The course of antitrust law in American history has proved a barometer of good governance. In the New Deal, the Roosevelt administration lurched from one policy to another, united only by the injury they did to the economy. Sometimes that administration broke up companies simply on account of size and at other times permitted actual collusion by competitors on prices. In the Warren Court era, both the Department of Justice and the Court itself prevented mergers, even though they were economically beneficial. In Brown Shoe, the nadir of all antitrust law, Chief Justice Earl Warren invalidated a merger between two relatively small shoe companies in an extremely competitive market because he concluded that it might become part of a merger trend and because it would make the companies more efficient at selling shoes!
In contrast, since the Chicago School revolution in antitrust was empowered by the Reagan administration and sustained by its successors, antitrust law has become quite sensible. It has intervened only when needed to protect the welfare of consumers, preventing collusion or mergers that would likely keep prices higher than in a free market. The consumer welfare standard of modern antitrust has also offered relatively clear rules of conduct derived from microeconomics, thus protecting the rule of law and curbing government discretion over business.
But ideas percolating on the left threaten this sound consensus and an oped in the New York Times yesterday exemplifies the danger. Lina Khan, who was the policy director for Zephyr Teachout, the radical Democratic candidate for New York Governor in 2014, complained about Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods.
What made Franklin Roosevelt and the Greatest Generation great? Others may tell you it was defeating Nazism in a worldwide war. But Harvey J. Kaye, Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin, maintains that its heart and soul was none other than the Popular Front.
In February of 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Yalta and ceded geopolitical control of Eastern Europe to Joseph Stalin. At the conference, Winston Churchill could do nothing. In return for the Soviet dictator’s promise of allowing Poland to hold elections to set its postwar political course (and a vague assurance of democratic elections in the other countries occupied by Red Army troops at the close of World War II), the allies let him keep possession of the eastern part of Poland. This was, in effect, ratification of Stalin’s 1939-1941 territorial gains as the ally of Adolf Hitler.
Churchill had consistently attempted to block Stalin’s expansionism, but with the American President distancing himself from Britain, Stalin had little trouble setting himself up for a postwar empire taking in not only Eastern but parts of Central Europe.
Today, with the “framework of understanding” between the United States and Iran on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Barack Obama has devised his own Yalta.
President Obama’s State of the Union Address makes blogging colleague Greg Weiner’s suggestion to abolish it look pretty good. Of the constitutional clause requiring that he address Congress, Greg observes: “If anything, modern Presidents ought to view its opening phrase—‘from time to time’—as a limit rather than a license.” I am even more \ drawn to Frank Buckley’s devastating critique of contemporary presidential government, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
I would have thought that Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of all pols would not have conceded victory to Obama when he attacked Obama’s “class warfare” proposals—which is exactly the way Obama wants them viewed. Or that the congressman characterized the speech as not as extreme as he feared it would be.
In his sane and thought-provoking Liberty Forum essay about immigration, Richard Samuelson argues that “America’s very essence” may well be “at risk” because of “two challenges to our status as a nation of immigrants.” They are “the rise of the mega-state” favored by Progressives, and “the rise of a post-national ideal” that “threatens to undermine the understandings that have made assimilation a duty and an obligation.”
Though it’s been a few weeks since it appeared, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Knott’s excellent piece on whether Woodrow Wilson destroyed the office of the presidency. The clamor about the imperial presidency is on the rise with many commentators (such as George Will) and Knott’s article gives us a better understanding of its rise, as well as its implications. Knott describes the “expectations gap” that has arisen due to modern conceptions of the presidency, where we expect the president to heal the planet, rather than work to enact reforms within the institutions of constitutional government.
In response to Professor Knott I would only mention that I think Woodrow Wilson may not even deserve top billing in terms of producing the rise of presidential power.
In 1964 Herbert Hoover died at the age of ninety. He had lived a phenomenally productive life, including more than half a century in one form or another of public service. It was a record that in sheer scope and duration may be without parallel in American history.
His life had begun in humble circumstances in 1874 in a little Iowa farming community, as the son of the village blacksmith. Orphaned before he was ten, Hoover managed to enter Stanford University when it opened its doors in 1891. Four years later he graduated with a degree in geology and a determination to become a mining engineer.
From then on, Hoover’s rise in the world was meteoric.