posner16_SAUL LOEBPOOLAFP via Getty Images_lina khan SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s Antitrust Revolutionaries

A growing debate over the scope and purpose of US antitrust law has pitted traditional technocrats against an ascendant movement that is demanding stronger legislation and more aggressive enforcement. At stake are not just questions of pricing or output, but the proper functioning of American democracy.

CHICAGO – With the prominent anti-monopoly advocate Lina Khan having been appointed the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission, it is a good time to consider what influence the so-called New Brandeisians will have on US antitrust law. Khan is a leading figure in that movement, and another prominent exponent, Tim Wu, now sits on President Joe Biden’s National Economic Council. Arguing that antitrust law and enforcement are too weak and ineffectual, the New Brandeisians, named for the US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, are more open than traditional antitrust experts to breaking up monopolies.

Even before the New Brandeisians achieved prominence, there was a growing consensus that US courts and regulatory agencies do not enforce antitrust law as vigorously as they should. A long period of lax enforcement has led to more concentrated markets, higher prices for consumers, and skyrocketing corporate profits. A partial solution is to give regulators more resources and strengthen the standards that regulators use to approve big business mergers. A bill sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota proposes to do precisely that.

But beyond supporting these simple measures, the consensus among antitrust experts dissolves. The debate is shaping up as one between centrist or center-left technocrats who consider more enforcement resources and higher merger standards sufficient, and New Brandeisians who seek much more. (The right seems to be sitting on the sidelines, merely grumbling that Big Tech companies discriminate against Republicans.)

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