Rebirth of Reason


Antitrust Laws--A Joke?
by Joseph Rowlands

Antitrust laws should receive an award for Dumbest Idea Put into Practice by Politicians. If it weren't for the damage they do, they would be a hilarious example of government stupidity. Let me explain.

The first, obvious, problem is that these laws are intended to prevent monopolies. A monopoly is a legal restriction on who can sell a product or service. Now, the postal service is a monopoly because private companies are not allowed to compete in the shipping and delivery of first class mail. So here's the funny part: the government is responsible for enforcing the antitrust laws. Yup! The same government that created one of the most famous of all monopolies and enforces it by preventing competition. Not a very useful law.

You're not laughing.

Of course, the antitrust laws are only used against private companies, companies that are doing well for themselves and their customers. And consumers presumably need no protection from the monopoly that is the United States Postal Service. So the government, under the guise of protecting the consumer, destroys or hobbles the best producers. If it weren't so common for government schemes to backfire completely, you'd probably think this was funny too.

It gets better. The antitrust laws are used against companies that practice "anticompetitive practices." What counts as "anticompetitive?" Anything aimed at doing better than your competition. In other words, anything that's competitive. So the mere act of competing is considered anticompetitive. Funny yet?

Well, here's my last and favorite part. Even assuming that the government is right about everything (I know it's hard...just pretend), the laws are still worthless. The government assumes that if a single company becomes the sole producer in a market, they might jack up the price of their product, hurting the little guy. If an energy company jacks up its price by a hundredfold, what would the little guy do? The poor, poor little guy. To prevent this, they use the antitrust laws to beat down any producer who looks like he might take over. In other words, any producer who provides more value or lower cost to his customers.

Now, the main reason Objectivists dislike these laws is because they're a blatant initiation of force. By forcing companies to act in particular ways beyond simple non-coercion, the government is abandoning the principle of property rights when it comes to companies. In the name of helping the consumer, they enslave the producers, particularly the best of them.

So here's the punch-line. If a single producer jacking up his price is really the problem they're trying to solve, and given that they don't care about property rights in the slightest, why not wait until a single producer actually does do that? That's right. If they're going to trample rights, why not just wait until the "bad" thing has actually happened? By their own standards, the antitrust laws are useless.

Antitrust laws are stupid, evil, and worthless by anyone's standards. Maybe if we tell the politicians we get the joke, they'll take them away.

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