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Antitrust Is Back in America

With growing momentum behind efforts to reform and strengthen US antitrust enforcement, a decades-long trend toward increasing market concentration may soon be confronted head-on. But enforcement alone will not cure what ails the US economy – especially not when US consumers themselves are smitten with the monopolists.

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.

Notwithstanding the fierce Republican opposition the bill is expected to receive, there is good reason to think that the antitrust momentum in the United States will continue. Already during Donald Trump’s presidency, the Justice Department and the FTC launched investigations into the tech industry, which have (so far) resulted in lawsuits against Google and Facebook, filed just before Trump left office. While it may simply have been Trump’s unhappiness with culturally liberal tech companies that lit a fire under previously sleepy bureaucrats, other Republicans also have begun to rethink their traditional opposition to antitrust liability.

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