How to Save Democracy From Technology

Francis Fukuyama, Barak Richman, and Ashish Goel

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, already powerful before the COVID-19 pandemic, have become even more so during it, as so much of everyday life moves online. As convenient as their technology is, the emergence of such dominant corporations should ring alarm bells—not just because they hold so much economic power but also because they wield so much control over political communication.

Once a company such as Amazon or Google has amassed data on hundreds of millions of users, it can move into completely new markets and beat established firms that lack similar knowledge. For another thing, such companies benefit greatly from so-called network effects. The larger the network gets, the more useful it becomes to its users, which creates a positive feedback loop that leads a single company to dominate the market. Unlike traditional firms, companies in the digital space do not compete for market share; they compete for the market itself. First movers can entrench themselves and make further competition impossible. They can swallow up potential rivals, as Facebook did by purchasing Instagram and WhatsApp.

But the jury is still out on the question of whether the massive technology companies reduce consumer welfare. They offer a wealth of digital products, such as searches, email, and social networking accounts, and consumers seem to value these products highly, even as they pay a price by giving up their privacy and allowing advertisers to target them. Moreover, almost every abuse these platforms are accused of perpetrating can be simultaneously defended as economically efficient.

The economic case for reining in Big Tech is complicated. But there is a much more convincing political case. Internet platforms cause political harms that are far more alarming than any economic damage they create. Their real danger is not that they distort markets; it is that they threaten democracy.

The article's full-text is available here.

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