Top economic advisers to President Joe Biden say that the administration’s antitrust agenda seeks to rebuild the economy with a focus on local, small-business growth and higher worker wages while tackling major issues of the current economy, specifically inflation and supply chain backups.
White House policies that have flowed from a July executive order on business competition will be used to investigate the consolidation in supply chain markets, including shipping and freight rail, and in the meat processing industry, which has caused consumers to take an inflation hit at the supermarket, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said Thursday at a virtual town hall for small business organizations hosted by the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit that advocates for pro-competition policy.
In addition, the Biden administration’s antitrust agenda aims to rebuild the country’s economy by reversing the trend of big-company domination and monopolization that has persisted for 50 years, according to Deese, who was joined at the town hall by Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the White House council, and Tim Wu, the council’s special assistant on technology and competition policy.
“This for us in the Biden administration is a core element of our view of what economic policy in post-pandemic America needs to be,” Deese said.
The Biden administration’s antitrust agenda started with the appointment of regulators who are tasked with helping to realign White House policy on business competition. The appointments have included Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter, Deese said. The agenda also put in place policies meant to help small businesses grow again after pandemic setbacks through the use of small business loans, Deese added.
The third key element now is the implementation of Biden’s July executive order on competition.
This executive order called for a rewrite of antitrust policy guidance at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, two leading antitrust regulatory bodies. It also required more than a dozen other executive branch agencies to address 72 different policy areas to increase competition, raise wages and lower consumer prices in major sectors including health care, agriculture, military procurement and transportation.
“The basic goal of this is to look across the government, across the executive branch, to look at the tools we have to fight against anti-competitive consolidation, increase opportunities for small and disruptive businesses, entrepreneurs and workers in our economy,” Deese said.
There has been a record boom in small business formation in 2021, Deese noted, with 30% growth in new small businesses compared with the pre-pandemic economy. The administration’s executive branch-wide antitrust policy is aimed at helping those small businesses succeed and not fall prey to competition from big businesses that are already dominating sectors across the economy.
“We need healthy and robust competition, and we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Deese said.
He highlighted a number of administration policies in the works or already bearing fruit.
For example, two regulators are targeting anti-competitive practices in the supply chain, with the Federal Maritime Commission looking at shipping and the Surface Transportation Board monitoring freight rail. The FTC also launched an investigation Monday into supply chain disruptions and has asked large retailers to turn over internal documents.
The Department of Agriculture is investing $600 million to bring smaller meat processor businesses into the market to help address the industry consolidation that is squeezing ranchers and farmers and driving up meat prices for consumers. The administration also plans to engage in “more aggressive and proactive enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act,” Deese said, referring to a key 1920s law aimed at reducing concentration and anti-competitive behavior in the meatpacking industry.
“We are trying to attack the problem [of inflation] on both ends,” Ramamurti said, by promoting “more competition both by going at concentrations of power and by creating openings for competitors.”
The FTC also voted unanimously to enforce the right of consumers to repair the products they purchase themselves or through independent repair shops. This policy resulted in Apple and Microsoft opening the door to selling or giving replacement parts for their products to consumers. The administration is still looking for more success in bringing right-to-repair rules to medical devices and tractors, according to Ramamurti.
But these policies just scratch the surface of the administration’s antitrust agenda. The Justice Department is suing Google for anti-competitive behavior. The FTC is suing to break up Facebook and is investigating Amazon for antitrust violations. On Thursday, the FTC moved to block a merger between semiconductor companies Nvidia and ARM and killed a merger between two major outdoor sports shops.
“We are determined to turn the ship here,” Wu said. “We are determined to change the American economy to make it back to what it can be [and] to establish a sustainable prosperity for businesses of all sizes.”