In Project Syndicate: Is America’s Merger Fever Breaking?

Date: 2 Aug 2023 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail
The US Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission’s new merger guidelines represent a radical departure from the neoliberal assumptions that have underpinned US antitrust enforcement for the last four decades, Stacy Mitchell and Ron Know write in Project Syndicate. By directing agencies to once again focus on market structure and power, the guidelines could stop runaway consolidation and help preserve US democracy.

“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 1982 merger guidelines were akin to a coup. Reagan officials were eager to gut America’s robust antitrust laws but knew they could not persuade Congress to do so. By issuing a set of guidelines that purported to interpret the law, they effectively rewrote it. The 1950 Anti-Merger Act directed antitrust agencies and the courts to block any merger that “may” substantially reduce competition. Alarmed by the role that monopolies had played in the rise of German fascism, legislators sought to safeguard US democracy from the corrosive effects of economic concentration. But Baxter set this law aside and issued guidelines that welcomed consolidation, declaring that “mergers generally play an important role in a free enterprise economy.

“The ploy worked. Judges began to rely on the guidelines more than the actual statutes, greenlighting numerous problematic corporate mergers and making it increasingly difficult for regulators to curtail monopolistic abuses. Instead of challenging this subversion of antitrust laws, Democratic administrations embraced the bigger-is-better neoliberal logic and even took it further. The most recent revision to the merger guidelines, implemented under President Barack Obama in 2010, raised the thresholds for market concentration, thereby enabling an even wider range of mergers to escape scrutiny.

“Most Americans have undoubtedly never heard of the merger guidelines. Nevertheless, the world we live in, with its extreme inequality, corrupted democracies, and widespread despair, has been shaped by the countless corporate mergers that have been allowed over the past 41 years.

“This is why new merger guidelines proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration are far more significant than they may seem…

Keep reading the full article here. 

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*Photo Credit: Project Syndicate

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Follow Stacy Mitchell:
Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.

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Follow Ron Knox:
Ron Knox

Ron Knox is the Senior Researcher and Writer for ILSR's Independent Business Initiative.