Future

A French Case For Dismantling GAFA, America's Tech Oligarchy

Large technology companies need to be stopped before they crush our cherished freedoms, argues a new book by two French economists.

Inside one of Google's data centers in Iowa
Inside one of Google's data centers in Iowa
Cécile Crouzel

PARIS — Without freedom, there is no human dignity. And yet, men have a dangerous propensity to choose bondage, either for comfort, or due to laziness or fear. Tyrants know this, and have used it time and again to impose themselves. Today, it's the large technology companies we should be watching out for lest they accumulate too much power and threaten our democratic society.

That, at least, is the thesis developed by Jean-Hervé Lorenzi, professor of economics at Paris-Dauphine University and president of the Cercle des Économistes (Circle of Economists), who co-wrote a new book called L'Avenir de notre liberté ("The Future of our Freedom"). The work's subtitle is particularly topical and seductive: "Should we dismantle Google ... and some others?"

It's urgent that political bodies reassert their authority.

The book — written in collaboration with Mickaël Berrebi, a financier and member of the Institute of Actuaries — reminds us that GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and their Chinese equivalents (Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, etc.) control our personal data, have incomparable financial strength, and tend to grow quickly by creating monopolies. Their leaders have become the new prophets, decrypting the world of tomorrow, which further strengthens their influence.

Scientific breakthroughs could prove to be particularly perilous, the authors argue. It's urgent, therefore, that political bodies reassert their authority. Researchers already have the ability to practice genetic modifications. How, Lorenzi and Berrebi ask, can we no be worried about that? What can be used to improve health could also lead to eugenics or become a weapon of mass destruction, a failing gene that can contaminate a population in a few generations.

And what about artificial intelligence? Will it come to dominate mankind? Intrusion into private life, widespread surveillance, the establishment of a society divided between a few elected officials — a kind of "augmented men" thanks to genetics and integrated microchips — and a host of losers ... This bleak picture, the authors argue, is what awaits us if we allow ourselves to passively submit.

Individuals should have "the right to be forgotten".

Critics can certainly take issue with the book's alarmist bias. But it has the merit of proposing solutions. It's not enough, say the authors, that the GAFA companies be obliged, finally, to pay more taxes; they should be dismantled. Google's web search function, for example, could split from other domains (Gmail, Google Maps, Android, YouTube, cloud). Facebook's social network could be separated from its advertising arm. The measures may seem radical, Lorenzi and Berrebi argue, but they're neither unfeasible nor unprecedented. The U.S. government has broken up monopolies on several occasions. Think Standard Oil and AT&T.

The authors also call for an implementation of stricter state privacy and data protection rules. Among other things, they argue, individuals should have "the right to be forgotten" — to have all personal details removed from online search engines. Lorenzi and Berrebi also consider it essential to establish compulsory ethical rules concerning genetics, and advocate for the development of international cooperation. A task nearly as immense as the internet itself.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo

-Analysis-

TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.


After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

commons.wikimedia.org

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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