David Dayen Talks America’s Monopoly Problem (Episode 106)

Date: 6 Aug 2020 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

On this episode of Building Local Power, host Jess Del Fiacco is joined by Chris Mitchell, director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative, and David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. David discusses his latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, which tells the story of the daily impact of monopoly power on Americans’ lives. 

Jess, Chris, and David talk about:

  • The often unseen harms of monopoly power that extend beyond the economic standards by which they are commonly measured. 
  • The pervasive influence of monopoly power in the political system on all sides, and how that contributes to vast inequities. 
  • The lucrative industry that has developed around mergers and acquisitions, sometimes even indifferent to the success of the merging companies. 
  • How the pandemic has influenced the growth of monopolies and the movement that it will take to bring them down to size.
  • The growing body of literature around the antimonopoly movement (check out the resources section below for a reading list!)

“… you have this unbelievable dichotomy where you have this super fast broadband inside Chattanooga and then outside you have kids going every night to Starbucks parking lots to try to catch the Wi-Fi so they can do their homework. And that is a pure political play, that is a pure convergence of economic power from the very concentrated telecom industry into political power, and it’s not limited to Tennessee.”


Jess Del Fiacco: Hello and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought-provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power to people to shape their own future. I’m Jess Del Fiacco, the host of Building Local Power and Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For 45 years ILSR has worked to build thriving, equitable communities where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands. Today I’m joined by ILSR’s Chris Mitchell, as well as David Dayen, who’s the Executive Editor of the American Prospect and the author of the new book called, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. Welcome to the show.
David Dayen: Well, thank you very much for having me on. I appreciate what you guys do and, Chris, for you personally, and ILSR, more generally, were incredibly helpful to me in the recording of this book, so thanks for all you did.
Chris Mitchell: Thank you, and it was nice to see my name in print. I thought I had one quote, I was excited to see I showed up more than once, so that was pretty wonderful.
David Dayen: I aim to please.
Chris Mitchell: I should also say that I really appreciate your work in general but this, in particular, has garnered you praise from the highest of sources from my point of view, and that’s two days ago [inaudible 00:01:20] said that she just finished your book and she said, “Holy cow it’s good. First off it’s funny. Also, it made me super angry.” I don’t think there’s higher praise than that.
David Dayen: Yes, it’s the combination of making someone laugh and want to throw something is usually what I go for. So, that worked out.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. I have to say, I feel like the story telling of people’s backgrounds and then just getting a sense of who these people are, how they’ve been harmed, it’s really good to have it last in our brains after we’ve finished your book, and probably read three other books, we’ll still remember some of those characters.
David Dayen: Yeah. That was the whole point. The idea was now is starting to be kind of a literature around anti-monopoly, stories about the history, stories about just the extreme amount of concentration within the economy generally. What I felt was missing was that personal touch, actually talking to people about the effect of monopoly on their daily life. So that’s what I set out to do, back when you could actually travel in the world I went around and talked to people about how they were living through monopoly. Maybe people didn’t sort of put that name on it, but when we talked about it, and talked about the effects on their life from these large sort of, in some cases, unseen forces they understood it. I think that was sort of the best way to attack this problem and add value to it was to really get at the human element.
Jess Del Fiacco: As you did that, and talked to people, was there anything that surprised you? I think a lot of people might have an idea of certain sectors that are more monopolized, but I’m curious if there’s anything that on its surface maybe we don’t think of as a monopoly, but as you worked on this book you find that there’s stuff going on behind the scenes, or supply chains.
David Dayen: This might not completely answer the question, but what did surprise me was how bipartisan the universe of people affected by this was, and how much they knew that. I talked to someone who her thing was she rented a house that was owned by a private equity landlord, and she had this terrible experience and found out that lots and lots of people are having this terrible experience. She’s a huge Trump supporter. The unit that she bought was owned by Invitation Homes, which is a division of Blackstone. Blackstone, of course, the CEO is Stephen Schwarzman who’s a major confidant of Donald Trump. So, she’s been writing these letters to Trump and Schwarzman on a daily basis.
David Dayen: Another person I talked to, actually for the chapter that you’re quoted in, Chris, is this woman, Carolyn Horowitz, who after I went through this whole thing about how she lives in a rural area, and she can’t get Broadband. She’s had this terrible experience. She tells me, “Oh, I’m a Libertarian.” She talks to me about how Adam Smith knew that monopolies were a problem in his treatise in the 18th century. So, that did surprise me that this does not cut left to right. This is something that affects all of us. People aren’t necessarily, outside of people who are professional Democrats or Republicans, or whatever, people who just sort of live through this they’re partisan identification does not blind them to the problem of monopoly.
Chris Mitchell: When you started that answer I thought you were going to go in a different direction. You talked about how people that are harmed by monopoly are across the spectrum. I thought you might be talking about former Secretary Vilsack and the number of Obama alums, and others on the side that I think many of us would think of has been more anti-monopoly, or at least more anti-large corporations, the Democrats, and how many of them have been getting big paychecks, and big paydays by working for big monopolies.
David Dayen: Yeah, I wish that surprised me.
Chris Mitchell: That’s a good point. That’s a different question.
David Dayen: It’s absolutely true that we have had a bipartisan walk off the field in terms of monopoly over the last 40 years. It may have started in the Republican Party and the Reagan administration guidelines for merger policy, but certainly through the Clinton years, and the Obama years, there has been either an unwillingness, or an active sort of reversal of what was a historical association with monopoly. I believe from 1988 to 2016 monopoly did not appear in the Democratic platform. It returned in 2016, in many ways because of the efforts of your organization and others like it that have really put this on the map and made this a priority. But, for many years Democrats were completely content to not enforce antitrust law, to help with the consolidation of industries, as we read about in the book, in the defense sector, in telecom, and in agriculture.
David Dayen: So, the Obama administration allowed the largest mergers in the airline industry up to that point in history. They allowed the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, maybe because Chief of Staff under Obama, Rahm Emanuel, his brother was on the Board of Live Nation at the time. Just on and on. There are a lot of stories like that, as mentioned [Dillsack 00:07:03], as well, who now works for the dairy industry. A lot of stories about that throughout the book. This is a bipartisan problem and maybe it’ll need a bipartisan solution.
Chris Mitchell: Well, much like calories don’t count when you’re on vacation, I think if you know someone who’s involved in a monopoly industry then it’s okay to let them merge.
David Dayen: Yes, that must be the rule, and since everybody knows somebody then that’s been how the last 40 years have transpired.
Jess Del Fiacco: Could we dig into that a little bit more, just the pervasive influence of monopoly power in the political system on all sides. How is that contributing to major equities like low wages, bad working conditions, et cetera?
David Dayen: Yeah, absolutely. It’s actually pretty powerfully put across in the chapter on telecom and community broadband. So, this is a long fight that I’m sure, Chris, you know about. You can tell it better than I can. I traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee which has the largest, and fastest, community broadband network in the United States, and maybe the world. It’s a 10 gig fiber to the home network that’s put through the utility, which is a public utility. It’s the Tennessee Valley Authority utility system. It’s brought entrepreneurship back to Chattanooga. It assisted in education and telehealth, which now with the pandemic we hear about this a lot, but this was even well before then. It’s really been a boon to the community. If you go three minutes outside of Chattanooga you’re back to dial up, and the reason for that, it’s not because those communities outside Chattanooga don’t want high-speed broadband, it’s because in the state of Tennessee AT&T and Comcast got their legislators to pass a law that said that you can’t deliver broadband service outside the service area if you’re a public utility.
David Dayen: So, you have this unbelievable dichotomy where you have this super-fast broadband inside Chattanooga and then outside you have kids going every night to Starbucks parking lots to try to catch the WiFi so they can do their homework. That is a pure political play. That is a pure conversion of economic power from the very concentrated telecom industry into political power, and it’s not limited to Tennessee, of course. We have dozens of states that have these limitations on community WiFi and community broadband, and even at the Federal level with the judiciary blocking the ability for cities like Chattanooga to move beyond their service area. The FCC decided not to contest that above the Federal district court level, I believe.
David Dayen: That was, I think, a good example of it and you see it kind of throughout. This is why mergers don’t get contested. This is why sometimes you see the Justice Department step in on the side of the monopolists in cases where they stepped in for Hoover and Apple when cities, and other entities, were trying to put limits on them. So, this is just sort of something we see repeated over and over again. It has profound effects, not just on the quality of the products and services that we get. In the airline chapter I talk about how this decade-long fight over leg room in planes has led to a situation where we’re just squeezed like sardines.
David Dayen: What I talk about in the book is all of the ways in which monopolies are quite harmful beyond prices. I mean, we have this sort of directive set up by Robert Bork and people at the University of Chicago that the only thing that’s important when you’re looking at mergers is price. If you can get things cheaper from a merged company then whatever else they do it doesn’t matter, that’s okay. We’re more than our Amazon Prime accounts. We’re workers, we’re citizens, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re small business owners. That all matters as much, if not more, than just whether or not a merger makes a company more efficient. So, I really try to shy away from sort of the price effects and look at all of these other ways in which monopolies have profound influence on society and really control lots of elements of our daily lives.
Chris Mitchell: One of those things is something that I think we’re starting to hear more about but we haven’t heard enough about yet and that’s farm tech. In particular, I think, when we think about, and you cover this well, how the monopolies in the farm hurt the people who own farms. It makes it harder for families to own farms. There’s all kinds of things there. Nestled in there there’s this issue of who knows what’s happening on all of the fields of America. It’s this sort of fascinating thing. I’ve heard other people talk about this in terms of in the future will John Deere make more money making and selling tractors, and repairing them, or will it make more money gambling, because it knows more about what the different futures will be for these fields than anyone else, because they’re the only ones with access to that information?
David Dayen: Well, I thank you for picking that out because there are so many parts of this book that I thought, Well, that could be the whole book, you know. That little area could be the entire book, actually. In my book it’s like two paragraphs, and that’s one example. Yeah, a lot of the information that used to be collected in things like the Farmer’s Almanac, and then in various governmental studies, and charts, that would help farmers decide when to plant, and what kind of seeds might be best for this particular season, or what not, all of that has because sort of proprietary and funneled up to these monopolist agricultural interests, John Deere in particular.
David Dayen: All of that data, through smart tractors, and all of these different things, can be monetized, as you mentioned. It can be incredibly useful for a company like John Deere. Part of this plays into why it’s so hard if you’re a farmer to actually repair your own equipment. John Deere keeps proprietary information on its software, and even goes to the extent that’s saying that when John Deere sells a farmer a tractor it’s only selling them the license to operate the vehicle, not that it’s actually selling them the tractor itself. There’s a very strong movement called Right to Repair that says, Look, if I bought this tractor and it breaks I have to be able to fix it. I can’t go to the manufacturer every time my tractor breaks down, or any other part of the equipment that I use. That’s just a way to gouge me and get more money out of me. Secondarily, it’s also a way to keep that data in the hands of a John Deere. So, there’s kind of a dual purpose to it, and we don’t see this just in farming, right?
David Dayen: Apple has proprietary systems upon their cell phones, for example. You can’t crack them. There’s Right to Repair in all sorts of things. The military, I mean that’s one of the more interesting areas in which military contractors have proprietary locks on their equipment that they sell to military, and when troops are on the battlefield they can’t repair the equipment in theater. They have to send it back or … There’s another case of when … Now, all of our used military equipment goes to local police departments through a program called 1033. So, these local police departments get this thing and they can’t fix it. They have to send it back and it costs them more money than if they never had anything to do with this ridiculous piece of hardware that they probably shouldn’t use on American streets anyway. That’s just an example of how pervasive this is. This is not just about, Oh, I can only buy seeds from one person and so that person can charge me more money. Or, I can only buy a tractor from one company. It’s there’s all this other pervasive elements in which it really comes down to control.
Chris Mitchell: It really seems like sort of the classic heads I win, tails you lose in that John Deere’s going to get that information. The system works well for them but the farmer, his tractor breaks down when he’s planting, or she’s planting. You have to wait a week. Oh, no big deal I’m sure, right? We’ll get the seeds in next week or next month after the tractor’s repaired. It’s a reminder of who wins and who loses. Go ahead, Jess, I think it’s your turn.
Jess Del Fiacco: I was going to say, this is a great time for all our listeners who have gotten to a lever of anger that they need to throw something that we can take that break now. You really probably shouldn’t throw anything right now, but I do want to take a moment to thank you for tuning in to this episode of Building Local Power. If you enjoy listening to the show we hope you’ll consider making a donation to the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Your support makes it possible for us to have great guests, like David, on the show, and it helps us continue our work pushing back against concentrated corporate power. If you want to join us in returning power to local communities, please go to ILSR.org/donate. Any amount is sincerely appreciated.
Jess Del Fiacco: We’re talking to David Dayen about his book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. You touched on this a little earlier, David, but I’m curious what actually happens after a merger takes place. I mean, do we actually get low prices? Did it become more efficient?
David Dayen: Yeah, we don’t. The thing that’s so interesting is that Robert Bork kind of put together this very insular kind of theory about monopoly where he said that, “Well, as long as companies become more efficient then we should allow mergers to get through.” Oh, and also, corollary, “As long as companies get bigger they become more efficient.” So, it’s an impenetrable argument, but there have been scholars that have started to look at this.
Chris Mitchell: If I could interrupt you for one second before you talk about the scholars. It’s the kind of thinking that thinks, Well, if only we could combine the wonderful forces of Comcast and Charter Spectrum then they would finally have good customer service. That’s what’s been lacking, they just need more power.
David Dayen: Yeah, that’s the problem. So, the most prominent scholar that’s looked at this is a guy named John Kwoka. He’s out of Northeastern University. He did a retrospective study, because I guess the government couldn’t do it on their own so they had some guy from Northeastern do it. But, he did this study. He looked at 46 mergers. He checked whether prices did, indeed, go down. What he saw is that 38 of the 46 mergers showed increases in prices on an average of about 7%. So, even on Bork’s own terms, even on the law and economics movement’s own terms, this doesn’t work. Of course, the bigger issue to me is that the law and economics movement leaves out this whole other set of problems that enter into the picture when you’re dealing with monopoly.
David Dayen: You can kind of get any economist to massage the numbers in a way that makes it look like everybody got a deal when two companies merged, but what you can’t do is talk about product quality and inequality, and wages, and the extreme political power that these companies enjoy. We really want to talk about consumer welfare, or maybe we should call it citizen welfare, you can’t just look at price. I think Kwoka’s work is incredible because it punctures just the heart of the argument but, also, I think you have to go further.
Chris Mitchell: Absolutely agree. If you look at the AT&T T-Mobile merger I think we’ll be seeing evidence of that. We’ve seen AT&T in the Time Warner merger. They’ve just broke all of their promises immediately and raised prices. I feel like once again, though, getting back to this who’s winning and who’s losing, there have been winners. When we talk about these mergers I feel like a lot of us that are critical of them will often talk about the Board members, the corporate Boards, the consumers. We don’t really talk about something that you do mention, which is like all of these M&A lawyers. There’s been this 40-year movement, this whole industry that’s grown up to encourage these mergers, not because mergers are good, just because they can make money encouraging mergers. Tell us a little bit about that.
David Dayen: Thanks for bringing up that chapter. It’s one of my favorites. The germ of that chapter was I was reading a story in the New York Times about a big merger between two giant beer conglomerates. This is AB InBev and SABMiller. What’s funny about that is that both of those are abbreviations because they were merged from other beer distributors. So, this ended up creating a company which is called AB InBev, Anheuser-Busch and InBev a Belgium company which sells about 30% of the world’s beer. It’s just kind of an average article about this happened, here’s what the issues surrounding the merger are. Here’s what the market share will be. Then, there’s this paragraph at the end that talks about who advised on the merger and it’s 19 different entities [crosstalk 00:20:52], 11 banks and eight law firms advised the two companies who were involved in it. That gives you an indication of how lucrative this is, that there are sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars on the line for banks, and law firms, in just advising companies on the ins and outs of merger policy.
David Dayen: There’s even a chart that is put together by the industry. They call it the League Tables, and the League Tables show which banks have made the most deals in which particular year. Human nature being what it is those banks want to get to the top of the League Tables, not just because it’s money but it’s also prestige and reputation. So, you’ve not built in this incentive system to merge. One thing that’s important to realize is that the money doesn’t come through and pay off unless the merger goes through, so there’s an incentive there, obviously. No banker is going to be hired on retainer by a big company as an M&A lawyer, a Mergers and Acquisitions banker, I should say, and tell the company, “No, you definitely shouldn’t merge,” because there would be no reason to do that. Your fee is based on getting more mergers. Often what you’re doing is financing the merger through the financing arm of the bank, so it’s a way to add to a different business line, not just the M&A fees, but also the financing fees.
David Dayen: Yes, there’s this kind of pervasive relationship. It’s also done through the way the merger contracts are set up that usually reward the top executives at these companies, which are golden parachutes. Golden parachutes sort of as an idea, the idea of buying off an executive, that really came out of merger policy in the 1980s. It was a way to sort of buy off the executive who was going out the door. This continues in most mergers that you see an executive get a huge payout. The wheels are really greased on Wall Street for more mergers to happen. Whether or not they’re good ideas for the population, or even for these companies, is kind of besides the point.
Chris Mitchell: I think that’s a really important point, because when we look at the results, and a lot of times we’re focused on buying into the narrative that it would be good for them to merge. Like you mentioned with John Kwoka, you’re not actually the first to bring up his studies on this podcast. I think it’s important to understand that it’s wrong outside the frame, and it can be wrong inside the frame, too.
David Dayen: Right, yeah. Absolutely. By the way, the League Tables might as well just be a list of the biggest banks in America, because the biggest banks end up being the biggest M&A banks, because M&A is a large profit center within banking more generally. Those banks gain a certain level of power over the system by knowing all the ins and outs of merger policy and being able to dictate terms to unsuspecting companies. So, I do a long section about a merger between two food chains, distributor chains, that Goldman Sachs was both the lead advisor on and the lead financier on, and they used that power to sort of manipulate the merging companies into giving them a bunch more money, essentially. So, this is kind of a pervasive thing, too, where it’s not just that they’re driving the system toward more monopoly, but they’re also taking large cuts out in the process. Eventually that funnels down to that company needing to make up that money on the backs of their workers, or their customers, or their suppliers.
Jess Del Fiacco: So, it seems like … Well, I don’t want to say we’ve reached a peak because I’m sure we haven’t, unfortunately. We’ve reached extreme levels of corporate consolidation. Do you feel like there’s also new momentum behind the anti-monopoly movement? Do you feel like anything’s changed with the pandemic? I’m sure your book was finalized before that became a part of our lives. Your thoughts on what’s happening right now.
David Dayen: I think there’s momentum in both directions. There’s no question that the pandemic has created a situation that will accelerate this monopoly problem. So, you have small businesses that simply don’t have the reserves that larger businesses do, a program that was put forward to help them, PPP, was time limited. We’re well past the eight weeks of salary that small businesses were able to acquire, and we’re already seeing a lot of small businesses fall out. The other thing is, at the mid-size level we’re seeing businesses weaken and become ripe takeover targets at a discount. So, there’s no question that we’re going to see a lot more consolidation. In addition, the dynamics of the pandemic in terms of changing people’s work patterns, changing retail patterns, all funnels up to companies that already were entrenched in that market, people like Amazon, for example, which I think ILSR has a passing familiarity with. So, yes, we’re absolutely going to see a tremendous acceleration of this trend of monopoly in the near term.
David Dayen: In the longer term, we are seeing more momentum to call these things out, and not just in books. There’s more than just sort of an academic level of this, that it’s really sort of penetrating the political system. My hope is that there’s sort of a movement building around these issues. So, the House Antitrust Subcommittee has put forward the largest investigation on monopoly power in decades, culminating in a hearing with Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai of Google, and Tim Cook of Apple, the first time that Bezos has ever testified, and certainly the largest collection of wealth ever in one hearing.
David Dayen: So, there is movement there. What I tried to do with this book is provide a way for people to get into it, to do the sort of travelog of monopoly and let people understand that the power dynamics, and the power relationships within American society are very much driven by this corporate power, and that the only way that we’ve ever arrested this before, and the only way that we’re going to do it now is through a social movement. In the last chapter I talk about the experience of Israel, which we don’t really think about in terms of policy outside of Palestinian policy in the United States, but which had this terrible monopoly problem. There was sort of, much like us, an academic and journalistic movement to really identify it and call it out, and when the time came when there were large protests on the streets in Israel in 2011, 2012 they became tied up with calling out the tycoons who had these giant interlocking firms that 60 different businesses fell under the hands of one particular tycoon.
David Dayen: This movement, the social movement on the streets, which was, I think, at it’s peak about half a million people in a country of only about 11 million, so a major movement led to change. Even in a right-wing, Benjamin Netanyahu, government there was a concentration law that passed. There were changes to ownership within telecom such that cell phone changes went down by 90%. A lot of these tycoons went to jail for various crimes that they had committed in the course of building their empires. So, I put that forward as sort of an object lesson that, yes, if we build a collective voice at the local level. ILSR has done that. The thing you guys just put out about state and local resources for what they can do to fight monopolies I thought was terrific. I mention a lot of that stuff within the book, actually. If you keep building that and building that and get people to understand that this is a major, major challenge, if not the main challenge, that unlocks every other challenge that we face in America, then we can move towards some change.
Chris Mitchell: I would like to echo that, just the importance of the idea of that movement building no matter who’s in power. We’ve recognized that we can be tough on Democrats while also strongly hoping that Democrats do better in the next election for many of us, but at the same time, dreading that if it’s Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, we’re going to need a mighty movement. No matter what we need a mighty movement. I feel like sometimes those things are put in tension with each other when, in fact, we need to make sure we’re trying to vote in people that might be better, but also that we’re building a movement no matter who’s in power with a reminder that Nixon was forced to create the EPA.
David Dayen: Yeah, absolutely. Politicians like to get out in front of a parade and say that they were leading it all along. That’s the goal. It obviously matters who our elected leaders are, but what you want to do is put them in a position where their success is defined by whether they take the cues from a large social movement underneath them. I think Biden has shown a receptivity to that to a certain extent. There’s certainly anti-monopoly talk within the platform. There was more anti-monopoly discussion in the 2020 primary on the Democratic side than I’ve seen at any time in several decades, maybe since 1912 when monopoly was a major factor in the election, were we going to go with Wilson, or a more regulated monopoly like Roosevelt, or a laissez-faire kind of style like Taft?
David Dayen: I’m hopeful that more people are understanding sort of the forces that are shaping their lives. It really is their lives. It’s not just their economic lives, it’s their lives. I tell this story in the book about this couple who met, they are both third-party sellers on Amazon. They met at a convention for third-party sellers. They got to know each other. They started dating and then they decided to move in together. The day after they did their accounts were suspended, their third-party sellar accounts on Amazon. They tried to find out why, and they were told that, “Well, you now have two accounts at the same IP address and that’s against the rules,” the Amazon rules. They had to get permission from Amazon to live together. That’s an example of this extreme power that these large corporations hold over our lives, that we’re all sort of in Amazon’s private government, or Facebook’s private government, or United Airlines private government where they say, Okay, you have a ticket but we’re going to take you off the plane now, or whoever else’s, T-Mobile, or Comcast, or AT&T.
David Dayen: So, if people have that understanding that there’s a different way to do this, that we could regulate through a democratic process rather than having regulation in the corporate Boardroom for corporate interests without the public interest being in the equation whatsoever. Building that awareness is definitely what I wanted to do with this book, and I think there are other books already here, and coming out, that continue to build that awareness and build that movement towards an anti-corporate kind of movement.
Chris Mitchell: As a reminder, the way you do it in terms of telling the stories is powerful. One of the stories that you tell, I think, what might be our last question, which is this issue of, actually where you talked about with the election in 1912, which is to regulate, or to break up. When I look at your book in many ways it seems like a failure of regulate. I don’t have a reason why I put more faith into the regulators. One of the examples is, you talked about the amount of room you have on a plane for your legs. In talking about how the regulator is supposed to ensure that you can exit, you can empty a plane in what 90 seconds, I think, or something like that, in the event of an adverse situation and yet no one’s actually bothered to check to see if you could do it, except for like … I think one of the protagonists of your book found a video eventually in which it was clearly staged with like athletes piling out of this plane in time.
David Dayen: He didn’t say they were athletes but he said they were quite physically fit, I think is what-
Jess Del Fiacco: Professional plane exiters?
David Dayen: So the FAA unveiled these videos, because I guess they have to do tests that there is a rule that you have to be able to evacuate a plane in 90 seconds in order to be approved for whatever seat pitch, or leg room that you have on your plane. So, you can see these videos. You can go to my index and check it out. Everyone seems … It didn’t look like any universe of people I’ve ever seen on a plane before. I didn’t see a lot of, I didn’t see people with dolls rather than infants, first of all.
Chris Mitchell: It definitely wasn’t a plane into or out of Orlando, which is filled with children.
David Dayen: Right. There weren’t a lot of children. There were, instead of infants they were dolls, and everyone seemed to be in their 30s. Nobody looked very obese to me. It just didn’t seem like a representative sample, and it was very regimented in a way that people in an emergency wouldn’t be. Everybody knew what they had to do and they did it several times until they got it right.
Chris Mitchell: You keep doing the video until you get off the plane in the right amount of time.
David Dayen: Once they gave enough videos that made this work out the FAA allowed this to go forward.
Chris Mitchell: So, that was a convoluted question I asked you, but when you look at things like that does that just suggest that we should err away from regulators. ILSR is much more in the break them up camp. These aren’t separate camps. I mean, there’s overlap and things like that. I really lost faith in the ability of us to regulate our way out of this.
David Dayen: Right. That’s interesting. I think there’s a place for a number of strategies. I think there has to be because it’s such a big problem, to bring these monopolists down to size. So, yes, there’s merger policy but that comes with its own issues. If you think the regulators, you shouldn’t have faith in them, check out the judges. We should definitely look at merger retrospectives, and potentially breaking up companies who exhibit anti-competitive behavior. I think there’s a role for regulation in the case of the airlines. Maybe bring back a form of the Civil Aeronautics Board. There’s a role for public options to create competition the market won’t create, a public bank, a public credit registry for credit reporting bureaus, or any number of things. I think these things can play together, and they can move on all fronts and work in tandem in some places. Sometimes when we think about antitrust policy it’s only thought of in terms of antitrust cases, lawsuits that you file at the Federal Trade Commission, or at the Justice Department. I think we have to think more about a broad anti-monopoly regimen.
David Dayen: Of course, that also does not just implicate the Federal level but like the great work that you guys have done at the state level. So, North Dakota has a rule against chain pharmacies, and so all of North Dakota has independent pharmacists. Since they’re in many rural areas the last line of defense against a kind of a crucial part of the health system, having an independent pharmacist that knows everybody in the community, that is willing to be more than just a dispenser of pharmaceuticals is very important. That’s one example. Zoning laws that block food deserts, or block dollar stores, like we’ve seen in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other parts of the country, are another aspect of that. I think that there are communities all over America that can take from these. It’s not just blue cities on the coast. We’re talking about North Dakota and Oklahoma, right? So, I think we need to move on all fronts because certainly big business is.
Chris Mitchell: I think that’s a great rundown of different options. I just want to throw in one additional one that I’m passionate about and that’s government really making sure that monopolies can’t control that information. That’s ideally by making it available to everyone for free, because that’s what’s going to make the economy more efficient. Government should be collecting information and making it available every way that it can, making sure it doesn’t just fall into the hands of a few people.
David Dayen: Right. Just think about right now. The last two major crises that we’ve had. One was a crisis in foreclosures where the government did not collect any data on exactly how many people were being foreclosed upon. All of that data comes from the National Association of Realtors and private studies. Then, this current pandemic where the major set of data comes from either Johns Hopkins University or the COVID-19 Tracking Project, which is a journalistic project out of the Atlantic. The government does not collect, at a Federal level, in an organized way the data on hospitalizations and testing in cases. CDC does some of this stuff but it’s not seen as the gold standard. So, reinvigorating public data is a major part of this. I absolutely agree. It’s just evident in the last two sort of major breakdowns and failures of the country that we didn’t have the data to understand, track, and try to fix these major problems. So, that’s a very [inaudible 00:39:35] point.
Chris Mitchell: So, we’ve run over. One thing we used to do is do recommendations but I’ll just mention that there’s another book if people really enjoy this that they could read called, Chain of Title, which is about foreclosure crisis, your previous book. The other thing is that the state and local policy guide that you referenced is available on ILSR.org. It’s a great resource that tracks a lot of these local and state policies that people can introduce, and more information around them.
David Dayen: That’s great. Let me just also say just to be generous. There are more books on this issue that are already out, or coming out very soon, Zephyr Teachout has a book called, Break ‘Em Up. Barry Lynn of Open Markets Institute has a book called, Liberty From All Masters, which is coming in the fall. Matt Stoller’s, Goliath, goes into the history of this. Tim Wu’s, The Curse of Bigness. There are a couple books about the tech industry by Franklin Foer, World Without Mind, and a book by Jonathan Taplin called, Move Fast and Break Things. There really is a full bookshelf now on this anti-monopoly situation. I’m happy to see it and I hope that it will spur more discussion of this and give it a bigger role in our policy phase.
Jess Del Fiacco: Well, thank you for joining us today, David. This has been great. We’ll definitely link to all those resources, as well as your new book, in the show notes for this episode and encourage everyone to check it out, because if you listen to this podcast I’m sure it’s content you’d be interested in.
David Dayen: All right. Thank you very much and thanks for all you do.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute For Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to what we discussed today by going to ILSR.org and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ILSR.org. While you’re there you can sign up for [inaudible 00:41:20] newsletters and connect with us on social media. Finally, you can help us out with a gift that helps produce this great podcast and supports the research and resources we make available for free on our website. You can help us out by rating this podcast and sharing it with your friends on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. The show is produced by Zach Freed and me, Jess Del Fiacco. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction Al. For the Institute For Local Self-Reliance I’m Jess Del Fiacco and I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.


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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock.com/martince2

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Jordan Ashby

Jordan Ashby is a Communications Fellow for the Composting for Community Initiative, where she assists with the development and execution of the communications strategy. She received her Bachelor’s degree in American Studies with an Education Studies certificate from Yale University and is passionate about education, equity, and sustainable futures.