Opinion | Break Up Big Chicken

Opinion | Break Up Big Chicken

#Opinion #Break #Big #Chicken

Lina Khan, the new chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, is a standout among a new generation of scholars who are pushing to reverse decades of antitrust atrophy. Her breakout moment came with a 2017 article in The Yale Law Journal, arguing that Amazon was engaged in anticompetitive behavior even though its conduct hadn’t resulted in higher prices, yet.

Mr. Biden nominated Jonathan Kanter, a lawyer who has represented a series of clients in antitrust cases against Google, to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which shares authority with the F.T.C. At the White House, Mr. Biden’s advisers on antitrust policy include Tim Wu, on leave from his regular gig as a law professor at Columbia, who has long argued for stronger enforcement in these pages.

The new regulators have started jousting with Silicon Valley. But the administration is rightly maintaining a broader focus. The economy is bigger than Big Tech, and harmful concentrations of corporate power are most often found in older and less glamorous industries.

In the Biden administration’s first big antitrust action, the Justice Department filed suit in June to block a $30 billion merger of the insurance brokers Aon and Willis Towers Watson. It said the deal would “leave American customers with fewer choices, higher prices and lower quality services.” It was a striking decision because the European Union, generally tougher on antitrust, had indicated its likely approval. Last month, citing the opposition of the U.S. government, the companies said they would remain competitors.

When Mr. Biden signed an executive order listing specific targets for antitrust action last month, he put the dangers posed by Google, Facebook and other tech giants on a par with the dangers posed by companies in very different sectors. Among other things, the administration wants to allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids, to provide farmers with model contracts that can help to protect their interests in dealing with agribusiness companies, to help microbreweries get their beer into retail stores and to make it easier to move bank accounts to another bank.

These and dozens of other proposed interventions address well-known violations of the basic principles of open competition. The persistence of these abuses is an indictment of the indifference of previous administrations. It has benefited the wealthy minority that holds shares in corporations at the expense of everyone else.

Mr. Biden seems to grasp the problem. “Rather than competing for consumers, they are consuming their competitors,” he said when he signed the executive order. “Rather than competing for workers, they’re finding ways to gain the upper hand on labor. And too often, the government has actually made it harder for new companies to break in and compete.”

That’s the right diagnosis. Now comes the hard part.


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