Review: Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness

cover photo -Curse of BignessThe Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. Tim Wu

Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School, probably best known for coining the term “network neutrality.” In The Curse of Bigness, Wu turns his attention toward the growth, concentration,  and accumulating power of a handful of global corporations. He makes an argument that this growth is not an unalloyed good, that market forces by themselves are insufficient to counter the negative consequences of amassing power, and that current government policy is aggravating these consequences rather than ameliorating them.

Wu’s approach is to revisit an earlier era of rapid growth and power accumulation in the U.S.—the Gilded Age at the beginning of the 20th century. That era and its excesses provoked a compensating government response in the form of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the policy decisions on how to interpret and enforce it. Wu is no fan of the Chicago School’s legal or economic reasoning. Here’s one example that captures Wu’s point of view and demonstrates his skill with language to boot;

Jumping from theory to reality in a novel way, the Chicago School then asserted that that which did not exist in theory probably did not exist in practice. Robbing banks is economically irrational, given security guards and meager returns; ergo bank robbing does not happen; ergo there is no need for the criminal law. Exaggerated only slightly, this premise has been at the core of Bork-Chicago antitrust for more than thirty years

Income inequality and increasing concentration of wealth has been a topic of much debate. The Curse of Bigness offers a brief and compelling argument that these results are not an outcome of natural law but of decisions about how and whether to enforce actual laws. I wish that he had some more reassuring thoughts about whether our current political processes can bring about that change in perspective, but this is worth your time regardless.

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