“Break ‘em up with antitrust” is a popular and surging political drumbeat. This essay argues for a closer look at history and experience. They show that breakups of integrated single firm monopolies (which were not the product of mergers) have been rare and difficult. The essay takes a special look at the breakup of Ma Bell — a restructuring that needed to happen — recalling that even this rare success took a decade after the trial to implement.

By Eleanor M. Fox & Donald I. Baker1

        

I. INTRODUCTION

“Antitrust” had been a low-profile technical discipline for decades. But then came the rise of Big Tech/Big Data platforms, an explosion of public fear that the platforms are taking over our lives and minds, political campaigns highlighting their alleged predations, and the emergence of a popular narrative that goes like this:

The Big Tech firms are pervasive, abusive and dangerous; enemies of the people. They subvert democracy and the economy. They misuse our data, they gobble up rising stars, they sabotage firms that compete on their platforms, they wall-in their gardens and dig moats around their castles. They spread disinformation and nurture divisiveness. They are too big and powerful. Antitrust is the tried and trusted tool. Break ‘em up.2

We write this essay to push back on the myth-telling and to cast a clear eye on what is the problem and what are the questions that should inform any restructuring

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