In the summer of 1982, the United States government sent corporate America a love letter. President Ronald Reagan’s top antitrust official, William Baxter, who made no secret of his desire to use his position to assist the country’s largest companies, issued the Justice Department’s new merger guidelines, instructing staff how to determine whether a merger violated antitrust laws and should be blocked. Baxter’s new rules made it clear to big business that federal agencies would no longer limit their ability to amass power. An era of nearly unrestricted corporate consolidation followed.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lost a key antitrust case on July 11 after a federal judge rejected the agency’s move to halt Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of video game holding company Activision Blizzard. FTC Chair Lina Khan has argued that, win or lose, the mere act of taking tech behemoths to court would be a partial victory by signaling the pressing need to update antitrust laws for today’s digital economy (New York Times, 12/7/22). But the Times‘ Cecilia Kang (7/11/23) wrote that the latest rulings “raise questions” about Khan’s strategy, with “critics…speaking out more loudly.” As to which critics are raising these questions, the Times buries the lead.
Since the 1970s, economists buying into the Chicago School of Antitrust have waved off the dangers of lax antitrust policies, professing that “the market” would sort out issues of competition and punish companies that abuse size and power. The Chicagoans’ narrow focus on direct consumer costs as the sole measure of harm didn’t consider the impact of consolidation on small businesses, start-ups, workers, or, for that matter, democratic norms. Nor did it raise red flags for tech platforms that were touted as “free” for users (while monetizing our attention and personal data). A growing number of critics argue that these basic assumptions are both wrong and outdated, as evidenced by the fact that in many industries, particularly technology, companies have been growing to gargantuan proportions and, as anybody who owns a smartphone is painfully aware, they seem free to gobble competitors, hinder innovation, and serve up crappy, overpriced products.
Seattle, Washington - Unions representing grocery store workers — UFCW 7 in Colorado, UFCW 324 and UFCW 770 in California, UFCW 367 in Tacoma, UFCW 3000 across Washington state, and Teamsters 38 in Everett — issued the following joint statement on Thursday decrying the proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons. (In Washington state, Kroger operates as Fred Meyer and QFC, and Albertsons also operates as Safeway.) Today it was reported that grocery store giant Kroger could announce a deal this week to buy rival grocery store company Albertsons, resulting in a potential merger that would significantly harm local grocery store industries, essential grocery store workers, and customers across the western US from Southern California to the Canadian border to Colorado.
Chicago – President Joe Biden is signaling that his administration will get tough on monopoly. With the appointments of Columbia University law professors Timothy Wu to the White House National Economic Council and Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), he has selected two well-known proponents of breaking up the Big Tech monopolies. Moreover, these appointments come on the heels of a major antitrust reform bill that Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced in the US Senate last month. Klobuchar’s bill aims to bolster antitrust enforcement in a number of ways. It would increase funding for the FTC and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, establish new bureaucratic offices to investigate and monitor antitrust compliance and market conditions, slap new civil penalties on violators, and expose firms to liability for anticompetitive business practices that currently fall through the cracks.
A coalition of 50 attorneys general will be investigating Google for potential violations of antitrust law, a step that could potentially lead to a broad legal challenge to the company’s market dominance. The investigation, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine (D), was announced on the steps of the Supreme Court building Monday afternoon after months of rumors about states seeking to turn up the pressure on Silicon Valley.
We need economic democracy. As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s economy. A 40-year assault on antitrust and competition policy—the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands—has tipped the economy in favor of powerful corporations and their shareholders. Under the false assumption that the unencumbered ambitions of private business will align with the public good, the pro-monopoly policies of the “Chicago School” of antitrust lurk behind today’s troubling trends: high profits, low corporate investment, rising markups, low wages, declining entrepreneurship, and lack of access to unbiased information. Market power and lax competition policy ensure our economy serves the few over the many.