Coverage

The new trustbusters

Jul 22, 2021

In mid-March, President Joe Biden nominated a young scholar named Lina Khan to serve on the Federal Trade Commission. Khan is a progressive’s progressive. Frustrated at what she viewed as Amazon’s anti-competitive practices, she argued as a 27-year-old Yale Law student that the “consumer welfare” standard — that antitrust action should only be pursued when business practices are adversely affecting consumers, not competitors — was inadequate for dealing with the company’s growing dominance. She suggested that one way to address this problem would be to force Amazon to split up retail and marketplace operations. Another possible solution floated involved more hands-on regulation, as if Amazon were a kind of public utility.

Oren Cass, a former Mitt Romney adviser who today is the executive director of American Compass, an organization that provides intellectual ammunition for the populist Right, sees little ideological tension with the growing conservative embrace of anti-monopoly politics.

“Chicago School libertarian economic dogma is not conservative,” Cass told me. “Conservatism is hugely skeptical of power.” He pointed to the White House’s recent leaning on social media companies to work together to ban so-called “misinformation” about COVID-19 as an example of how the Left, not the Right, is embracing corporate power.

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