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Countering anti-worker practices

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We’ve written before about how the non-compete clauses often required by “free market for me, monopoly for thee” employers should be banned for at least the vast majority of workers. The Biden administration has at least taken important steps in this direction:

According to an increasingly influential school of thought in left-of-center economic circles, corporate mergers and some other common business practices have made American workers worse off. The government, this theory holds, should address it.

It appears that school has a particularly powerful student: President Biden.

This week,the White House is planning to release an executive order focused on competition policy. People familiar with the order say one section has several provisions aimed at increasing competition in the labor market.

The order will encourage the Federal Trade Commission to ban or limit noncompete agreements, which employers have increasingly used in recent years to try to hamper workers’ ability to quit for a better job. It encourages the F.T.C. to ban “unnecessary” occupational licensing restrictions, which can make finding new work harder, especially across state lines. And it encourages the F.T.C. and Justice Department to further restrict the ability of employers to share information on worker pay in ways that might amount to collusion.

More broadly, the executive order encourages antitrust regulators to consider how mergers might contribute to so-called monopsony — conditions in which workers have few choices of where to work and therefore lack leverage to negotiate higher wages or better benefits.

More on the executive order here.

Increased antitrust action might be useful in some circumstances, but as a counter to corporate power it’s limited. Not only is it hard to argue that even Amazon is a literal monopoly, but (hello Jimmy Johns!) you don’t have to be a market share leader, let alone a monopoly, to be able to use leverage to impose anti-competitive practices on your workers. Regulations that just empower workers irrespective of how much of the market their employers control are the right idea.

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