In the last few years, the federal government has begun to prioritize enforcing antitrust laws, which is legislation focused on preventing or controlling trusts or monopolies; the intention of these laws is to increase market competition. Currently in the United States, trials, ongoing lawsuits, and investigations are proceeding into some of the country’s largest corporate players; companies such as Alphabet (Google), Apple, Amazon, and Bristol Meyers are all under varying levels of scrutiny for anti-competitive practices. This is not the first time the U.S. has sought to address the consolidation of corporations’ power and hold over certain markets.
The origins of antitrust law enforcement in the United States can be traced to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Enacted during a period of rapid industrialization, this law aimed to curb the growing power of large corporations that stifled competition. It was followed by the Clayton Act of 1914, which provided further guidelines for fair competition, and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, which created the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce these laws. Throughout the 20th century, these laws were used to break up monopolies in industries such as oil, telecommunications, and transportation.
In the 21st century, after a period of lax antitrust enforcement, the corporate landscape has seen certain industries dominated by only a few companies. These companies, notably in the video games market, live event ticket sales, pharmaceutical sales, and the tech industry, have amassed enormous market power, leading to concerns about stifled competition, limited consumer choice, and privacy violations.
Enforcing antitrust laws in the modern era presents new challenges. The tech industry, in particular, poses unique issues because traditional antitrust frameworks may not adequately address the intricacies of the digital economy. The acquisition of potential competitors, data privacy concerns, and the global reach of tech companies are complex issues that require innovative regulatory approaches. As the United States grapples with the complexities of regulating modern-day monopolies, it will be essential to adapt and innovate the antitrust enforcement mechanisms to address the unique challenges of the digital age while upholding the principles of fair competition and consumer protection.
This week’s Current Events resources examine how the U.S. government balances free market principles with protecting the public from the growth of monopolies. The resources shared provide information and context around antitrust legislation and enforcement, as well as how modern day companies are facing new scrutiny related to power concentration.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What are examples of modern day monopolies?
- What are the causes of the lack of antitrust law enforcement during various times in U.S. history?
- What are the consequences when a monopoly exists within an industry?
- What are the differences and similarities between modern day corporations and the trusts that were broken up at the turn of the 20th century?
- What are the arguments for and against regulating big business? Which arguments persuade you? Explain.
- In your opinion, do you believe there should be updated antitrust laws passed in the U.S.?
- In your opinion, what should state and federal governments be doing to protect the public from business monopolies?
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and Antitrust Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
The Feds Take Big Tech to Court, Deconstructed, The Intercept, September, 30, 2023
Antitrust In America, Planet Money, NPR, February 23, 2019
Is the Government’s Antitrust Case Against Google Already in Trouble?, The Cyberlaw Podcast, Lawfare, September 19, 2023
Ticketmaster’s Monopoly vs Taylor Swift Fans, Lever Time, The Lever, November 21, 2022
Monopolization Defined, Federal Trade Commission
Does America Have a Monopoly Problem?: Examining Concentration and Competition in the US Economy, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate
Antitrust Supreme Court Cases, Justia
Guide to Antitrust Laws, Federal Trade Commission
Antitrust, Cornell Law School
United States takes on Google in biggest tech monopoly trial of 21st century, NPR, September 12, 2023
In Its First Monopoly Trial of Modern Internet Era, U.S. Sets Sights on Google, New York Times, September 12, 2023
Justice Department Opens Investigation Into Live Nation Over Monopoly Concerns, Rolling Stone, November 18, 2022
The government’s case to break up Amazon, explained, VOX, October 2023
Indivior to pay $385 mln to end Suboxone monopoly lawsuits, Reuters, October 23, 2023
Bristol Myers accused of illegal tactics to keep Pomalyst monopoly in lawsuit, Reuters, September 6, 2023
Apple is ordered to face Apple Pay antitrust lawsuit, Reuters, September 27, 2023
Opinion: Amazon is being sued by the government. What will that mean for consumers?, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2023
The Federal Trade Commission’s embarrassing antitrust crusade, The Hill, June 28, 2023
Americans Pay a Price for Corporate Consolidation, New York Times, August 26, 202
What is a Monopoly?, Street Law
Lesson Plans, American Antitrust Institute
The Antitrust Case Against the Tech Giants, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
Bell Ringer: The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, C-SPAN Classroom
Progressives and the Era of Trustbusting, Constitutional Rights Foundation
Resources for Younger Students:
Monopolies of the Early 20th Century, Actively Learn
Trust Busting, Active Classroom
Trust Busting, PBS Learning Media