Antitrust Under Trump: Monopolies Grow, People Lose

Dave Johnson

President Trump has nominated Makan Delrahim to head up the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Most recently, the lawyer lobbied for approval of health insurance giant Anthem’s effort to acquire health insurance giant Cigna. Bad sign.

Scarcely seventy days into his presidency, Trump has already revealed most of his campaign promises to be empty. Now it appears he’s going back on his promise to enforce antitrust rules against monopolies.

The larger corporations get, the more power they have to squash competition, drive down wages, squeeze suppliers, influence governments and “extract rents.” “Pro-business” types will say all of this is a benefit, but democracies might have other ideas.

Back during the campaign, back when candidate Trump was trying to win votes by echoing Bernie Sanders and sounding like a “man of the people,” he said large corporate mergers put “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” and said he would block AT&T’s plan to take over Time Warner Inc.

But now, Trump has changed his tune and has nominated someone for the job of doing something about monopolies who gives every appearance of letting bad deals like this go through.

Another Bad Sign

Delrahim seems to be at peace with AT&T’s plan to acquire  Time Warner. According to Bloomberg Politics,

Makan Delrahim… told Canadian business news channel BNN last year that the Time Warner deal doesn’t raise the same hurdles as a merger of two direct competitors, because it would unite a distributor and a content provider.

“Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media, I think will get a lot of attention,” he said in the October 24 interview. “However, I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.”

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, heaps praise on Delrahim, saying,  “He understands the ultimate purpose of antitrust law is to protect competition, not competitors, and recognizes that over-enforcement can stifle innovation that benefits consumers.”

Bad signs, and Mother Jones’s Tom Philpott sees more of them, when it comes to Delrahim’s lax views on antitrust.

This week, Trump announced his choice to lead the Department of Justice’s antitrust division: a lawyer/lobbyist who, for nearly three decades, has been shuffling through the revolving door between large corporations and the government agencies that shape and execute merger policy.

…[H]is recent clients include pharma giant Pfizer, the tobacco and real estate conglomerate Vector group, and casino player Caesars Entertainment.

[. . .] Over the next several months, the Trump DOJ will have to vet a slew of proposed corporate megamergers, including two that involve the agribusiness space: the planned marriage of two US chemical behemoths, and the German chemical giant Bayer’s takeover of US seed titan Monsanto.

It would have been a surprise if Trump actually followed through on his promises to break up large companies, or to block megamergers. But when foxes guard the henhouse, large companies feel they can do whatever they want. This is why democracies break up monopolies. This is why Trump, Putin and other oligarchs like them.

Prepare yourself for higher cable bills, higher insurance bills, higher food prices, higher everything bills and worse service. And, of course, more corruption of our government. This is the inevitable result of Trump’s latest broken promise.

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