Op-Eds & Articles

The FTC Might Just Be Progressives’ Secret Weapon

A century ago, reformers gave the Federal Trade Commission extraordinary powers to take on abusive corporations. It’s time to wake the agency up.

January 14, 2019  |  by Sandeep Vaheesan
Read on Washington Monthly

It is by now widely acknowledged that the United States has a corporate concentration crisis. Sectors across the economy—from agriculture to airlines to online search to pharmaceuticals to telecommunications—are dominated by a handful of giant corporations, and the trend is only accelerating. Globally, 2017 saw the most mergers and acquisitions in history; as of this writing, 2018 was on pace to set new records. Think AT&T and Time Warner, CVS and Aetna, Disney and 21st Century Fox, and so on. The consequences of all this consolidation include lower wages, extortionate health care prices, and government at every level beholden to big business. It’s great for corporate executives and shareholders, who are enjoying record profits—and terrible for most everyone else.

The trend derives primarily from radical policy shifts during the Reagan administration combined with the activism of conservative judges who, applying cartoonish right-wing economic hypotheses, intentionally reinterpreted antitrust laws—which were designed to limit monopolies and consolidation—in ways that favor monopolies and encourage mergers. With scores of Trump-appointed judges coming on board and Brett Kavanaugh ensconced at the Supreme Court, that phenomenon is likely to get even worse. It now looks like we may be stuck for another generation with a federal judiciary that is ideologically opposed to the government doing anything about the increasing dominance of corporate goliaths. 

Yet a powerful anti-monopoly instrument already exists and is waiting to be used. It turns out that progressives faced a similar impasse more than a century ago, in the wake of the original Gilded Age, when they saw their attempts to fight back against monopolies thwarted by a comparably reactionary Supreme Court. The solution they crafted involved the creation of an institution with the explicit legal authority to prevent and undo concentrated corporate power. That institution is in sad shape today; indeed, it perversely devotes resources to attack the very people it was designed to protect. But it remains a potentially potent weapon. With the right leadership and prodding from Congress, it could once again be used to strike back at the monopolists who are choking off America’s democracy and economy, and overcome the judicial forces protecting them. 

Read the full article here on the Washington Monthly website.




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In America today, wealth and political power are more concentrated than at any point in our country’s history.

The Open Markets Institute, formerly the Open Markets program at New America, was founded to protect liberty and democracy from these extreme -- and growing -- concentrations of private power.

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