FTC, DOJ Antitrust Enforcers Must Not Jeopardize Consumers’ Welfare – Or Their National Security 

Washington, D.C. (5/10/2024) – Two recent media pieces from former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials and senior staff highlight how the agencies, under President Biden’s leadership, continue to pursue an agenda that breaks with the long-standing standard of what is best for American consumers. 

At the same time, a recent study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows how recent actions are affecting national security, and calls on both agencies to consider the impact of their competition-related actions not just on consumers, but also on national security. 

Taken together, these pieces show the need for policymakers to keep American consumers top-of-mind, rather than pursue strategies that serve to simply benefit other competitors.

Former FTC Chairman Timothy Muris and former Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Howard Beales argue in the Wall Street Journal how efforts made by the FTC are undercutting long-standing bipartisan norms. 

President Biden has embraced modern progressivism and ditched his liberal economic-policy inheritance. Nowhere is this more striking than in competition policy—the past 40 years of which, Mr. Biden says, have been a failed experiment. His complaint is the consumer-welfare standard, the nearly half-century bipartisan consensus that competition policy should be judged by whether consumers benefit from a given arrangement….

“Norms are essential, particularly when people with strong but different opinions must work together…While the commission is certainly active, promulgating rules and filing lawsuits, the painstaking organization and planning necessary to make its efforts permanent are nowhere to be found.” 

In a piece for The Hill this week, an alumnus of both the FTC and DOJ analyzes the DOJ’s recent case against Google and how the case fails to show harm to consumers, which is necessary according to the long-standing consumer welfare standard, and in fact, the author argues that Google and other innovative companies continue to benefit consumers. 

“In any antitrust case, a key question is whether a company’s conduct hurt consumers, usually measured by factors such as price, output, quality and innovation. If the market reflects falling prices and rising output, and if the company is innovating and investing, those facts strongly suggest that consumers are well served…

“So long as the government is not allowed to punish success, Google and other companies will continue to invest, to innovate and to compete vigorously, to the benefit of all.”

These pieces come as the Center for Strategic and International Studies has released a report showing how the FTC and DOJ’s agendas have, to date, targeted one of the most innovative sectors of our economy to the benefit of China. In their analysis, the authors also call on policymakers to consider the competition landscape through a wider lens that focuses, in part, on national security: 

“The DOJ and FTC should embed national security considerations into antitrust enforcement analytical models. In other words, the agencies should consider the effects on U.S. national security when proceeding with an antitrust complaint. Current dominant positions in the administration and Congress equate a tech company’s size with the potential damage to competition and, therefore, the U.S. economy at large. Policymakers should reconsider whether that is the relevant criterion to estimate negative effects on consumers. Large companies that behave responsibly can enable the United States to meet its defense needs and national security priorities.”

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