The election of Donald Trump has prompted many stories about how, or whether, he will roll back the policies that make up President Obama’s economic legacy, including the Affordable Care Act and 2010’s Dodd-Frank banking regulations. But one of the most important, if underappreciated, stories of the coming administration will be Trump’s approach toward big business and the system that regulates it: anti-monopoly policy.
In the past year, via an executive order and several papers from the White House’s top economists, President Obama and his team began paving the way for tougher competition policy. His administration has blocked more mergers than administrations in the recent past, including successful challenges to such mammoth deals as GE and Electrolux, Comcast and Time Warner, and Halliburton and Baker Hughes. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren and even Hillary Clinton (far from anyone’s idea of a trust-buster) came out in favor of more aggressive anti-monopoly policy, and the Democrats added an antitrust pledge to their party platform—a plank that had been absent since 1988.
This momentum was especially evident in remarks made recently by Renata Hesse, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, in which she advocated for overturning a generation-old approach to regulating corporate concentration. Hesse rejected the central principles of what’s called the Chicago School (after the University of Chicago, where it originated) of antitrust philosophy, a relatively hands-off approach that has dominated American anti-monopoly policy since President Reagan took office. Hesse mapped out a vision of economic regulation that would, if maintained by the next president, result in a radically different approach to regulating markets and harnessing the power of giant corporations.