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Can Lina Khan save us from Big Tech?

by on June 18, 2021

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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.


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”.

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.


How much can a single individual do? Even if they are the Chair of a powerful regulatory agency?

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.


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.


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.


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.


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’.


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?

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