Author Archives

Will Meyer is a writer and musician in Western Massachusetts.

Monopoly vs. the Magic Cape

George Benjamin Luks, "The Menace of the Hour," 1899. Wikimedia Commons.

Will Meyer | Longreads | December 2018 | 19 minutes (4,998 words)

As Amazon attempts to wrap its strangling octopus tentacles around Long Island City and the nondescript “National Landing” — a newly renamed portion of Crystal City — in Northern Virginia, one of the words floating in the punch bowl of our popular vernacular to describe the firm’s unchecked power is “monopoly.” The “HQ2 scam,” as David Dayen dubbed it, was never an act of good-faith competition, but rather a cunning scheme to collect data about cities all over the country: What infrastructure did they have? How many tax-breaks was the local (or state) government prepared to hand over to the richest man in the history of the world? What would they do to accommodate a massive influx of professional-class tech workers? The spectacle of the publicity stunt was gratuitous, to put it mildly, but it was also beside the point. In Dayen’s formulation, as Amazon expands from two-day to one-day or same-day delivery, the company will need more infrastructure everywhere. From Fresno, California, to Danbury, Connecticut, at least 236 cities stumbled into Amazon’s HQ2 flytrap: submitting bids — bargaining chips — for the company to use in its quest for monopoly.

The story of HQ2 isn’t about Amazon’s superior products, or even benefit to consumers, but instead how the company is the current poster boy (poster behemoth?) for the unchecked political and economic power of tech giants. Amazon has the ability to drive out rivals, to engage in dirty tricks — like the HQ2 scam — due to its size and inertia. One need look no further than the Forbes billionaire list to see evidence of the damage caused by forgoing antitrust action against tech companies. Zuckerberg, Gates, Bezos are all high on that list. The white collar cops in Washington haven’t bothered them for the most part (they did go after Microsoft enough to scare them in the late nineties, but that was the last serious case), basically allowing these firms to scoop up competitors and amass as much power as they please. Read more…

If the Rich Really Want To ‘Do Good,’ They Should Become Class Traitors Like FDR

FPG / Getty, Collage by Katie Kosma

Will Meyer | Longreads | October 2018 | 11 minutes (2,846 words)

In July of 2015, writer and ex-McKinsey consultant Anand Giridharadas addressed a room full of elites and their good company in Aspen, Colorado. He was a fellow with The Aspen Institute, a centrist think-tank, which was hosting an “ideas festival.” Giridharadas’ talk took aim at what he dubbed the “Aspen Consensus,” an ideological paradigm in which elites “talk a lot about giving more” and not “about taking less.” He earnestly questioned the social change efforts and “win-win” do-goodery promulgated at the business-friendly get-together. In the speech, Giridharadas walked a thin line: both praising the Aspen community which “meant so much” to him and his wife while also laying into its culture and commandments. He dropped the mic: “We know that enlightened capital didn’t get rid of the slave trade,” and suggested that the “rich fought for policies that helped them stack up, protect and bequeath [their] money: resisting taxes on inheritances and financial transactions, fighting for carried interest to be taxed differently from income, insisting on a sacred right to conceal money in trusts, shell companies and weird islands.”

The talk received a standing ovation, though certainly ruffled some feathers as well. An attendee confided in Giridharadas that he was speaking to their central struggle in life and others gave him icy glares and called him an “asshole” at the bar. The conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the speech — which had hardly prescribed any policies — and clearly felt so threatened by it that his resulting column was titled “Two Cheers for Capitalism,” and attempted, albeit poorly, to nip any systemic critique of his favored economic system in the bud. But Brooks too realized that there would be a “coming debate about capitalism,” and his column prompted Giridharadas to post his talk online, stirring lots of debate — not quelching it. Read more…