There is a sea change underway in U.S. antitrust policy, and it has the potential to wreak havoc on corporations and harm consumers in the process, Joe Kennedy writes in Morning Consult.
For decades, policymakers and scholars have agreed that the point of antitrust laws should be to protect the interests of consumers from the influence of undue corporate power. This legal premise, known as the consumer welfare standard, generally has required regulators to show that corporations are harming consumers by raising prices, reducing quality or slowing innovation before exercising the authority to step in and block mergers and acquisitions, bar certain practices or break a company up. In the absence of consumer harm, the consensus held, regulators should generally adopt a permissive approach to market competition.
But a vocal group of activists, pundits and scholars in recent years have started blaming lax antitrust enforcement for a wider range of social ills—from wage inequality to privacy erosion. Some support radically overhauling antitrust laws to make it harder for firms to get big or stay big. These advocates are less concerned with consumer welfare and more concerned about the purported threats large companies pose to smaller companies and other interests. Virtually all of these alleged abuses are either flat wrong or vastly overstated.