You can’t help noticing the badge of success in American business has changed. Robber barons a century ago built monopolies, then palaces. In our second gilded age today, winners at the Bezos, Branson, and Elon Musk level need their own private space programs to play astronauts, floating in space to certify the excess of our staggeringly uneven contest for rewards. One risk of showing off at that height is the sort of reaction building in Washington this summer. President Biden is out front against the digital monopolists. He says: “Rather than competing for consumers, they’re consuming their competitors. Rather than competing for workers, they’re finding ways to gain the upper hand on labor.”
Stimulating the US economy is one thing, reforming it is something else. President Biden has been bold on the first, with record re-start borrowing. But he’s sounding still bolder this month with an executive order really to redesign an unregulated, digital playing field that took its own ungainly and mismatching shape over the last two or three decades. The missing pieces are competition and regulation, Mr. Biden says. Monopoly power, pricing, and profits are the real monsters in a mess that could kill the country. That’s shorthand. But Biden’s people say there’s an “intellectual revolution” behind his remedies. It’s that revolution we mean to tease out and test this radio hour. How bad is bigness itself? Do the damages in dollars and cents have to be spelled out? Do the Biden remedies meet the Ralph Nader test?
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