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The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age

(Columbia Global Reports)

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  201 ratings  ·  42 reviews
"Persuasive and brilliantly written, the book is especially timely given the rise of trillion-dollar tech companies."--Publishers Weekly

From the man who coined the term "net neutrality," author of The Master Switch and The Attention Merchants, comes a warning about the dangers of excessive corporate and industrial concentration for our economic and political future.

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Paperback, 154 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by Columbia Global Reports
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Timothy Wu
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I learned an awful lot writing it.
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As the ideological tectonic plates shift in America, many apparently settled matters have become unsettled. This creates, at the same time, both conflict and strange bedfellows, though I suspect the latter will become used to each other soon enough. Such once-settled matters include hot-button cultural matters like nationalism, but also dry, technical matters of little apparent general interest that are of profound actual importance. Among these are the place in our society of concentrations of ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
The second book in a week I have read about the necessity of Anti=trust and the danger of large Monopolies and oligopolies on our democracy. Again wisdom gained in the early twentieth century forgotten and a return to a new gilded age and probably worse if things keep going this way. Antitrust is an important tool to break up concentrations of wealth and power. Monopolies are deadly to liberal democracy. As are other things.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such an important (and short) book on the necessity of reviving old school trust-busting. Wu does an excellent job showing what went wrong (basically, Chicago school econ and Bork). He's absolutely right that the current test is meaningless and the modern tech and media behemoths are too large and monopolistic to be any good for the people and The People in the democratic sense.
Charlie Cray
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I remember going to the House Judiciary Committee-created Antitrust Modernization Commission's sole public interest hearing in DC. There was hardly anyone who wasn't a lobbyist or industry-friendly regulator in the room.

The panel and the presentations were all made by corporate lawyers. When the floor was opened up for public comment, I asked why there were no public interest representatives -- from, for example, consumer groups (after all, modern antitrust doctrine has narrowed the question do
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very short book, it is nonetheless a very timely book. Wu is a law professor at Columbia University. He brought us back to the Gilded Age where monopolies such as Standard Oil use unscrupulous tactics to either buy out or bankrupt their competitors. Then they enjoyed price setting power and innovation suffers, and consumers have to pay a lot more.

More recently however, Bush had settled the Microsoft anti-trust case that ended more than 10 years of hard work. Nowadays it is assumed that the Bi
Breno Ferreira
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book provides some insights that can be extremely important for our generation to deal with some of our biggest challenges.

The main idea is that, from the early 19th century, and throughout the entire 20th century, the US justice system has been dealing with huge monopolies in various industries, and it has done a good job of controlling them, and even breaking up them, so that they don't have major power over society and governments.

The majority of the book is a history lesson about the an
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A few years back this book would not have captured my attention but after reading Wu's "The Attention Merchants", this was the next logical nonfiction selection. In high school, I didn't care about the Sherman Act or appreciate anti-trust laws, downsides of monopolies, concentrated businesses, etc. but now that politics, morals and the conscience of our country leaves much to be desired of late, this book offers important and relevant information that can help preserve our democracy.
We are st
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This book traces the history and theory behind anti-trust regulations, and shows how and why these laws should be more vigorously applied. The necessity of breaking up monopolies is an idea that people on both sides of the political divide can agree upon, albeit for different reasons. For Hu, and many on the Left, monopolies are a problem because their power may come to rival that of the federal government (heaven forbid!). For the rest of us, monopolies are problematic because they have too muc ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Another fallacious argument for the totalitarian state. The guy lives and publishes on tax money, so in his context the argument makes sense: anything that will give him a bigger pension plan as long as he is not paying.

The problem is his readership. So choosing between Google, Apple, Amazon or Facebook is way too hard for them. Somehow they are exploited though free services. Okay. But the solution is a monstrosity. The choice should be entrusted to the one corporation that rules all the lives
David Dayen
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an introduction to the history and current state of antitrust and market concentration, you can't do much better. A slim but important volume.
Jason Furman
An outstanding, short, insightful capsule history of antitrust and antitrust through from the establishment of the Clayton Act in 1890 through the latest issues with the tech giants. All of it written very much for a general reader with little or no law or economics. In many places I would have liked to see much more, but you can find more in Wu’s papers—this book was for a different purpose. Underlying Wu’s version of history is an argument in favor of Louis Brandeis’ approach to antitrust, whi ...more
Philip Bunn
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, quick read that presents a survey of anti-trust legislation, application, and evolution.
Mal Warwick
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The Curse of Bigness highlights one of the most significant policy questions facing American society. The author, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, insists it's time to restore America's lost commitment to the antitrust legislation passed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Break up big corporations, he urges, since the increasing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands has enabled the superrich to get their way with Congress and frustrate the popular will. Not ...more
Lucas Brandl
Jan 02, 2019 rated it liked it
This book really packed a punch for its short length. It provided a history of antitrust law in America, and took several stances about the current environment. I really enjoyed the writing style and the history. I'm not sure where I stand on some of the conclusions.

The history of the Gilded Age, and the rethinking of anti-trust law stuck out to me as particularly engaging. It seems very hard to imagine a giant company being broken up into smaller pieces by the Government today, but this was no
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
interesting history of antitrust and argument that we need to get back to the original interpretations of Sherman Act and overall point of antitrust. Claims that Bork among others led everyone astray in imposing very narrow economic analyses as the necessary basis for splitting up monopolies [or preventing them in first place by blocking mergers].

if i understand it correctly, roughly.....

1. [author, and his heroes like Brandeis from BITD] consolidation of economic power is bad as such, and will
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a short but clearly written and even elegant argument for revitalizing how antitrust law are interpreted and employed in the US economy, with a particular reference to nascent anticompetitive conditions among the small number of surviving technology titans that currently dominate the sector. The target of the argument is the Chicago school focused perspective on evaluating antitrust enforcement primarily in terms of detrimental effects on consumer welfare, as reflected in prices. Profess ...more
Chris Ziesler
An excellent short book on the dangers of unfettered power in the economic and corporate realm. Wu's method of providing a clearly explained historical context for the roots and origins of problems we face today works very well in exploring this contentious area. He makes a very persuasive link between the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century when Industrialists like Rockefeller, Carnegie and JP Morgan were a law unto themselves until they were reigned in by Teddy Roosevelt riding a wave of publi ...more
David Childers
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A brief history of and legal polemic on antitrust law and enforcement in the United States, making a case that contemporary antitrust enforcement standards are overly lax from the perspective of original legal intent and practical outcomes. It is clearly written for a legal audience, with greater focus on the legislative arguments and uses of the word "constitutional" in a variety of contexts that don't quite make sense to me (someone with no legal training) but which presumably are meant to bol ...more
This book is too short. Perhaps it's deliberate, a nerdy sort of joke: a book about the curse of bigness can't be a big book, can it?

That said, the book does a splendid job of providing a survey of antitrust (at 10,000 ft, as it can't get much closer in its scant 154 pages). How antitrust came to be, what it was for, how it changed, morphed, and eventually fell into a deep slumber (where now it rests).

The book is much stronger on its history than in its treatment of the modern era. For example,
Solid and engaging intro to the left-leaning argument for strengthening antitrust law in the age of Amazon and Google. I expected this book to deal primarily with the current state of the tech platforms. Instead, it's much more of a full history, and I found the account of the earlier stages of monopoly power to be the most interesting parts. The robber barons's self-justifications -- that competition was a stage of human development that they were ushering humankind past -- were surprisingly fa ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it
He writes of monopolies historically and in the present. He examines the fight against huge corporations by presidents and the law. He warns that the controls that were put into place in the past to rein in the power of the corporate world have eroded and must be reinstated if we are to have any hope for a progressive future. This is a good foundation for anyone who believes the Citizens United must go.
Rob Anderson
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A slim book by a great writer and thinker. Well-researched and authoritative, this book makes the solid case that we should all care more about the rise of monopolies in our “New Gilded Age” and that modern legal thinking and practice in this area has been misguided. This may not seem like a sexy topic, but allowing things to continue as they are could have negative consequences, not only for workers and small business, but for the marketplace of ideas.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wu tackles the history of Antitrust and how it has seemingly disappeared during this crucial period of the last two decades. The book covers many historical characters related to Antitrust and monopolies that I was not all that familiar with, including Louis Brandeis and Robert Bork. It's a fairly short read, but very informative. Highly recommended.
Rhys Lindmark
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Awesome quick read focused on the law, but didn't expand scope to mention digital affordances (zero marginal costs --> Aggregation Theory).

"The regulatory corollary of Aggregation Theory is that the ultimate form of regulation is user generated."
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am one of many who are frustrated by our country’s unwillingness to confront the FAANGs. This short book improved my understanding of the role of anti-trust actions in our country. I will read Tim Wu’s the Master Switch next.
John Beckmann
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another great book by Tim Wu. This time a very interesting look at anti-trust history in the US, and how it might be one of the single most important policies that needs to be enforced to ensure a free and equal society.
Nadia Jalil
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The slimness of this volume belies the substantiveness of its ideas

If you ever wondered about the ways in which economic and political power have coalesced and what to do about it, I highly recommend Tim Wu’s latest serving of truthsauce.
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Tim Wu is an author, a professor at Columbia Law School, and a contributing writer for the New York Times.. He has written about technology in numerous publications, and coined the phrase "net neutrality."

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