Web is being used. And so, what Facebook does with the data that it gets from Onavo is it basically looks and sees which apps are becoming popular. And how people are using them. So, it can spy on any new potential competitor. And what it does, is it keeps a database of new companies that are growing very quickly, and will buy them. Or copy them. Very quickly. And I'm not talking about within a year. I'm talking about, within a month. And, will see a new product that's come on the market, that's gained a bunch of users. And they will begin incorporating those products, design choices, into their existing products. And they will actually buy that company, if it's growing fast enough. So they've just bought one called TBH [To Be Honest], which is a social network for teens that was growing really quickly. They bought it after 3 months. They--so, first, you just got to say, 'No more of that. No more Onavo and no more buying companies. Because that way, people will actually start businesses and they will try to compete with these guys instead of just trying to sell out to them. And the other thing you can do is you can undo some of the recent acquisitions. So, you can undo the--maybe the Instagram acquisition or the WhatsApp acquisition. You can look back and undo the Amazon WholeFoods acquisition. Those are some things you could do that wouldn't be particularly difficult, and are not, like, you are not going to like mock up any really deep-seated sort of relationships. There's a bunch of other things you can do. There's a bunch of tests that are being performed. There are some regs[?] that are happening in Europe which are going to get implemented next year, they are privacy rules, we'll see how they work out. They might do good things. They might do bad things. But, basically, we need to be really studying these companies. We need to be comparing different political choices. And we need to be stopping acquisitions. And that's the law. The law exists to do that. It's called the Clayton Act. The FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and DOJ could just take a different enforcement approach and there we go. So, that's an answer to your first question. What was your second question? Or do you want to--
Russ Roberts: Let's stick with that. My second question was, are there are in things that are in place now that are making it harder for competitors. I've read that it's hard for people to share their Facebook information with a would-be Facebook competitor that makes it harder for--and that government enforces that. And that not a good thing.
Russ Roberts: But, let's stick with the first thing. Let's stick with this first point. And I want to ask you about you about one other thing, too. Which is--I want to come back to the media issue and the freedom of the press, 1st Amendment issue, because I think it's very important. But I'm really kind of glad--aren't you kind of glad Amazon bought Whole Foods? Does that bother you? Does that make you nervous? Or is it, just sort of, you think, they are big enough; let's not let them get bigger? I mean, I'm not even sure Amazon's going to make money. I know this is a crazy claim. We've talked about it here on the program before. Almost all their profit comes from their cloud services. Their retail business is limping along, barely making a profit.
Matt Stoller: Well, no. That's not exactly true. They aren't making a GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles]--profit based on accounting metrics. But they generate massive free cash flow. They spend, something like, whatever, something like $20 billion dollars a year on research. They could just turn on the spigot whenever they want. Amazon is a massively profitable company. It's why--you know, Jeff Bezos is not worth $100 billion dollars, you know--you are not worth $100 billion dollars because Amazon's a charity. And that's not a--
Russ Roberts: No, no; but I don't think they make--I don't think the retail side of their activity, which is the books, the clothes, the gardening tools, and everything else that they now have on their site--I don't think they make much money on that. If any. Barely. They are barely profitable.
Matt Stoller: Of course they do. I mean, of course they do.
Russ Roberts: Why is that?
Matt Stoller: I mean, enormous amounts of money.
Russ Roberts: I don't think so.
Matt Stoller: Well, I mean. Okay. Well, then, you know, then Amazon--then Jeff Bezos's hundred billion fortune isn't real. I mean, they make a lot of money--
Russ Roberts: It's not. Well, it's based on the stock that he holds. And it's based on the projection that people think it's going to make a lot of money at some point. Or, that their, other parts of their business will make a lot of money.
Matt Stoller: All right. All right. Well, then it's a charity. I mean, what do you want me to say? I--Like, they spend, they make huge capital?--
Russ Roberts: What I want you to say is I'm not sure their retail position is a real threat to American retailing outside--it looks like it is, because it might not make it.
Matt Stoller: That's not true. I mean, they are making a lot of money. Like, they are not, they are not showing accounting profits because they don't want to. But, they, they--you know, Jeff Bezos is very clear. He says, 'Anything we make, we invest back in.' They are spending a ton of money on expanding operations. And at any point they could just choose to spend a little bit less and show a profit. And if they want to just show a big profit, they could. But, Amazon--you know, Jeff Bezos understands that he's building a long-term monopoly, and that's his play. And this idea--he can generate cash whenever he wants to. He just has chosen not to.
Russ Roberts: But that's--my claim is that's coming out of his--cloud services--which are extremely successful. And we use them all the time, indirectly and directly--that's a separate issue to be worried about, too. But I'm just thinking about Whole Foods or bookstores, or--this is one of the greatest times in human history--not 'one of'--this is the greatest time in human history to be a consumer. You could argue that's a waste of money. Many times it is. Or, that we get seduced by the material world. I think that's also true, if you are not careful. But, our opportunity to buy clothing, books, everything, at very low prices is gloriously good. I don't see anything alarming about Amazon as a retailer. So, what are you worried about?
Matt Stoller: But that's because you are thinking about--you are not thinking about us, as consumers. But you can't think about people as just consumers. You know, we are citizens, and we make things. And if you look at, say--if you look at authors, right, you think it is a great time to have books, because you can go on Amazon and buy a ton of books. Right? And you can buy them, and on a Kindle, and download instantly; and 'Wow! That's amazing.'
Russ Roberts: It is.
Matt Stoller: Well, you know what? The average income of authors has dropped by 25% since Amazon came out with the Kindle. And probably more by this time. That's a few years old. Now, you might not care, because you might not be an author--
Russ Roberts: But I am an author, Matt. I'm an author. And I love it.
Matt Stoller: But hang on a second. Let me finish. If you're an author--and there are people that people used to make their living writing books, mid-level books. Or you are a band[?], right? Bands, you know, are getting just savaged, it's more by YouTube more than by any of the others. What's happened is this whole mid-tier of the artistic, creative community whose livelihoods have just been shattered. And there are large numbers of books that have not been written because there's no money in it any more. And that's a massive loss to the free flow of ideas in America. Beyond that, Amazon can choose, and does choose which books to put in front of you. So, they had a big fight with Hachette, where they just pulled Hachette's books off of their shelves. And, if you look for certain books, they will choose to promote other books in front of those books, through their recommendation engine. And so, they are manipulating the flow of information to you. They are manipulating the flow of ideas from author to reader in a way that we have never seen before. And that is incredibly dangerous. So, sure: If you are just looking at low consumer prices and your ability to just acquire books for cheap prices, you might say, 'What a great time to be alive!' Even though I don't think that Amazon's prices are necessarily that good. I think it's undeniable that they, as a consumer, it's an amazing platform. There are all sorts of aspects about who we are as a people, as a free people, as a creative people, as a people that have ideas, as a people that bring crops to market, that are incredibly disturbing. Amazon is not something that you want to see if you want to have a free society, if you want to have a democracy, if you want to have citizens who have any dignity. Sure--
Russ Roberts: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on, hang on, hang on. I disagree with almost everything you just said. That's okay. That last piece, I don't understand at all. My dignity as a citizen is being impaired by the fact that Amazon has lots of books for sale that are relatively cheap?
Matt Stoller: No, it's being impaired by the fact that Amazon now controls, and manipulates, the flow of information between the book-reading public and the book-writing community. And that's just undeniable. That's what they do. They choose who gets paid. They choose who doesn't get paid. They choose who succeeds. They choose who don't succeed. And they choose what gets read. And yeah, it's not total control. But it's a vast amount of control that we've never seen before. And Amazon, by the way, is not only the biggest book seller in the country, by far--and they sell all, basically all e-books go through Amazon, and most of the non-e-books go through Amazon--but they are now also the biggest publisher in the country. Which means, if you want to--they can manipulate their platform to move books on their own publishing platform above and beyond books that are published by other publishers. So, there's a whole set of conflicts of interests that are baked into here. And there's an enormous amount of power that Amazon can use to sell what they want, and promote the ideas that they want, and not promote the ideas that they don't want to promote.
Russ Roberts: So, this is happening in a lot of other places, of course. Not just at Amazon. It's happening at Netflix, where Netflix makes their own movies that compete with the movies that subscribe to on their service. And yet--and this is where I disagree with you, and you can respond to it--and yet, I think it's the greatest time in human history to be either a creator or a consumer. That mid-tier, hollowing out you are worrying about--I don't get it. I bet there are more--I don't even have [?] the data; so I'm open to being wrong. I challenge--I don't expect you to have it at your fingertips. Perhaps some of our listeners can find it. More books get published; there's more music than ever before; the quality of entertainment--television and movies--is off-the-charts better than it was 20 years ago, and 50 years ago. It's mind-bogglingly better. There's an enormous amount of opportunity to explore things. And I have many other sources besides Amazon where I find out about books I want to read. I can go to Goodreads. I can read the New York Times Book Review. And, compared to 25 years ago when people were stuck with a bookstore that had maybe 3000--and that would be a lot--copies, 3000 different books in stock; and then we finally got the Barnes and Noble that came along, and Borders that expanded that to a much bigger number. But it's dwarfed, dwarfed by Amazon. So, the amount of opportunity people have to learn and explore, it's just unparalleled. So, I don't see this sort of desert or drying up of citizen access to information. Now, I am worried about the media news. I'll come to that. But, do you want to respond to that point about creation, creative folks, in music and the arts?
Matt Stoller: Well, yeah. I'll just say--the data, I got it, it was that data on income is from the Authors Guild. So, there's an author, T. J. Stiles, who has won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize--actually multiple Pulitzer Prizes. He's, you know, written books on--he mostly writes about history. So, he's written--he used to be an editor--so, he wrote about Jesse James--Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War; The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt; a book about Custer. And he kind of gave a speech; and he just pointed out that to actually write--he spends about 4-5 years writing each of his books. And his books are just great; and they change the way that we understand our culture. And he just said, he's like, 'Look. Look. These are expensive books to write. It takes 4-5 years of research and writing to actually do this.' And, the way that Amazon is structuring the book market makes it much, much harder for people to actually write books like this. Now, he's fine, because his books are very popular; but he's noted that if were just starting out, it would be much, much, much harder for him to actually do that. What you find in the book market itself--I mean, the 25% drop in income is for the median book writer--if you are trying to get into the book market now, it's just much harder if you are an author. And you may not care because you might think, 'Well, I have plenty of choices for books.' But, a book isn't--having, writing a book about the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the construction of corporate America that's fun to read and compelling and well-sourced--the amount of time and effort that goes into making a book like that is very different than, you know, a book that, you know, George Bush used to read which was called the Fart Book--it was just like a book of fart jokes. It's like--those are both books, and you can say, 'Well, now we have access to more books than we've ever had before.' But, the question isn't whether we have access to more books. The question is whether we have access to a good set of diverse ideas that are compelling and effective--essential for democracy. And I don't think that we actually do. I think the number of ideas that we have access to is drying up. And it's masked by this illusion of choice, which is really what you're pointing to: Look at all this choice.
Russ Roberts: Why is that an illusion? Anybody can go to Medium [Medium.com] right now and write fantastic, long essays; share them with lots of people. Anybody can start a blog.
Matt Stoller: But, again, it's like--what you are saying is that the Fart Book is a book, so it's the same as, you know, Shakespeare. Right? They are not the same product. Like, I can write--
Russ Roberts: I don't think that's what I am saying--
Matt Stoller: But it is. You are saying you can go to Medium and write a wonderful essay. What about going to Iraq and spending a month there and trying to understand the culture and what the conflict has done and actually putting something in writing around that? Those are both very wonderful--
Russ Roberts: You think that's harder to do now than it was 25 years ago?
Matt Stoller: Well, I'm just saying that they're different--I just think that they are different products.
Russ Roberts: Well, of course they are.
Matt Stoller: And one of them takes massive amounts of financing, and one of them takes a smart person sitting, like writing for an afternoon or two afternoons. And you can look at them and say, 'Wow. There's all this great choice.' But, in fact: No. You don't have a great choice. You used to have a whole bunch of foreign bureaus, and they would do a lot of different reporting. And now you have a bunch of different TV channels [television channels], but no foreign bureaus. So, are you really getting more and better foreign coverage just because you can use your TV clicker or look on the Internet and find lots of different people talking about foreign stuff? Of course not. You are getting worse information. It just looks like you have more of a choice. It's like the beer market, right? Where people say, 'Well, look at all of these choices of beers,' when in fact most of all the beer that you buy, or most of the toothpaste you buy, or most of the consumer products that you buy, even though you think you have this great illusion, all these great choices, are in fact made by a small number of conglomerates. You are in effect buying, when you drink a beer--
Russ Roberts: Matt--
Matt Stoller: when you drink a beer you are effectively buying from ABMBev [?Anheuser-Busch/Miller beverages?], even if you think you are buying from some sort of small--
Russ Roberts: Matt--that's a tough case to make. Yes, it's true that Anheuser-Busch and others own a lot of the brands. But, again, this is the greatest time in America to drink craft beer made by hundreds of independent producers around the country.
Matt Stoller: I mean, look, you can say that. But I talk--
Russ Roberts: It's true. I can say it--
Matt Stoller: I talk to independent craft brewers, and what is happening now is you've got this--this massive private equity and conglomerate, beer conglomerate, buy-out media going on. You have ABMBev, which has also kind of concentrated its power in the production of hops, choosing to deny hops to companies that it wants to deny hops to. They have enormous control over distribution. And so you might way, 'Well, this is the greatest time to be alive,' because there's all of these sort of choices. In fact, you don't really have as many choices as you think. And what about the rights of all of those people that want to brew beer, or all those people that want to write books or want to create or want to produce things or want to bring their crops to market? This matters. This is the essence of America, the ability to make things, to tinker, to create--
Russ Roberts: Yeah! I agree--
Matt Stoller: And you are saying that that doesn't matter.
Russ Roberts: No, I--
Matt Stoller: As long as I get cheap, free stuff--
Russ Roberts: What?--
Matt Stoller: And I can pretend like I have this big set of choices--
Russ Roberts: No, I think it's--
Matt Stoller: I think it's fine. But that matters. And you can't discount the fact that those, the rights of those people are being violated. They are--
Russ Roberts: Their rights are being violated?
Matt Stoller: in open and fair markets.
Russ Roberts: Well, I disagree with you totally. But, the way I disagree with you is, I happen to agree with what you said a minute ago, that you said I didn't agree. I agree with you that the ability to bring your talents to the marketplace is what makes America great. I just think those opportunities are extraordinary right now. I think you can write a great book, you can build a great beer, you can build an incredible new line of clothing--they are all over the place. There are all these incredible small companies creating shoes and shirts, and all kinds of things are going on.
Matt Stoller: The rate of small business formation is at a 50-year low.
Russ Roberts: I know. I know. But that doesn't disprove my point.
Matt Stoller: Well, no, but you are not actually--you are just saying these things like it's your impression that these things are true, but in fact there's no data.
Russ Roberts: Oh yeah? Are you telling me, that if I want to, say, learn about--oh, let's say, Chinese history, Russian history, American history, the Civil War--that I don't have more access? That a schoolchild today doesn't have more access than they had, say, 25 years ago, to all kinds of new and fantastic books?
Matt Stoller: Well, wait a second. You are just, you are just running in circles. Right? So, first you said that people have more access to beer and to a whole bunch of--
Russ Roberts: They do--
Matt Stoller: But that's not true! That's just not true. There is less access to--like there are many places you go where you think you are buying independent craft brew and you're not. You think--you are saying--you support open and competitive markets. But Amazon's not a market. Right? Go try to sell on Amazon. Like, see what happens. I mean, I can tell you that Amazon--if your products are selling on Amazon and they are doing well, then Amazon will simply downgrade--like, they will simply start selling it themselves. And when people search for it, Amazon will place their own product ahead of yours.
Russ Roberts: Well, when your book comes out, a monopoly power, on the history of monopoly--
Matt Stoller: No, but I'm saying that's--
Russ Roberts: They're not going to write another book next to it and underprice it. Your book is going to stand on its merit. It's going to get reviewed in good places, presumably, if it's well done. Which I presume it will be. And you will sell either a lot, if it's really good. Or maybe not so many And nothing is going to stop you from doing it.
Matt Stoller: In fact, that's not--in fact that's not true.
Russ Roberts: No?
Matt Stoller: Amazon has enormous power over--first of all, they can decide whether they want to show--you know, whether they want to promote the Kindle version, the hardback version, the paperback version. And they can also decide whether they want to promote used books. So, the used-book version of mine or not. And how the interface looks has a lot of difference. It depends heavily on what flow of money actually moves to the publisher. So, they have a lot of choices. Design choices. They also have choices over copyright and a whole series of other things. So, they can structure--not just whether people just look for my book, but they can actually structure how my book is sold--I mean, I don't have a book out. But, eventually--
Russ Roberts: When you do--
Matt Stoller: Eventually I'll have a book out. But they can make a lot of choices about how those, how books are sold. And also make a lot of choices about how easy it is to find that book, if you are browsing? And as you know--
Russ Roberts: Don't they want me to find it?
Matt Stoller: No!
Russ Roberts: They don't want me to find your book?
Matt Stoller: No.
Russ Roberts: They don't want to sell me your book?
Matt Stoller: No. They don't care if you find my book or not. They just want you to find a book.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, that's true--
Matt Stoller: Or, they want you to watch, you know, Amazon Prime, or whatever. They don't care or whether you are finding the right book for you, or the relationship that you and I have. Just like Facebook doesn't care whether clicking on the thing you're clicking on is good for you, makes you angry, or confuses you, or is from a Russian bot. As long as you are clicking, you are fine. Right? So, these are not markets. These are not well-structured, open and fair institutions--
Russ Roberts: Yeah, I agree--
Matt Stoller: These are controlled intermediaries who have placed themselves between American citizens and our ability to actually interact with each other freely and fairly. We need to[?] rebel against them the way we rebelled against the British East Indies Company. There we go.
Russ Roberts: Mmmm--I'll just say one more thing and then I'll let you have the last word. Which is, this part of what we're talking about is a political question of how best to deal with the fact that some companies have gotten quite large. But, we got off onto a different question--in ways, maybe more interesting--which is: How has this transformation of, say, retailing affected our actual choice, as opposed to our apparent choice? And, what has it done to the livelihood and opportunities for people to be creative? And, I want to make the claim that I think a musician today, an author today, a farmer today, a brewer today, a baker today has enormous opportunities that they didn't have 25 and 50 years ago. For all kinds of reasons, not just because of the Internet, not just because of Google, and not just because of Amazon. But I just think your--the glass is half full for me. Maybe a little more, a lot more than half full, as both a consumer and a creator. And I think other institutions will come along, and have come along, to help deal with this. We see all kinds of ways that--for example, it is expensive to spend 5 years writing a book; and we have more think tanks now--like, you and I are both at a think tank--that gives us the luxury of having, not having to make a living working in a boiler room, as William Faulkner did. And we can work on the books we want to work on. And I think it's a great time for that. But, maybe I'm overly optimistic. I'll give you the last word.
Matt Stoller: I'll say this; I'll finish off with this. I think it could be an amazing time for entrepreneurship. And these technologies are just unbelievable. And they can allow us to create the most wonderful, creative, free society where we can compete and rise and fall on our own merits. But, because of the way that--and we can make that choice to make that happen. But right now, because of the political choices that we've made, the way we structure antitrust, among other things but, the way we see political economy, we have allowed these unbelievable technologies that are kind of, we were gifted, these arts that we were gifted--we have turned them into basically mechanisms to get us to look at ads. And so, somebody at Facebook said that the greatest minds of our generation are trying really hard to figure out how to get people to click on more ads. And that is such a tragedy. Because, imagine what we could do with this amazing technology if the incentives were oriented around political liberty and freedom instead of capturing power over other people.