President Joe Biden has appointed Lina Khan to serve as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, according to Protocol. Kahn was today confirmed by the Senate to serve on the FTC in a bipartisan 69-28 vote.
The route from Khan’s “command post” at the end of library stacks on antitrust law at Southern Methodist University has been swift. In 2017, then a law student, Khan published a paper, Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox, in the Yale Law Journal. Arguing that “the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to ‘consumer welfare,’ defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy,” Khan set out to change how we define harms in the context of platform economics.
That required looking at technology platforms such as Amazon differently- not merely as companies, but as institutions with the power to challenge democracies. Khan drew on ideas advanced by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. “That was the insight of Brandeis,” Khan told The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer in 2018. “For most people, their everyday interaction with power is not with their representative in Congress, but with their boss. And if in your day-to-day life you’re treated like a serf in your economic relationships, what does that mean for your civic capabilities—for your experience of democracy?”
Khan went on to serve as one of the chief authors of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets staff report published in 2020, which included “proposals to: (1) address anticompetitive conduct in digital markets; (2) strengthen merger and monopolization enforcement; and (3) improve the sound administration of the antitrust laws through other reforms.” Hearings in that subcommittee are ongoing– last week the House introduced five new bills to “restore competition to digital marketplace and rein in largest tech platforms.”
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.