One progressive Beltway think tank has learned the Golden Rule in politics the hard way: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. And when that “whoever” is a massive corporate entity that throws its weight around in direct proportion to its gold, well, heaven help those who bother to point out that danger. The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel reports that the Open Markets unit at the progressive think tank New America has been cut loose after one of its scholars dared to endorse an anti-trust judgment on Google and mention the threat that Google might represent to, y’know … open markets.
But don’t be evil, y’all:
The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left.
But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had chaired New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar. …
Ms. Slaughter told Mr. Lynn that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways,” according to an email from Ms. Slaughter to Mr. Lynn. The email suggested that the entire Open Markets team — nearly 10 full-time employees and unpaid fellows — would be exiled from New America. …
“We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points,” Ms. Slaughter wrote in an email to Mr. Lynn, urging him to “just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.”
Slaughter, by the way, served as one of Hillary Clinton’s advisors at the State Department during the Obama administration. She spent the 2016 election cycle supporting Hillary by defending the Iran deal and the TPP, the latter just before Hillary reversed positions and opposed it.
This certainly could get chalked up to biting the hand that feeds you. New America stood to lose a lot of its funding if it didn’t respond to its patron. Furthermore, Google/Alphabet and Schmidt have no requirement or duty to fund organizations that lobby for policies detrimental to their business. In that sense, this reaction provides a classic example of an open market in the think-tank industry.
In another free-market development, Lynn has already launched a new effort to pick up where Open Markets left off. Called “Citizens Against Monopoly,” it provides a timeline for the Open Markets-New America partnership, and their analysis of its abrupt end:
Is Google trying to censor journalists and researchers who fight dangerous monopolies? Sadly, the answer is: YES …
When our research team at the New America Institute criticized Google’s monopoly practices, the chairman of Google’s parent company threatened to cut its funding for New America.
Unfortunately, New America instantly caved in to Google’s power, shutting down our program and cutting all ties to our team.
Vogel reports that Lynn has some funding already in place for his new project. It won’t come from Alphabet or Schmidt, obviously, as Lynn pledges that “we are not going to let Google get away with this.”
To use another old saying, though, one has to wonder how these fools and their money came together in the first place. Why would a progressive think tank — presumably with the progressive tendency to oppose Big Business — seek that kind of partnership with Google, one of the biggest and most politically influential businesses of all? If Google wants to oppose anti-trust enforcement, why would they back progressive think tanks, rather than free-market think tanks with their support for traditional laissez-faire policies? And if New America was in that deep with Google, why did Open Markets stick around this long?
Open Markets fellow Lina Khan gave an answer to that, of sorts, in a tweetstorm this afternoon. When their group began scrutinizing the tech sector along with more traditional areas of the US economy for anti-trust action, suddenly New America lost its nerve:
11. Monopolies wield economic and political power. Google's power threatens not just our markets but free expression and information
— Lina Khan (@linamkhan) August 30, 2017
Yes, and that’s true both inside and outside of Google. When it came to James Damore’s “free expression,” though, progressives seemed pretty keen on voting him off the Island of Wokeness. Reason’s Scott Shackford is suffering from whiplash today:
Are we switching sides on the wokeness of Google right now?
— Scott Shackford (@SShackford) August 30, 2017
Hey, man, just don’t be evil. And if you want to know what the definition of evil is, you’d best look it up on Google … or else.
Addendum: As an aside, I think this also demonstrates why conservatives really should be more interested in pursuing anti-trust enforcement, too. I wrote about that last month at The Fiscal Times, and this episode is a good demonstration of the problem I pointed out:
That ignores a key frustration among voters outside of those cultural and political power centers, however. They feel left out and cut off from the forces that impact their lives. Trading off Big Corporation for Big Brother only escalates the problem. They can see the impact of corporate consolidations in their communities in the storefronts on Main Street and the difficulty in starting businesses that compete with chain retail and service corporations. As manufacturers consolidated, they packed up operations and moved out of these communities, and the people who lived in them had fewer and fewer choices and options. Political parties ignored those fears or sometimes outright ridiculed them.
It’s that economic, cultural, and political disconnect that fueled populism on the Right, on which Donald Trump capitalized by acknowledging and legitimizing it. Republicans took this as a culture-war opportunity, but they’re missing a large part of the problem by overlooking Main Street economics.
Republicans may feel uncomfortable taking a more aggressive policy on antitrust enforcement, but it does fit with a dedication to small government and federalism. Increasing consolidation in the marketplace concentrates economic power into fewer hands, and economic power eventually will get expressed in political terms. Our massively complicated tax codes and regulations serve as traditional vehicles for rent-seeking behaviors by corporations less interested in free markets than in squelching competition.
If the GOP truly wants to bring conservatives and populists together on economics and governance, they need a measured and assertive approach to antitrust enforcement. Populism is all about returning power to the people, while modern conservatism has limited government and subsidiarity in power at its core.
Republicans are already far better positioned to take advantage of this opening. A failure to recognize this advantage will leave the field to those who propose big government as the only alternative to big business. That’s an old deal whose time came and went decades ago, but which still tempts voters in the absence of a clear and consistent alternative.
As another aside, I no longer write for TFT, which has reoriented itself away from politics and opinion to focus strictly on fiscal matters. I enjoyed my time there tremendously, however, and they are keeping everyone’s old columns accessible through their website.