The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age

Tim Wu. Columbia Global Reports, $14.99 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-0-9997454-6-5
In this short but persuasive book, Wu (The Attention Merchants), a Columbia law professor, connects the current political climate to a decline in antitrust enforcement. From the rise of U.S. Steel and Standard Oil through the “trust-busting” days of Teddy Roosevelt, Wu shows how antitrust laws, as championed by Louis Brandeis (who coined the term “the curse of bigness”), once functioned as a check on private power. In the modern era, however, enforcement has steadily declined; the George W. Bush administration did not bring a single antitrust action in eight years. The results, Wu argues, are a widening income gap and corporations subverting electoral politics. In the 20th century, he writes, “nations that failed to control private power and attend to the needs of their citizens faced the rise of strongmen who promised a more immediate deliverance from economic woes.” The book’s brevity is an asset—Wu skillfully avoids economic and legal rabbit holes, keeping the book laser-focused on his thesis: that antitrust enforcement must be restored “as a check on power as necessary in a functioning democracy before it’s too late.” Persuasive and brilliantly written, the book is especially timely given the rise of trillion-dollar tech companies. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/24/2018
Release date: 11/01/2018
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