A major Washington-based think tank's decision to fire a prominent Google critic earlier this week brought to the surface the massive and "disturbing" influence large tech companies have on political debate in the U.S., leading many analysts and lawmakers to call for the creation of an anti-monopoly movement to take on the threat consolidated corporate power poses to the democratic process.
"Your liberties are every day more at risk as long as we allow a few giant corporations—especially in online commerce—to continue to extend their reach into and over the world of ideas."
—Barry Lynn, Citizens Against Monopoly
As Brian Fund and Hamza Shaban note in an analysis for the Washington Post, "funding of think tanks is just one way Silicon Valley is expanding its influence in Washington." Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are also "regularly setting records in their spending on lobbying and are pushing as many as 100 issues—or more—every year."
Such clout has allowed tech companies to exert enormous influence on economic policy, and on the terms of political discussion.
A stark indication of this influence was on display Wednesday, when Barry Lynn, a prominent critic of corporate power, was ousted from the influential think tank New America for praising the European Union's decision to fine Google for "abusing its market dominance."
"[S]ince the early days of the Reagan administration, power over almost all forms of economic activity in America has been steadily concentrated in fewer and fewer hands," Lynn notes in an op-ed for the Washington Post. "This includes retail and transportation. It includes pharmaceuticals and farming. It includes almost every corner of the internet."
This consolidation of private power is not only a threat to "our economic well-being," Lynn observes. It is also a dire threat to democracy itself.
"Wherever you work, whatever you do, your livelihood, and your liberties are every day more at risk as long as we allow a few giant corporations—especially in online commerce—to continue to extend their reach into and over the world of ideas," Lynn concluded.
Matt Stoller, formerly a fellow at New America who has joined Lynn at Citizens Against Monopoly, argued in a piece for Buzzfeed that corporate onsolidation "lets a small group of people exercise control over a much larger group, which results in both extremes of wealth inequality and extremes of political corruption."
"Americans are fed up with monopolies rigging our economy and politics."
—Rep. John Conyers
Judging by recent polling data—and the popularity of lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made concentration of corporate power a central issue of his 2016 presidential campaign—Americans agree with Lynn and Stoller: 71 percent believe the economy is "rigged," and most believe that corporations have too much power.
"It is time for citizens in America and all over the world to stand up to the bullies in our society. It is time to look to the real governors and regulators in America and around the world, the monopolists," Stoller concluded. "It's been more than 70 years since we've seen a broad-based citizens movement against the power of monopoly. It's long past time for one."
Following Lynn's firing, several prominent progressive lawmakers expressed support for the Citizens Against Monopoly effort, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
On Twitter, Conyers declared: "Americans are fed up with monopolies rigging our economy and politics."