So, there are two – roughly delineated you understand – ideas about how antitrust ought to work. There are those who are right and those who are wrong, obviously, this is clear when there are two different views.
View one is that sure, there will be concentrations in the economy. Just because there will be people out there who gain dominant positions. Hey, economies are complex things, y’know? It’s also true that doing something about this has costs. So, we need to agree to limit our doing stuff about it to those situations where the costs of doing so are lower than the benefits of having done so.
At which point the limit is when consumers are getting screwed. Or, the other way around, the existence of power doesn’t matter, it’s the use of it to screw consumers that does. This is known as the consumer welfare standard.
As long as consumer welfare isn’t being harmed then leave alone. On the basis that bureaucrats screwing with stuff has a high probability of reducing consumer welfare in itself.
View two is that now, concentrations of power are much more dangerous than this. So, even if consumer welfare isn’t harming consumers they must still be aggressively managed.
There is the third and unspoken thing going on which is that there are those who simply do not believe that anything should be left alone. So, the game is to find an excuse to intervene. This covers most proposals from most bureaucracies about what should happen next but it’s not considered an economic argument however obviously true it is.
So, this insistence upon consumer welfare being the defining standard is considered to be the current orthodoxy. That neoliberal one. The one that must be replaced according to modern liberals and progressives. They insist that there mere existence of power must be crushed.
My own view upon their insistence is that it’s a combination of wanting to find some reason to have more power themselves plus a hatred for any power outside the progressive consensus. But then I’m known to be prejudiced on this as with so many other subjects.
OK, so that’s the background. The Biden Administration has just released plans to go well beyond the consumer welfare standard, to go off into attacking power just because it’s power outside the progressive nexus.
Well, OK, they did win the election, they get to do this. But then we get to Recode and their description:
President Biden issued a sweeping executive order on Friday, making the case to Americans that companies from multiple industries have become too big and too powerful, and federal intervention is needed to bring competition back to the marketplace in order to drive prices down.
Yep, they’re describing abandoning the consumer welfare standard as a limitation upon antitrust action as being a reversion to the consumer welfare standard.