No, but the effort will be worthwhile
There’s usually a point, early on, in any administration, when peak hope is reached. This is the moment when supporters of said regime reach the highest point of optimism, euphoria, and hope. It’s usually not appreciated in the moment, but tragically recognized afterwards, when hopes are dashed, and expectations plummet.
We may have just reached that moment with the Biden administration.
The successful confirmation and appointment of Lina Khan as Chair of the FTC is genuinely an incredible moment and a turning point when it comes to the power of the US digital platforms.
Lina Khan was not just approved to be ON the FTC.
It was just announced that @linamkhan will CHAIR the FTC.
I am choked up. This means so much for workers, equality, community, democracy.
Reagan took a sledgehammer to antitrust and finally we have a leader up to the moment.
— Zephyr Teachout (@ZephyrTeachout) June 15, 2021
Readers of this newsletter should know who Lina Khan is, but if you don’t, she’s an incredibly smart, relatively young, and now powerful critic of “Big Tech”.
Woke up & still feeling excited about Lina Khan’s becoming FTC chair for pretty much the same reasons as when she got nominated. The ideas and strategies she has proposed for years would permanently restructure America’s political economy for the better https://t.co/oecspsEopd
— Edward Ongweso Jr (@bigblackjacobin) June 16, 2021
On Monday, Biden nominated Columbia Law School professor Lina Khan to join the Federal Trade Commission as one of its three Democratic commissioners. Khan has emerged in the past few years as one of the more prominent progressive voices advocating for aggressive antitrust action.
Khan will replace Rohit Chopra, who Biden has chosen to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and who Khan worked for as a legal fellow in 2018. Over the past few years, Khan has served in increasingly prominent roles in antitrust debate and policy formation. She served as legal counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, where she was one of the key architects of its damning report on how digital platforms were flagrantly anticompetitive.
Now, with her nomination to the FTC, as well as that of fellow antitrust advocate and Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu to the National Economic Council, there is hope that Biden is signaling that his antitrust agenda will be an aggressive one. The reaction to her nomination was near-universal praise from antitrust scholars recognizing her impact, the focus of her work, and hope for the future.
As exciting as it may be to see Khan get the job, this now sets expectations really high.
Lina Khan as FTC chair is Zuckerberg’s and Bezos’s nightmare.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) June 16, 2021
How much can a single individual do? Even if they are the Chair of a powerful regulatory agency?
Facebook advertisements, for the past several months: “why yes, please, we welcome a new era of regulation.”
Facebook executives, hearing that Lina Khan will chair the FTC: pic.twitter.com/kdfFBy2ujN
— dave karpf (@davekarpf) June 15, 2021
Don’t get me wrong on a symbolic level this is a very powerful move, and sets an important precedent for a relatively young person to receive such an important appointment.
The Lina Khan confirmation is exciting if no other reason than it shows you don’t have to spend a dozen years grinding in a BigLaw antitrust practice to get tabbed for a top role in the regulatory realm. Going to be a big catalyst towards breaking up the Chicago School consensus
— Brandon Magner (@BrandonMagner) June 16, 2021
I could never imagine a similar scenario here in Canada. We’re just too stiff and colonial. Yet the more this happens, the more it becomes possible.
For example, how about Robin Shaban for Commissioner of Competition?! You read it here first.
However this isn’t just about individuals, or Lina Khan the person, but more importantly the work and analysis she’s already done.
That’s the substance behind this announcement, but also why it might be setting expectations so high as to be unattainable.
With Lina Khan likely becoming the new FTC chair, now is a good time to revisit this great paper she wrote on structural separation and the nuggets strewn throughout about how it could be achieved with just the FTC 😌 https://t.co/5GNWTTxJbf
— Edward Ongweso Jr (@bigblackjacobin) June 15, 2021
Make no mistake, this is going to be fascinating. She will no doubt challenge the institution itself, and push it to the limits of its mandate, which in the US, inevitably involves some kind of backlash.
Joe Biden took a risk in appointing her to the FTC, challenging monopolists and the antitrust. And she didn't play games during her nomination hearing, noting “potential criminal activity” by big tech firms.🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/5uKV8wPpBc
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) June 17, 2021
Which is why it is encouraging, at least as part of the nomination, to see some bi-partisan agreement on why an active if not aggressive FTC is desired.
But Republicans showed good faith to Biden in this case, and 22 of them crossed the aisle to vote for Khan's confirmation. And the right-wing press has been covering her skepticism towards big tech clearly. https://t.co/Cv1seJKeMd
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) June 17, 2021
As Matt notes above, the conservative media is even cautiously optimistic about Lina Khan, which is unusual given the contemporary partisan political culture.
Even Wall Street is recognizing the times are a changin’.
Wall Street takes Lina Khan seriously. FTC is relevant again. pic.twitter.com/miEmIv2wPq
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) June 15, 2021
This is great news. Yet is it peak hope? Is it all downhill from here? Compromise and concession? Trade offs and endless litigation?
Or is this enough of a threat to compel “Big Tech” to settle? To make nice with the US Government and instead return focus on global domination?
Competition law is cool again, and researchers like Lina Khan have helped make it so. Will that continue to be the case now that the critic has the power of the Chair?