Opinion

The New Gilded Age Needs its Roosevelt to Take on Big Tech

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Posted: Apr 22, 2022 12:01 AM
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The New Gilded Age Needs its Roosevelt to Take on Big Tech

Source: AP Photo/John Locher

"History doesn't repeat itself," Mark Twain observed, "but it often rhymes." 

Twain's saying seems prophetic when comparing the Gilded Age monopolies he satirized to today's Big Tech monopolies. 

Like the tycoons who built America's railroads, today's "digital railroad" companies like Google and Facebook that connect us online have generated unprecedented sums of wealth and power for just a handful of enterprises. Modern Robber Barons wear hoodies in Silicon Valley instead of top hats in the Rust Belt. 

Make no mistake. These underdressed tech titans are the new aristocrats, and their monopolies pervade our lives in ways that Rockefeller and Vanderbilt could not have dreamed of. Big Tech hoards the digital data we provide to fuel their algorithms that keep us hooked on their products that drive their vast wealth.

However, the most palpable effect of Big Tech's impact on our lives is its transformation of our local communities. Small businesses, which give communities not only their jobs but also their character, are being driven out of business due to Big Tech's anti-competitive practices. During Big Tech's reign, the number of small retailers has fallen by 65,000, and today, three-quarters of independent retailers see Big Tech's dominance as a major threat to their survival. 

Tech monopolists have shuttered local papers across America and funneled their wealth to aristocrats on the coasts. These Goliaths are beginning to behave more like nation-states than companies, just like their Gilded Age predecessors. As he took on the oil, steel, and railroad magnates, President Roosevelt understood that he was responsible not to the monopolists, but to the will of the American people.

Once again, the people have spoken. According to Pew Research, 68 percent of Americans believe that "social media companies have too much power and influence" in today's economy. 

Fortunately, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, like Teddy Roosevelt before him, understands how working people can check the excesses of tech monopolists. Senator Cruz has fought for our nation's small businesses and voted to advance the American Innovation and Choice Act, prohibiting dominant platforms from abusing their power by favoring their own products or services over their rivals, often small and local businesses, and establishing penalties for violations. He also understands Big Tech's threat to free press and speech and has long warned that Big Tech censorship is "the single greatest threat to democracy." 

Senator Cruz's unapologetic fight to rein in Big Tech ought to be lauded by his constituents. I encourage Senator Cruz to extend his leadership further to support other pro-competition, bipartisan legislation such as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA).

Big Tech is protected by U.S. antitrust laws, which prevent local and smaller, independent conservative news outlets from negotiating as a group. The JCPA would allow such news outlets, including this newspaper, to negotiate with Google and Facebook to secure fair compensation for local journalism. The bill is also content neutral and can preserve diverse points of view, especially conservative ones, against the excesses of Big Tech. As we saw with the 2020 election–and in particular the Hunter Biden Laptop censorship scandal–Google and Facebook's stranglehold on online news has given them unprecedented control over the information and has made the Silicon Valley aristocrats the arbiters of free speech. 

The echoes of history call on public leaders to take a stand against monopolists, just as President Roosevelt did in the Gilded Age. It is time for Republicans and the rest of Congress to follow Senator Cruz's lead and take on Big Tech's grip over our communities and lives.

Mike Davis is the founder and president of the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative grassroots advocacy organization that opposes Big Tech and seeks to hold these companies accountable for their bad acts. He was previously chief counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.