Winners Take All

Winners Take All

The Elite Charade of Changing the World

Anand Giridharadas

Ramo is arguing that the Ubers and Airbnbs and Facebooks and Googles of the world are at once radically democratic and dangerously oligarchic. Facebook emancipates people in Algerian basements to write whatever they want, for all the world to see. Airbnb allows anyone to rent out their home. Uber allows anyone going through financial hardship to download the app and, without much hassle, get started making money. These platforms are pushing power out to the edges—power once controlled by media companies, hotel chains, and taxi unions. But networks tend toward extreme concentration as well. It is no fun if half of your high school friends are on the other social network, so Facebook becomes a de facto monopoly. A core tenet of network theory is that the bigger the network, the more juice it will be able to squeeze from every new connection. Networks, then, are those rare beasts that get healthier, tougher, and faster the fatter they become. This simultaneous concentrating and diffusing of power has real consequences for the distribution of societal power. “Tech people like to picture their industry as a roiling sea of disruption, in which every winner is vulnerable to surprise attack from some novel, as-yet-unimagined foe,” writes Farhad Manjoo, who covers the sector for the New York Times. In fact, he notes, the industry is more concentrated than most, with Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft controlling much of everything.

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