How monopolies have flourished—and undermined democracy

Ganesh Sitaraman in The New Republic:

The last forty years have seen a transformation in American business. Three major airlines dominate the skies. About ten pharmaceutical companies make up the lion’s share of the industry. Three major companies constitute the seed and pesticide industry. And 70 percent of beer is sold to one of two conglomerates. Scholars have shown that this wave of consolidation has depressed wages, increased inequality, and arrested small business formation. The decline in competition is so plain that even centrist organizations like The Economist and the Brookings Institution have called for a reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement.

Antitrust law today is, however, very narrowly construed. The currently reigning paradigm originated in the 1970s with Robert Bork—the same Bork whom the Senate would later block from the Supreme Court. Bork’s book The Antitrust Paradox argued that the only goal of the antitrust laws was consumer welfare. This eagle-eyed focus was not only economically efficient, Bork and his followers pointed out, but easy for courts to administer, because consumer welfare could be measured in terms of prices: If prices are going down, the system is working. To abandon this standard, former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright, a Republican, has said, “would be a monumental shift,” and “a dangerous one.”

More here.