Antitrust is taking center stage in presidential campaigns: Lina Khan

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks on during the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Antitrust is having a moment unlike anything the U.S. has seen since 1912.

That’s according to Lina Khan, the majority counsel to the House of Representatives antitrust subcommittee, speaking in a personal capacity at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

In a conversation with Wired Editor in Chief Nicholas Thompson the day after the Democratic presidential contenders’ first debates, Khan said it’s unusual how many of the candidates are making antitrust action part of their platforms.

“It’s actually been really remarkable to see just how much antitrust is now part of the campaign,” Khan said. “I think the last time it was such a central part was in 1912 where you had a Wilson, Taft, Roosevelt kind of fighting out what they were going to do about monopolies.”

Khan’s 2017 article in The Yale Law Journal entitled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” has been widely read and challenged the modern status quo that bases competition on “consumer welfare,” with a focus on low prices. Khan argued this framework is limited and does not consider the ways a large dominant company could harm competition in other ways.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made the most full throttle argument for breaking up the Big Tech firms including Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. In her policy proposal, Warren argued that Big Tech has used mergers to prevent new competitors from growing into viable threats and also unfairly sold competitive products on their proprietary marketplaces. Warren said the nation’s largest tech firms should be broken up and prevented from both owning and participating on a platform at the same time.

Khan acknowledged her own research has similarities to Warren’s message, although she did not voice support or dissent for any particular candidate.

“There are resonances between the proposals,” she said of Warren’s antitrust approach.

Other presidential candidates have proposed antitrust laws including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who Khan said has introduced more “incremental” bills. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bill to halt mergers in the agriculture sector, which Khan said is an industry that has seen extreme consolidation. This idea is also pretty rare, according to Khan.

“I don’t think we’ve had just a straight up moratorium on mergers in any industry for quite some time,” she said.

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