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Biden's British Anti-Trust Rockstar

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

If you believe that the Silicon Valley bohemoths are too big and too powerful, Biden’s startling new appointment will come as good news. The young scholar has argued that US competition law is out of date for the internet age, and hopes to change that.

Lina Khan may not be a household name, yet. But the 32-year-old British-born legal scholar could be about to become a giant headache for some of the world’s richest people - and most powerful companies.

In the arcane world of antitrust law, Khan may be the closest thing there is to a global rockstar.

When her 2017 article Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox was published in the Yale Legal Review, it became a viral sensation - maybe not on TikTok but at least among a growing army of fans in the legal profession.

Hugely influential, its clarion call for more aggressive action to rein in the forces of Big Tech has just won her a nomination by president Joe Biden to take up the fight as a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission.

It’s a startling appointment – both because of her age and her strident views on the need to regulate and potentially break-up some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. Born and raised in Golders Green, north London, before her British-Pakistani parents moved the family to the US aged 11, Khan, a legal professor at Columbia Law School, should not be underestimated.

Armed with a fearsome intellect, she has argued persuasively that the current system of US antitrust law - which is focused squarely on keeping consumer prices down - is increasingly out of date for the internet age and in urgent need of a revamp. That’s because it fails to adequately deal with a host of other negative implications for competition that flow from the extraordinary, technology-fuelled rise of “platform-based” business models like Amazon and Google. “My argument is that gauging real competition in the 21st century marketplace - especially in the case of online platforms - requires analysing the underlying structure and dynamics of markets,” she has said.

Khan’s argument is that these giant online platforms have become so powerful and so dominant that their overall economic impact needs to be evaluated by looking at them in a new, holistic way that the existing framework of competition law does not permit. To use her words, there is a growing need to “restore traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or apply common carrier obligations and duties”.

Either way, as an articulate advocate for so-called ‘structural separations’ – better known as break-ups – assuming her appointment is confirmed by the Senate, Khan is certainly likely to make a splash. Source

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