New Toys and New Tyrants: Capitalism and the Rise of Platform Economics
For decades, America has celebrated the people and institutions of the high-tech economy. The sector has brought us extremely useful and fun new toys and tools, from smartphones to spreadsheets to social media to video games. These devices and apps have remade the way we work, play, date and cope with emergencies. The leading figures of the tech industry have become the very richest people in the world, and the five biggest corporations in America are all companies operating online platforms of different types, for search, shopping, and socializing.
But as the industry has risen to the highest levels of wealth, power and influence in our society, an uglier side has emerged. The network-based economics of the industry favors technical standards and large bodies of users and developers, creating an irresistible drive toward monopoly and other forms of corporate concentration. And since the industry’s commodity is information, these unbelievably gigantic companies have come to know everything about us, about huge sections of the economy, and how we can cope with major crises like covid-19.
In this Olio, Professor Rob Larson, author of Bit Tyrants: The Political Economy of Silicon Valley, will dissect the Big Five platform giants, put their economics under a microscope, and review the record of the online companies. The story includes flashes of genius and cruel abuses of power, surveillance wider than totalitarian states can manage, and an incredible new center of social and economic power within capitalism.
Teacher: Rob Larson
Rob Larson is a professor of economics at Tacoma Community College and author of ‘Bit Tyrants: The Political Economy of Silicon Valley’ as well as ‘Bleakonomics and Capitalism vs. Freedom’. He writes for Jacobin, In These Times, Current Affairs and Dollars & Sense. Find him @IronicProfessor on Twitter.