Letter to the Financial Times Editor from Open Markets Institute’s Barry Lynn

Published on Feb 07, 2024

Letter to the Editor

Financial Times

From Barry Lynn, Open Markets Institute

February 7, 2024

Director General Guersent is absolutely correct that the European Commission did admirable and important work in antitrust for many years, at a time when the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations were still flying the flag of extreme laissez faire. For this Europeans deserve the deep gratitude of all Americans.

But over the last eight years, there has been a true revolution in thinking and action in the United States. This started with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech in June 2016. It spread to the attorneys general of almost every state in the Union in 2019, and the FTC and DOJ in 2020. It culminated in President Biden’s brutal renunciation of the laissez faire philosophy in his Executive Order on Competition in July 2021.

In the Brussels conference last week, we saw two basic differences in thinking. First was whether antitrust is simply one tool in in a much wider enforcement kit. This is the point Director General Guersent made with his “side dish” comment. The U.S. enforcers, by contrast, have resurrected the original Wilsonian vision of antimonopoly as a complete system of regulatory power that extends across the entire state.

The thinking here goes far beyond the tactics of Whole of Government competition policy. What the Americans are ultimately saying is that political economy, properly understood, is the art of using the full array of antimonopoly tools to shape the competition that exists always among people in ways that empower us to build a stronger democracy, a better society, and a truly shared prosperity.

The second big difference at the conference was language. Director General Guersent in his letter writes that European enforcement aims to ensure “the efficiencies” of the “competitive process.” Compare this to AAG Jonathan Kanter’s comments that day, which focused on how the purpose of antimonopoly is to protect “democracy” and the “liberty” of the individual.

As AAG Kanter made clear, such language helps the enforcer, the judiciary, and the public understand the nature and extent of the threats posed by corporations such as Google and Facebook. It also helps enforcers to better understand the actual purpose and character of the laws they wield, as intended by the founders of the U.S. in 1776 and of modern Europe after WWII.

Europeans should feel only pride in having stood steadfast at the barricades for so long alone. But now that Americans have awoken from our 40-year sleep of ignorance about the nature of power, perhaps the prudent response is to embrace this new energy and thinking. Europeans may also want to remind themselves that it was fellow Europeans, including in Germany’s

Federal Cartel Office and the European Data Protection Supervisor, who first made these the same criticisms against the Commission, long before President Biden took office.

The democracies of the world together face three grave threats, each of which stems in part from the laissez faire approach to power of the last four decades. These are Big Tech’s threat to the news media, debate, and democracy; the threat to our security posed by extreme supply chain chokepoints; and the continuing power of the hydrocarbon corporations and nation states.

As dramatic as the advances in antimonopoly thinking and action have been in America these last three years, they are still far from enough. The time has come for the Commission also to reckon honestly with the threats we face. And to bring all the wisdom, capacity, and spirit of European democrats to the fight. Only when that happens will we know we shall prevail.