A PYMNTS Company

The Monopoly Harms That Antitrust Keeps Missing

 |  August 28, 2020

By: Hal Singer (Pro Market)

Labor’s share of income is falling, while income inequality, the profit share, and ownership concentration are all rising. The career pathways for Americans to transition from lower- to middle-class are disappearing. Entrepreneurship is in decline. Towns are downsizing, Main Streets are vacant, and regional disparities are growing. We are witnessing the slow death of the American dream. And these trends occurred all before the pandemic.

There are several stories that tie these secular trends together, but the most compelling narrative to emerge for the United States’ economic malaise is that concentration, coupled with exclusionary conduct by dominant firms—whether in agribusinesses or hospital networks or Big Tech titans—enhances the bargaining power of monopoly platforms over workers and suppliers. A July 2020 study by economists at the Federal Reserve Board shows how “the rise of market power of the firms in both product and labor markets over the last four decades can generate all of these secular trends.”

A more accessible and non-technical narrative comes from David Dayen, editor of the American Prospect and author of 2016’s Chain of Title. Dayen is a master storyteller, and his new book on monopolies highlights his special talents. Monopolized follows a number of other antimonopoly books, from Jonathan Tepper’s and Denise Hearn’s The Myth of Capitalism (2018) to Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness (2018) to Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal (2019) to Matt Stoller’s Goliath (2019), and is being published at the same time as Zephyr Teachout’s Break ’Em Up(2020). These books explain how antitrust enforcement has drifted away from the original intent of the Sherman Act, to the point that the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division now uses antitrust perversely to cement, rather than disperse, the concentration of economic power. 

Given the resurgence of interest in reining in corporate power, culminating in last month’s Congressional hearing of Big Tech’s abuses, it feels like we’re having an antimonopoly moment…