In the inaugural episode of the new podcast from the Stigler Center and Chicago Booth Review, economists Kate Waldock and Luigi Zingales probe the dangers of marrying business power with government power—without once uttering the name Trump.
“You mean you’re not worried?” says Luigi Zingales. “This guy has an enormous amount of economic power … and now he might become the president of the United States with all the power that the presidency gives to you. You put them together, this guy becomes too powerful.”
“Yeah but he’s powerful because he was a good businessman,” co-host Kate Waldock replies. “Why is that such a big deal?”
The problem, Zingales stresses, is that when you mix “power that comes from business and power that comes from government [it] becomes absolute power. And as you know absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Not saying his name might be a favorite subversive strategy for #TheResistance, but in this early exchange from the pilot episode of their new podcast Capitalisn’t, Zingales and Waldock don’t use the words “Donald Trump” when fretting about merging tremendous market power with tremendous political power because, well, they’re not actually talking about him at all. The stated aim of Capitalisn’t is to examine “what works in the current market system and what doesn’t,” and to that end the potential market-distorter-in-chief that the hosts are concerned with upon the launch of their new podcast is naturally … Mark Zuckerberg.
“Hail to the Chief of Facebook” marks the pair of economists’ opening gambit in their new effort to fix capitalism, not destroy it. “We’re more critical of capitalism than the left and more supportive of true capitalism than the right,” they say by way of introduction. The first question on their agenda: “Whether a President Zuckerberg would give the social media giant [Facebook] a dangerous monopoly. Should government regulators do something to limit its power?”
Though Waldock protests at the outset that the topic is not an economic but a political issue, Zingales—ever reminiscent of his home country of Italy’s experience under the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi—argues that the two spheres are inextricably linked when, as in the case of Facebook, the potential politician also controls a highly popular news source.
For Zingales, the solution to the specter of an American Berlusconi taking office lies in better enforcement of antitrust regulation. After all, it follows that monopolists can’t take over the government if there are no monopolies. The ensuing twenty-or-so minutes of the pilot feature much technocratic back and forth between him and Waldock over 1) what a monopoly even is, 2) whether monopolies are actually a problem, 3) whether Facebook is one, and 4) whether antitrust law in its current form is adequate to address the kind of monopoly that Facebook probably is. Waldock insists that a revamp of antitrust law is needed, while Zingales laments that doing that would take far too long. “We need something fast—in particular if, God forbid, Zuckerberg becomes president,” he frets. “Can you imagine? Now he is going to rewrite the law—and you know how it will look.”
If all of this feels a bit beside the point, though, it’s because it probably is, as Waldock points out in her wrap-up:
“If we had impending regulation that was about to revise antitrust, that was about to make antitrust tougher on media companies, or was about to make it so people actually owned their own data… if those types of regulation were on the horizon and Mark Zuckerberg announced his presidency, then I would be like, ‘Oh, he’s obviously going to veto them as president.’
“But the sad thing is that they’re not even on the horizon—and it doesn’t feel like Mark Zuckerberg running for president would even change much. And that’s the biggest problem.”
In short, if antitrust were able to save America from the prospect of absolute business and political power corrupting absolutely, the moment for heroic trustbusting may have passed rather a long time ago. The choice left to us now—the listener is left thinking—appears to be which wielders of business power will be the ones to govern us.
Though we’re not naming any names here.
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Disclaimer: The ProMarket blog is dedicated to discussing how competition tends to be subverted by special interests. The posts represent the opinions of their writers, not those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty. For more information, please visit ProMarket Blog Policy.