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A policy at peace with itself: Antitrust remedies for our concentrated, uncompetitive economy

 |  January 15, 2018

Posted by Brookings

By William A. Galston and Clara Hendrickson

A policy at peace with itself: Antitrust remedies for our concentrated, uncompetitive economy

The past few years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in antitrust issues. Research centers and policy-oriented journals have released a slew of briefings and symposia focused on the topic. But antitrust is not merely an object of scholarly concern; it has also become an important political talking point. During the 2016 U.S. presidential race, both candidates called for strengthening antitrust enforcement on the campaign trail.

Events over the past year have also inspired renewed attention. In July, the Democratic Party released an economic agenda that included an entire section devoted to reinvigorating antitrust enforcement. In November 2017, to the surprise of many, the new head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division intervened to block the planned merger between AT&T and Time-Warner. Since then, other deals have threatened further consolidation. In the month of December alone, plans for two megamergers were underway. CVS Health Corp., the drugstore retailer and pharmacy benefit manager, agreed to buy the health insurance company Aetna for $69 billion. Days later, a $52.4 billion deal between TV entertainment giants Disney and 21st Century Fox was announced.

As these dominant players take steps that would entrench their market position, recent developments on Capitol Hill suggest a serious re-evaluation of the purposes and powers of antitrust law and enforcement has begun. Bills seeking to bolster antitrust enforcement have been introduced in both chambers. Several members of Congress have even come together to form a Monopoly Caucus. And just this past December, the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights of the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing to probe the adequacy of the “consumer welfare” standard that has guided antitrust enforcement and the judiciary for the past four decades.

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