President Joe Biden, today signed an executive order aimed at promoting competition in the U.S. economy. Citing decades of industry consolidation that has weakened competition in several markets, President Biden noted that this diminished playing field has “widening racial, income, and wealth inequality” — with workers, farmers, small businesses, and consumers paying the price.
The expansive order includes 72 initiatives spanning more than 12 federal agencies and tackles a number of economic obstacles, including non-compete and limiting agreements that hamper economic mobility, staggering drug prices, airline pricing and refund policies, and Big Tech mergers.
“Rather than competing for consumers they are consuming their competitors; rather than competing for workers they are finding ways to gain the upper hand on labor,” President Biden said during a press conference announcing the executive order. “Let me be clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” he said.
Clawing Back Big Tech
Taking aim at Apple, Facebook, Google and other tech giants, the executive order addresses four areas that the Biden administration sees as undermining competition and reducing innovation in the American economy. The order encourages the Federal Trade Commision to address:
- Decades of unchecked mergers and acquisitions that have stymied competition with more aggressive scrutiny, including greater attention paid to the acquisition of “nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by “free” products, and the effect on user privacy.”
- The unprecedented gathering of personal information and data by establishing rules on surveillance and the accumulation of data.
- Big Tech unfair competition with small businesses by establishing rules barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces.
- The inability of consumers to independently repair products by issuing rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment.
“We have to get back to an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out,” President Biden said. “The executive order I’m soon going to be signing commits the federal government to full and aggressive enforcement of our antitrust laws. No more tolerance for abusive actions by monopolies, no more bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, fewer options for workers and consumers alike.”
The FTC’s Bite
President Biden’s focus on curbing the powers of Big Tech through the force of the FTC is not surprising. The agency — tasked with investigating antitrust violations and deceptive trade practices across corporate America, including Silicon Valley — is now being led by Linda Khan, who was appointed by Biden last month. Khan, a staunch Big Tech critic, has joined an agency that is currently investigating Amazon and recently filed a lawsuit against Facebook.
In her opening statement during her nomination hearing in April, Khan noted, “I have built on this work as a legal scholar, where my focus has been to examine the history of America’s antimonopoly laws. This history reveals our long tradition of safeguarding core liberties through promoting competitive markets, and the wide arsenal of tools we have used to protect our economy and our democracy from unchecked monopoly power. Studying this tradition lets us mine our past for lessons we can apply when navigating challenges today.”
With FTC Chair Khan in the lead, Biden’s soft use of the word “encourage” when lobbing competitive solutions against the driving force of Big Tech to the agency, now has more bite.