The political face of antitrustClick here to read the full article online
Antitrust law is having a moment. After decades of languishing as a relatively technical legal specialty, issues of corporate concentration, income inequality, abuse of dominance and power, and the harms of lenient merger policy have returned as issues of public discussion and debate. The return of antitrust as a matter of political and public discourse is welcome, but not surprising. Antitrust law in the United States was born out of the political turbulence that arose from the industrialization of the national economy in the second half of the 19th century following the end of the Civil War. Candidates ran for state and federal office under the banner of the Anti-Monopoly and Populist Parties. Political turmoil led to the enactment of first state, and then federal, antitrust laws. By 1912, the U.S. Presidential race arguably turned on the differing antitrust visions of the three leading candidates. In the post-world war II issues, both major parties supported the vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws and trumpeted that support in their political platforms in Presidential campaigns. That tide began to ebb in the late 1970s and 1980s. First bi-partisan deregulation gained support and then the Regan Revolution and the Chicago School of Law and Economics eroded public and judicial support for antitrust enforcement. Antitrust law became lumped in the public view as part of generally disfavored government regulation of the economy. The last twenty years have brought antitrust back to the fore as a political issue of greater salience. Several booms and busts in the economy have highlighted the issue of corporate power in the economy and the political system. The growing influence and aggressiveness of EU and other jurisdiction’s competition laws have highlighted the relative retreat in the United States. Political movements in the United States have brought issues of corporate power and its abuse back into the public limelight and with them a greater political salience for antitrust in the election cycle of 2020. This essay examines the modern political face of antirust. First, we discuss the numerous antitrust platforms, promises, legislation, hearings, and investigations that have been introduced and discussed during this election cycle. Second, we survey some of the ways that antitrust issues have become part of the public discourse. Finally, we celebrate this trend as good for antitrust and the body politic.