On Bigging, and Failing

Everyone loves an end-of-year top ten list, and we can pick from this Biggest Tech Lies of 2018 almost at random:

5. If we’re bigger, it will create more competition. – Everyone who runs a pseudo-monopoly

The most devastating merger of the year was AT&T and Time-Warner’s unholy union into a media machine with a telecom background operating under an FCC with seemingly no interest in policing anti-competitive practices. We still don’t know what the worst of the consequences will be, but we’ve already seen it strong-arm rival cable providers into paying more for HBO and the shut down of a beloved streaming service that wasn’t too big to fail. When AT&T argued that it needed to be bigger in order to create more competition, no one thought that would mean it just wants to plan a bunch of streaming services that will compete with each other and line AT&T’s pockets no matter which one you choose.

We can argue the legality of big companies merging with big companies until we’re blue in the face, but bigness is one of the biggest problems in the world today. The bigger companies are, the more power they acquire and the more difficult it becomes to hold them accountable. Current antitrust regulations have proven inadequate, and they are even more useless when the FTC is so bad at enforcing them.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter are too big to enforce their own policies, Amazon is too big for small businesses to compete against, and telecoms are so big they write laws prohibiting your city from building its own network. Venture capitalists now want to feel that your startup can become either accomplish the impossible feat of toppling one of these giants or that you at least have a solid plan to be acquired by one of the big boys. Bigness doesn’t create competition, it pulls everything into a black hole that’s hostile to consumers and citizens around the world.

It’s practically every problem incarnate, joined as one: Giant companies. By existential ethos, they cannot care about workers, conditions or any negative externalities of the doing of their business. Even the construct ‘big problem’ is itself a kind exacerbated by terminology. In this way, the supposed empirical challenges of capitalism should have actually been understood as a roadmap, as they have been by some, no doubt. But these roads are a leading to a fundamental weakness, a dysfunction in the system itself. It could have been that this way of organizing an economy would work if and only if monopolies and all other rule violations were avoided and all participants observed the rules for the health of the system, if not for the board itself. But the entire endeavor has been predicated instead on getting away with as much transgression as possible. “Tie it up in court for years, damn the torpedoes.” There’s some corollary with ‘Ships being safer kept in the harbor,’ but, we’ll work on that.

Image: Battle of Mobile Bay, by Louis Prang

The Climate Divide

Increasingly, [if you’ve got] green [it] means that you’ll probably get by, while others, because of geography or more likely a lack of resources, deal with the fallout from your resource over-consumption. From the dotearth blog:

the climate divide.” This is the reality that the world’s established industrial powers are already insulating themselves from climate risks by using wealth and technology accumulated through economic advancement built on burning fossil fuels, even as the world’s poorest countries, with little history of adding to the atmosphere’s greenhouse blanket, are most exposed to the climate hazards of today, let alone what will come through unabated global heating.

Like so many things, this situation is highly unjust. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be moved by a sense of social justice. Doing something about a situation you know doesn’t or won’t  effect you personally is the definition of conscience, and hundreds of millions of people live by its code. It’s the way poverty and racial inequality were finally addressed in this country – not simply because so many people got fed with living in poverty or being discriminated against. But also many other people were sufficiently appalled by both or either that they, too, decided that the collective we had lived through, seen and profited from this situation enough, and cast their lot with the cause of justice.

Of course, there were  many people still, not more but many, who felt that those who suffered might yet should suffer more, who were unmoved by the bigotry and oppression and who didn’t want to move too quickly against these or any other injustices. Not quite yet or maybe not at all. And they are still with us, and can be counted on to slow down the climate change debate by emphasizing what we will lose by addressing its root causes. But this is not the collective we, present or future. To unravel the ambivalence about global climate change from a general lack of conscience on other matters would be difficult. And maybe it’s just a coincidence. But it’s probably a greater divide, one we know well, one whose challenge has several times inspired us. And may well again.