In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, in which he attacked monopolies and argued that markets governed by the decisions of individual buyers and sellers make people and societies richer and freer. When Americans declared their independence from the UK that same year, a main grievance was that they had been exploited and manipulated by the British East India Company trading monopoly.
Over the next two centuries, the US built its political economy around the idea that markets are structured to put individual buyers and sellers in charge, not large intermediaries. But this week a split Supreme Court overturned that. The court held, 5-4, that markets can have two “sides”, then used this reasoning to wedge giant middlemen back between sellers and buyers.
Unless Congress acts to reverse it, the decision in Ohio v American Express will make it harder to bring even the most rudimentary forms of antitrust complaints. This is likely to translate into higher prices and less choice. The decision would also shift control over markets away from individual buyers and sellers to companies, including internet platforms such as Google and Facebook, that bring them together.