Transcript of Competition Policy Conversation with Bharat Ramamurti, Former Deputy Director for the National Economic Council

Jan 19, 2024

On January 9, The Capitol Forum hosted a conference call with Bharat Ramamurti to discuss likely competition policy priorities for the White House in 2024. The full transcript, which has been modified slightly for accuracy, can be found below.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  Good morning and welcome to The Capitol Forum’s Conference Call on Competition Policy with Bharat Ramamurti. I’m Teddy Downey, Executive Editor here at The Capitol Forum. Bharat is the former Deputy Director for the National Economic Council, and currently is a Senior Advisor for Economic Strategy at the American Economic Liberties Project. And Bharat, thank you so much for doing this today.

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Thanks so much for having me.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And before we get going, just a quick reminder. If you have questions, please email us at or enter them into the questions pane of the control panel. We’ll get to questions toward the end of the call. And Bharat, I’d like to kick things off here. From my standpoint, I think people just can’t fully appreciate what a big deal the President’s Executive Order on Competition was. And I know you were at the center of that, writing it, implementing it, getting it done. Can you tell us about the importance and just the scale of the project of the Executive Order and give us a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look at putting that together and why it’s such a big deal?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, absolutely. And I agree that it was a really consequential Executive Order and the product of a lot of work across the government. So, I think the President and his team felt very strongly that America needed a different approach to antitrust and competition policy and that what you had seen in the economy over the last few decades is a growing trend towards consolidation in more industries which was resulting in higher prices, in lower wages in certain industries and decreased innovation and decreased dynamism. And there was a goal of trying to return the U.S. to the more robust antitrust and competition approach that it had sort of during the World War II, post-World War two era. And the Executive Order was really an attempt to do a few things.

Number one, to express very clearly the need for a different approach, which is what you see in the first policy section of the Executive Order.

Number two, to be very diligent about identifying specific steps that various agencies could take in the short term to promote competition in their areas. And I think one of the important insights of the Executive Order is that competition policy isn’t just about the Department of Justice and the FTC, which are the traditional antitrust agencies. There’s regulatory steps that nearly every federal agency can take to promote competition in the areas that they have jurisdiction over.

So in the process of working on the Executive Order, what I and the other members of our team did was sit down with essentially every relevant federal agency and do some brainstorming about steps that they could take to promote competition and then try to put together a very ambitious timeline for them executing those changes and then putting them into the Executive Order.

And then the third big thing that the Executive Order did was establish the Competition Council. We really wanted to institutionalize the focus on competition across agencies, wanted to make sure that when agencies were thinking about policy decisions, that one of the factors that they considered was the impact on competition, just in the same way that they would think about the impact on budgetary issues and other relevant considerations. And the goal of the Competition Council was to reinforce that priority, but also on a whole host of issues to encourage cooperation across agencies on important competition issues.

So, the DOJ and the USDA working together on the Packers and Stockyards Act and competition in the meat processing industry. The DOJ helping out some of the smaller agencies, like the Surface Transportation Board or the Federal Maritime Commission, on their really important competition agendas. Cooperation between the HHS and the antitrust agencies to share data that HHS had about the health care industry that the DOJ and FTC could use to potentially investigate and bring enforcement actions as appropriate based on that data.

So, it was a lot of work on the front end to make sure that were creating an ambitious pathway to turning around competition policy in the US. And then, of course, alongside that, there was the really important work of appointing people to key positions, most notably at DOJ and FTC, who had that kind of robust approach to competition and antitrust. And of course, were glad to see that Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter were nominated and confirmed with pretty strong bipartisan support and now have gone on to do exactly what the President had hoped they would do, which is pursue a more robust enforcement approach.

So really, from day one of the administration, there was a lot of emphasis and a lot of focus on turning around what I always thought of as a battleship. You had a battleship steaming in a particular direction for 20 or 30 years. You can’t just throw it into reverse and spin it around in a month. It takes a long time to kind of shift the course of it. And I think that the goal of the Executive Order was to start shifting that course.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And I’d like to stay on the Competition Council for a second. Another thing that I think is really underappreciated is in terms of steering that ship and redirecting it, you have a lot of career staff. You have a lot of analysts at these agencies who are not used to thinking this way, right? They’re not used to thinking in the frame of the Executive Order. And so how important is it to get all of those agency heads in a room together to discuss and figure out ways to keep turning that ship, making sure it keeps going in the new direction. You’ve got a reeducation. You’ve even got a re‑education for a lot of these people at the tops of the agencies. I don’t think Pete Buttigieg had a big competition policy expertise going into that job. So how important was the Competition Council and how important is it going forward in re‑steering that ship?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, it’s really important. I mean, it’s just human nature, right? Where, obviously, if the President issues an Executive Order saying my priority is to promote competition across industries, you, as a cabinet member or senior official at an agency, are going to pay attention to that. But just the nature of government, when you have 30 different things you need to think about every day, ten of which are urgent and could be front page news, you need some kind of mechanism to make sure that people keep pushing forward, even when there are other distractions and other important things that they have to deal with.

And the Competition Council, where you would have a meeting every six months of the members of the cabinet that they would have to be prepared for, they’d have to make presentations. You’d have the President in attendance to reinforce the importance of competition. It really made sure that people and senior staff kept pushing for more progress on these issues so that there would be progress to report every six months.

And I think it really had a profound effect, even beyond all of the specific things. We love to talk about in the White House, there were 72 specific provisions in the Executive Order for deliverables coming out of it. Things for like finishing the over‑the‑counter hearing aids rule in a timely fashion, the merger guidelines, other important milestones that we have since completed. But the emphasis on competition filtered into other important decisions.

So, to give you an example out of DOT, since you noted DOT there, if DOT had to write a rule for funding coming out of the infrastructure bill that passed in 2021, funding for electric vehicle chargers. And I think in large part because of the Competition Executive Order and the focus on that, they put language into the rule that said, if you’re going to accept federal dollars to build out an EV charging network, you basically have to make that open access, right? You have to make sure that the chargers that you have are going to be available to all different types of cars. Because the future of EVs is going to be dependent on the fact that you can get your EV charged basically wherever you go, just like you can stop at any gas station and get gas that works for your car.

And that’s a very pro competition rule, that kind of open access rule. And because of that, Tesla most notably, but companies that now have applied for and are getting federal funding through that are opening up their networks, which is going to be pro-competitive. It’s going to lead to competition in both the charging network and more competition in the EV space. And it’s going to be great for consumers because it means more options for them. So, that’s just one example of how, in my mind, the Executive Order had an impact well beyond the specific provisions that were identified within the text itself.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And I want to stick on some of the successes. Any other successes from the Executive Order in terms of rules like that EV change that you want to highlight or that really stand out?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Well, yeah. As I said, there are 72 specific provisions. I think the change on hearing aids and allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter, getting that rule finished so that right now you can walk into a Best Buy or CVS or any number of other stores and actually purchase a hearing aid over the counter for a few hundred dollars rather than a few thousand dollars like it was before, is obviously pro competition. In fact, there’s been all sorts of reporting about how many companies are jumping into the fray to manufacture lower cost hearing aids now that they can be sold over the counter.

But it’s also a tremendous cost savings for consumers. You’ve got 40 million people with mild to moderate hearing loss and only about seven million of them have hearing aids. The rest of them wouldn’t get them. And the surveys show that a large part of that was because the cost was so prohibitively high. Now that you can get a workable option for a few hundred bucks, I think we’re going to see a big upswing in the number of people who have the hearing aids that they need. And I think that’s a great example of how competition can be beneficial.

Another area where the emphasis on competition has fundamentally changed the approach has been in all of our broadband work. As part of the infrastructure bill, there was $40 billion for infrastructure build out to build out broadband networks to areas that currently don’t have it, primarily rural areas. And a big emphasis in all of our engagement with the Hill and then subsequently the implementation of that provision by the Department of Commerce has been on, number one, making sure that as we are building out broadband networks, that we are encouraging competition by allowing some of those funds to be used in areas where there may be an existing provider, but it’s a very high cost network. And so, by bringing in a new competitor, we’re going to help drive down prices and drive up access by making sure that there’s not functionally a monopoly in that area.

There’s probably half a dozen other examples of areas in which the fact that we had this Executive Order, the fact that the President would consistently emphasize that competition was a priority of his, the fact that the President, in laying out his vision of Bidenomics, identified competition as one of the three pillars has really forced agencies to consider what the competitive impacts are of basically every decision that they make. And I think that’s had a lot of positive impacts in the short term. I think it’s going to have an enormous impact in the long term.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  You mentioned Bidenomics and this being a priority for the President. This is an election year. It seems like the President has staked out pharmaceutical industry costs and competition as a priority. From a competition standpoint, do you see that being a big election year focus? What are some of the other competition issues that could kind of enter into the mainstream dialog from your standpoint, looking at all the things that you’ve worked on and knowing the priorities at the White House? What do you see as standing out this year? We’ve written at The Capitol Forum about some of the issues that we see, but they’re not really sort of White House type stuff. It’s DOJ issuing a complaint against Live Nation, for example, that could sort of enter the mainstream discussion. Typically, you don’t see competition as like a kitchen table issue. But what are some of the things that stand out to you as potential priorities that could kind of be a bigger presence in the mainstream?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  I think there’s a couple of big ones. Number one, one of the things that’s closest to the President’s heart is a ban on non-compete agreements. That was something that was mentioned in the Executive Order, that the President encouraged the FTC to act on that issue because he thinks it’s just a matter of fundamental fairness. People should be able to leave a job and go take another job if they’re offering better pay or better benefits or more flexibility or whatever the case may be. And he finds it offensive, essentially, that an employer, especially an employer maybe in retail or there was an example of a security guard company that is preventing an employee through a non-compete agreement from accepting a job in the same field.

The FTC has proposed a rule there. I think they’ve publicly said that they’re aiming to finalize that rule in the months ahead. That could be a really big deal. There’s something like 30 or 40 million workers that are subject to non‑compete agreements right now. It’s not a trivial issue. And it’s an issue, like a lot of competition issues, that has broad support across party lines, both in Congress where there’s bipartisan support for restricting non-compete agreements and where there’s really broad public support for banning or restricting non-compete agreements. So, I think that could end up being a big deal in the spring or summer whenever that rule is finalized. And I think it would have a lot of political salience.

Number two, there have been rules that the Department of Agriculture have been working on that are about making sure that farmers are treated fairly. There’s a lot of concentration in the meat processing industry. You hear stories from producers and farmers and ranchers all the time about how they used to have five different options for selling their product. And now maybe they only have one. And that means you have to take whatever price that one company is willing to give you, which squeezes them considerably. And so, rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act should be proposed or finalized over the next several months, which I think could be a big deal for farmers and ranchers, and again, could be more of a political issue in more rural areas.

And then the third area, which I think is at least an offshoot of the competition work, but it’s certainly related in my mind and it was something that I spent a lot of time on, is junk fees. And the President has been emphasizing this for more than a year now. There’s been a lot of progress on that after he called out the issue in the State of the Union and called out, for example, family seating fees on airlines, as in the State of the Union address last year. You had a number of airlines voluntarily stop imposing those types of fees which could be $50 per flight for a parent just to ensure that they sat next to their child.

We’ve made progress on junk fees in a number of different transportation areas. There’s been progress with the online ticketing space where Ticketmaster agreed to disclose all fees up front for a number of sales on its site. So, I think that the President — and I’m sorry, we’ve made a number of important changes through the CFPB in the banking space, which are currently saving customers billions of dollars a year, whether it’s on late fees for credit cards or bounced check fees, overdraft fees and so on.

So, all of these issues have really broad political support. I think there are good examples of how the government can do something that is good for markets, promote fair competition and good for consumers. Do I think that they will be the number one issue in the presidential race? No, but I do think that they can be really salient policy examples of how the President is trying to build an economy that treats both companies and consumers more fairly.

I mean, that’s the thing about competition that I was always attracted to, which is when you are making changes that are intended to promote fair competition, there’s all sorts of positive outcomes for consumers. But the other thing is that you are also rewarding businesses that are trying to do things the right way. We hear, for example, about resort fees that hotels charge. People probably know what I’m talking about. These are the fees that maybe aren’t disclosed upfront when you’re trying to pick between a set of hotels in a particular town. And then when you show up, all of a sudden the hotel says, oh, by the way, there’s going to be a $40 a night resort fee, and you have no option of opting out of that. You have to pay it right now. And what the provision of that fee does, that surprise fee, it skews the marketplace so that a hotel that is doing the right thing and fully disclosing all of its fees upfront, maybe losing business to the person down the street who’s not disclosing those fees because that other hotel appears to be a cheaper option.

And we don’t want that kind of competition. We don’t want competition over which company is doing the best at tricking people. We want competition between companies on price and on quality of service and so on. And so, the competition agenda really rewards companies that are trying to do their things the right way as well. And I think that’s why it’s a really potent political issue.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  I know junk fees has come up in a lot of different industries. And to your point, it does seem like that’s how a lot of companies compete these days is on how to creatively rip you off. I want to ask about tech more specifically. We’ve got a question here from the audience. Competition policy, antitrust priorities, in the tech sector. You’ve got AI as a new issue. We’ve seen litigation for the New York Times against open AI. There’s new rules coming out, new meetings at the FTC. We’ve got the Chips Act implementation. There’s obviously so much focus on social media. How do you see how the White House is thinking about competition policy in the tech space?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, maybe we can focus on a few different areas. I think when it comes to competition within the platform space and platform self‑preferencing their own content or their own products, the administration has been pretty clear that they’re been supportive of legislative efforts that would address that in order to promote more competition and make sure that smaller players, smaller businesses, are getting a fair shake.

On AI, I think that — and you saw some of this in the AI Executive Order – there are really important questions about how you have — of the competitive impact of artificial intelligence. I kind of think of it in two different ways.

Number one, within companies themselves who are providing AI, how do you ensure that you have a competitive marketplace and robust competition among that subsector? And then the second part is, for all the other industries, how do you ensure that the adoption of AI in unrelated fields — like, I don’t know, accounting or the real estate industry or so on — how do you ensure that the adoption of AI doesn’t necessarily lead to a massive amount of consolidation as one particular player is able to capture the benefits of AI more effectively than others? Just what kind of competitive impact does that end up having? And how do we want to think through those costs and tradeoffs of that set of issues?

I think that these are really thorny questions with a technology that we’re still trying our best to wrap our hands around. I think the goal of the Executive Order on AI was really to make sure that folks across the administration and at the agencies are trying to puzzle through this set of problems and think about what steps, what kinds of guidelines, would be appropriate to ensure that at the end of the day, that the introduction of this new technology is going to be competition enhancing rather than competition reducing? And I think that’s really the mandate that the agencies have because of the Executive Order. And I’m very curious to see what kinds of reports and materials and guidelines they produce as a result of the Executive Order that the President issued.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  I want to stay on AI for a quick second. Because to me, one of the key things is like the New York Times is saying, look, you can’t just scrape all of our copyrighted material and use that in your AI. That’s not fair use. Obviously, we’re a media company. Our IP is really important as well, similar to the New York Times. I mean, full disclosure, we’re in the same trade association on this issue. But when it comes to the President’s fundamental views on fairness and labor, it strikes me as – you know, there was a rule yesterday on misclassification of workers in the gig economy by the Department of Labor. I think the President has been pretty — I think his gut is to come down on the side of the worker or the producer. And I’m curious to get your thoughts.

That seems to be a big issue in terms of the fight over, like, who gets to protect their work. The musician, the artist, the newspaper writer company. How do you see that issue playing out? I mean, I’m conflating things a little bit because, obviously, the New York Times is a big company. But when it comes to fair use and sort of the tech companies more aggressively interpreting Section 230 as just like giving them carte blanche ability to sort of scrape anything on the internet, for example. How do you think the President thinks about those types of issues, or the White House, when it comes to that kind of fairness? Because that to me seems like a big fight that will end up happening. It’s kind of like self-preferencing. It’s not self-preferencing. It’s kind of like how are you going to treat the inputs into the AI? You know, there’s been a proper license between OpenAI and Politico. But what about all the companies that don’t enter a licensing agreement I suppose?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  No, I think it’s, I mean, look, just to step back, I think historically we have seen the introduction of new technologies that are transformative and that require a combination of sort of management and labor deciding how that technology should be used in a fair manner, and, of course, the government issuing regulations or passing laws that dictate that relationship. It seems pretty clear that’s going to happen for AI.

I thought it was pretty fascinating that both the writers’ strike and the actors’ strike, in large part, not fully, of course, but one of the major issues in both of those strikes was about AI and the proper use of AI and whether and how companies could use AI to essentially build on and replace the labor that writers or actors are providing. And in those instances, because you had strong unions, you were able to negotiate an agreement on that. Of course, not every industry has that kind of union and isn’t able to reach that kind of agreement with management. And I think that’s why you’re going to need some kind of government set of rules about what constitutes appropriate use of this data. And again, you might see it play out in the courts as well as the New York Times lawsuit.

I think that your point about the President is correct, that his goal — and he has said this publicly — is to make sure that with the introduction of this new technology that it ends up being deployed in a way that it is pro-worker and worker enhancing. And I know some people may say, well, how does that happen? You know, you’re talking about a technology that can maybe replace huge categories of workers.

I think we’ve seen in the last several decades other types of technological introductions that also have had, in retrospect at least, massive changes in terms of the types of work that people can do and what types of work are more useful or less useful, better compensated and less well compensated. And the goal in all of this is to make sure that both the government and private sector actors are introducing this technology with the right goal in mind, which is to provide higher standard of living, a better work environment and fair compensation for American workers.

I think that the President feels strongly about it. You see that throughout the Executive Order on AI. I think that figuring out the exact way of accomplishing that is going to be very challenging. But I feel optimistic in the sense that both the executive branch and the legislative branch are really digging in on this topic. Schumer has been convening meetings and doing a lot of work on this topic as well. And I think that over the next few years, you’re likely to see a large amount of progress in terms of defining how we accomplish that goal.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  I want to talk for a second. A lot of people kind of conflate competition with antitrust only. We’ve seen recent speeches from national security folks, U.S. Trade Representative Tai, sort of staking out a new direction for trade with competition at its core. Labor policy seems really important when it comes to how the White House thinks about competition. Do you think these things are all intertwined? And industrial policy as well. How important is it that all those different aspects of the law are holistically understood in how they interact — even IP, you could maybe throw that in there — when it comes to trade and how that’s changing the way the President makes decisions about trade, national security, things like that? That’s kind of how we’re focusing.

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Yeah. So, I think that you’re right to identify that the focus on competition is not something that should be narrowly construed or viewed as entirely an outgrowth of steps taken by the DOJ and FTC. That’s actually, I would say, one of the big points of the Competition Executive Order, that every agency, even on issues that are not antitrust related, has the ability to shape markets in a way that either promotes competition or lessens competition.

I think one really underrated area is tax policy. There are a whole set of tax provisions that are currently in the code that have accreted over many decades, in large part because bigger corporations tend to have more effective lobbyists, that are better for incumbents, better for large multinational corporations, and make it harder for small businesses to compete.

I would often say, when I was talking to small business owners, how many of you have a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands where you can park your profits and pay lower taxes? Now, what kind of competitive disadvantage does it create that your company, your small business, is trying to compete with the larger business down the street. Your small business is paying full freight. And because of the way our corporate tax code is designed, your bigger competitor is paying far less of an effective tax rate. And that lets them offer lower prices and so on. Or pay better wages and get away with taking workers that could be working for your company.

So, it’s really important to think about the competitive impact of all of these different policy areas. As you said, labor. It’s really important. Obviously, patent law is tremendously influential when it comes to competition outcomes. There were elements of the Competition Executive Order that affected the Patent and Trademark Office that I think were kind of wonky and below the radar, but really important.

So, the goal of the Executive Order is to remind agencies that as they are thinking through these types of decisions, that there’s likely to be a competitive impact from what they do and that they should weigh that as an important priority as they are considering various options.

I would say one of the biggest takeaways I have from my time in the White House was that you would approach a decision. And one of the first things you would do is evaluate what your options were. Maybe you identify two, three, four or five different options for handling an issue. And you would essentially write down what you thought were the costs and benefits of each of the different approaches. And it was always useful to have a reminder that one of the things that you should think about is the competitive impact. Like, just as you would think about the budgetary impact, just as you would think about the potential political impact, just as you would think about the use of resources within the agency, within the government and so on. This is a really important part of it.

And I think that the result has been over the last few years a number of decisions that went differently than they otherwise would have gone, totally outside the scope of your sort of normal antitrust issues, that are a result of the nudge that agencies got in the Competition Executive Order.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And you mentioned earlier the guidelines are part of the Executive Order. What’s your take on the new guidelines? Obviously, the White House made that a priority by putting in the Executive Order. But why does the White House think that’s such an important issue?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Yeah, I think this is just an area — and as I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, there has been a view that over the last few decades, things have been trending in the wrong direction and that there has been a bit of a lighter touch approach on antitrust, that there has been a trend towards consolidation in a number of different industries and that the guidelines, which hadn’t been updated in a very long time, sort of by government terms at least, didn’t reflect the latest and best thinking about the types of things that can present a competitive injury.

And I think that the FTC and the DOJ have gone about this in a very thoughtful way. They incorporated the latest and best thinking. They dug deep into the law. They dug deep into the economics. They put out guidelines for comment, which again wasn’t really required. But they did it voluntarily in order to make sure that they got feedback from stakeholders. And even those folks who vehemently disagreed with some of the things in the guidelines got a full and fair opportunity to weigh in. And now the agencies have gotten back and made some changes in their final version. And I think that it’s real progress. These are highly influential documents. And I think that they do reflect the latest and best thinking on markets and on competition policy.

I just want to say one important thing in this spot, which is that, obviously, we at the White House never played a role in enforcement decisions on investigations and so on. But it was always a priority of ours to make sure that the DOJ and the FTC had more resources to do whatever enforcement and investigation they thought was appropriate. And we made a lot of progress on that. I know there’s kind of a live issue right now in Congress where some of the money that was supposed to go to DOJ maybe redirected or withdrawn. I think that that would be very damaging and I think would honestly what would undermine outcomes that a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans want, which is more robust enforcement of our antitrust laws.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And in terms of labor playing a role in, for example, labor analysis in the merger guidelines is a big new area of focus for DOJ and FTC. Obviously, it’s been a pro-labor presidency. Is that an important thing for the President and the White House? Are they supportive of that type of thing? Is there any economic work in that area from your perspective that the White House is particularly interested in? Or is it kind of one of those things that they leave to the agencies? I mean, I’m trying to get a sense if there’s like more of a dialog around this, monopsony power, labor effects, things like that.

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  No, I think it’s critically important. As I said, I think one of the things that’s nearest and dearest to the President’s heart is on labor market competition, noncompete agreements, and how that dampens competition in the labor market. I think that there has been incredibly good research over the last 10 or 15 years on the impacts of local and regional monopsonies when it comes to in the health care space and others, which have the impact of driving down wages for people who are employed in certain fields, in certain parts of the country.

In the Executive Order itself, the President noted that labor market impact should be something that should be considered when it comes to evaluating the competitive effects of a particular action. And there was a directive to the Department of Treasury to do a report on that exact topic. And the Treasury Department did an incredibly good report, which I recommend to everybody. You can find it on their website. It came out probably a year, a year and a half ago at this point. That looked at all of the literature on monopoly power and its impact on wage setting. And it concluded that there is strong evidence that limited competition can drive down wages by a significant amount. I think it was something like 20 percent in some cases.

And so, I think that just sort of at an intuitive level and just for a layperson, there’s this understanding that if you have a merger between two companies, what functionally ends up happening a lot of the time is that a lot of the people in the new merged company get laid off. So that’s the sort of first order impact that you can see. But I think the more subtle, but also really important, impact is that as you have a single owner maybe buying up all of the hospitals or all of the doctor’s offices or whatever the case may be, in a particular town, in a particular area, that’s going to have a noticeable impact on wages, right? If you are a nurse who’s trying to work at a hospital, and all three hospitals in a 50-mile radius are owned by the same company, that’s going to have an effect on the wages that you can receive for your labor.

And so, I think that’s a really important dynamic that the President has identified, that is really clear in the research. And I think that the merger guidelines do a good job of drawing out and emphasizing as a potentially harmful result of concentration.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  I’ve got one last question. I know I’ve got to let you go. So, like a quick, one minute question. We got a question about concentration and anti-competitive practices in American agriculture. Food and AG, is that a market that the President and the White House care about? Sorry to throw this in right at the end.

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  No, I’m glad somebody asked this because the answer is yes. In fact, if you go back and look in early 2022, I think it was literally the first event that the President did in 2022. It was with Secretary Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, and it was on this exact topic. It was on promoting competition in the agriculture space, with a particular on meat. Where, as I mentioned before, there’s an enormous amount of concentration in the meat processing space. And that means whether you’re in poultry, pork, beef, or whatever the case may be, there are fewer and fewer options for somebody to purchase your product and eventually provide it to the end, whether it’s a supermarket or some other kind of retailer.

So, the President and Secretary Vilsack in early 2022 issued a meat action plan. It was literally probably a dozen separate actions that they were going to take to promote more competition in meat processing and give farmers and ranchers better choices. And by the way, also helped drive down the costs of those products for the end consumer, for people who are buying bacon or ground beef at their grocery store. And there’s been a lot of progress on that front. The USDA has issued a number of rules coming out of that. There was a lot of funding that went to promoting new entrants into the meat processing space. And obviously, you’re not going to get these folks online overnight. But you’re seeing new options emerge all across the country for smaller processors that can provide an alternative for farmers and ranchers looking to sell their product, which is going to have important price impacts down the line. So yes, this is really a key priority of the President. It had a big role in the Executive Order. There was a follow‑on announcement in early 2022, and then there’s been a host of steps that the USDA has taken ever since.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  And I think you mentioned that we’re expecting more rules or more action this year. I know the DOJ came out with a big litigation against Agri Stats. So, we’ve been following that closely, but very interested to see what else happens there. That could maybe be one of those issues that becomes an election year topic as well. But Bharat, thank you so, so much for doing this and good luck at the new gig. And I’m sure you’ll benefit from a much more reasonable work/life balance following a couple of years in the White House.

BHARAT RAMAMURTI:  Thanks so much.

TEDDY DOWNEY:  All right. Thank you. And thanks to everyone for joining the call. This concludes the call.