Alex Tabarrok understandably decries the newly announced antitrust assault on Amazon. Here’s his conclusion:
More generally, the FTC under [Lina] Khan seems to be a lost opportunity. There are abusive practices such as hidden pricing by hospitals that could be improved but the FTC is throwing it away on pursuing the greatest store the world has ever known. Why? I have liberal friends who quit the FTC because they wanted to work on real cases not political grandstanding.
In order to characterize Amazon’s share of American retail as a monopoly, the plaintiffs define its market in a way that excludes just about every other retailer, online or offline.
“I think most competition scholars would say that the F.T.C. needs to go to the competition optometrist to get a new prescription,” David Balto, a former policy official in the F.T.C.’s bureau of competition, told me of the way the agency is defining Amazon’s market. “They’re suffering from significant myopia.”
The complaint zeros in on three other online superstores — the e-commerce divisions of Walmart and Target, and eBay. (The other relevant market, “online marketplace services,” refers to the money Amazon makes from outside merchants who sell to its customers; here the complaint mainly focuses on a comparison of Amazon to Walmart and eBay.) And it’s true, if you narrow your focus to include only retailers that satisfy all these criteria, Amazon wallops the competition. “Documents and data, both from Amazon and industry analysts, confirm that Amazon’s share of the overall value of goods sold by online superstores is well above 60 percent — and rising,” the complaint says.
I find this a little too cute. Amazon all but invented the notion of an online store that sells everything, and it’s been building out that idea for more than two decades; it’s hardly surprising that it dominates the category it pretty much brought into being. Citing Amazon’s dominance in the online-everything-store business seems sort of like citing Chipotle’s dominance in the choose-your-ingredients burrito business. Sure, it would be technically correct — but it wouldn’t meaningfully situate Chipotle in the larger marketplace for fast food.
A signal event in the timeline of Western covid lockdowns occurred on March 16, 2020, with the publication of the Imperial College London covid report (Ferguson et al. 2020). Its frightening predictions sent shock waves around the world. The next day, the government threw the United Kingdom into lockdown.
The impact of the report was amplified by the United Kingdom’s soft-power machine, the BBC. Its reach has no equal: broadcasting in 42 languages, reaching 468 million people worldwide each week, and efficiently disseminating its message (Barber 2022). With the BBC in full cry and the public genuinely alarmed, there was little room or tolerance for dissent. In the United Kingdom, the government put its recently established Counter Disinformation Unit on full covid alert, to stamp out dissent (Investigations Team 2023).
A copycat cascade then took hold, with the United States and other countries embracing the UK government’s messaging and policies. The result was a policy based on a defective model (see Herby et al. 2023a, 28–29) that originated at Imperial College London under the leadership of Professor Neil Ferguson, who is the director of Imperial College’s School of Public Health.
UK policymakers should have been aware that Professor Ferguson’s Imperial College team had a history of defective modeling and a track record littered with what are little more than fantasy numbers. To put the blunders of the Imperial College London’s epidemiological fear machine into context, consider the numbers generated by the modelers in 2005, when Professor Ferguson suggested that “up to around 200 million” could die from bird flu globally. He justified this claim by comparing the lethality of bird flu to that of the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, which killed 40 million (Sturcke 2005). By 2021, bird flu had only killed 456 people worldwide (WHO 2021). And, there were other huge misses by the Imperial College London’s modelers: foot and mouth in 2001, mad cow in 2002, and swine flu in 2009 (Hanke and Dowd 2022).