Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar continued to make the case for stepping up antitrust actions yesterday, appearing in a webinar sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and Small Business Rising, a coalition of independent businesses advocating against monopolies.
Saying that “we can’t use duct tape and band aids anymore” in dealing with monopolies, Klobuchar noted that she and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had cosponsored a bill, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, that will, among other things, provide $100 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to hire more lawyers to ensure enforcement of antitrust laws “to get the job done.”
Klobuchar said she hopes the bill will be approved by the full senate soon, since the government needs more tools in its arsenal to take on Amazon and other conglomerates. “This is all about cracking down on unfettered growth and abuse of market power,” she argued, advocating for a “reboot” of the antitrust movement in the U.S. by updating laws so as break the stranglehold of conglomerates upon the economy.
Klobuchar spoke of the negative impact of Amazon on the economy, describing it as “both a monopoly and a monopsony, because the people who sell things to Amazon don’t sell to anyone else and that is the definition of a monopsony.” She noted that “too much consolidation in concentrated markets” has a disproportionate negative impact upon "the minority community and small businesses within the minority community.”
It’s not just Amazon either, she pointed out, it’s also Facebook and Google and other Big Tech companies. Citing an email written by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he’d written, “We’d rather buy than compete,” Klobuchar noted, “You buy all your competitors up, you lose that competitive force” in the marketplace.
“We know the stakes are high, the facts are stark, and if we don’t act now, the curse of bigness that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned about will continue to threaten American innovation," she said. “As Justice Thurgood Marshall once said of our antitrust laws, they are as important to the preservation of our free enterprise system as the Bill of Rights is to the protection of our personal freedom.”
The Times Are Changing
During the Q&A following Klobuchar’s presentation, the first question was posed by one of Klobuchar’s constituents, Angela Schwesnedl, the co-owner of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. Schwesnedl described the challenges and difficult decisions she was forced to make during the pandemic, yet Amazon posted record financial results.
“In this year when we’ve all lost so much, how can we justify Amazon coming out so far ahead?,” she asked. "My business tried to make decisions to keep people safe, but Amazon had the power to dominate the digital marketplace without having to care or take responsibility if people got sick or not.”
In her response, Klobuchar reiterated that antitrust laws need to be updated and that resources must be provided to agencies like the FTC and the Justice Department rather than appealing to the “conservative” courts, including the current Supreme Court. The FTC “literally can stop bad things from happening by being more aggressive,” she said, mentioning legal scholar Lina Khan, President Joe Biden's latest nominee to the FTC. “She’s going to be on the FTC and that’s going to be a game changer,” Klobuchar assured her audience.
“It’s important to put strong people into these agencies, give them the resources they need, and then make the laws better," Klobuchar added, citing pending legislation that would compel a conglomerate to provide the burden of proof that its practices are not harming competitors. Klobuchar called that another “game changer,” noting that currently the government bears that burden of proof.
“There has been a sea change here,” Klobuchar said about anti-monopoly sentiment. “Something is going on. It’s not just academic talk anymore. We need to seize this moment and move ahead.”
Last week, Klobuchar accepted AAP’s 2021 Award for Distinguished Public Service and during her remarks said her goal in fighting for more antitrust action is not to destroy the big companies, but to give other companies a fair chance to compete.
An earlier version of this story misrepresented Iowa senator Chuck Grassley's home state and has been corrected.