Antitrust Reform Is Cool Until You Talk About The Duopoly
So interesting that Republicans and Democrats are talking about antitrust reform for a few big businesses while ignoring theirs.
The Hill reports that both parties are thinking really hard about antitrust reform. Republicans are talking up antitrust reform after they learned that Facebook would not let former President Donald Trump back on their social media platform. They’re worried that a company like Facebook or Twitter can ban someone from their platforms, exercising power to silence conservative views. Democrats are involved, but they don’t seem very committed. Most of the news talk about antitrust law has been about social media platforms, not about mergers and acquisitions. Noticeably absent from the discourse is the political duopoly maintained by both the Republican and the (not so) Democratic Party.
I notice also that few are talking about the root cause of the lack of antitrust enforcement in the first place. Both major political parties created the conditions that gave rise to the dominance of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The laser focus on social media and technology platforms is a distraction from other monopolies that Democrats and Republicans have protected, like banking, real estate, and telecommunications monopolies.
I’m interested in competition law reforms, too. I didn’t like it when Microsoft had its monopoly on personal computer operating systems. I have enjoyed the rise of Linux, Chromebooks, and Macs. I have enjoyed watching cell phones take over and demolish the landline. And I enjoy having a reasonably priced gigabit fiber connection to my home through community broadband networks. I appreciated how Tesla was able to take on the entire auto industry to redirect it to making electric cars instead of internal combustion engines. Every major carmaker is producing or planning to produce electric cars. But I see a real lack of enthusiasm in replacing our two-party duopoly.
This lack of enthusiasm for breaking up the political monopoly maintained by both major parties is why I think the discussion about breaking up the big tech companies is mostly for show. If we want to get serious about reforming the business landscape by breaking up the monopolies of big tech, then we will have to talk about breaking up the political monopolies built into our government. I think that real antitrust reform won’t get far unless we break up the political monopolies first.
I also think that we need to compel our politicians to prove they are serious about competition reforms in our economy when they spout off about it. If we want reform, we need to press our representatives about reforming the political system. We must point out to them, on the record, that the cause of the monopolies they complain of is the political monopoly enjoyed by the two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans. Then and only then can we have a serious discussion about reforming our economy to allow greater competition.
We can start by instituting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). RCV has been instituted statewide in the states of Maine and Alaska. It has also been implemented in the state of Utah for local elections. Wikipedia has a nice map charting the present state of RCV in the United States. RCV is a powerful tool for breaking up the duopoly, but it’s not the only one available.
Another trend slowly working its way through the nation is non-partisan redistricting commissions. Non-partisan redistricting commissions (combined with really good software) can design districts that don’t look so much like Chinese Dragons. If the software used to draw legislative districts can be designed to favor one party over another as we saw in the movie, “Slay The Dragon”, redistricting software can be used to favor the citizens over political parties, as it should. We can use open source redistricting software to place the people before the politicians for a completely transparent process.
Another idea that I’ve seen is multi-member districts or proportional representation. An article on this subject on Wikipedia describes how proportional representation is used in Scandinavia:
Two-tier party list systems — as in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In Denmark, for example, the country is divided into ten multiple-member voting districts arranged in three regions, electing 135 representatives. In addition, 40 compensatory seats are elected. Voters have one vote which can be cast for an individual candidate or for a party list on the district ballot. To determine district winners, candidates are apportioned their share of their party’s district list vote plus their individual votes. The compensatory seats are apportioned to the regions according to the party votes aggregated nationally, and then to the districts where the compensatory representatives are determined. In the 2007 general election, the district magnitudes, including compensatory representatives, varied between 14 and 28. The basic design of the system has remained unchanged since its introduction in 1920.
Take note that this system has been in use for a century in Denmark and they have been conspicuously absent from wars and they don’t cause very much trouble abroad. I guess if more people are represented, the idea of starting a war begins to look politically unattractive. Note also that Denmark isn’t a daily feature in the news. They work they play, they live and they die, but they’re taking pretty good care of themselves.
We could change the way our people are represented for greater peace. It seems to me that the shootings, the riots, and the economic messes we’ve seen in recent years are a result of a lack of representation or, “good governance”. Just imagine that instead of one representative for one district, we can create larger districts with 3, 5, or 10 representatives for each district. The various parties compete for those seats, and with enough seats, we can have more political parties representing a greater range of views in each district, and that would prevent a duopoly from happening again.
Congress has had a re-election rate well above 90% for decades, but their approval rating has been stuck in the gutter for just as long. With more than one representative per district, we can eliminate the “safe seats” that now run Congress. We can require that more than one party is represented in each district in order to prevent one or two parties from monopolizing national or state politics.
There is nothing in the Constitution that really limits the number of representatives in the House. presently we have 435 representatives for a population of 328 million people or, 750,000 people per representative. We can change this with an act of Congress. The number of representatives is set by law, not by the Constitution, which means with enough votes, we can increase the number of representatives for all of us.
Now let’s compare. India has 1.366 billion people and a “House” with 552 representatives, each representing 2.4 million people. India has 8 national parties and still they manage to get something done for the people or they would not have more than a billion people to care for today.
In China, they have 1.398 billion people represented by 2,980 members of parliament. That works out to about 469,000 people per representative. China a better ratio than ours. Granted their government is pretty authoritarian, but they are running a bigger economy than ours and they’re slowly pulling all of their people out of poverty. Their average savings rate is far higher than the American savings rate, 44% to 8%. Unfortunately, there is only one political party to choose from in China. And they learned a lot about how to concentrate power among a tiny minority from us.
In this video by Harvard professor Larry Lessig, he starts by describing the unrest in Hong Kong back in 2015. He demonstrates that China has a candidate selection process that is very much like ours in one respect: the selection process for successful candidates in national politics is controlled by 0.02% of the people. In America, we have a money primary that determines who rises to national power with remarkable accuracy. That money primary is controlled by 0.02% of Americans, and they are very, very wealthy.
Now, look at the European Union. They have 447 million people with a parliament of 705 members, and that works out to about 634,000 people per member of parliament. They have a slightly lower concentration of power by the numbers, but they also engage in coalition governments because they have so many political parties. No single political party has ever held a 50% majority in the European Parliament because they have at last count, at least 8 major groups vying for control of the legislature. They don’t suffer from a political duopoly as we do. With a wider range of political views represented in government, they have a wider scope of debate than we do.
Regardless of how we approach the duopoly, what’s important now is to point out the hypocrisy. A two-party system that has a monopoly on national politics has little incentive to change the business climate that supports them. Worse, that two-party system is an enormous concentration of power, and that’s tempting for big business to influence. Every time a wealthy corporation, foundation, or think tank gives money to a politician, they drown out the voices of the rest of us.
But if RCV can crack the door for smaller political parties to get into the halls of power, the big parties will have to demonstrate honesty to keep their positions of power. Proportional representative districts can further erode the duopoly by making room for more than two parties in American politics. That means competition for power, and that also means that in order to keep the seat, a representative must actually serve the people he or she claims to represent, or lose that seat to someone doing a better job. With more political parties in our Congress and statehouses, we will see a wider range of topics up for debate and legislation.
In American politics, we are trapped in a walled garden that never lets us stray far beyond a predetermined scope of debate. Look at how long it took us to get serious about Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, civil rights, and voting rights. Two parties are not enough to solve the problems we face if we’re going to solve them. Adding ranked-choice voting and proportional representation will erode or destroy the concentration of power we must contend with now. To get those tools in place we must expand the scope of debate by asking our representatives why two political parties should have a monopoly on power in America. We cannot solve the problem of business monopolies without solving the problem of political monopoly first.