Corporations and rich people donate billions to their favorite think tanks and foundations. Should we be grateful for their generosity — or suspicious of their motives?
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you're in arguably more dominant than tech companies. In the past, Google, for instance, has more than eighty percent of global search engine market share. Facebook has nearly two billion monthly abusers Amazon has an estimated ninety million. Prime members, in the: U S that some, like seventy percent of all american households, is estimated at forty per se, of all our minds. Spending goes to Amazon. This kind of scale creates a lot of coins We have examined this concern in previous episodes like who runs the internet and is the internet being ruined we're seeing the birth of a new centre of power, real power. We depend on these technologies that I have been in many ways: wonderful and fascinating, but they're making signal.
Can't decisions unilaterally is also the question of whether the mission of these firms is socially beneficial, as many people believe they were in the early days internet there's all these really smart engineers there, the brightest computer scientists and all their thinking about is how do I keep someone on Facebook for ten more minutes was the exact combination of things that will keep them stay on the site. as long as possible so that we can show them as much advertisements ass possible. So here's a question. You are one of those huge dominant super wealthy firms. What would you do to ensure that the good times stay good,
He probably spend a lot of money lobbying politicians which, yes, they do he's, been a huge ramping up lately in lobbying by tech firms, but you may also do something a bit subtler yeah there's been a parallel wrapping up of the philanthropy, that's associated with the Tec firms that fight becomes nephritis different forms today and for economic radio corporations. Using philanthropy too the public debate and how that can go terribly wrong, so that was on June, twenty, seventh and June twenty ninth. I was all that my entire team had to leave. I'm happy
from W and Y see studios. This is freakin. Comics radio podcast explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your house, Stephen Governor, Our story today begins with the journalist, I'm Franklin for Iraq or with the Atlantic you We are one of three brothers who write books, talk about that for just a minute in the family that produced all of you right. So I have two brothers Jonathan has written a good number of novels and everything is illuminated now got a younger brother named Josh who,
is a science writer who wrote a book called Moon, walking with Einstein, and it's actually incredibly uncomfortable for us to talk about growing up in a family of other writers. Just because I'm sure what in some ways we benefit from the novelty active being three brotherly writers. But then we all, of course, want to be no for her own accomplishment ring but our parents didn't do anything. They didn't force us to play violin if four hours a day in or sit down and study the great chest masters we watched a lot of hey man and atoms we re, runs on television when we were growing up about one of the things that they did was they gave us a credit card which they said we were allowed to spend essentially on anything except in the event of an incredible emergency, and there was one exception to this, which is that they said that we could basically spend the credit card at will at the bookshop and so
they basically guided us to one thing. Your first job in journalism was asleep when the very first mainstream online publications or to start by Microsoft, and so there was this huge enthusiasm. Certainly among the chattering classes there was a certain amount of utopian isn't that was associated with the emergence of the internet. This idea that we were gonna tie the world together. I love search engines. I love the fact that I can access every book in human history in an air second, I love that I can get things delivered to my door incredibly quickly and these things arguably make life much better. the in arguably that make life much better, so these technologies were incredible. Amazon is an incredible company. The Kindle an incredible invention. The Ipad, the Iphone were incredible innovations, and so I think we were right to marvel at them. So after
waiting for sleep for a while, you moved on to the new republic as you call it the intellectual organ for hard nosed liberalism. You ultimately became Editor, they're, not once but twice so. The new republic was his little magazine that always had outsize influence in politics, and culture is an incredibly elitist Oregon and managed to pursue. Over a hundred years, while never really turning a profit and so ass. We entered the internet it's just that became more and more difficult thing to continue to do so. We ended up shifting from one ownership group to the next, and I got so thus did trying to find an owner and kind of sick of that I ended up resign. His editor. But then couple years
after I resign. The magazine gap bought by a guy called Chris used. You'd been mark, Zuckerberg roommate at Harvard and CO founder of Facebook, and he bought the magazine and to me the seemed almost too good to be true that you had this guy who understood social media, who had credible, a number of resources and seemed devoted to this little magazine that I was also devoted too, and so I came back and I added magazine and Chris, and I tried to remake it, and the relationship in the beginning seemed like it was unbelievably good. Yet we became really good friends and it was exhilarating. We felt like we were trying to save something: that was imperilled in the world. did that. Maybe we could help provide some sort of dignified solution to the rest of journalism, which was grappling with a lot of the same issues that we
grappling with, but there was a moment when things just took this turn, which was Chris decided that he'd always talked about wanting to make a profit within Europe. And he suddenly decided that he didn't want to lose at least not lose a whole lot of money with it, and so we had turn around our financial position incredibly quickly, and so he insisted that we start chasing clicks in two thousand and thirteen. The surest way to get clicks was to post a clip from one Knights daily show with John Stuart and you slap a headline on it and you may be right, but couple sentences about it and everybody would click on it and you got caught up in at least monitoring the numbers right. Yes, I did look. Data is crack cocaine. here, the guy who had a hard time getting a date in high school to suddenly find yourself producing things that are extremely popular. You become obsessed with replicating that popular
In some ways everybody in the magazine wanted to be successful. On Facebook, we wanted to master social media and this new environment. But we didn't want that new environment to dictate how we did our jobs. I so we should say that you ended up getting. Will you ended up quitting as you're about to be fired from the new republic? Yes, so I took brave decision to resign. When I learned that there was some guy who already had my job, it was offering other people jobs at the new republic. It's funny you're disk. Being what was happening to you at the new republic. But it sounds as though your also perhaps describing your view of what happened at places like good, on Facebook over time where you may begin with certain set of motivations, but as those motivations lead you to this, we're Wellman commercial success, you're so seduced by the magnitude of that success. It you can't help, but
on a replicated over and over again, yet has completely right. I felt like you in retrospect. I realise that I was just living this compressed version of recent history. The recent history of the internet, at least over the years Franklin Forest view of the engine it shifted the same guy who used to think this. There was a certain amount of utopian ism associated with the emergence of the internet, and this I love search engines and this these technologies were incredible, am Amazon is an incredible company has now come to think this Amazon thinks of itself as the everything store and it's gotten itself in pretty much every conceivable business. It Owen whole foods. It powers the cloud it houses, data for the CIA and so on
and so on, and is really nothing that it doesn't try to squeeze into its empire. He also thinks this as Facebook shapes the way that we consume news, as Google shapes the way that we interact with information, and his Amazon has shaped the way that we interact with books. The dominant set these companies exert ends up trickling through the cultural intellectual ecosystem and with Amazon. My concern is that the book business has become utterly dependent on them that they hold one of the few true monopolies in the world. Actually, quite true. My name is slightly, but I teach at Princeton one course. She teaches the economics of the internet, the and the existence of a monopoly of a single firm in any product space. Unless it's a government granted monopoly is rare in the digital economy
so even though Amazon has, for instance at least seventy percent of e book sales that doesn't make it a monopoly technically, no, because that leaves thirty percent for some other said affirms when describing firms like Amazon, Google and Facebook, but prefers the term behemoth. Yes, there is a difference b He must suggest that it's simply a large firm, whereas a monopoly suggest that it's the only firm, ok, economic semantics aside bought, does cease long parallels between these modern behemoths and what we traditionally think of as monopolies, but a modern tech behemoth has a particularly modern advantage. So Ownership of scarce resources, the definition of a natural monopoly and why we're seeing with the behemoths today is an ownership of it scarce resource called personal data or data in general,
and there's an interesting kind of a self reinforcing and I make here where, as a firm transacts, buys and sells it iris data about its consumers and that enables it to grow by producing more personalized products by advertising more effectively. it brings in more customers which brings in more data which then enable
the firm to grow even further, and that leads to the behemoths status, and that is what Franklin for and a growing chorus of other critics are so concerned about. Four recently published a book called world without mind: the existential threat of big tech, its part memoir parts, greed against the dominance of the big tech firms. It's not a particularly empirical book. Undeterred, say how much affords argument was informed by personal experiences like the New republic disaster. It also turns out that forest family, in addition to encouraging his love, I've books encouraged his distrust of monopolies, so my dad was a university of Chicago trained lawyer who worked in the Anti Trust division of the Carter administration. Then so I grew up in this house old, where Anti Trust was part of the family,
religion and my dad would drive around in a car that had a bumper sticker. That said bust, the trust on it. There was a real obsession and passion of his and for a long he was this lonely activist who was railing for greater more aggressive enforcement of these laws prohibiting monopolistic behaviour, and I always admired him for this quickly.
I extend that he took, but I never really fully bought in to his arguments until Amazon got in this fight with the book publishers when it started to hate close to home. This was the Hash Shet deal yes hit yet exactly. Let's just say something about book publishing, which is that book publishing is an incredibly oligarchical industry, that there are four or five big companies that dominate book publishing and their oftentimes jerks, and so it's hard to have a whole lot of sympathy for the book publishers. But suddenly you have these five big companies that were up against one big company, which was Amazon and Amazon? Basically controlled their access to the market place and Amazon was renegotiating their e book contract with the publishers one by one trying to
strong arm them with their market power, intake pricing, their books, lower and lower, and so to me it is grotesque and ominous that Amazon was just able to use its market power to try to dictate to the publishers and this incredibly aggressive sort of way? So weary? Where do you draw the line between winning were competing and being evil right persuaded me that it's not just a case of big companies being really good at what they do and winning an you kind of having sympathies with the people who were not winning. So my book in some ways is valentine to competition that I believe that a marketplace is most healthy when you have a number of market player, so I might not love book publishing. It might be to concentrated in some ways for my taste, but at least there five companies competing against one another
for the marketplace. So if I don't like the way that one company is treating me, I can always go to another company or, if I don't like the goods that one company is selling, I can go to another company and the problem with Amazon and the problem with Google and to an extent with Facebook, is that they become the only market player. And so the choice that we have as consumers is limited and competition is limited. So my argument is against the big technology companies which really are racing to expand into every nook and cranny of our lives. As it happens, this expansion has just raised into Franklin fours own life. We spoke to him in early September just before his book was to be published and there had been a pot twist. The New America Foundation
supported my book. The New America Foundation is a centre left, think tank devoted to quote renewing american politics, prosperity and purpose in the digital age. Its run by the political scientist. Anne Marie Slaughter was a former tough official in the Obama state Yet one of the cool things than New America does is that they give money to journalists who are writing book projects so yeah. I didn't get a lot of money from them, but I got a small sum and they were especially generous to me because I just been fired from a job at the at the New republic and the partial funding affords book about the dominance of firms like Google suddenly became relevant because that's since become relevant just because they fired.
vociferously critic of Google from the foundation, which is noteworthy because the foundation has received a fair amount of money from Google chairman Eric Schmidt right. So how much fun is it for you to be publishing a new book and already distant in yourself from the foundation under the writing of it it it actually does it feel good because New America has been supportive of me over time and I'd rather not seem like a jerk and disavow them when they ve been so nice to me, but this does feel exactly reflective of a much bigger issue. Who was the critical was fired? His aim is Barry Land and he ran something called the open markets programme there, the very active opponent of monopoly in a very vociferous critic of of Google. We used to have an affiliation with the New America Foundation, but that in
On August thirty. First, we were kicked out of New America, and that is very Lynn, nigh direct the open markets institute. So the name of his project has not been taken away by his affiliation, with the New America Foundation has where work anathema. We works me fourteen hundred blockages street in Washington coming up and economics. Radio. The story is not is need, as the headlines would happen. At no point did Google or any thunder tell me to fire very Lynn. Also, funding controversies can reach across many decades, like all the way back to the founding Stanford University. So there is an effort to a nurse the sordid history of the universities, initial benefactor.
Very win started out as a journalist. I worked in Venezuela in Peru as a foreign correspondent. Then. After that I ran a magazine called Global Business magazine. We should say it was a pro business magazine We were a magazine that aimed at the people who ran businesses so we had a real inside look at of local ascension actually works at the institutional level. That inside look led to Lynn Crossing over to the other side. He came to believe the corporations are too powerful and that their power is to concentrated. This was a theme he pursued in a couple of books and since two thousand and two with the numerous The foundation, his project came to be known as open markets. We got the work going on. We did it with increasing effect,
over the last seven years to the point where, in twenty six Tain we had a number of folks on the hills during understand that in He'd America has a monopoly problem in the first place, Kosovo really reached out and said I want to have actually help shine. A light on this problem was senator warrant and the result was a speech that she gave on Capitol Hill. Senator Elizabeth Warren Speech was part of a conference organised by the open markets. It was, America's monopoly problem today in America, competition is dying This was probably the most important speech about concentration in the United States. where the monopoly problems since a series, Reach is that, after I gave in nineteen thirty, Google Apple and Amazon provide platforms that lots of companies depend on for survival, but
Google, apple and Amazon. Also in many cases, compete with those small companies, so that plant form can become a tool to snuff out competition, and she said you know this is not just an issue that affects us as consumers. It also affects our democracy, because it's this concentration of power that leads to concentrations of wealth and concentrations, of worldly to concentrations of control, over government and other institutions of authority. This line of criticism would seem to be pretty much in sync, with the mission of not open markets, but also its parent organization. The New America Foundation in my old scholarship, I've written about monopolies and risks of consolidation and data ownership, bets Anne Marie Slaughter, the former State Department, official and Princeton Professor, who is now president and ceo of America. What convince me to leave Princeton
become head of New America, which was a big move, because I had a wonderful position it at Princeton was this idea that we really could be a play Is that hosted fundamental debates about our future the digital age, but, as Bury Lynn, tells a story? New America didn't share his enthusiasm for the conference he put together, where senator or in spoke a few people in my organization, New America, were not happy with the way. Your framing the conference and the fact that we were focusing so of our attention. on the platform. Phase, and especially on Google. What was wrong with focusing on Google and a conference about monopoly men, they do on some eighty percent of the global search market or a guess, questions we wise M was our work. A numerical problematic for Google Google, Eric Schmidt is,
Now the chair of the board at Google was us for a long time on the new American Board and then for a period of time serve as the chair of our board. Eric Schmidt, who was ceo of Google for ten years, has also given New America a lot of money, both personally and through his family foundation. So did Google itself Schmidt and Google New America had received roughly twenty million dollars since its founding in ninety nine. So there was a relationship between our two organisations and this is a relationship that goes back to the rate early days at North America and actually had never seemed a result- any kind of problems that New America up to this point. But now it seemed there was a problem were Schmidt
and or Google leaning on New America as Linz critique of the company grew more intense a year after the New America Conference were senator. Warren spoke against Google's domination. European Anti trust regulators hit Google with a huge, find two point: seven billion dollars for allegedly tilting search results in its own favour, bury Lynn posted a statement on the New America website. It congratulated european regulators, forgiving, Google, such good spanking and the american regulators to do the same here. We release this statement and support of the decision in Europe that was on June, twenty seventh and
June twenty ninth. I was told that my entire team had to leave and we had two months to leave. One natural conclusion to draw was at Google had stepped in and asked New America to do something about bury Lynn. Indeed, that's how it was portrayed in New York Times their headline red, Google critic ousted from think tank. funded by the Tec. Giant, therefore, and I asked for this decision to be reconsidered and if it could not be reconsidered, I asked for more time I was but neither of those was possible. The writer Franklin for who happens to sit on the board of Bury Linz Open Markets Institute, told us a similar version of events. He made it clear that Linz statement the european regulators decision. This was something that was a bit too far for Google and New America was very good.
Harrison supporting me, and they never did anything to interfere with my own work, but I was fairly so outraged by their treatment of berries and Can't resign from New America because I'm not affiliated with them are not taking any money from them now, but I'm extremely disappointed, but Emory Slaughter offered a substantially different portrayal. First of all, she says no funding at New America, has ever influence New America content in anyway, and this New America as a set of principles on our website. That makes very clear that no funding can affect the integrity of our research and org or shape the research in any way. We do not pay to play. We we take them
thing and we do our work and to see things are separate, but the timing of Linz firing certainly gave the appearance that Google and or Eric Schmidt had asked slaughter and or the Numerical Foundation to get rid of Very Lynn and his open markets and slaughter found herself on the defence. At no point did Google or any thunder tell me to fire very Lynn and at no point did Google or any funder try to influence the work of
Nobody here and if any thunder every didn't tell me that I tell them to take a hike that slaughter at a New America event. A few weeks ago, called is big tech, an existential threat. The event was actually in support of Franklin for his book. I did not part ways with very Lynne for anything to do with Google, so I decided that very Lynn and I had Depart ways because he could not work respectfully, honestly and cooperatively with his colleagues, so slaughter says she got rid of Lynn, not because of a funding conflict of interest, but because he was a difficult employ. That said, she acknowledges a real and long standing tension between the people who fund research and the people who do research.
I don't actually think this is just a think tank issue. I worked it of major universities. Three universe in universities have private funders, force centres and four different bodies of research, and you know, I think, even newspapers have constant tensions between advertisers and reporters that reporters don't have to navigate, but the man judgment does I think there is a general tension wherever are you need to protect the integrity of research, and you also need to fund that research. New Erica says all its major funders are listed on its website. We asked slaughter for a breakdown. Only twelve percent comes from corporations,
the rest comes from foundations by far the largest amount comes from foundations and then from private individuals taking corporate money does mean necessarily that the work of the entire institution is suspect, bury Lynn again, but it definitely can create a slippery slope. that will lead to pressure is being brought to bear those people who are questioning concentrations of power, the use of corporate power, and otherwise I think people are right to have a kind of sceptical may be cynical orientation to. But let us call corporate lobbying or corporate philanthropy and that's Robert REACH, a political scientist at Stanford. My research interest, these days focus a great deal on philanthropy and the role philanthropy plays in democratic societies in that philanthropy increasingly comes in the form of
nations. There are lots of foundations. What is the medium size of assets? It's really small rate, a millionaire so dollars so yeah. It's not much. maybe a couple million dollars, but there's an enormous growth the number of foundations, and that's just a kind of logical consequence of the growing inequality and in the United States. Just talk about your thesis, essentially the role, the influence in the complications around modern philanthropies. I'd start by saying most people's attitude about philanthropists and I found Dacians is that we should be grateful that people are trying to do good with their with their own money and that's the attitude I want to try to sweep away. I don't think the lantern
deserve that amount of charity. If you will, why is that? Because philanthropy, especially large philanthropy in the form of a foundation or especially wealthy person, represents the exercise of power and which they attempt to use their own private wealth to affect public outcomes, are to produce public benefits or make social change and power deserve scrutiny in a democratic society, not gratitude I doubt on top of that, the foundation in particular, which is legal form that allows a wealthy person to create a donor. Direct did unaccountable, barely transparent, perpetual and tax subsidized but form in order to use their private assets to affect the public me is especially interesting and potentially worrisome form of power? Let's talk about think tanks per se
there is such a thing as a truly non partisan, think tank, or is it just too hard because of where the money is coming from well? I'd say that your more likely to make the case that there are non partisan universities, universities which are funded- not entirely dissimilar ways from think tanks will officially they have to be non partisan, sewed so do think tanks too. In other words, they can't declared themselves in favour a particular political candidates, but think tanks have become far more popular and in the United States. as a result of the polarization and inequality United States, so that the idea a generation that happens and think tanks in the policy frameworks and proposals that get to seventy two from think tanks, hello from philanthropic interests, with particular policy positions in mine.
tell me what you know about Google's history of philanthropic Orban, foundation or think tank, giving an especially the timeline, because I understand its accelerate quite a bit recently yeah. So Google, like lots of other tech firms, has gotten much more aggressive in its formal lobbying efforts, and- I think it's now the case that the top five Silicon Valley companies are amongst the largest sources of lobby, greater even then the five top Wall Street firms and and in New York and there's been a parallel ramping. Up of the planter p, that's associated with the Tec firms next month becomes an of writers different forms. Sir. Of knowing what you know about the situation with the New America Foundation, end the Google money and the controversy. What would your advice be for them for the Numerical Foundation, America foundation needs to be aware of the soft power.
Agenda setting influence that donors can have to the think tank, even in the absence of following someone up and saying we disagree, or we objected to the work that someone does so. An Emory slaughter whose job is chief We need to ensure the existence of other than America Foundation into the future, which involves fundraising, does her work. She needs to be cost. Instead, she hasn't internalize the policy preferences of the donors, such that she shapes the work of the foundation around the donor interests, the idea is you're, worried about the conversation you'll have with your donor. In the future- and so you orient the work that you do to please the donor rather than to displease the donor, and that has
functionally the same outcome from the donors perspective without even having to say anything now you're own fine, university Stanford benefited was founded from the large S private largess of a man, Leland Stanford, who you know most of history, paints him as a classic robber Baron, a railroad, absolute men who, who did all kinds of stuff that we would frowned upon today, talked me: that and whether that's a conversation that takes place regularly at Stanford or is it avoided so I'd, say people Here are aware of the history of the university and the deep connection between philanthropy and the well being of especially wealthy universities. People here, I think no, something about the history of Leland Stanford, and so there is an effort on campus to unearth the sordid history of the universities. Initial bath Has there been any movement of any kind of magnitude to rename the university, not that I know of their star
with lower hanging fruit, other monuments and places on campus named for people with no obvious connection to the Eu our city and whose historical records are not so appealing. So let's say I have some money rob and I want to set up a foundation came and I come to you- and I say you know I'm a big believer in bringing critics into the inner circle, and I know that you ve been critical of how foundations behave. If and that, its undemocratic and so on? But you know rob I'd like to make you the directive, my foundation, the executive of my foundation and let them it my money in Omonia fertilizer. How would
You go about setting it up in a way that takes advantage of my large s to try to accomplish something that we could all agree as some kind of public good, without falling into all the traps that you ve been describing to us. So first I'd say despite the fact that laws dont require me to be especially transparent about what the foundation is doing a pledge to make completely available to the public all of the grant making. We do the evaluations of the grants that we make. I want to invite in outside experts as well and I would want to find ways in which to organise a foundations, efforts to seek out the most severe critics of what we were doing in. To try to learn the most noted, to give grants away to greater effect and lets say also make your chairman of the board. Tell me about that board. How you'd set it up? What would the elections look like? What would the terms be like whose on it
elections already reveal that you don't know much about how foundations are operating. There are no elections on the boards of foundations. The boards are hand picked by the initial donor and you can create. The governing board of the foundation in such a way as to guarantee that only family members and airs ever serve on the board? So there's no public representation necessary the Gates Foundation with the enemy. Something in the neighbourhood of forty to eighty billion dollars and devoted to philanthropy has, as its governing trust, he's bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and, and I believe, Bill gates, senior and I'd like The sea, possibly experimentation with a form of foundation. Peer review, in which you know and effort analogous to what happens in academia happens within the foundation world, it would be so
icing if the philanthropic efforts of corporations were purely altruistic corporation seek to advance their own interest, especially in their lobbying, quite possibly often in their philanthropy, I'm trying to stimulate people to be morally awake and in the same moment to get people to consider what types of public policies or frameworks ought to govern and structure our collective lives, which is a moral and philosophical question that was the Stanford Political scientist Robert REACH. We also heard today from Emory Slaughter, fairyland swat. He bought in Franklin for coming up next time on for economics, radio, my free economics friendly author, Steve Levitt, drops by to answer your frequently asked questions, so that is one of the weirdest definition of social good than I ve ever heard in my entire life.
This thing you wanna do is, I think, from a public policy perspective is not put people identity in the morality in conflict with efficiency as you the knife and think about whether a stab the person, whether you're, not thinking about what's gonna, happen
ten years later when I apply for a job, and I have to check the box it's next time and freedom is radio for economics. Radio is produced by w in my C studios and W productions. This episode was produced by Brian Gutierrez. Our staff also includes Alison Hockenberry Gregg resolve Ski Stephanie. Tam merit Jacob Eliza, Lambert Emma Morgenstern and Harry Huggins, the music you here throughout the episode was composed by Luis Gara. You can subscribe to reconnect radio and apple podcast or sticker or wherever you get your pod guess. You should also check out our entire archive at freak anomalies, dot com. You can stream or download every episode we ve ever made. You can also read the transcripts and you can find links to the underlying research. We can also be found on Twitter on Facebook or the email at radio at freak not accept come. Thank you for listening.
Transcript generated on 2021-01-22.