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The tale of Big Tech’s reckoning was spelled out by Rockefeller’s downfall

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The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described an effective free market as a “gale of creative destruction”. Old companies and outdated ideas would be cast aside by the market’s pursuit of the new, and the consumer would be the winner. It is little surprise then that incumbents tend to do all they can to arrest the gale.

The playbook for doing so was written by the American oil magnates – better known as the “robber barons” – of the late nineteenth century. In the 1870s, a generation of American entrepreneurs dug for oil and sought their fortunes, until, as one prospector’s daughter put it, “a big hand reached out from nobody knew where, to steal their conquest and throttle their future.”

The author of those words was a journalist called Ida Tarbell. The hand that throttled her father’s ambition was John D. Rockefeller’s. His company, Standard Oil, either bought up its competitors or undercut them to the point of bankruptcy. Soon enough, Rockefeller controlled 80 per cent of the American oil industry.

It took the crusading journalism of Tarbell to break his stranglehold. America’s antitrust legislation, which followed decades of her........

© City A.M.

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