This should dispel, once and for all, the notions that Barack Obama’s administration believes in the “rule of law” or simple economic literacy:
President Obama’s top antitrust official this week plans to restore an aggressive enforcement policy against corporations that use their market dominance to elbow out competitors or to keep them from gaining market share.
The new enforcement policy would reverse the Bush administration’s approach, which strongly favored defendants against antitrust claims. It would restore a policy that led to the landmark antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s.
The head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Christine Varney, is to announce the policy reversal in speeches today and Tuesday, her first public appearances since she took office last month.
The speeches were described by people who have consulted with her about the policy shift. The administration hopes to encourage smaller companies in an array of industries to bring their complaints to the Justice Department about potentially improper business practices by their larger rivals. Some of the biggest antitrust cases were initiated by complaints taken to the Justice Department.
Varney is expected to say that the administration rejects the impulse to go easy on antitrust enforcement during weak economic times. Rather, she will assert that severe recessions can provide dangerous incentives for large and dominating companies to engage in predatory behavior that harms consumers and weakens competition.
The announcement is aimed at making sure that no court or party to a lawsuit could cite the Bush administration policy as the government’s official view in any pending cases.
Aside from the false statement that the Bush administration — which committed hundreds of thousands of antitrust crimes — was somehow “soft” on antitrust, this report does a good job exposing antitrust’s true nature. It’s not law; it can be changed at the whim of any government official at any time. Varney isn’t just a proponent of more antitrust; she’s an opponent of any due process for antitrust defendants, which is why she’s going out of her way to “limit” any Bush-era policies that might allow a company to defend its property rights against government incursion. Antitrust is also not grounded in economics; telling businesses, large and small, to divert more capital away from production and towards lobbying the DOJ and paying expensive lawyers is not a recipe for increasing competition and consumer choice.