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DOJ and FTC Intensify Antitrust Focus on Corporate Concentration and Labor Issues

DOJ and FTC ramp up antitrust enforcement, blocking high-profile mergers and targeting anti-competitive labor practices.

By Mackenzie Crow

5/23, 14:10 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • The DOJ and FTC are intensifying antitrust enforcement, targeting traditional anti-competitive behaviors and labor issues like non-compete agreements.
  • Recent high-profile cases include blocking Penguin Random House's acquisition of Simon & Schuster and addressing salary caps in Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League.
  • Corporate concentration can lead to higher prices, lower wages, reduced innovation, and lower product quality, with the DOJ scrutinizing claimed efficiencies in mergers.

DOJ and FTC's Antitrust Focus

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have adopted a more aggressive stance on antitrust enforcement under the Biden administration. This approach targets not only traditional anti-competitive behaviors, such as price-fixing and monopolistic practices, but also labor issues like non-compete agreements. Ioana Marinescu, principal economist at the DOJ's Antitrust Division, provides insights into how these issues are analyzed and the broader economic impacts of corporate concentration.

Marinescu explains that the role of an antitrust economist involves investigating companies for potential violations of antitrust laws. This includes analyzing data to uncover the effects of anti-competitive practices on prices, wages, and product quality. The DOJ uses various types of data, such as market shares and head-to-head competition metrics, to assess the potential for anti-competitive harm. For instance, market shares help determine the level of concentration in a market, while win-loss data from companies can show how much firms directly compete with each other.

Recent High-Profile Cases

The DOJ has been involved in several high-profile antitrust cases recently, including the attempted acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House and issues within the video game industry. In the case of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, the DOJ argued that the merger would significantly reduce competition in the market for top-selling books, potentially lowering advances for authors. The court agreed, blocking the merger primarily on the grounds of labor market power.

Another notable case involved the Overwatch League, organized by Activision Blizzard. The DOJ found that the league's salary cap on professional video game players reduced competition for labor, leading to lower wages. Unlike other sports leagues where salary caps are collectively bargained, the Overwatch League's cap was imposed without player consent, making it anti-competitive.

Broader Economic Impacts

Marinescu highlights that corporate concentration can have several adverse effects on the economy, including higher prices, lower wages, reduced innovation, and lower product quality. For example, in labor markets, a lack of competition can lead to lower wages as employees have fewer alternative employers. In product markets, monopolies can result in higher prices and reduced consumer choice. Additionally, reduced competition can stifle innovation, as dominant firms have less incentive to improve their products or services.

The DOJ also considers the potential efficiencies that companies claim will result from mergers, such as economies of scale. However, these claims must be well-documented and substantial enough to offset any anti-competitive effects. Marinescu notes that while efficiencies are considered, they often do not outweigh the potential harms of reduced competition.