Next up, we turn to the second best (or conversely, fifth worst) of what were, before Kamala Harris thankfully dropped out, the six major 2020 presidential candidates on the subject of protecting the population from the anti-democratic power of Big Tech, Senator Bernie Sanders. To read the introduction to the Big Tech 2020 series, please point your browser to this link.
#5 – Bernie Sanders – Big Tech not deserving of special focus
By nature, Bernie Sanders is suspicious of large corporations. In his view, they have too much power, they underpay their workers, and they don’t pay taxes that are proportional to their profits. However, his ire is with big corporations generally, and not specifically with Big Tech, which poses its own, new kind of 21st century threat. When Bernie is asked questions about Big Tech, he demonstrates again and again that he’s more concerned about their monopoly status than he is about their specific activities as monopolists.
For example, although he praised the statement of a now-dissenting former co-founder of a social media monopoly for “sounding the alarm on the dangers of unchecked corporate power,” he did so in a very general way that failed to make any reference to the specific consequences inherent in the consolidation of power by that particular company. Along those same overly general lines, he continued: “We are living in an era of monopolies that dominate every aspect of our lives – including our government. It’s time to take that power back.”
In another interview, he took the same approach, saying: “I worry very much about monopolistic tendencies in many sectors of our economy, including high tech. I think we have to take a really hard look at the degree to which monopolization in all aspects of our economy are a threat to the American people.” In other words, monopolies are the problem; Big Tech as such is tacked onto the end as an afterthought.
However, to his great credit, Bernie is also very concerned about the technology sector’s recent acquisitions of what were once journalistic media companies, such as major newspapers and magazines. Although this falls under monopolistic activity, it’s different, because the result is the hollowing out of journalism and the seizure of the political power inherent in the full takeover of both the nation’s news media and its interpersonal communications infrastructure.
On this subject, Sanders wrote: “Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download…. Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.” To our knowledge, no other candidate has come close to this level of thought on the intersection between old media and Big Tech.
Finally, Sanders is also interested in how online retail and ride-sharing monopolies underpay and mistreat their workers, which in the case of the retail giant, he called “unconscionable.” He is also outraged about how little the latter pays in taxes, which the senator called “a disgrace“; he even introduced a bill to change it. Furthermore, on the matter of what the retail monopoly pays its workers, he led an ultimately successful effort to make them pay more. Sanders also believes these workers should be allowed to form unions.
Unfortunately, however, Sanders is an absentee when it comes to the tech giants’ manipulation of people’s data, and thereby, of the population itself. He is not tuned into the backdoor through which Big Tech is leveraging the data dossiers it is building on people to acquire an overwhelming and increasingly intimate control over the daily lives of most people. Usually this problem goes under the completely inadequate labels of “data privacy” and manufactured “consent,” but even then, Bernie Sanders has nothing at all to say about it.
Like Joe Biden, who hails from the same age cohort, whatever small traces of comprehension Bernie has with regard to Big Tech are packaged in a distinctly 20th century wrapping. On the upside, at least he doesn’t appear to be in any way acting in tandem with Silicon Valley, or at its behest; he’s no Pete Buttigieg, nor is he a Kamala Harris. He is basically sympathetic to stopping any sector from acquiring unchecked power, but he either hasn’t comprehended or doesn’t want to think about how menacingly powerful the technology sector has actually become, or the future its magnates actually have in mind for their fellow humans. Bernie’s deficits on the subject are simply a combination of ignorance, perhaps a dose or two of denial, and a focus on other priorities, at the forefront of which, for him, is the structural change toward neo-feudalism, which is now not only at the nation’s doorstep, but inside its house.
Bernie would therefore do well to understand that the technology magnates are already standing at the top of the neo-feudal structure, not only because of their billions, but because of their newfound overarching powers, using their creations, to directly shape large-scale societal outcomes in their favor, over and above the political sphere. The changes they are bringing are already having the effect of turning the mass of people into digital serfs, whose new primary role in life is data creation, for as many hours as possible each day. What happens to these people economically, as far as Big Tech is concerned, is of no consequence.
The economic inequalities that Bernie is so focused on, such as the miserable fate of the ride-sharing driver or the online retail warehouse worker – not to mention the accumulating middle-class homeless encampments that lie at the heart of Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, and other Big Tech capitals which he has interestingly not focused on – are merely economic side effects of these larger, broader power-based developments that this basically well-meaning candidate has, as yet, unfortunately failed to grasp.