With two open seats on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Trump has the opportunity to return the federal agency to a Republican majority for the first time since George W. Bush’s administration. The FTC is made up of five commissioners who are tasked with preventing unfair business practices that stifle competition and harm consumers, such as the establishment of monopolies. On the campaign trail, Trump criticized corporate mergers, such as the AT&T-Time Warner deal, for concentrating power “in the hands of too few,” and vowed to block such deals if elected president.
The problem is, traditional Republican antitrust experts don’t share his views on the dangers of corporate consolidation. In fact, the dominant economic thinking on the matter (commonly referred to as the Chicago School) is that, in many cases, vertical mergers, which combine companies that operate at different levels in the market supply chain (such as the AT&T-Time Warner deal), can actually benefit consumers with streamlined services.
In recent years, however, there has been a small but significant movement toward the opposing, populist view (led by Democrats such as senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) that corporate concentration is doing more harm than good to average Americans. In addition, a recent study by the influential White House Council of Economic Advisors blamed market concentration for slow economic growth and rising prices for consumers. These shifts leave many antitrust law experts wondering if Trump will defer antimonopoly enforcement to the Republican establishment, or if he will pick an outsider.