FTC Chair Khan, Antitrust AAG Kanter, and Advocates Discuss Draft Merger Guidelines
Washington, D.C. — At an Economic Liberties event today, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and the Department of Justice’s Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter detailed how the newly-released draft merger guidelines will better reflect market realities to safeguard competition. The event also featured testimony from a variety of partners, including writers, pharmacists, farmers, advocates, and small businessowners, who strongly supported the antitrust agencies’ draft framework for merger policy.
During a conversation with Economic Liberties’ Director of Research Matt Stoller, FTC Chair Lina Khan and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter both emphasized the impact of merger policy on the lives of everyday people.
“A key goal of ours is to begin to make sure that we’re hearing directly from people,” said Chair Lina Khan at the event. “Because at the end of the day, which mergers go through and which ones do not, can be hugely consequential for people’s lives.”
“Congress was quite clear that [competition] matters to our freedom,” said AAG Jonathan Kanter. In commenting on the draft guidelines, the public is “raising opportunities for us to think through improvements and adjustments,” he added.
AAG Kanter also explained the guidelines are designed to make antitrust law more accessible and transparent, saying that the “goal is to have a clear statement of our agency practice so that companies understand how we go about doing our investigations.”
The agencies are not simply challenging all mergers as some critics have alleged, added AAG Kanter. “We only block the ones that violate the law. The Supreme Court and Congress have laid out how the law should be applied and it’s our job to do that faithfully.”
Stopping illegal deals and protecting competition is part of a long-term strategy to secure the economy, concluded Chair Khan, who noted “greater competition can also mean more diversification of risk in ways that can make our economy more resilient, especially in moments of certain types of disruptions or crashes that otherwise can have a really cascading effect.”
The event also featured a diverse array of advocacy organizations representing writers, farmers, small business owners, grocery store workers, and antitrust experts.
Grace Garcia, a Vons employee and card-carrying member of UFCW 770 told a heart-wrenching story about the harms she and her colleagues faced after the disastrous 2015 Albertsons-Safeway merger. “Thousands of workers across the country were laid off due to the company’s poor planning and execution of the merger,” she said.
Joe Van Wye from Farm Action explained how farmers “have been forced to sit by and watch as the largest agro-chemical companies, grocery chains and meat packers carried out scores of clearly anti-competitive acquisitions, scaling up their market power and then leveraging it to crush competitors and deprive hardworking farmers and ranchers of the fair value of their products.”
Natalie Foster from Economic Security Project applauded the FTC and DOJ’s draft guidelines, saying that they “restore the government’s role in making sure that markets are competitive and that they benefit the public, instead of letting big corporations write the rules.”
Amid ongoing writers strikes, Laura Blum-Smith from Writers Guild of America West endorsed the new guidelines, saying that “they are part of a deeply necessary effort to revive antitrust enforcement. This is a moment that highlights the urgency of including writer concerns in every element of antitrust enforcement”
“Companies like Disney Amazon, Netflix gained power through anti-competitive consolidation and vertical integration,” Blum-Smith continued. “And they’ve used their leverage to undervalue writers and writing even as they make billions off of writers’ work.”
Chanda Causer from Main Street Alliance spoke to the effects of consolidation on small businesses and described how “unchecked corporate power is accelerating the monopolization of many industries, and is stacking the deck against Main Street.”
Katy Milani from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explained how “merger enforcement has become more and more disconnected from the law and from the reality of how our markets work,” and how the FTC and DOJ’s new guidelines could help change that.
Anne Schwagerl from the Minnesota Farmers Union emphasized the importance of public input, saying that “the agencies will receive plenty of feedback from attorneys and economists about these guidelines, but they need to hear directly from those of us on the frontlines of our monopoly crisis.”
John Arensmeyer from Small Business Majority explained how small business depend on a health, robust competitive environment to be able to function and survive — and that the draft merger guidelines would address the current gap in antitrust enforcement.
Matt Seiler from National Community Pharmacists Association discussed how the past few decades of big healthcare mergers have hurt local pharmacists. “Too often, transactions have resulted in an oligopolistic market structure that allows each vertical to exercise on new market power,” he said.
Ashley Woolheater from the Open Markets Institute said that the DOJ and FTC’s hard work to draft new guidelines “demonstrates how serious the Biden administration is about reining in the monopolists and restoring a more democratic system that benefits all of us.”
Maria Langholz from Demand Progress concluded with an inspiring call to action for public input. “Every major antitrust reform in this country’s long history has been authored not by bureaucrats or technocrats but by a populist uprising, and this moment is no different,” said Langholz. “We the people, in order to form a more perfect and dynamic economy, will offer our voice in support of stronger merger guidelines. I hope that our voices will be heard.”
Watch the full event here.
Share your feedback on the draft guidelines at ShareYourMergerStory.org.
Learn more about Economic Liberties here.
The American Economic Liberties Project works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. Economic Liberties believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.