In 1911, Theodore Roosevelt – one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable presidents in American history – achieved a feat that would fundamentally alter the United States’ economy. Roosevelt recognized that individual businessmen, most prominently J.P. Morgan, had acquired monopolies on certain prominent industries, and decided that in order to diminish their power, he would need to effect changes that prevented such monopolies from existing. This initiative manifested itself in usage Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which had been put into law during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, but had been neglected by presidents prior to Roosevelt, to justify breaking up trusts such as Standard Oil and the American Tobacco Company into dozens of sub-companies. This decision was considered a major victory of the Progressive Era, and Roosevelt would go on to break up forty more trusts in his presidential career.
Now, over one hundred years later, the issue of monopolies has become relevant again. Apple is famous for its domination of the tech industry, preferred by the vast majority of smartphone and tablet users. A recent Supreme Court decision argued that Apple was prosecutable under antitrust laws, and the Justice Department is moving forward with a probe into the company’s influence on the market. Other similar companies, like Google and Amazon, are also potential targets for this investigation. In today’s world, where most people prefer these companies over other similar options for similar services, the results of future decisions on this subject could define the future of the American economy.
However, not everyone thinks that this action is necessary. The tech world is dominated by companies whose main concern is to turn a profit as opposed to support customers’ actual needs, and some fear that breaking Apple up would provide opportunities for other, more odious conglomerates to stake their claim on the industry and cause more damage. Isaac Rjavinski ’20 is among them. “Apple is far from being the main force of toxicity in the tech industry. It provides an honest concern for consumer choice that it charges a premium for,” he said. “Personally I think that Apple could do well to not inflate its prices so high and also to stop dodging corporate taxes, but I think they’re far from the worst of the bunch in an increasingly crooked tech sector.”
“Government should have a way to check both the marketplace and possible monopolies they can form along with the products,” said Emery John ’20.
Others contend that on a practical level, challenging Apple with the current laws would present many complications. The solution, they assert, is to propose updated laws that could keep up with the rapid development of various industries. Emery John ’20 agreed, arguing that, “American antitrust policies have to be updated to deal with the nuances of a tech-conglomerate filled market.” For example, Apple houses marketplaces selling products from third parties such as iTunes and the Apple Store along with direct sales of products such as iPhones. Google and Amazon are also similar in this way, housing other companies on their platforms. “Government should have a way to check both the marketplace and possible monopolies they can form along with the products,” John added.
It is unclear what the trajectory of this probe will be. There are many potential targets whose businesses could be subject to inquiry under the Supreme Court’s decision, but one thing is clear: in an era of increasingly large-scale digital marketplaces, appropriate regulations need to be put in place.