By James Kwak
Thomas Frank has a review in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall, but Mark Thoma has an excerpt) of Barry Lynn’s new book Cornered, which apparently documents the prevalence and power of monopolies and oligopolies in lots and lots of industries, not just finance. (I guess one response would be that we have been too harsh on the banks, since everyone’s doing it; but I still think banks are special for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into here.)
The problem, as Frank says, is that “the antimonopoly tradition is a museum piece today, and antitrust enforcement has been largely moribund since federal officials during the Reagan Revolution lost interest in this most brutal form of economic intervention.” Antitrust enforcement became a question of measuring predicted changes in consumer welfare, which meant that it became the province of models. More importantly, we are now in at least our fifth consecutive administration that sees big, profitable companies as inherently good, without stopping to question how they extract those profits.
The solution is already there to hand — go back to enforcing the existing antitrust laws. And appoint Supreme Court justices who are interested in enforcing them. But that assumes that the administration cares about the issue. Do they?
(For one thing, I applied for an internship in the DOJ’s antitrust division for this coming summer . . . and I was turned down.)