Matt Stoller comes from the anti-monopolist tradition in America. Given the strident screams of neo-liberal ideology that any constraint on business is bad, this sounds like a positive economic position. However, there is more to this than first appears. Matt manages to link the anti-trust issues to anti-China issues. This step involves some extraordinary footwork. But the clue to this may lie in his statement that one cannot be heard in Congress or taken seriously at high levels of US politics if one is not anti-China.
In an interview on ‘New Economic Thinking’
Stoller then begins a diatribe against China. Among the more amazing allegations is that China was responsible for outsourcing US jobs and for the lack of capacity in the US to produce PPE equipment. Simply put, the outsourcing revolution was a response to the rise of Japan and its relentless competition. It started with the ‘Little Tigers’, but China had a greater population and labour availability and a poorer population. Even today China is often only a stage in the supply chain. This means that if China is taken out of the supply chain, its position will be replaced by another offshore location rather than a ‘return’ of jobs to the US. Basically, the jobs were lost once East Asia provided a significantly lower cost base. If the US did not use these assets then its European competitors would have done so. Further, if these jobs had not been lost then China and East Asia would not be a market for higher value US products. Already General Motors makes more cars in China than it does in the US. Hollywood sees China as a significant market. Unless the Chinese had jobs, there would not be any effective demand and so no market.
During the post-2008 melt down it was reported that the European luxury goods producers were kept alive by continuing sales in China. These are not complicated or obscure arguments, but Stoller is not trained in economics, so basic tenets of international trade appear to be over his head. He appears to only understand competition policy, particularly from a populist angle.
He has a vicious attack on Obama that seems almost personal. Obama’s presidency was that of a consensus-driven politician and most of his policies reflected the dominant consensus policies of his day. Obama’s presidency can be seen as a disappointment for those who wanted radical changes in domestic policy. Neo-liberals were still in the ascendancy. It is hard to see how he would implement any policy that lacked consensus support if he could not close Gitmo, a heavy election commitment. Stoller vilifies Obama and adulates his former vice-President. What gives here?
Biden is in a different place, and the rise of the concentration in big-Tech between 2008 and now is astonishing. Most of the gain in concentration has arisen since 2012. In 2008 they were barely on the horizon. So why does Stoller seek to pretend that big-Tech were seriously on the political horizon in 2008?
I think the answer is quite obvious. Stoller works in competition policy and has written a book on this – ‘Goliath’. Biden has turned to heavily credentialed and long time researchers in this field. Scholars who have heavily invested in researching at leading law schools and the likes of Lina Khan. Stollers interest is great, but his credentials are weak. Lina Khan was at Yale, Stoller was at Harvard. Lina Khan (32) has JurisD in law and teaches at Columbia Law School. Stooller(43) only has his BA from Harvard.This web interview is clearly an application for a job. On his personal website are endless quotations from his earlier work on pages where he seeks to show how ‘on board’ he is with Biden’s agenda. He disses Obama in order to praise Biden.
He makes Biden out to be a new FDR despite the fact that all he has done is sign an Executive Order. To have any significant impact, he will need to get support in Congress and here the jury is out. A more measured response is from Vox:
‘To be sure, how Biden’s executive order will fare in the real world remains to be seen. Some aspects of it would require legislation from Congress. Many of the rules this calls for will take months or years for agencies to put in place. And there are likely to be challenges in the courts, which have become more lenient on antitrust cases in recent decades.’
A key indicator of expectations would be the stock price for Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft. These show not even a minor dip which suggests that the stock market treats the Executive Order’ as so much hot air intended for show, prior to the next interim elections. This would suggest that the markets assume that Biden expects the proposal to be rejected by the Republicans allowing the Democrats to paint themselves as the party of small business and the common man.
Stoller is not so much of the left as a populist, perhaps a libertarian populist. One can be a right or left wing populist. One can also be a populist war-monger.
What then are the Big Lies? The first is that Obama had any constituency in Congress to go after Big -Tech or during a financial meltdown when the monopolies were on their knees to go after monopolies on antitrust grounds. His second Big Lie is that if the jobs had not gone to China they would have stayed in the US. It is as if South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and now Viet Nam, did not exist. One should not include Stoller’s claims that China seeks to impose its political system on the US, that China is seeking to impose regime change on the US, as a Big Lie. That is utter hysterical fantasy. If Stoller really believed it, one would have to recommend medical assistance (i.e. to suggest that he take plenty of water, lie down and await the ambulance). But as with all Big Lies, they improve with the retelling.