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Americans Need Our Leaders to Put Consumers Back Into Antitrust Policymaking

NetChoice fervently promotes policies that foster consumer choice, economic opportunity and vibrant innovation. That’s why today, NetChoice is working to educate congressional lawmakers about why consumers must be put back into the focus of antitrust policy. 

The Biden administration’s “whole of government” departure from a focus on the needs of American consumers has fueled inflationary pressures, forced businesses to lay off American workers, blocked mergers that would lower prices for consumer goods, wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, enabled bureaucrats to abuse their constitutional authority and undermined America’s global competitiveness.

This anti-consumer approach is not sustainable, and American consumers are feeling the burn with U.S. consumer confidence deteriorating for the third straight month, according to the Conference Board. NetChoice’s goal today is to provide lawmakers with key resources so they are best equipped to provide much needed congressional oversight of the Biden Administration’s antitrust policy.

A key error of Biden’s regulators has been to ignore and undermine a longstanding principle in American antitrust law: the consumer welfare standard.

The consumer welfare standard is straightforward and objective: antitrust law can only be used to remedy instances of demonstrable consumer harm by a business abusing its market power. 

This standard properly constrains the power of regulators and prevents antitrust law from being weaponized as a tool for crony capitalism or advancing political agendas untethered from the needs of consumers. It recognizes that the best judge of what constitutes an optimal market outcome is not bureaucratic second-guessing, but the revealed preferences of consumers themselves, as they “vote” with their dollars.

Tragically, President Biden’s bureaucrats at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) office have undertaken a radical rewrite of U.S. policy. Their goal is to displace the consumer welfare standard and replace it with a cynical agenda to stymie American innovation.

The FTC, under the leadership of Chair Lina Khan, has descended into a rogue, hyper-politicized agency that seems to openly disdain market forces and dynamism. Khan has serially ignored ethics rules, suppressed the voices of experienced staff economists at the FTC, turned a blind eye to the negative consumer impacts of her policy ideals, and launched frivolous lawsuits attempting to graft expansive new mandates onto U.S. antitrust law. Under Khan’s leadership, the focus on consumers in the FTC’s mission statement has even been removed

The FTC’s mistaken lawsuit against Amazon ignores the widespread benefits Amazon’s investments and innovations have had for consumers, and how they have helped lower prices and vastly improve the customer experience across the retail sector. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Amazon ties for #1 in providing the best selection, value and online shopping experience. Instead, Chair Khan’s FTC makes confusing and often contradictory arguments to somehow justify major government intervention against a firm that consumers clearly like.

Likewise, the DOJ is pursuing an ideological, anti-American crusade in its lawsuit seeking to degrade Google’s highly popular and efficient search engine. This suit discards actual evidence of intense and growing competition in the “search market” in favor of giving litigating weight solely to the fact that Google has been a market leader by continually improving its offerings and putting its customers first.

Concerningly, the Biden administration is also actively colluding with government officials abroad and progressive groups who are attempting to erect digital trade barriers against U.S. businesses. Under USTR  Katherine Tai, the Biden administration has been surrendering U.S. interests in favor of enabling foreign progressive regulators. This empowers rivals like China and the E.U. while disregarding key U.S. economic and national security interests.

All of these misguided policy actions share a core flaw: they ignore the reality that the U.S. economy is a dynamic, constantly evolving arena where today’s competitive advantages can be quickly usurped by creative innovators finding new areas of market disruption. 

By trying to punish successful companies that have earned their scale by meeting consumer needs, regulators are substituting their personal ideological preferences for the preferences that matter most: those of American consumers.

The path forward is clear. Biden must end his war against American success and reassert the consumer welfare standard, which is free of partisan agendas. Otherwise, antitrust will be used as a blunt instrument to attack American success, undermining our global competitiveness and depriving U.S. consumers and businesses of free and vibrant markets.The overreach we are seeing from Biden’s regulators that prioritizes narrow political interests over the welfare of the very Americans the law is supposed to protect is an unacceptable violation of the public trust. NetChoice calls on policymakers to firmly reject this antitrust overreach, conduct oversight of the agencies misusing their authority, and put American consumers back where they belong: at the center of antitrust analysis and enforcement.

Image generated by NetChoice using ChatGPT’s DALL-E.