maximiano1_Sarah SilbigerGetty Images_biden competition Sarah SilbigerGetty Images

Make Capitalism Competitive Again

President Joe Biden’s recent decision to take on the entrenched oligopoly in the US meatpacking inudstry highlights the boldness of his antitrust agenda. His administration’s message is clear: market capitalism functions properly only when there is healthy competition.

PARIS – Not every sitting US president invites comparisons with a Roosevelt, let alone two members of that storied family. Since taking office just over a year ago, Joe Biden has frequently been likened to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who introduced the New Deal in the 1930s, because of the boldness and scope of his economic agenda. But Biden may have more in common with America’s first President Roosevelt – Theodore, or “Teddy” – whose economic agenda is remembered for its embrace of the then-novel tool of competition law in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Biden’s most recent Teddy Roosevelt moment came at the start of this year, when his administration announced that it would spend $1 billion in post-pandemic economic recovery funds to boost competition in the US meatpacking sector – an industry in which the White House says four firms control 85% of all beef processing and 70% of the pork market. The administration’s move against the industry’s giants comes against the backdrop of soaring food prices and a rapid rise in overall US inflation, and is aimed at bringing new players into the meat-processing chain in the hope that stiffer competition will help to tame price increases.

Whatever the outcome, it was an audacious move that should be understood less as overweening intervention against capitalist market mechanisms and more as an attempt to support those mechanisms. Such interventions to correct market failures have become bolder and more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with governments everywhere adopting a “whatever it takes” attitude and spending almost $17 trillion so far to get through the crisis.