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The Political Economy of the Decline of Antitrust Enforcement in the US

 |  February 9, 2024

By: Filippo Lancieri (ProMarket)

For over five decades, scholars, policymakers, and commentators have examined regulatory capture, inspired by George Stigler’s seminal work. This research delves into the intricate mechanisms through which companies influence governmental activities, including revolving doors, lobbying, and campaign donations. However, this literature, though increasingly sophisticated, struggles to grasp overarching processes or how special interests combine tools to shape public policy.

Particularly challenging is identifying long-term capture processes, often termed cultural or epistemological capture, which are slow and multifaceted, operating without explicit malfeasance. In a recent article in the Antitrust Law Journal, Eric Posner, Luigi Zingales, and I explore how special interest influence may explain pro-defendant shifts in U.S. antitrust laws since the mid-1970s. Our three-step methodology reveals that these changes received minimal democratic sanction and likely served big business interests rather than those of consumers or society at large.

We find no evidence of malfeasance, instead highlighting the gradual impact of decisions made over decades. In Step I, we map democratic sanction to policy changes, using historical polling data which suggests no public turn against antitrust enforcement over the past half-century, contradicting the declining public confidence in big business….