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The case for ending Amazon’s dominance
January 18, 2018 FT | Tim Harford.

Amazon offers:
* consumers, choice and convenience and a shopping search engine that is Google’s only serious rival,
* start-ups cheap, flexible cloud computing services to start and scale up.
competitors, e.g. Walmart tough competition,
* television networks, a tough competitor,
* Apple loyalists, a competing tablet computers at a price to make stop and think.

economists argue that corporate America is underinvesting.....rather than take a long-term view.......Amazon should be the shining counterexample....The online retailer’s strategy is driven not by short-term profit but by investment, innovation and growth. If only there were a few more companies like Amazon, capitalism would be in a happier spot. But there’s the rub: there aren’t more companies like it. It’s unique, and an increasingly terrifying force in online commerce. Should regulators act? If so, how?....

Begin by disposing of a poor argument: that Amazon must be challenged because it makes life miserable for its competitors, some of which are plucky mom-and-pop operations. However emotionally appealing this might seem, it should not be the business of regulators to prop up such businesses......Antitrust authorities should not be in the business of making life easy for incumbents. What, then, should they do? There are two schools of thought. One is to focus on consumers’ interest in quality, variety and price. This has been the standard approach in US antitrust policy for several decades. Since Amazon makes slim profits and charges low prices, it raises few antitrust questions.

The alternative view — which harks back to an earlier era of antitrust during which Standard Oil and later AT&T were broken up — argues that competition is inherently good even if it is hard to quantify a benefit to consumers and that society should be wary of large or dominant companies even if their behaviour seems benign. ....The narrowing in antitrust thinking is described by Lina Khan in a much-read article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”. Ms Khan berates modern antitrust thinking for its “hostility to false positives”.....Tim Harford disagrees, he shares modern antitrust’s hostility to false positives; there is a real cost to cumbersome and unnecessary meddling in a dynamic and rapidly evolving marketplace. US president Donald Trump’s history of publicly attacking Mr Bezos is worth pondering too: Harford asks, "do we really want the US government to have more discretion as to who is targeted, and why?"....Yet for all this,Tim Harford remains deeply uneasy about Amazon’s apparently unassailable position in online retail. Yes, customers are being well served at the moment. Yet the company has acquired formidable entrenched advantages, from the information about customers and the suppliers who sell through it, to the bargaining power it has over delivery companies, to the vast network of warehouses. Those advantages were earned, but they can also be abused.

Antitrust authorities face a difficult balancing act. Regulate Amazon and you may snuff out the innovation that we all say we want more of. Punish it for success and you send a strange message to entrepreneurs and investors. Ignore it and you risk leaving vital services in the hands of an invincible monopolist.

There are no easy options, but it is time to look for a way to split Amazon into two independent companies, each with the strength to grow and invest. If Amazon is such a wonderful company, wouldn’t two Amazons be even better?
Amazon  antitrust  AWS  contra-Amazon  competition  regulators  informational_advantages  Lina_Khan  mom-and-pop  platforms  predatory_practices  Tim_Harford 
january 2018 by jerryking
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