You might remember the most shocking blow against free speech in recent memory, when Josh Hawley had his forthcoming vanity book shifted to a different imprint after he came out in support for a violent insurrection intended to overturn the outcome of the presidential election. Anyway, the book is out now, and the results are about what you’d expect, as he completely ignores the sustained antitrust enforcement of the New Deal and its dismantling following the collapse of the Great Society coalition:
Ultimately, what Hawley gets wrong is less important than what he leaves out—namely, the rest of the 20th century. Here is the extent to which Hawley acknowledges the period after Wilson: “Presidents after him would take up the antitrust banner from time to time; Franklin Roosevelt did so notably in his so-called Second New Deal. But these later antitrust efforts would not be linked to republican ideals and were rarely sustained for any length of time.”
Political history did not freeze at the end of the Wilson administration, only to be unthawed now by enterprising young senators. Nor did the anti-monopoly movement fizzle out for good. Quite the contrary. FDR was much more of a warrior against corporate titans than his cousin Teddy had been. His administration put plutocrat Andrew Mellon on trial for tax fraud and brought a massive price-fixing case against Mellon’s Gulf Oil and other companies. According to Matthew Stoller’s 2019 book Goliath, Roosevelt’s crusading antitrust chief, Thurman Arnold, brought nearly as many antitrust cases in five years as had been brought in the previous 48 years combined. Under Harry Truman, the government broke up the A&P supermarket chain, the Walmart (or Amazon) of its time. The Eisenhower administration took on the likes of General Electric, DuPont, and RCA.
And so on, and so forth. The amount of antitrust enforcement and legislation during the middle four decades of the 20th century could fill a book—indeed, it is covered in great detail by other recent books about the anti-monopoly movement, including Antitrust, by Hawley’s Senate colleague Amy Klobuchar, and Stoller’s Goliath. The key point is that this stuff worked. During the long period of bipartisan commitment to anti-monopoly policy, the economy became less concentrated. Inequality plummeted, as the poor and working class, including African Americans, saw their incomes rise faster than those at the top, while the richest Americans’ share of the pie collapsed from its 1920s heights. Antitrust action against tech giants like IBM and AT&T, which forced them to open up their patent vaults to competitors, helped spur innovation and competition in the tech sector, accelerating the birth of the modern internet.
What really cut the antitrust movement off at the knees was not a Democratic president in 1912, as Hawley claims, but a rising school of economic thought in the 1970s. Led by figures including the archconservative legal scholar Robert Bork, a group of economists and lawyers known as the Chicago School persuaded political leaders—and, crucially, the Supreme Court—that aggressive antitrust enforcement was economically irrational. According to what Bork proudly described as “simple” economic models, most monopolies would actually benefit the consumer, since their efficiencies of scale would lead to lower prices. Under Bork’s influence, courts and antitrust enforcers narrowed the scope of what antitrust law could accomplish. During the Reagan presidency, antitrust suits dwindled and mergers soared, a trend that continued through all the Republican and Democratic administrations that have followed. Perhaps relatedly, corporate profits and the incomes of the richest Americans soared too.
I would bet that if you check the index “Robert Bork” does not appear, unless he goes on a tangent to whine about Brett Kavanaugh.
Portraying the Republican Party as anti-corporate requires ignoring a full century of history, just as portraying Hawley as anti-corporate requires ignoring all of his substantive positions and voting record, so it fits.
Meanwhile, the question of whether public officials who supported the 1/6 sedition riots will pay a repetitional cost with the mainstream media is being answered, unfortunately:
The juxtaposition of the Democracy Dies in Darkness header and hosting the book tour of the guy who encouraged Capitol insurrectionists is too much. pic.twitter.com/Dr2A2MeA15— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) May 2, 2021