Are U.S. laws tough enough to curb monopolies?

Executive Summary

While technology giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook deliver low prices and innovative products to consumers, their growing dominance is raising concerns that they may stifle competition in the markets where they operate. Congressional Democrats, some legal experts and even President Trump have questioned whether they represent new forms of monopolistic behavior and whether century-old U.S. antitrust laws are sufficient to keep them in check. Other experts argue the laws have withstood the test of time, can be successfully applied across all industries and sufficiently protect consumers. They also say market forces will prevent monopolies and anticompetitive behavior, because only firms that offer competitive prices, excellent products and other efficiencies succeed.

Key takeaways include:

  • Technology companies such as Amazon pose a conundrum in the antitrust arena. While they edge out competitors across a host of industries, they provide benefits to consumers through lower prices, convenience and an abundance of high-quality products.

  • U.S. officials enforcing antitrust laws increasingly apply a standard of ensuring “consumer welfare,” turning away from a previous policy of protecting smaller competitors.

  • The tempo of corporate mergers has increased in recent years, reaching a record-setting level of $5 trillion globally in 2015.

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Resources for Further Study



Patterson, Mark R., “Antitrust Law in the New Economy: Google, Yelp, LIBOR, and the Control of Information,” Harvard University Press, 2017. A Fordham University School of Law professor argues antitrust law should be adapted to the information economy and shows the ways courts could apply antitrust to address today’s problems.

Teece, David J., “Competing Through Innovation: Technology Strategy and Antitrust Policies,” Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013. A business professor at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests businesses and policymakers can adapt to technological advances and other shifts in the global business landscape by fostering “next-generation” competition policies.


Buchholz, Todd G., and Victoria J. Buchholz, “In the age of Uber and Snapchat, antitrust law needs an update,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 9, 2017, A former White House director of economic policy (Todd Buchholz) and an intellectual property attorney (Victoria Buchholz) argue U.S. antitrust enforcement should be updated and the functions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division harmonized.

Khan, Lina, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” Yale Law Journal, Jan. 31, 2017, The legal policy director at the Open Markets Institute, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for stronger antitrust laws, explains how Amazon’s structure and conduct pose anti-competitive concerns that have escaped antitrust scrutiny.

Pethokoukis, James, “On ‘hipster antitrust’: The rush to heavily regulate or even dismantle Big Tech is really premature,” American Enterprise Institute, Sept. 28, 2017, A blogger cautions against calls to break up technology firms, arguing that their impact on competition has yet to be determined.

Weigel, David, “Breaking from tech giants, Democrats consider becoming an antimonopoly party,” The Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2017, A journalist details how congressional Democrats are taking an antimonopoly stance, going against the grain of traditional Democratic support for the technology industry.

Reports and Studies

“Halfway through 2017: With no dramatic shifts, deals on track for a steady year,” PricewaterhouseCoopers, June 2017, Mergers and acquisitions through the first half of 2017 have kept pace with the preceding year, while the volume of deals has increased 12 percent.

Hataway, C. Scott, and Michael S. Wise, “The Antitrust Review of the Americas 2016,” Paul Hastings LLP, March 18, 2016, A law firm’s attorneys say regulators overseeing U.S. mergers were active in 2016, with health care drawing especially close scrutiny.

Mehta, Mihir N., Suraj Srinivasan and Wanli Zhao, “Political Influence and Merger Antitrust Reviews,” SSRN, Sept. 13, 2017, Companies with ties to U.S. politicians overseeing antitrust regulators are more likely to receive favorable merger reviews, say three business professors.

The Next Step

Tech Giants

Chung, Andrew, “U.S. top court asks Justice Department for views in Apple antitrust case,” Reuters, Oct. 10, 2017, The U.S. Supreme Court wants more information before it decides whether to hear Apple’s appeal of a lower-court decision allowing a class-action lawsuit on consumer prices to proceed.

Manjoo, Farhad, “Can Washington Stop Big Tech Companies? Don’t Bet on It,” The New York Times, Oct. 25, 2017, The “Frightful Five” – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon – will most likely maintain their dominance unhindered by legislation, says a New York Times columnist.

McLaughlin, David, “Tech’s New Monopolies,” Bloomberg, Sept. 27, 2017, The European Union, unlike the United States, is taking an aggressive approach against the tech giants, a business writer says.

Trump Administration

Alexis, Alexei, “Rep. Goodlatte ‘Open’ to Antitrust Fix for Policing Internet,” Bloomberg BNA, Nov. 1, 2017, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said he would be open to giving the Federal Trade Commission increased authority to police the internet service provider industry using antitrust laws.

Crampton, Liz, “Global Enforcement, Tech Tactics Are New for Antitrust Chief,” Bloomberg BNA, Sept. 28, 2017, Makan Delrahim, the incoming head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, plans to examine international regulators’ efforts to keep competition open and fair.

Kang, Cecilia, “Trump Picks Joseph Simons, Corporate Antitrust Lawyer, to Lead F.T.C.,” The New York Times, Oct. 19, 2017, Joseph J. Simons, a well-known antitrust lawyer, is President Trump’s choice to lead the Federal Trade Commission, and experts say he will most likely adhere to a free-market, conservative approach to antitrust issues.


American Antitrust Institute
1025 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20036
Nonprofit organization that advocates for antitrust enforcement and competition that protects consumers and businesses.

American Bar Association, Antitrust Law Section
321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654-7598
Trade group representing the legal industry has a division that focuses on antitrust law.

Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001
Think tank that supports limited government and open markets.

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20580
Federal agency that enforces antitrust laws and reviews potential mergers, challenging those that it regards as anti-competitive.

Information Technology Industry Council
1101 K St., N.W., Suite 610, Washington, DC 20005
Trade group whose members include Amazon, Google and Facebook.

New America
740 15th St., N.W., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
A liberal-leaning think tank funded in part by Google that studies the economy, trade, anti-monopoly laws and other issues.

U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20530
Federal department that enforces antitrust laws, including prosecuting violators.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680333.n1