Tim Wu Proves the Peter Principle “Authoritarian Proposals in the Language of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Openness'”

June 29, 2021

Elizabeth Nolan Brown has an insightful piece in Reason on Tim Wu, the “neo-Brandesian,” “big is bad” antitrust theorist now in a senior policy position in the Biden White House.

Brown notes that Wu had warned of a dystopian hell that would descend upon the world if his net-neutrality policies were not enacted. Wu would have, he wrote in Slate, explicitly rejected lower consumer prices as a goal. He would have given all internet players equal bandwidth, “potentially making the user experience at highly trafficked sites poorer – while consumers across the board must pay more, possibly placing the digital reach world out of reach for some.”

Failure to embrace his scheme, Wu said, would mean the internet as we know it would cease to exist. Flash forward to 2021: It still exists.

“In many professional arenas, such a swing and a miss would have consequences,” Brown writes. “At the very least, it might make people think twice before trusting your sky-is-falling predictions again. In Wu’s case, it landed him an advisory role in the Biden Administration.”

She catalogs Wu’s hyperbole and errors from his writing. He says that there are “no longer hundreds of stores that everyone” goes to “but one everything store,” meaning Amazon. This ignores the multitude of stores on and offline, including the world’s largest retailer, Walmart.

His policy proposals are equally at odds with reality. Wu wants, she writes, “the Federal Trade Commission to automatically investigate companies—even those suspected of doing nothing wrong—if they have been a market leader for 10 years or more.”

Brown asks: “What incentive would U.S. companies have to innovate or build long-term relationships with customers if after 10 years of success, the government is guaranteed to intervene?”

She quotes a critic who notes that while Wu worries about the supposed power of private actors, he is complacent about the fact that only the State has a monopoly on force in society and can thus penalize and imprison people. All that matters for Wu is to put the government in firm control.

“All of this, he asserts, would somehow ‘free the political process’ and protect democracy, economic security, and human flourishing. It’s a signature move for Wu, who often couches authoritarian proposals in the language of openness and freedom.”