President Joe Biden has made promoting competition and fighting monopoly power a major priority in his first year in office, and the administration is just getting started, according to a Tuesday speech by Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy.
“We feel strongly that we are playing our role in a democracy in responding to the will of the people, in fact, responding to what really is a supermajority of American citizens,” Wu said in a speech to the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Law Section Fall Forum, citing polling that shows 67% of Americans think the federal government should do more about the power of monopolies.
“There is a demand that something be done about what is felt as an imbalance of power between citizens and corporations, and that we build an economy , as the president likes to say, that does as much for Scranton, Pennsylvania as it does for Park Avenue in New York,” he added.
Wu lauded the formation of the White House’s Competition Council, which launched in September and brings together eight cabinet secretaries and the heads of eight independent agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, to coordinate competition policy across the federal government.
The council was created by a July 9 executive order, which also directed numerous federal departments and agencies to step up their oversight of mergers and monopoly power in industries ranging from technology to agriculture.
The order enlisted departments that are not typically thought of as having antitrust jurisdiction to promote greater competition in markets they oversee. For example, in October the Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule that would enable the sale of hearing aids over the counter without a medical exam or fitting by a specialist, a move the administration hopes will bring more competition to the space and lower prices.
According to the Open Markets Institute, the market for hearing aids is dominated by just four companies: William Demant
Starkey Hearing Technologies, Sonova
and Sivantos .
Wu also pointed to the Federal Trade Commission’s decision to disavow guidelines respecting vertical mergers — or the combination of companies that exist at different points in the supply chain for a single product — that were put in place by the Trump administration in 2020 as evidence of a sea change in thinking on competition policy.
The administration is also placing a new emphasis on the impact of market concentration on workers wages, as evidenced by a complaint filed by the Department of Justice last week, which seeks to block the merger of publishing companies Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, Inc. on the grounds that it would reduce competition for workers in the industry and hold down wage growth.
“I feel that we may look back on this era as a period where there was a real turn in competition policy to questions of labor, works and wages as much as prices,” Wu said. “I know the president comes to antitrust and competition policy from the perspective of what it means for working people.”