President Biden has decided he wants a senior antitrust official walking the halls of the White House as a special assistant for technology and competition policy. The president has also decided to nominate a junior antitrust scholar with radical views on technology and competition as Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Both nominations depict a radical change of tone, not only from traditional antitrust policy, but also from his track record during the Obama presidency.
As Aurelien Portuese writes in Washington Legal Foundation, a return to old, populist enforcement of antitrust appears inevitable for both sides. Not only is the current techlash broadly supported domestically, but other foreign initiatives echo such techlash. This techlash builds up on monopoly myths and, more profoundly, on the historical anti-bigness sentiments of Americans. Antitrust enforcers should look at each case on the merits. The worst-case scenario is that having an antitrust czar in the White House will lead to prescriptive policies driven by political agendas, not dispassionate evidence, and push enforcement agencies to inflict the exact harms they are officially tasked to heal.
Populist antitrust enforcement appears to an ineviatble reality, albeit alternative paths lay ahead of us. American capitalism ought to be reformed differently for the benefit of consumers and of innovation. These paths can only be envisioned once the populist agitation would have ceased. For now, it is Biden’s antitrust unorthodoxy.