Starring Lina Khan as Ursula

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Well, it's mostly about the Federal Government's war on successful companies that consumers like. Based on the theory that you're too fricking stupid to avoid those companies, or too masochistic, or something.

So let's get to it:

  • It's a perfectly cromulent word. Liz Wolfe at Reason sums up the news: Amazon Gets Sued Bigly. And her lede is spot on:

    Lina Khan is why we can't have nice things: Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Amazon, accusing it of suppressing competition and "illegally forcing sellers on its platform to use its logistics and delivery services in exchange for prominent placement and of punishing merchants who offer lower prices on competing sites," per Bloomberg.

    "Amazon is a monopolist and it is exploiting its monopolies in ways that leave shoppers and sellers paying more for worse service," said FTC Chair Lina Khan to reporters.

    The lawsuit attempts to substantiate this claim by noting that Amazon makes other sellers' products harder to find if they find their price has been undercut, so "sellers hike prices… due to fear of Amazon's penalties." (More on this by Reason's Joe Lancaster.)

    "If the FTC gets its way, the result would be fewer products to choose from, higher prices, slower deliveries for consumers, and reduced options for small businesses—the opposite of what antitrust law is designed to do," said Amazon's general counsel David Zapolsky.

    Following that are some twitter reactions. Check 'em out.

  • "Ambigopoly": another perfectly cromulent word. Peter Jacobsen defines it:

    Back in March, I answered an “Ask an Economist” question about antitrust laws and free market regulation of monopolies. In order to decide if something is a monopoly, I noted, we must first have a definition of monopoly. In that article I borrowed a pretty standard textbook definition of monopoly which read as follows: “a market structure characterized by (1) a single seller of a well-defined product for which there are no good substitutes and (2) high barriers to the entry of any other firms into the market for that product.”

    This is pretty standard for all economics textbooks, and the primary issue with this definition is the associated ambiguity. What does it mean for a product to be a close substitute for another product? Similarly, the textbook I’m currently using for Intermediate Microeconomics authored by Goolsbee, Levitt, and Syverson calls monopoly “a market served by one firm.” This definition doesn’t escape our ambiguity problem. What constitutes a market? As I say in the prior article:

    “Is a smartphone a ‘good’ or ‘close’ substitute for a computer? Is college football a close substitute to the NFL? What about the NBA? Is a grocery store a substitute for a restaurant? Is Twitter a substitute for Facebook? Is Zoom a substitute for transportation? The point of these questions is that it isn’t clear. If you define a good narrowly enough you could argue all firms are monopolies.”

    The FTC filing against Amazon recognizes this problem explicitly. It claims that Amazon has a monopoly in two markets. I’ll focus on one. Apparently Amazon has a monopoly on the “online superstore market”. Notice how important these words are for the FTC. If you remove the word “online” then clearly Amazon has no monopoly. There are lots of superstores. If you remove the word “superstore,” again there is no monopoly. Amazon does not have a monopoly on online stores.

    I've noted that if you define "market" as "places you can buy beer within 2300 crow-flying feet of my house", it turns out there's a monopoly in that market. Somebody call Lina!

  • Also piling on with that point is… Megan McArdle in the Washington Post (who properly discloses that Jeff Bezos owns that newspaper): FTC’s firebrand chair has had Amazon in her sights a long time. Making a point similar to Jacobsen's above:

    Among the familiar motifs are excruciatingly fine definitions of the relevant market. Six years ago, when Amazon was wildly popular but barely profitable, [Khan] wrote you could see predatory behavior if you focused on very particular markets — for example, how Amazon priced best-selling e-books, rather than all e-books. Today, rather than looking at all retail, or even e-commerce, the FTC complaint argues that Amazon has gained utter dominance of the “online superstore” market, a market that seems primarily defined by … describing Amazon. It’s a little like arguing that I have an anticompetitive monopoly over Post columnists named Megan McArdle.

    Why, it's almost if Lina's arbitrarily changing the rules to get the result she wants.

    "Democracy dies in darkness". But the rule of law is getting slaughtered right out in broad daylight.

  • "I'm not asking much, just a token really, a trifle!" Noah Rothman looks at what he considers to be a very, very weak FTC case and claims Lina Khan Is in Over Her Head.

    But! She might be playing the long game! 7-dimensional chess!

    And yet, though the series of high-profile face-plants to which she has committed her agency may sap Khan of “her deterrent effect,” Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis conceded, what the FTC commissioner ultimately wants is “to permanently change the law.” By playing to lose — and doing so in spectacular fashion — she may still achieve her ultimate objective.

    “She might hope after 2024 or at some point in the future that these losses will be seized upon by her allies in Congress” to revise antitrust statutes so they more closely reflect Khan’s vision, McGinnis speculated. “This is kind of a ‘winning by losing’ strategy.” Given her losing record, it’s perhaps unwise to stipulate that Khan is playing the long game, laying the groundwork for sweeping legislative reforms in 2025 and beyond in the assumption that Democrats retake both chambers of Congress. But it’s not out of the question, and nothing else explains her conduct beyond her ideological monomania.

    Frankly, Pat Carroll had Lina beat.

  • Also accused of the crime of being successful: Google. We have had our disagreements over the years. And you'll notice that the search box over there on your right sends you to Duck Duck Go. Which (sorry, DDG) in most cases, gives you inferior results compared to the same search on Google. Which implies the same rhetorical question asked by Thomas W. Hazlett at Reason: Maybe Google Is Popular Because It’s Good? He looks at the company history, and…

    Such boffo success for a capitalist start-up, ingeniously solving the needs of the World Wide Web—well, that's your American Dream scene, just as Norman Rockwell sketched it for the brochure. It's a generational blockbuster, with 200,000 Google professionals living large and enjoying a median 2022 compensation equal to $279,802. Naturally, all of this leaves public policy experts with just one option:

    Sue the bastards!

    For the record, Bing results are also worse than Google's, but slightly better than Duck Duck Go's.

  • We can generalize this rule to a fish found in any beverage. Jonah Goldberg observes The Trout in Robert Menendez’s Milk.

    “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong,” Henry Thoreau observed, “as when you find a trout in the milk.”

    Yes, it's about Senator Robert Menendez, who is (continuing that headline theme) a fish in a barrel with Jonah holding the shotgun.

    But I really wanted to quote this excerpt, because it's funny and interesting:

    There are three classic explanations of where laughter comes from. The first, which comes from Plato but really should be ascribed to the Germans, is that laughter comes from that feeling of superiority we enjoy at the expense of others’ misfortune. This is why it will never stop being funny to see men hit in the crotch with a football. Plato thought laughter was mostly evil and malicious. This view stemmed at least in part from the fact that Plato was a bit of a dick.

    Which brings me to a second theory that we get via Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer. We laugh to release “nervous energy.” This, they explained, is why we laugh at bawdy and scatological things (“He called Plato a ‘dick!’ Haha!”). The small taboos about bodily functions and sex are like little tension wires and when we cut through them, we laugh.

    A third explanation for laughter is closest to what I’m getting at. A lot of humor—like a lot of wisdom—revolves around pointing out the seeming incongruities or oddities in our lives and finding solutions, commonalities, or pointing out our shared experience of them. Lots of observational humor falls into this camp. “Did you ever notice…” that people named Todd smell like elderberries? Shopping carts always have one bad wheel? People who drive slower than you are idiots and people who drive faster are maniacs? Etc.

    But how does that relate to Senator Bob? Unfortunately, it's Dispatch-paywalled so you might need to subscribe to find out.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:50 AM EDT