A Crossroads for Biden on Corporate Power

David Dayen, April 20, 2021 (info@prospect.org)

Franklin Roosevelt didn’t just leverage government’s spending capacity; he confronted corporate dominance. (FDR Library)
The Chief
“The economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America,” Franklin Roosevelt said in1936. “What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.” Challenging corporate power was at the heart of FDR’s project. Joe Biden keeps getting compared to FDR and seems to be pleased with the comparison. But the Biden administration’s record on corporate power is a big incomplete.

The administration has made a couple noteworthy hires, like Lina Khan and Tim Wu. Khan isn’t installed at the Federal Trade Commission yet; her confirmation hearing is this week. And even once she gets seated, Democrats won’t have a majority on the commission once Rohit Chopra shifts to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In the meantime, what’s happening on that Commission? Acting chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter announced in Marchto much fanfare, an interagency “rethink” of pharmaceutical mergers, after a decade of dealmaking. The expectation was for much more rigorous scrutiny of pharma mergers. But the first one that came up, a $39 billion acquisition of Alexion by AstraZeneca, went through within four months, without a “second request.” That means that the FTC didn’t ask for more time to consider the merger. No conditions were added. It was just waved through.

Another merger, creating a giant in the market for salt, was approved by the Justice Department yesterday with a divestiture. Conditions-based mergers have fared quite badly in recent years. This would have brought us from three evaporated salt manufacturers to two, and instead there will be two big ones and one newfangled rival jury-rigged by DOJ to manufacture competition.
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