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 The Curse of Bigness Review, I summarize the main argument that Tim Wu’s central arguments
In July 1944, a little over a year before the end of WW2, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked tired and sick. Publicly, he was taking month-long rests under the guise of war planning. Privately, he was diagnosed with severe hypertension, heart disease, cardiac failure and acute bronchitis.
The stress of leading a nation at war, rehabilitating a depressed economy and a two pack a day cigarette habit had turned his heart into a time bomb. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but “when” FDR would succumb to a major stroke. Most insiders knew in the upcoming election, a Democratic vote for President was really a vote for the Vice President. It was under these conditions that FDR made a decision that transformed the next fifty years of American history. He removed Vice President Henry Wallace from the Presidential ticket.
Prior to the rise of Bernie Sanders, Henry Wallace was the last true Progressive leader to wield national power. A scientist farmer, and capable administrator, Wallace revolutionized American farming as the Secretary of Agriculture. He spearheaded the New Deal’s most revolutionary and innovative programs, fought concentrations of power, and transformed the Federal Government into a leading incubator of scientific research. He spoke openly about the need to end racial segregation, the benefits of international cooperation, and the importance of economic development. When Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing disease-resistant wheat–it’s estimated that the hybrid grain saved over 1 billion lives—he credited Wallace as his inspiration. He was also popular. At the time of FDR’s decision, a Gallop poll showed Wallace was overwhelming backed by Democratic voters. “Nationwide,” wrote biographers, John Culver and John Hyde, “Wallace’s support equaled the next three (Vice-Presidential) candidates’ combined.” The man who ultimately replaced him, Harry Truman, a generic Democratic Party loyalist, earned 2 percent.
The question is, why? Why did FDR drop Henry Wallace from the 1944 Presidential ticket? Why did FDR want Henry Wallace, the consummate New Dealer, with vast popularity, and support among key voting-blocs removed? It’s one of the greatest “what-ifs” in American history. Critics argue that Wallace’s sympathetic view towards the Soviet Union would have weakened American interests. Supporters argue he would have ended the Cold War before it started. I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer to this question, but I wanted to illuminate 8 key drivers.
The New Deal, a seminal era in American history, saw government take an active role in promoting the welfare of the citizens. In The New Deal, journalist Michael Hiltzik, tells the story of the people, policies, and actions that shaped the nation.
Matt Stoller’s How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul is the best political analysis I’ve read all year. It offers a solid argument to how economic populism fell out of the national narrative—and accelerated the decline of the American middle class.
It’s hard to believe today, but seventy years ago Bernie Sander’s ideas were fairly common on the left. Stoller traces how they became rare. He examines the forces that moved the Democratic party from one in fierce opposition to monopoly power to one that embraced it. I really do hope Stoller has a larger thesis in mind, because I’d love to read a book on it.
I’d recommend reading the entire piece. However, I wrote up some highlights for the lazy below.
In the early 1940s, Joseph Schumpeter, a Harvard economics professor, was researching business innovation. At this time, innovation wasn’t really something that was studied, it was just something that occurred. Outside of Bell Labs, no organization seemed interested in investigating how great ideas came to be, and how they were scaled to society. Schumpeter was one of the first academics to take up the issue. He focused his thoughts on one of the major veins of American industry—railroads. In his lifetime railroads went from a novel invention to a technology that disrupted every facet of the American economy. But his primary interest wasn’t how the railroad connected New York with Los Angeles. It was how it burned a previous economic system to the ground and rebuilt a new—more efficient one—in its ashes. Schumpeter’s key discovery was essentially that competition creates innovation.
Human dried apricot Donald Trump was born on third and thinks he invented baseball. His followers feel forgotten in modern America. But hidden behind his insane belief that a wall will stop migration and America should ban ¼ of the world’s population are some “interesting” economic policy ideas. Donald Trump’s economic policy is interesting because it’s rooted in ideas from the 1600s that have largely been forgotten or excluded from mainstream economics.
In May 2009 The Atlantic Magazine published an article by Simon Johnson titled, “The Quiet Coup.” Today, “The Quiet Coup” stands as one of the watershed articles on the 2008 financial crisis. Johnson, the former Chief Economist of the IMF, argued that roots of the financial crisis was not interest rates or poor people taking out loans they could not afford, but that financially and politically the United States had more in common with Russia than Germany. “Elite business interests,” he wrote, “played a central role in creating the [financial] crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed…”
To put this in entertainment terms, the closest thing to Johnson’s pronouncement would be if Meryl Streep suddenly gave up serious acting and began producing hard-core pornography.
It is also the exact reason it is a classic article.
In 2012 the top 1 percent of Americans took home over 20 percent of the income generated in the country. According to Annie Lowrey of the New York Times, this level of income equality was one of the highest rates since 1913, when the federal income tax became law. Think about that for a minute. Things are more unequal today than when John D. Rockefeller was alive. “That should offend all of us,” President Obama remarked in a December speech addressing the topic.
In a lot of ways income inequality is like climate change. Both are happening, both are exacerbated by our current system, and both threaten to upend the entire world. Deniers of both situations create an environment where facts become debatable. Despite 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing “that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities,” it is still acceptable for a mainstream American politician to argue if it is even happening. The same holds true for income inequality. “In far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people,” Christine Lagarde a managing director at the IMF told a group at the World Economic Forum. If a leader at an organization whose answer to every economic problem is tax cuts and trade liberalization says income inequality is a problem, it is a problem.