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Liberty from All Masters

The New American Autocracy vs. the Will of the People

Barry C. Lynn

St. Martin's Press

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ISBN10: 125024062X
ISBN13: 9781250240620


320 Pages



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Americans are obsessed with liberty, mad about liberty. On any day, we can tune into arguments about how much liberty we need to buy a gun or get an abortion, to marry who we want or adopt the gender we feel. We argue endlessly about liberty from regulation and observation by the state, and proudly rebel against the tyranny of course syllabi and Pandora playlists. Redesign the penny today and the motto would read “You ain’t the boss of me.”

Yet Americans are only now awakening to what is perhaps the gravest domestic threat to our liberties in a century—in the form of an extreme and fast-growing concentration of economic power. Monopolists today control almost every corner of the American economy. The result is not only lower wages and higher prices, hence a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. The result is also a stripping away of our liberty to work how and where we want, to launch and grow the businesses we want, to create the communities and families and lives we want.

The rise of online monopolists such as Google and Amazon—designed to gather our most intimate secrets and use them to manipulate our personal and group actions—is making the problem only far worse fast. Not only have these giant corporations captured the ability to manage how we share news and ideas with one another, they increasingly enjoy the power to shape how we move and play and speak and think.


Praise for Liberty from All Masters

"In his new book, Liberty from All Masters, [Lynn] insists that monopolies are ultimately a political problem. As surely as Americans are citizens in a democracy, they are citizens in a political economy. But with their far-reaching and subtle powers, monopolies undermine our agency in the economic sphere of life. Indirectly, they threaten democratic self-governance, too."The Washington Monthly

"Liberty from All Masters
builds on Barry Lynn's lifetime of work analyzing the evils of concentrated private power in America today, and makes a deep critique of the way we have come to think about antitrust. He questions not just whether consumer welfare and efficiency can be measured in a digital economy, but whether they ought to stand as normative standards in a democratic society. A highly provocative and important book."—Francis Fukuyama, author of Identity: Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

"From the beginning, the citizens of the United States have resisted unchecked power. In the nineteenth century, voters recognized the new threat posed by concentrated corporate power and demanded a ban on monopoly. The antitrust laws that their legislators passed were unambiguous: Big is bad. For decades, these laws protected freedom and competition, but as Barry Lynn recounts in Liberty from All Masters, in the 1970s, a group of economists and their fellow travelers launched an intellectual coup worthy of Orwell. Legislating from the library, they persuaded judges that what the law said, actually, is that big is not bad. We live with the consequences. Monopolies give a handful of private citizens powers that autocrats of the past could only dream of. If you want to save democracy, read Lynn's guide to the battle citizens must wage, once again, to defend their liberties.”—Paul Romer, Nobel Prize winning economist

"Very few thinkers in recent years have done more to shift the debate in Washington than Barry Lynn. In Liberty From All Masters, he proves himself as a lyrical theorist and a bold interpreter of history. This book is an elegant summoning of a forgotten tradition that can help the nation usher in a new freedom."Franklin Foer, bestselling author of World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

"I’ve worked closely with Barry Lynn for many years, first in my role as founder of Authors United and later as President of the Authors Guild. I’ve long been an admirer of the clarity and elegance of his thinking and writing about globalization, monopoly, and economics. I believe Lynn is one of the most important intellectuals in America today, his work focusing on the fast-growing concentrations of economic power in our society, and the grave dangers that poses for innovation, competition, open markets, and the free flow of information so vital to our democracy."—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"What Barry has done, in short, is reduce the neoliberal economic model to rubble, and he’s done it in such a way as to make the demolishing of that grand fortress look easy. He even makes it seem like tearing it down is our patriotic duty, like it's part of the American tradition. Of course our modern ideas don't work, he has you agreeing—and any nineteenth-century farmer from Kentucky could have told us why."—Thomas Frank, New York Times bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal

"Barry was one of the very first to warn of the dangers of the monopoly power of Google, Amazon and other online platforms. His analysis of the problem, and what to do about it, has been hugely helpful for all of us now fighting to protect our democracy from these corporations and their all-powerful manipulation machines. Barry knows what we are up against and frames it so anyone can understand. Fortunately, Barry also knows what needs to be done to fix the problem. That’s why, in these dark days, Barry is one of the few people who give me hope."—Roger McNamee, New York Times bestselling author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

"In a moment of deep economic calamity and suffering, Barry Lynn points to one of the most critical root drivers of our failing economy and democracy: the problem of monopoly power. Barry has been leading the way on reviving the public and policy attention to the problem of monopoly, and in this latest work he makes the crucial case for why contesting economic power is critical not just for addressing the problem of inequality, but also for advancing a vision for society that centers democracy, racial equity, and a more inclusive and dynamic conception of freedom. A must-read for everyone working to build a more inclusive democracy and economy in the years to come."—K. Sabeel Rahman, President of Demos and Associate Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School

"Over the last several years, Barry Lynn has been the key figure behind the sea change in how we view competition policyor the lack thereofin this country. He foresaw how the rise of unchecked corporate monopoly power would corrupt our economy, our politics and our society years before others, and he has relentlessly spoken that truth to power. Liberty From All Masters is another visionary work, and confirms Lynn’s status as one of the most important thinkers on the political economy today. A must read for anyone who cares about sustainable capitalism and liberal democracy."Rana Foroohar, author of Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business

"Admonitory, cautionary, and essential."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Forceful and well-documented . . . an eye-opening and persuasive defense of robust antitrust enforcement as essential to the core principles of American democracy."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


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Americans are obsessed with liberty, mad about liberty. On any day, we can tune into arguments about how much liberty we need to buy a gun or get an abortion, to marry who we...

About the author

Barry C. Lynn

Barry C. Lynn is Founder and CEO of the Open Markets Institute in Washington. He is author of Cornered (2010) and End of the Line (2005) in which he pioneered coverage and analysis of America’s new monopoly crisis. His work has been profiled in The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS. Prior to launching OMI, Lynn worked at the New America Foundation for 15 years. Before that he was Executive Editor of Global Business Magazine and a correspondent for the Associated Press and Agence France Presse in South America and the Caribbean.

Matt Mendelsohn

Read Articles by the Author at the New America