By: Eric A. Posner (Pro Market)
Last month, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced a bill aimed at giving a boost to antitrust law. The bill surfs a wave of anti-Big Tech sentiment but it seeks to bolster antitrust law in general, rather than target the tech companies exclusively. There is much to admire in Klobuchar’s bill, but it does not go far enough. Courts and regulators have so weakened antitrust law over the last several decades that a major overhaul is in order.
The bill mixes together proposals that would give antitrust enforcement a much-needed shot in the arm, and others that tinker with existing standards in a way that will make little difference. Foremost among the first group of proposals is a significant increase in resources for the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Squeezed of resources over the last several decades, and opposed by the most powerful companies in the world, these agencies have not kept up as new technologies, globalization, and intellectual developments have thrown up new challenges to antitrust enforcement.
Other sensible innovations include the creation of a new office within the FTC with a mission to conduct market studies, evaluate past mergers, and sniff out new threats to competitive markets; the introduction of civil fines for antitrust violations; and enhanced whistleblower protections.
The bill also tries hard to strengthen antitrust law by creating stricter legal standards for mergers and other potentially anticompetitive behavior. This group of proposals includes some good ideas—like stronger presumptions against approval of mergers. But here there is less than meets the eye…