The American Prospect, April 2022
In January, the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice jointly announced a request for public comment on how the two agencies could modernize antitrust enforcement against mergers. Just that step alone was transformative. For the past four decades, the general public has not been brought into policy debates about corporate power; in fact, elite economists actively plotted to keep them out, by arbitrarily raising the standards for challenging mergers. Government agencies simply asking ordinary people to explain how monopolies have caused them harm was a paradigm shift.
Yet typically, so-called “public comment” periods on federal regulatory matters are dominated by industry groups and other lobbyists who shape the final product. During a previous merger guideline rewriting in 2010, only 32 comments were submitted. One was co-signed by Verizon, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Financial Services Roundtable, Microsoft, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce. Meaning they all shared the same interests.
But this time, the FTC/DOJ public comment request has almost 4,000 comments as of April 14. The deadline for comments is April 21. So what’s driving this resurgence of public input?
Part of it is due to the new leadership at the agencies. But the American Economic Liberties Project, a D.C.-based anti-monopoly organization, has also solicited comments from the public, bringing an obscure process to the grassroots level. That it has taken off suggests a broad-based desire to do something about monopoly power.