Elizabeth Warren slammed Washington for failing to challenge giant corporations. Bernie Sanders assailed the power of Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry. Cory Booker vowed to appoint more judges and antitrust enforcers and even Joe Biden is preparing a trust-busting plan.
Democratic presidential hopefuls are coming out in force against the rapid pace of corporate consolidation, a message to 2020 voters that gained volume during their first debates in Miami last week. They’re expanding their pledges to take on big tech, including Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc., to other industries.
Attacking big corporations is both a political message and a policy prescription. It’s one way Democrats think they can address the concerns of voters who have fallen behind, even as the U.S. economy continues to expand. As Democrats gear up to try to take back the White House in 2020, they hope the anti-corporate tone taps into the populist passion that propelled Donald Trump in 2016.
“Whoever is elected on the Democratic side would be more aggressive on antitrust than we have seen in decades,” said Jason Furman, a former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers who chairs a U.K. initiative on digital competition.
So far, voters views are mixed, but it’s a message that could take hold as frustration grows with large companies and concerns, including how personal data are being used.
With that in mind, some of the party’s top candidates are warning of a new robber-baron era, recalling the powerful oil and steel behemoths of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the first American antitrust laws were designed to tame. Their campaigns often cite studies showing that consolidation may be responsible for higher wealth inequality, slower productivity growth, fewer startups and stagnant wages.
The candidates are putting together plans to target a wide range of industries including agribusiness, telecom and health care. Booker, for example, has offered legislation that places an indefinite moratorium on acquisitions in the food and agriculture sector and Amy Klobuchar sponsored an antitrust overhaul that would require merging companies to prove their consolidation wouldn’t harm competition.