Too big to flail? — ‘time for a whipping…’
The youngest person to assume the presidency was Theodore Roosevelt.
In a seminal act Roosevelt delivered a 20,000-word address to Congress asking it to curb the power of large corporations (trusts). Arguably he coined and popularised the pejorative pre-fix ‘big’.
Oil, the playground of a cartel of multinationals since the 40’s came to public prominence in the 1970’s oil crisis — shining a light on the ramifications of having tightly controlled opaque organisations (seven sisters) make decisions central to society.
Big Oil — Similarly in the 1990’s, the tobacco industry faced congress in defence of charges that their products were addictive and caused a range of ailments — most centrally cancer.
Big Tobacco — More recently and certainly topically, the pharmaceutical industry has been blighted by accusations that they operate for sinister purposes and against the public good. Controversially engaging in suppression of negative research and peddling an ever increasing range of product to gleeful consumers resulting in a range of dependencies and epidemics (opiods). Big Pharma
Allowing for the oversimplification to state the case, it’s clear that big oil, big pharma, big tobacco, are all too easy to villanise. Polluting the globe, our bodies and unquestionably selling and marketing product with known dangers to society.
What then for big tech?
Combined mkt cap of FANGMAN (Facebook Amazon, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia) hit fresh ATH at $6.75tn, equal to combined GDP of Germany and the UK.
One could state that unlike its forbears, big tech is considerably more insidious, opaque and removed from reproach. Two reasons:-
1) Not easily comprehensible business models
2) Delivered in an innocuous soft cuddly friendly guise complete with smily face emoticon.
One only has to watch the Zuckerberg congress interviews to realise how far behind the curve most governmental officials are; by and large tech is still considered to be complicated and the preserve of ‘geeks’ and tech aficionados.
Point two may easily be trivialised — however it sets big tech apart. Much criticism against tech is easily levelled through exploration of the huge array of benefits provided by technology.
It has changed every facet of the way we live, work and play — and been a huge positive driving force for much of the innovation and global growth witnessed over the last few decades. Moreover there is no direct ‘obvious’ causal harm from the provision of connectivity and the proliferation of apps, gizmos and gadgets.
Anti-trust, digital taxes, break-ups; we are recently seeing a renewed effort that squarely places Silicon Valley on the same footing as sectors traditionally reviled by the left. Interestingly the lead in this movement has morphed from governmental top down management to grass roots bottom up activism in society. Exemplified by public pressure this week which has led to consumer frustrations->consumer brands->consumer advertising->corporations changing strategy…
This is a non trivial change in the ‘Big’ discussion — historically government and institutions have moved to rein in, manage, and guide these arenas for the collective good. Today an ever informed populace (ironically thanks to tech) bolstered by trends in areas such as ESG and SRI are pushing organisations to adjust and adapt in response to customer needs.
This change has the potential to irrevocably change the face of ‘big business’ — Roosevelt would surely smile heartily on developments that have ushered in a nation of ‘trustbusters’…
A new era of big business aligned better with the needs of society it serves…startups take note.
ESG — Environmental, Social and corporate Governance
SRI — Socially Responsible Investing