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So Wait, People Really Think The Barr DOJ's Investigation Into Google Is In Good Faith?

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Late last week, news emerged that the DOJ would likely be bringing a massive antitrust lawsuit against Google. Reports suggest this is the culmination of a full year of saber rattling by Bill Barr, who has made "antitrust inquiries" into "big tech" a top priority at the DOJ:

"the DOJ's antitrust inquiries into Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley powers has become a priority for Attorney General William Barr, who has asserted greater control of the probes and has said he wants to make a decision on Google by the summer."
The news was quickly met with celebration by numerous folks, many of whom have correctly noted that US antitrust enforcement has become toothless and frail, and our dated definitions of monopoly need updating in the Amazon era. The announcement was also highly celebrated by a litany of folks eager to see Google's domination of search, advertising, and other sectors disrupted -- for both justified and competitive reasons.Oddly, much of the coverage of the DOJ's potential antitrust case operated under the premise that Barr's efforts are being conducted in good faith, and might actually result in useful remedies at the end of the battle. The problem with that assertion is multi-fold. One, Bill Barr just got done making it abundantly clear his DOJ isn't actually interested in the rule of law. The Trump DOJ has also made it abundantly clear it's not above weaponizing antitrust for petty grievances, as we saw with the ridiculous lawsuit against California over vehicle emissions.Barr's DOJ also isn't what you'd call consistent on antitrust and monopoly enforcement, either.Barr's DOJ, for example, just got done rubber stamping the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, despite a laundry list of warnings from economists that concentration in the telecom sector would reduce competition, raise rates, lower overall sector pay, and result in up to 20,000 to 30,000 job losses. Yet DOJ antitrust boss, Makan Delrahim, not only rubber stamped the deal without listening to experts, he used his personal phone and email accounts to help ensure deal approval. That is what "antitrust enforcement" looks like at Donald Trump and Bill Barr's DOJ.The DOJ's lawsuit to hamper the AT&T Time Warner lawsuit was also treated with furrowed brow seriousness by the press, despite it being well out of character for a Trump administration that generally panders to AT&T, has a less than zero interest in consumer protection, and usually has no problem with industry consolidation -- provided you're an ally of the administration. There's ample indication the DOJ's lawsuit was driven by Trump's disdain for CNN and his ally Rupert Murdoch, who saw two attempts to buy CNN rebuffed by AT&T and had been working overtime to scuttle the deal for competitive reasons.Why is monopolization in telecom and other sectors ok, and monopolization in Silicon Valley not ok? Because, as we've noted previously, much of the Barr DOJ's sudden, uncharacteristic interest in "policing monopolies" is being driven by the telecom sector (Barr you'll recall used to be Verizon's General Counsel). Giants like Comcast, Verizon, and others have been hungrily eyeing Silicon Valley's stranglehold over advertising revenues for the better part of the last fifteen years, and there's absolutely no doubt in my mind they're driving a lot of the anti "big tech" animosity you're seeing from the likes of Bill Barr and Marsha Blackburn, whose interest in consumer protection, level playing fields, monopolies, or consolidation is utterly nonexistent on any other Sunday.A desire for stronger antitrust enforcement or concern for monopoly domination isn't what's driving the Barr DOJ here, and press outlets assuming this is a good faith effort are clowning themselves. It's being driven by telecom sector allies and Trump pals like Rupert Murdoch, who are eager to boost their own advertising market share. It's also being driven by heaps of partisan nonsense about how Conservatives are being "censored by big tech," which as we've documented repeatedly isn't based on anything remotely resembling reality.None of this is to say that there aren't very obvious monopolistic problems Google presents that need addressing. And the separate antitrust inquiry by state AGs (expected this fall) is far more likely to be conducted in good faith, even though there too you have a lot of AGs that were just fine with monopolization in sectors like telecom. But anybody who thinks the Barr DOJ's effort in particular is driven by a genuine interest in reining in monopoly power simply hasn't been paying attention.

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posted at: 9:35am on 26-May-2020
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