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Antitrust

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Your long read of the day should be David Dayen’s essay on the need for a new era of antitrust enforcement and perhaps new legislation. After all, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act did not anticipate much about the present. You may not be surprised to find out that Robert Bork plays a huge role in the shift away from aggressive antitrust legislation. And many of the problems we see in the New Gilded Age are partially or wholly caused by monopoly, that feature of the first Gilded Age. An excerpt:

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter gave a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?” He wondered why anti-monopoly sentiment ceased to become the subject of public agitation. “Once the United States had an antitrust movement without antitrust prosecutions,” Hofstadter said. “In our time, there have been antitrust prosecutions without an antitrust movement.”

Now we have lost both the movement and the prosecutions. When we talk about banks that are too big to fail, we’re talking about antitrust. When we talk about the high cost of health care, we’re talking about antitrust. So many of our key domestic issues are fundamentally questions about whether we should tolerate monopolies, or dismantle them. But this formulation—a centerpiece of public debate in the last robber-baron era between the 1880s and 1910s—has all but disappeared from popular discourse.

Can anti-monopoly sentiment be revived? When New York’s Working Families Party first recruited Zephyr Teachout to run for governor, she said she would only do it if she could talk about monopolies. “They polled it, and they were correct that nobody knew what I was talking about,” Teachout says. But when she eventually ran an insurgent campaign against incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she was determined to talk about it anyway.

“The minute you got past the sound-bite level, people responded to the concentration of power,” Teachout says. They did campaign events at places where people paid their cable bills, using the pending Comcast–Time Warner merger, eventually abandoned, as the hook. She engaged farmers in upstate New York about monopsony power, and discussed Amazon and big banks on the stump. And it resonated. After only one month of campaigning, Teachout won 35 percent of the vote, with particular strength in upstate counties where farming issues were prominent.

“The Tea Party talks to people and says, ‘You’re out of power because government is taking it away from you,’” Teachout says. “Far too often, Democrats say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re not out of power.’ That’s dissonant with our lived experience. You’re out of power … because your priorities don’t matter and JPMorgan’s do.”

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