Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lipartito on the "Antimonopoly Tradition"

In the most recent Weekend Roundup, we briefly noticed The Antimonopoly Tradition by Kenneth Lipartito, Florida International University, which is downloadable from the University of St. Thomas Law Review 10 (2014): 991-1012.  The essay is a very nice synthesis of the literature of antitrust history, supplemented with some original research and focused on the language of antimonopolism, from Andrew Jackson to the recent past.  To elaborate: Lipartito nicely summarizes the antimonopolism of the nineteenth century, which attacked combinations of economic and political power that disrupted the normal workings of democracy and economic life in America.  He does not claim that the antimonopolists’ program was “correct or desirable,” but “it nonetheless offered a systematic critique that is now missing, on the dangers of corporate size, the corrupting influence of great wealth in politics, and the fundamentally antidemocratic consequences of a vastly unequal distribution of income.” 

Even if antimonopoly language “did not move the economy back to a smaller scale nineteenth century model,” its “distrust of technocracy, bureaucracy, and concentrated capital” “contributed significantly to a more egalitarian and open political economy” by causing corporations to “embrace notions of social welfare and social responsibility.”  This was true despite the New Deal’s turn to a more consumerist justification of antitrust under Thurman W. Arnold, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice.  Arnold “established a strong, resourceful, and capable antitrust expertise in the federal government”; his vigorous antitrust and later efforts in the the 1950s and 1960s kept Big Business public minded.  Only “with the triumph of a narrower consumer welfare view of antitrust in the 1980s” did “the older antimonopoly concerns about power and responsibility” decline.  The result has been an erosion of “the corporate commitment to social responsibility” and an increase in “the concentration of wealth and power in the private sector, much as nineteenth century antimonopolists had feared.”