Vestager: But then it depends on how would you break them up. Would you say that shopping, local search, maps, should be independent companies? Should the search company be two, three different companies? And you would end up spending a decade-plus, if not two, in courts. And while you do that, the market moves on.
Foer: With Big Tech, do you think that there are any signs that the market will move on? Do you see any hope that a competitive landscape could emerge?
Vestager: No, not as such. But people are changing their perception of Facebook because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal—with people being more and more concerned about privacy. They’re concerned about overwhelming power that they don’t know how to control. Just five years ago, people thought, It’s convenient. I’m fine. There is a new line of thinking emerging that a convenient life and a good life may not be the same thing. And that can carry change.
Foer: So when I was recently in Denmark, your country, there was a sense of foreboding that Amazon is coming. It hasn’t yet made a big push into that market, but it will. I sensed a desire to resist, but also resignation that Amazon would dominate the Danish market.
Vestager: Yeah, but at the same time, the threat is providing a push for innovation. All of a sudden, you can have your groceries delivered again, which is something I remember from my childhood. That’s a good thing. The second good thing is that people are reluctant because of the stories they hear about the working conditions of Amazon employees. It gets people really, really upset. We have such a long history of unions and employers cooperating to make sure of decent working conditions.
Foer: Is there a doctrine to protect commerce and a way of life from the entry of a market participant that you know is going to be able to scale quickly and undercut everybody on cost?
Vestager: I think it would vary from country to country. But you could use zoning restrictions to preserve inner-city business life. We have, in my own home country, very strict restrictions on malls. You’ll find very few of them. So you have sort of a very strong preference for where to do business and the size of retail, so there’s a limit as to, per square meter, how big a business can be. It’s not hostile to foreign businesses. It’s more a line of thinking that people should be able to do their groceries without having a car.
Foer: Are you saying that antitrust is not the be-all and end-all of competition policy and the protection of markets? Maybe that’s a very American way of thinking, and we should be thinking more expansively.
Vestager: Well, I really don’t know what you should do. But I know what we’re trying to do. A diverse market is what drives innovation and quality, and serves the consumer. Of course, competition laws are well suited for that, and in Europe, it’s a very strong tool. It’s a big hammer, but that doesn’t make everything a nail. This is why I mention to you these new pieces of regulation that are now being passed by our Parliament. You need competition law enforcement and regulatory rules. One cannot live without the other to achieve the aims that we have.