Over the past year, the old idea of enforcing market competition has gained renewed life in American politics. The basic idea is that the structure of the modern market economy has failed: There are too few companies, most of them are too big, and they’re stifling competition. Its supporters argue that the government should do something about it, reviving what in the United States we call antitrust laws and what in Europe is called competition policy.
Stronger antitrust enforcement—it’s enough of a thing, now, that Vox is explaining it.
The loudest supporters of this idea, so far, have been from the left. But this week, a newer and more secretive voice endorsed a stronger antitrust policy.
Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities, according to an anonymously sourced report in The Intercept. This means they would get treated less like a book publisher and more like a telephone company. The government would shorten their leash, treating them as privately owned firms that provide an important public service.
What’s going on here, and why is Bannon speaking up?
First, the idea itself: If implemented, it’s unclear exactly how this regime would change how Facebook and Google run their business. Both would likely have to be more generous and permissive with user data. If Facebook is really a social utility, as Mark Zuckerberg has said it is, then maybe it should allow users to export their friend networks and import them on another service.