The Curse of Bigness Antitrust in the New Gilded Age
From the man who coined the term “net neutrality” comes a warning about the dangers of excessive corporate and industrial concentration for our economic and political future.
We live in an age of extreme corporate concentration, in which global industries are controlled by just a few giants firms—big banks, big pharma, and big tech, just to name a few. But concern over what Louis Brandeis called the “curse of bigness” can no longer remain the province of specialist lawyers and economists, for it has spilled over into policy and politics, even threatening democracy itself. History suggests that tolerance of inequality and failing to control excessive corporate power may prompt the rise of populism, nationalism, extremist politicians, and fascist regimes. In short, as Wu warns, we are in grave danger of repeating the signature errors of the twentieth century.
In The Curse of Bigness, Tim Wu, special assistant to President Biden for technology and competition policy, explains how figures like Brandeis and Theodore Roosevelt first confronted the democratic threats posed by the great trusts of the Gilded Age—but the lessons of the Progressive Era were forgotten in the last 40 years. He calls for recovering the lost tenets of the trustbusting age as part of a broader revival of American progressive ideas as we confront the fallout of persistent and extreme economic inequality.
“While the very term ‘antitrust’ may strike many as dreadfully dry, Wu manages to make this brisk and impressively readable overview of the subject vivid and compelling.” —Benjamin C. Waterhouse, The Washington Post
“It’s a big idea for a little book, but Wu knows how to keep everything concise and contained. The Curse of Bigness moves nimbly through the thicket, embracing the boons of being small.” —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“Wu’s gift as a communicator of difficult technical and legal ideas is in full evidence here. Don't let the little package fool you: it's a book with a big punch.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“Tim Wu, in his book The Curse of Bigness, which is a cool 160 pages and politely holds the reader’s hand through about 200 years of American economic policy and practice, argues that the time is now, ‘to control economic structure before it controls us.’” —Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox
“Tim Wu, with [his] short and sharp new book, The Curse of Bigness, is an excellent primer for anyone who wants to understand why corporate wealth and power have grown so concentrated in the past four decades, and why that might be a problem for democracy. Wu is no populist or Democratic socialist; rather, he’s a historian and academic who makes an impassioned case for a return to an earlier interpretation of antitrust law, one focused on power.” —Rana Foroohar, Financial Times
“Persuasive and brilliantly written, the book is especially timely given the rise of trillion-dollar tech companies.” —Publishers Weekly
“Wu joins a rising tide of public intellectuals now trying to rescue U.S. antitrust from the brink of obsolescence.... Like Wu’s previous book The Master Switch, The Curse of Bigness takes history seriously.... He offers an agenda for reform that is both bold and realistic... The Curse of Bigness shows with clarity and precision what such an agenda would look like.” —Frank Pasquale, Commonweal Magazine
“The Curse of Bigness is a useful guide to the evils of privatized scale.... A revitalization of aggressive trustbusting is as radical a proposal as could be taken seriously in the short term, and Wu charts a clear path to temporarily forestall the social ills of an oligarchic private tech industry.” —Evan Malmgren, Dissent Magazine
“A brief diagnosis of our monopolized moment and an eloquent articulation of principles that Wu believes can lead us into an era of shared prosperity, economic and political independence, and, in the words of Brandeis, ‘the right to live, and not merely to exist.’” —Daniel Kishi,The American Conservative
Tim Wu is a policy advocate, a professor at Columbia Law School, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He worked on competition policy in the Obama White House and the Federal Trade Commission, served as senior enforcement counsel at the New York Office of the Attorney General, and worked at the Supreme Court for Justice Stephen Breyer. He is the author of The Master Switch (2010) and The Attention Merchants (2016). He is currently special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy under the Biden administration. @superwuster