In 2015, the seventh year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States saw $4.7 trillion worth of corporate mergers and acquisitions—an all-time high. Though Obama did pick some high-profile fights with mega-companies that were trying to merge, his administration barely surpassed the number of antitrust cases brought to trial under George W. Bush, who set a record for bringing the fewest of any president.
But when congressional Democrats unveiled their “Better Deal” platform last summer, it contained a whole chapter on “cracking down on corporate monopolies and the abuse of economic and political power.” The document, which Democrats aim to use as a blueprint for the 2018 midterm elections, calls for tougher treatment of corporate mergers and a new government “Trust Buster” position that will look closely at existing concentrations of economic power and demand that regulators take action or explain why they won’t. “In recent years,” the platform declares, “antitrust regulators have been unable or unwilling to pursue complaints about anticompetitive conduct.” It was a rare rebuke to Obama’s record, reflecting a shift in Democratic thinking on monopolization.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has been helping lead the party’s new approach to antitrust enforcement. She outlined this agenda during a speech to the Open Markets Program back in the summer of 2016 and has been a harsh critic of President Trump’s approach to antitrust enforcement as well. In late January, she spoke with The Nation’s Washington editor, George Zornick, about how large monopolies affect the economy and what Democrats are planning to do to address the problem.
George Zornick: I imagine that, to many people, “monopoly power” sounds like a pretty distant concept. They don’t care how Robert Bork once interpreted antitrust law. So how do you explain it to your constituents and convey the effects to them?
Elizabeth Warren: This is about whether our markets are fair and open to everyone, or if they’re just places for the biggest and wealthiest corporations. I believe in markets. But markets work only when everyone gets a fair opportunity to compete.