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The Dangers of Conservative ‘Antitrust Revival’

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via Reuters) Republicans should be wary of the massive expansion of government that increasingly popular anti-monopoly sentiments would entail.

Rachel Bovard has a well-written piece in The American Conservative that argues for those of us on the right to rediscover our true tradition of using antitrust law to stand up to powerful concentrations of market power. By the time you finish reading her piece, it will seem as if aggressive antitrust action is as Republican as splitting rails and running an underground railroad.

But conservatives should reject her approach. Throughout her piece, Bovard focuses solely on a handful of Big Tech companies for their content decisions that anger conservatives. On this narrow concern, she endorses a purported return to a conservative stand against bigness that would, if enacted, mean the end of capitalism as we know it in America.

If that sounds a bit hyperbolic, consider the two leading antitrust bills in the Senate today.

One of them, authored by Senator Josh Hawley, would outlaw all mergers and acquisitions for every company with a market cap over $100 billion. That’s roughly a Who’s Who of American capitalism, almost 80 companies in all. So conservatives should go along with ossifying Procter & Gamble, Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, CISCO, AT&T, Eli Lilly, and Texas Instruments because we’re upset that Facebook and Twitter no longer let Donald Trump post?

Senator Hawley would also lower the threshold for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws, replacing the prevalent “consumer harm” standard with one that “protects competition.” This would turn antitrust law into a blunderbuss aimed by failing competitors against companies that do a better job of serving consumers.

Worse, by jettisoning the consumer-welfare standard that has anchored antitrust law for almost a half century, American businesses of all sorts would find themselves in a perpetual government choke hold. Any strong company could be accused at any moment of being anticompetitive.

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