Tim Wu on Breaking Up Monopolies in the Age of Google
On the hunt for a 21st-century trust buster
Tim Wu has the kind of résumé that would make the most ambitious helicopter parent smile. A graduate of McGill and Harvard Law, Wu trained under some of the legal world’s biggest names, including Stephen Breyer, whom he clerked for on the Supreme Court. Wu was a professor by the time he was 30; today, he’s settled at Columbia Law, where he co-directs the Program on Law and Technology. Oh, and he worked for the Federal Trade Commission and later the National Economic Council, both under Obama. You might know him for coining the term “net neutrality” or for his 2010 book, The Master Switch, or maybe you voted for him for lieutenant governor of New York in 2014, when he took 40 percent of the Democratic primary.
And yet, for all his time spent in the halls of power, Wu wants nothing more than to change the way America works. Wu’s slender but powerful new book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, is a full-throated call for the government to use its authority to break up our biggest corporations, particularly tech titans like Facebook and Google.
“If you want to change anything, first you have to handle the monopolies.”
The day after the midterms, I reached Wu on the phone at his office in New York. We talked about the future prospects of antitrust politics, his thoughts on socialism and the state of the Democratic Party, and whether he’s auditioning for the role of America’s next great trust buster. Wu says The Curse of Bigness isn’t a job application, but he’s suspiciously well-qualified.
Medium: Why is monopoly the most important, foundational issue for you? Why does everything come back to that?
Tim Wu: We’re dealing with a lot of questions that go back to the issue of concentration. If you look at decades of wage stagnation, huge inequality, that goes back to concentration. And our political system is controlled by those same monopolies too; you run into them whenever you try to make changes. It’s like if you want to change anything, first you have to…