Trump’s antitrust enforcer considers shifting up a gear

REUTERS:

The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, which stops mergers it believes will push up prices, signaled Thursday he was willing to consider tougher enforcement, a move that could affect high profile big tech companies but also energy producers, drug makers and a big swath of the U.S. economy.

Joseph Simons, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to head the FTC in October 2017 and began work in May, noted in a brief speech that during two previous stints at the FTC, most recently as head of the Bureau of Competition, there had been a tendency to take a relatively hands off approach to antitrust enforcement.

“But now at the beginning of my third stint at the commission, things have shifted. The broad antitrust consensus that has existed within the antitrust community in a relatively stable form for about 25 years is being challenged,” he said at a conference organized by the FTC.

“First, some recent economic literature concludes that the U.S. economy has grown more concentrated and less competitive over the last 20 to 30 years, which happens to correlate with the timing of a change to a less enforcement-minded antitrust policy, beginning in the 1980s,” he said. “These concerns merit serious attention.”

Simons also noted calls for antitrust to address issues of income inequality and lagging wages, and said that this would also be discussed.

“We do this with the goal of understanding if our current enforcement policies are on the right track or on the wrong track, and if they are on the wrong track, what shall we do to improve them?” he said, noting that he was keeping “a very open mind.”

Rebecca Slaughter, a Democrat on the five-member commission, noted in a tweet a Roosevelt Institute study showing relatively few big companies dominate markets ranging from airlines to pharmaceuticals, saying “@FTC is listening.”

Trump has pushed for tough enforcement of antitrust law but muddied the waters by singling out AT&T’s (T.N) purchase of Time Warner, owner of CNN, which Trump has frequently criticized. The Justice Department sued in court to stop that deal but lost. It has appealed.

More at Reuters

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