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Lina Khan, the new antitrust chief who takes on Big Tech

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Just before Halloween in 2013, Lina Khan he toured the vast selection of sweets at his local Safeway supermarket and walked away with a disturbing revelation.

The approximately 40 brands of candy on the shelves offer only a wide range of consumer choice; they were actually owned by only two or three pastry chefs. Khan, a junior politics analyst at the time, was as scared as she was wrote about it in Time magazine. “If we want a healthier, more diverse market – and more variety in our Halloween sections – we can start by reviving some of our antitrust laws.”

Khan’s criticism of corporate power has gone far beyond Big Candy. He explored issues of concentration and monopolistic behavior in sectors ranging from airlines to poultry and metals, drawing similar conclusions. And it has begun to draw its attention to the excessive influence of the market Big Tech, eventually becoming one of his most vocal and prominent critics.

So when Khan, who is only 32, was this week exploited from U.S. President Joe Biden to chairing the Federal Trade Commission, the first regulator of the competition, has sent shockwaves through Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The prevailing expectation is that she will now seek to usher in a new era of antitrust law enforcement in America.

“She’s in charge now, and she’s going to be scared,” says Robert Kaminski, general manager of Capital Alpha Partners, a political research group in Washington. “He has the hammer and all he sees are nails,” he adds.

Khan was born and raised in London, to Pakistani parents; the family moved to the United States when he was 11 years old. The first suggestion of his interest in unfair behavior came soon.

A Starbucks coffee shop across the street from his high school in Mamaroneck, on the northeastern outskirts of New York, was preventing teenagers from sitting down because they were too clumsy. A furore went away, which Khan made headlines in his school newspaper and which was later picked up by the New York Times.

Khan continued to attend Williams College, where he studied political theory. After graduating, she came to Washington with a job at the New America Foundation, a center-left center, which allowed her to pursue entrepreneurship and competition.

“Where we once had a lot of independent companies, a lot of local companies, a lot of variety,” she said he said in 2012, “now we see only a handful of companies controlling almost every industry.”

Khan finally landed at Yale Law School, and in January 2017 she published in the Yale Law Journal the article that would catapult her to fame: “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox».

The piece went viral. “It can almost be thought of as the first article in what soon became a kind of renaissance of antitrust revisionism,” says Robert Hockett, a professor of social law at Cornell University.

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At the heart of Khan’s philosophy is the idea that companies, including Amazon, have benefited from antitrust scrutiny for decades, a period during which low consumer prices became the dominant factor in defining consumer policy. competition. She envisions a different antitrust regime, similar to the one that existed before the twentieth century, when American authorities did not hesitate to break monopolies.

Amazon declined to comment on its appointment.

“What it really does is bring antitrust and market policy back to the status quo ante, from the 1920s through the 1960s, even the 1970s,” says David Singh Grewal, professor of law. at the University of California at Berkeley.

People who know Khan – who is married to a cardiologist – describe her as modest and even a little reserved.

“I really maintain a private life that is private,” Grewal says. “It’s easy to think of it as the ‘millennial’ view, sometimes called ‘hipster’, antitrust, but it’s so different from the social media phenomenon driven by the personality that grows around it.”

After graduating with a law degree, Khan became a professor at Columbia and also worked with the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think-tank in Washington. At Capitol Hill, he helped invent the probe for the House of Justice’s antitrust subcommittee on Big Tech. Many Republicans are still wary. “His views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a cautious approach to the law,” Utah Senator Mike Lee said in March.

But Khan’s situation has risen in democratic circles, moving away from traditional Big Tech critics like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to include more leading politicians like Biden. Despite this, while she was expected to earn a spot at the FTC as a commissioner, few anticipated that she would be chosen to effectively lead the agency.

“It simply came to our notice then. And I attribute that to the fact that she was incredibly visionary, ”says Kate Judge, a professor at Columbia University’s law school.

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Project on Economic Freedoms, calls Khan the “Simone Biles” of the antitrust, referring to the U.S. Olympic gymnast. “Demonstrating that America has this massive concentration crisis… Has played a role in making people more traditional. Democratic circles understand that a complete turn of the page was needed…. And that it was that obvious. to help guide this. ”

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