Joe Biden just threw down the anti-monopoly gauntlet, but a big question remains
Joe Biden has just punched corporate monopolies, one of the executive branch’s biggest punches of any president in the past 40 years. In a massive executive order issued on Friday afternoon, it did three things: strongly rejected the pro-monopoly worldview of the past 50 years, issued 72 directives to more than a dozen executive agencies, and created a tip for overlapping agencies to make sure they are doing their job in developing the rules to achieve this vision.
Biden ordered the agencies to aggressively use their regulatory authority to end corporate monopolies in agriculture, defense, pharmaceuticals, banking and technology, to name a few. For example, he ordered the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ban non-compete agreements, so employers can’t trap employees but must actually provide benefits that make them choose to stay. He ordered the agriculture ministry to use all of its power under the Packers and Stockyards Act to break the stranglehold of distributors and other corporate giants who are crushing farmers and farm workers. He ordered the Consumer Financial Protection Board to issue a rule that would allow bank customers to bring their financial transaction data with them to a new bank. He called on federal health officials to allow the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada in a direct showdown with Big Pharma.
Presidential power in this area is technically limited but vast in practice. While some agencies, like the Department of Agriculture, have to follow his orders, independent agencies like the FTC don’t have to listen to their chairman. They can sit on their hands and do nothing. But a clear signal of intent and vision from the president has a huge energizing effect in practice. It covers agencies that want to be aggressive but find themselves drowned in the arguments of corporate lobbyists. This gives dissidents in sleepy agencies the argument that action is needed. And this forces agencies that do not agree to explain: if independent agency heads choose do not to move forward with the rule making in the directive, they will get a lot of questions about why not. For someone like FTC President Lina Khan, who was undoubtedly going in the direction indicated in the guidelines, it puts her in the air and calms business critics within the Democratic Party who would be tempted to say that the responsible exercise of power goes out of line.
But do not miss the forest for the trees. This decree is undoubtedly the most important for the vision of the economic world that it represents. If Biden continues down this path, it suggests a massive realignment for the Democratic Party and a return to the 1940s-1970s attitude towards corporate concentration.
For Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, imperfect but vitally important leaders, the Democratic Party stood up for workers and the people who produced things, and against middlemen who sought to steal value and control the industry. They understood that anti-monopoly laws were in part aimed at keeping prices low, but also at preserving equality and dignity, and ensuring that all who contribute to the production of goods and services get a fair share. .
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Democratic Party was hijacked by Democratic friends of golf, who encouraged monopolization and offshoring in the name of consumer welfare and efficiency. They slept with the company’s middlemen and took their money, claiming they could serve two masters: Wall Street donors set out to monopolize industry and workers. They have talked about lifting all boats, but their policies have led to yachts for the rich and stagnant low wages and humiliating working conditions for others. The prosperity of a few was not shared with the warehouse worker, the driver, the nurse, and the American small business owners. Since Bill Clinton became president, corporate Democrats have been in the driver’s seat of economic policy and silenced all dissidents in anti-monopoly politics.
Biden’s decree is a 180-degree turn, something that could never have come out of Bill Clinton’s White House. Instead, elevating the language of the efficiency and wisdom of a naturalized “market”, Biden’s decree directly blamed monopolization for declining wages and working conditions, for growing inequality and for the collapse of small businesses in America. This illustrates the unique power of the presidential platform in action: Biden’s statement today counts not only for guidelines, but also as a policy statement that every state lawmaker can uphold when pushing for legislation. local anti-monopoly, and which federal lawmakers can use to explain why antitrust reform is so important.
However, a key anti-monopoly issue remains for the President: his choice as Deputy Attorney General, Antitrust Division. If he chooses someone aligned with FTC President Lina Khan, White House adviser Tim Wu and future CFPB chief Rohit Chopra, that will make it clear that he is serious about getting to the heart of the abuse. monopolistic by using all the power of its administration. The main candidate who represents this vision is Jonathan Kanter. On the other hand, if he hedges his bets and chooses someone more aligned with the antitrust establishment of the past 40 years, he risks creating conflicts and tensions that will slow down these vital efforts. The DOJ and the FTC will be at odds and the White House torn apart in different directions. Such a disagreement between the agencies will not only lead to friction, but will also take time and energy, bleeding the momentum needed to move forward.
Biden has a chance to be the first confidence-destroying presidency in more than 50 years – and we continue to receive strong signals that he has it in sight. This is great news for working people, for small businesses and for small communities that have been left behind in our country’s collapse in concentration over the past 50 years. He’s on the right track, but a strong Justice Department appointment would go a long way in completing the job.