Review: The Curse of Bigness by Tim Wu

Image via Flickr

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, spent the last decade establishing himself as one of the pre-eminent antitrust thinkers. In the Master Switch and The Attention Merchants, Wu used a wide-angle lens to examine the implications of the rising information cartels on American business and society. In The Curse of Bigness, Wu takes a magnifying glass to industrial concentration and the economic and political dangers it creates. The book succinctly distills a generation of research into one easily digestible volume. In this post, I will review and summarize the main argument that Tim Wu makes in The Curse of Bigness.

The Monopolization Movement

  • In the early 20th century what became known as the Trust Movement took control of American economic and political life. Finding its’ roots in social Darwinism, the trust movement imagined a nation based on survival of the fittest, where one ultra-strong private monopoly controlled every single industry in America.

Democracy Strikes Back

  • Wu’s core argument is inspired by the works of Louis Brandeis — “an advocate, reformer, and future Supreme Court Justice.” This section serves as a recap of Brandeis’ dominant philosophy.
Tim Wu via Flickr

The Trustbuster

  • Enacted in 1890, the Sherman Antitrust Act was the first attempt at combatting monopolization. The law was incredibly broad and lacked specific enforcement powers — leaving it relatively toothless without strong administration.

Peak Antitrust and the Chicago School

  • The movement against antitrust began at the University of Chicago — a school founded by the owner of the most gigantic trust in history — John D. Rockefeller. Led by Aaron Director and Robert Bork, it held that mergers should only be stopped if they were to impact consumers through monopoly behavior.

The Last of the Big Cases

  • AT&T was given a government-sponsored monopoly to maintain the nations communications infrastructure. In the 1960s the government began investigating the company — although it never went to trial.

Chicago Triumphant

  • Wu outlines how the Chicago view eventually became the standard of which antitrust was administered in America.

The Rise of the Tech Trusts

  • Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are now the four core Trusts of the information industry. They defend their business not through a better product, but by creating monopolist moats around their industries.

The 15 word “The Curse of Bigness” Review

A great and readable primer into perhaps the most important issue of our time: modern antitrust.