Joe Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said Thursday that monopolies could “crush” smaller competitors by buying them, a possible wake-up call ahead of the agency’s expected lawsuit against Facebook.
The statement highlights how the agency’s antitrust approach could change under a Biden administration, as the Democratic Party’s left wing pushes for even stricter enforcement, the DealBook newsletter reports.
A debate has raged between the more laissez-faire conservatives and the so-called “hipster antitrust movement” seeking a more aggressive overhaul of competition policy, especially with regard to Big Tech.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. should seek a balance between these competing ideologies.
The five FTC commissioners are currently three Republicans and two Democrats. Democrats, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, often oppose the “permissive” treatment of companies by the majority, and one of them could become the new head of the agency. Indeed, the House Committee on Energy and Trade recently urged Mr. Simons to “immediately stop work on all partisan and controversial points”, noting that the leadership “will undoubtedly change.”
FTC commissioners have staggered terms and need Senate approval, so balancing might take time. In any case, experts say the political climate is not ripe for an aggressive political overhaul.
David Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown University and former director of the FTC’s consumer protection unit, said that while “antitrust laws have not worked very well in the digital economy,” he doubted that a revolution was desirable or possible.
Likewise, Eleanor Fox and Harry First of New York University, who recently introduced new rules to curb Big Tech, said there was plenty of room for consensus in the ideological milieu, balancing nuanced views. on efficiency and market consolidation.
And Sean Royall, former deputy director of the FTC’s competition bureau who is now a partner at legal giant Kirkland & Ellis, said: “The changes we expect are pretty moderate overall.”