Antitrust is Hot Again – A Conversation on Populist, Hipster, and More Antitrust Policy Monikers

William Rinehart

In March, the Pepperdine Law Review cohosted a symposium with the Regulatory Transparency Project on “Regulating Tech: Present Challenges and Possible Solutions”. Babette Bullock, Chief Economist for the FCC, began her panel by observing that antitrust is a hot topic again, appearing under several names such as populist, hipster, or EU style antitrust policy. Will Rinehart started his remarks with an accessible overview of the subject, and we have transcribed his comments to share them with you. We encourage you to also listen to the full podcast:

There really seems to be a number of names for what seems to be this kind of new trend in antitrust some call it Neo-Brandeisianism. Populist antitrust is sometimes what we talk about or hipster antitrust but really there, there seems to be kind of some fundamental underlying trends happening both within the economy and also within the academic literature and in practice that that seems to be changing or at least potentially could be changing how antitrust as a policy occurs and how it happens within the next, next ten years and really I’m gonna leave it the other scholars in this panel to talk about how we kind of came to this place but I think what’s really important to at least start with is to mention that there is this sense that competition, and especially concentration levels, have been increasing for some time, that really in the last twenty years we’ve seen something like 75% of all industries that had higher concentration levels so there seems to be, and you know again we’re gonna be discussing a lot of this, there seems to be much bigger firms that occur within the economy right now. The big question is whether or not those larger firms are creating worse prices for consumers or, or how they’re affecting competition, but generally speaking we’re trying to try to understand how these concentration levels in kind of the big bad question really works in today’s policy conversations. So there’s a lot to be said here but I think that to really think through this you need to think through what exactly it is that the competition policy is meant to achieve. Is it meant to achieve benefit for consumers? is it meant to achieve benefit for innovation, which is a hot topic and really a topic that is really obviously very complex to talk about? Or is it that we’re actually trying to deal with something a little bit more fundamentally, like a power problem or a political problem? When we have these conversations it’ll come up very quickly that we tend to talk about very large firms. We talk about Amazon and Facebook and Google and Apple. These are firms that seem to also have a lot of political power and so these things are naturally getting involved with each other. I think I’m gonna probably leave it at that, and because obviously we can go in many different directions, but what seems to unite populist antitrust or at least this, this conversation is that big is bad and what I think that a lot of the panelists will probably start trying to tease apart is what do we mean by this and really how effective is antitrust and competition policy law dealing with some of these problems that seem to be emanating from the from large concentration to firms.

William Rinehart

Senior Research Fellow

Center for Growth and Opportunity


Antitrust & Consumer Protection

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