Accept the Cookies, but Pull the Blinds on the Panopticon

Are you worried about the influence Big Tech holds over your life? Does the power (or data) these companies hold constitute monopoly power? Should antitrust law be applied to these companies? Can the antitrust laws written in the pervious century even apply to today’s tech behemoths?

In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes back fan favorite Mike Munger to discuss these questions and more. We’d like to hear your thoughts. Share your reactions to the prompts below in the comments, or use them to start your own conversation offline. Let’s keep the conversation going!

 

 

1- How does Munger characterize the role of antitrust today as compared to in the past? Who is antitrust supposed to favor- consumers or producers- and to what extent has this changed over time?

 

2- What’s behind the common notion that firms can “set” prices? Munger insists that firms always want to raise their prices, but he also says firms always have an incentive to cut their prices.

 

3- Munger stops Roberts to nail down the definition of competition. How does the way economists view competition differ from the way the rest of the world views it? Why does this matter in terms of public policy?

 

4- How does Munger characterize the differences between economic conservatives and economic libertarians with regard to antitrust, specifically the Sherman Act? And why does he say, “I think most economic conservatives would agree with libertarians that what antitrust law had become by the post-World War II period was wrong, incorrect, a mistake.”

 

5- What’s the real argument against monopoly? (Munger tells us it’s not about excessive profits on the part of the firm in question…) To what extent does this argument apply to firms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon?

 

6- In speaking of these Big Tech firms, Roberts muses that traditional remedies of antitrust may not be appropriate for these firms; “I think the real issue is these issues of power over what I can see, what I discover, the things that are hidden from me in the search engine and the algorithm.” This leads him to ask Munger, “What can policy do? And, a side note, what could economists contribute to the design of the policy that might be helpful in thinking about whether there should be any constraints on these kind of firms?” What are the components of Munger’s answer, and how plausible do you find each? Why does he insist the answer is a standard property rights solution? Is he right???