Antitrust Law: a Critical Introduction
From healthcare and food to pharma and big tech, the U.S. has a monopoly problem. For thinkers as different as the Supreme Court jurist Louis Brandeis and the Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, monopoly capitalism has been the dominant form of economic organization since at least the early 20th century. Today, monopoly power provides companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook with near impregnable market dominance, leaving consumers without recourse and motivating tech giants to focus largely on eliminating nascent competition, rather than on innovating to meet the needs of people. For many across the liberal-left spectrum, the cure for monopoly capitalism is the very same advocated by 20th-century progressives like Brandeis, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt: Antitrust law. But if antitrust laws have been on the books for over a century, how effective are they as a tool for combatting monopoly capitalism? Is the fault the mis- or disuse of antitrust law? Or are antitrust interventions insufficient to combat a problem that’s arguably endemic to capitalism itself? How can we understand the history, theory, and political form of antitrust law? And what can it teach us about the reality–and future–of monopoly capitalism in the 21st century?
This course will provide a critical history of antitrust law, theory, and policy, focusing on the primary tools of monopoly regulation—the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914—and their interpretations and implementations by the Supreme Court, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice. Over the course of four weeks, we will explore the failures of the status quo, through landmark antitrust cases and FTC actions, and explore contemporary scholarship advocating for alternatives. We will trace how law has evolved to facilitate private corporate power and the harms that concentrations of market power cause in the economy and society, examining how the tools of antitrust might apply to specific sectors, including finance, health care, agriculture, and pandemic response. And, we will ask: How can we understand the potentialities, and limits, of antitrust law in the face of contemporary financialization and digital monopolization (whose operation, some scholars argue, less resembles “capitalism” than it does “neo-feudalism”)? Readings will be drawn from statutes, case law, and theory, including works by Ellen Meiksins Wood, Jodi Dean, Albena Azmanova, Lina Khan, Sanjukta Paul, and Robert Pitofsky, among others.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
October 23 — November 13, 2022