UPDATE: Email exchanges between Slaughter and Lynn have been released.
Google long ago effectively abandoned its original motto of “Don’t be evil” that was part of its code of conduct. They still paid lip service to it for a while but then quietly abandoned even that pretense in 2015. It has become as dangerous a monopoly as Facebook, Amazon, and the old-style mega-corporations like ExxonMobil. While it likes to portray itself as a mere platform for the free exchange of ideas, in reality it is a marketing behemoth.
Its ugly face has burst out into the open with the action that the New America Foundation took against one unit called the Open Markets Initiative headed by Barry Lynn that argued that Google was a dangerous monopoly. The problem is that the NAF is heavily funded by Google and soon after Lynn and the OMI published their results, they were summarily expelled from the NAF.
Barry Lynn, until this week a senior fellow at Washington thinktank the New America Foundation, has spent years studying the growing power of tech giants like Google and Facebook. He believes the answer is yes. And that opinion, he argues, has cost him his job.
This week Lynn and his team were ousted from New America after the New York Times published emails that suggested Google was unhappy with his research. The tech giant, along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt, have donated $21m to New America since 1999. Schmidt chaired the organisation for years and its main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab”.
Lynn, who ran New America’s Open Markets Initiative, said his problems began last June when the European Union fined Google a record €2.42bn ($2.7bn) for breaching antitrust rules and abusing its market dominance.
Lynn posted a brief note applauding the decision and calling on US regulators “to build upon this important precedent”. The post effectively ended his 15-year career at New America, he claims.
Of course Google denies that they had anything to do with the expulsion. But for me what clinched the argument that this expulsion was a retaliatory act was discovering that the head of NAF is Anne-Marie Slaughter. She is a committed neo-liberal and also one of those liberal interventionist war hawks who cheered on the Clinton and Obama warlike actions. She is exactly the kind of powerful Democratic insider who is driving the party into the ditch. Slaughter denies that the criticisms of Google had anything to do with the expulsion of the OMI but her word means nothing. She is exactly the kind of hack who will do what her paymasters tell her to and then deny it.
Lynn has launched OMI as a standalone institute and it looks like it will have staying power. Zephyr Teachout, the progressive candidate who unsuccessfully challenged Andrew Cuomo for the governorship of New York writes about her own involvement with OMI and how she too got summarily fired by NAF.
One of the most important features of Lynn’s work is that he shows the connection between economic and political power. Monopolies threaten small business and beat up labor unions, but they also undermine all of our freedoms. Ironically, Google’s actions proved Lynn’s thesis better than any words can do — when a company becomes too powerful, it starts to act like a little prince, imagining that it can dictate ideas.
I was not a resident fellow, and my paycheck isn’t tied to Google’s actions. But I had kept my fellowship and worked with Open Markets on a regular basis — its work deeply informed my op-eds, scholarship, and talks. But, as of yesterday, my affiliation with New America is over, because Google apparently found the anti-monopoly project too threatening.
We will continue our work — I have agreed to be the board chair of a new organization, comprised of the same team, doing the same work. We will be launching in the fall, and I am helping to create a new digital campaign, Citizens Against Monopoly, to help channel the tremendous public concern that we know exists around monopoly power. Google’s actions make it more important than ever that we stand up to fight monopolies. At the end of the day, this is about freedom.
The growth of monopolies in the US has been apparent for some time as increasingly the government has been shirking its duty to prevent them from forming or to break them up when they occur.
The breakup of the Bell system is akin to Watergate and the Ellsberg papers. The fact that unethical groups were held accountable once is used as propaganda to protect a corrupt system (“see, the system works!”) while steps are taken to never allow it to ever work again.
I saw a comment on this elsewhere with which I agree so completely I’m simply going to quote it in full:
Is this really surprising? Even if what he claims happened did, in fact, happen… who knows if it did or not. When someone pays you to advocate on their behalf or for their causes, you can’t attack them instead and expect to keep getting paid. It is not censorship to decide not to continue to write checks to a group who has decided to attack you or your company or the causes you originally thought they supported. It is one thing if someone stops you from expressing your opinions. It is another to expect to be paid by the groups or people you want to express negative opinions about.
I note nobody has in fact stopped Lynn from expressing his opinions, and indeed “Lynn has launched OMI as a standalone institute and it looks like it will have staying power”. This says to me that the repeated use of the word “fired” is manipulative hyperbole. Lynn was not an employee in any sense most normal people would recognise. A more honest characterisation of what happened would be “Thinktank is required to find funding from another source after attacking original funder, succeeds”.
This is not to defend Google -- its market dominance is indeed worrying. Then again, I’d rather be ruled by Google than Trump.
Marcus Ranum says
I have all the research done (but not the writing) for a piece about Google’s finances. They’re not just evil marketing creeps -- they’re thoroughgoing evil corporate scum along the Andrew Carnegie/J.P. Morgan model.
Mano Singham says
Your rationale for the firing in undermined by both Google and Slaughter who deny that the firing had anything to do with OMI’s statements on monopolies. Why don’t the two of them simply and proudly say what you argue, that they fired Lynn because he wrote negative things about Google and they are justified in doing so because Google writes them big checks? The reason they don’t is that big corporations use these kinds of think tanks to advance their corporate agenda without having their fingerprints on it. They like to promote the idea of supporting ‘neutrality’ as long as the neutrality favors them.
Tabby Lavalamp says
Capitalists have argued that unfettered capitalism leads to competition leading to a greater variety of choices, but anyone who cares to look can see that this isn’t true at all. The natural drive of unchecked capitalism is acquisition and monopolization.
Large companies will always cut every corner they can if it is legal, and they will consider cutting those that are not. The larger the company, the more likely ‘considering unethical things’ becomes ‘doing unethical things,’ and will simply consider the slap-on-the-wrist fines part of the price of price gouging. And monopolies are by far the worst of all.
@mano, 4: I think you’ve asked and answered your own question without undermining my point at all.