Antitrust Super Influencers
Applying the firm’s Influencer Analytics methodology to the antitrust policy debate, Baron finds pro-competition, anti-monopoly intellectuals filling the ranks of the 10 academic and policy expert “Super Influencers” who shape the thinking of government decision makers. Based on approximately 27,000 references made by members of Congress, executive branch officials, and others, Baron’s research suggests that activists on the Left likely will prevail in implementing significant antitrust reform. In a break from four decades of law and economics orthodoxy, a majority of these Super Influencers support rejecting or revising the consumer welfare standard, or expanding antitrust beyond consumer prices to fight anticompetitive behavior.
Influencer Analytics reveals the striking success of a small group of scholars and activists in challenging the longstanding antitrust consensus. The members of this pro-reform cohort prioritize increased competition over lower prices and expanded selection, and have a deep technical knowledge of law, finance, history, and business.
Overall sentiment among these Super Influencers portends massive change. Influencer Analytics suggests that recent enhanced enforcement and reform efforts represent only the beginning of a wave of change that promises to affect every sector of the economy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s recent opposition to the attempted acquisitions of Aerojet Rocketdyne by Lockheed Martin and Arm by Nvidia, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, reflect government’s growing desire to constrain corporate behavior.1 During a recent conference hosted by the pro-reform Open Markets Institute, Tim Wu – currently Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy at the White House’s National Economic Council (NEC) – captured the new spirit of the age: “The age of the green-light merger is over.”2
Influencer Analytics Methodology
Baron’s effort to identify the external experts (individuals outside of government) driving the antitrust debate involved the following:
Examining policy makers: Baron defined an initial universe of approximately 150 relevant government officials, including members of Congress and their staffs, FTC and Department of Justice officials, Biden Administration economic advisors, state attorneys general, and others.
Determining “first-order Influencers”: Baron’s team of data collectors and analysts recorded instances of any of the 150 government officials citing an individual or institution in 2021 or 2020 when discussing antitrust or related competition topics in press releases, reports, op-eds, speeches, tweets, and other sources. This process yielded a database of approximately 12,500 citations. Then, Baron applied a proprietary algorithm to produce an initial ranking of first-order Influencers on policy makers, accounting for variations in frequency, consistency, and breadth of citations.
Determining who influences the Influencers: Baron’s team then recorded all instances of the first-order Influencers citing someone in 2021 when commenting upon antitrust or related topics. This process yielded a database of an additional 14,500 citations. Baron again applied its algorithm to produce the list of antitrust Super Influencers.
Antitrust Super Influencers
Baron’s Influencer Analytics reveals that the following policy experts and academics have the greatest influence on the antitrust debate. Leading the list of policy expert Super Influencers is William Kovacic, Global Competition Professor of Law and Policy at George Washington University Law School and Director of its Competition Law Center. A former FTC Chair, he frequently takes a historical approach to contemporary antitrust arguments – an approach shared by many reformers who see themselves as reviving a powerful American tradition.
Top 10 Policy Expert Super Influencers
- William Kovacic, George Washington University
- Sarah Miller, American Economic Liberties Project
- Charlotte Slaiman, Public Knowledge
- Adam Kovacevich, Chamber of Progress
- Matt Stoller, American Economic Liberties Project
- Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
- Alex Harman, Economic Security Project (previously at Public Citizen)
- Jonathan Baker, American University
- Carl Shapiro, University of California, Berkeley
- Herbert Hovenkamp, University of Pennsylvania
The antitrust conversation is extremely concentrated. The top two percent of people and organizations cited in the data analysis were responsible for 44 percent of Round 2 citations; in other words, nearly half of the antitrust conversation is being driven by only a few figures. Although Influencer Analytics often finds influence concentrated in a small group, rather than being dispersed, the antitrust community is exceptional in the degree to which an elite group is shaping the thinking of policy makers.
The Left dominates the antitrust debate. The unlikely bipartisan relationships in antitrust reform are well known – for example, Super Influencer Matt Stoller writing for American Compass, or Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO-4) collaborating with Congressman Dave Cicilline (D-RI-1) to pass a package of six antitrust bills through Committee. Nevertheless, most Super Influencers belong to the Left. Although not every Super Influencer is firmly on the pro-reform Left, no Super Influencer is firmly on the anti-reform Right. This dynamic cannot be attributed simply to Democratic control of Congress and the White House: the initial universe of government officials studied was divided nearly equally between the parties. Influencer Analytics finds even conservative Republicans frequently citing, and appealing to, figures on the Left, suggesting that today’s left-of-center supremacy in the antitrust debate would persist even under GOP leadership.
Antitrust Super Influencers prioritize practical achievements over intellectual purity. Like the muckrakers of the Progressive Era, today’s antitrust reformers focus attention on alleged abuses to build support. Although typically intellectuals, antitrust Super Influencers value practical changes more than armchair theorizing. Several have spent time in government, reflecting the conviction that politics, rather than ivory-tower scholarship, will drive the antitrust revolution. The prevalence among Super Influencers of activists and politically minded professors reveals a desire not simply to win debates, but to prevail in shaping the economy.
Economics is losing authority in the political arena. The antitrust reform movement transcends economics, aspiring more ambitiously to combat the perceived abuse of power, violation of individual privacy, and growing instability of American democracy. For example, many reformers see the consumer welfare standard not simply as a flawed principle for regulating competition, but rather as part of a broader ideological project to replace American citizenship with consumerism.4 Even within the academy, law professors focused on the societal impact of monopoly power – not economists dedicated to optimizing for prices and selection – populate the ranks of antitrust Super Influencers with few exceptions. The list of Super Influencers suggests that “the economists’ hour,” in the words of writer Binyamin Appelbaum, is nearly over.5
Super Influencer Archetypes
This policy expert class of antitrust Super Influencers contains two subgroups:
Example: Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self- Reliance (ILSR). Mitchell, the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, argues that large corporations thrive only at the expense of local communities. To counter these companies’ malevolence, ISLR focuses on research and advocacy empowering communities to “fight corporate control.”6 In her seminal paper “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” FTC Chair Lina Khan thanks Mitchell and quotes her ILSR paper “Amazon’s Stranglehold,” reflecting Mitchell’s influence on the anti-monopolists’ opposition to the company.7 More broadly, Mitchell is noteworthy for being cited heavily by both government officials and journalists, reflecting her impact in both politics and the press.
Example: Jonathan Baker, Research Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law.8 One of only two Super Influencers with a formal background in economics, Baker served as Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission and Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics, among other positions. He argues that “[r]estoring competition requires stronger antitrust rules than those adopted four decades ago” and that “the Chicago-oriented antitrust rules [affiliated with the consumer welfare standard] are not up to the task of controlling market power.”9 He has published research with the NEC’s Wu.10
With the Biden Administration supporting a “whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy,” the coming years likely will bring growing political opposition to the country’s largest corporations and the continued demise of the old antitrust consensus.11 Companies will need to contend with greater scrutiny of M&A, more aggressive enforcement of existing antitrust laws, and legislation imposing stricter constraints.
1 “FTC Sues to Block Lockheed Martin Corporation’s $4.4 Billion Vertical Acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc.,” Federal Trade Commission, January 25, 2022, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2022/01/ftc-sues-block-lockheed-martin-corporations-44-billion-vertical; “FTC Sues to Block $40 Billion Semiconductor Chip Merger,” Federal Trade Commission, December 2, 2021, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/12/ftc-sues-block-40-billion-semiconductor-chip-merger; and “Text – S.2992 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” Congress.gov, Library of Congress, March 2, 2022, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2992/text.
2 “Busting the Big Myths on Anti-Monopoly Reform,” Open Markets Institute, February 16, 2022, https://www.openmarketsinstitute.org/publications/conference-myth-busting-antimonopoly-enforcement.
3 Peter Coy, “The 10 People Most Likely to Influence the Economic Policy of a President Biden,” BloombergBusinessweek, October 29, 2020, https://www.bloomberg. com/news/articles/2020-10-29/the-10-people-most-likely-to-influence-a-president-biden; and Jonathan M. Baron, “A Look at the Top Biden Economic Influencers,” Chief Executive, November 12, 2020, https://chiefexecutive.net/a-look-at-the-top-biden-economic-influencers.
4 See: “There Will Be Blood: America’s Antitrust Reform Movement,” Baron Public Affairs, October 31, 2021, https://baronpa.com/podcast/there-will-be-blood-americas-antitrust-reform-movement.
5 The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society, Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2019. See also: Thomas K. McCraw, Prophets of Regulation, Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.
6 “About ILSR,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, https://ilsr.org/about-the-institute-for-local-self-reliance.
7 Lina M. Khan, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” Yale Law Journal, Vol. 126, 2017, https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3813&context=faculty_scholarship.
8 “Jonathan B. Baker,” American University Washington College of Law, https://www.wcl.american.edu/community/faculty/profile/jbaker/bio.
9 Jonathan B. Baker, “Competitive Edge: Revitalizing U.S. Antitrust Enforcement Is Not Simply a Contest Between Brandeis and Bork – Look First to Thurman Arnold,”Washington Center for Equitable Growth, January 31, 2019, https://equitablegrowth.org/revitalizing-u-s-antitrust-enforcement-is-not-simply-a-contest-between-brandeis-and-bork-look-first-to-thurman-arnold.
10 Bill Baer et al., “Restoring Competition in the United States: A Vision for Antitrust Enforcement for the Next Administration and Congress,” Washington Center for Equitable Growth, November 19, 2020, https://equitablegrowth.org/research-paper/restoring-competition-in-the-united-states.
11 Executive Order No. 14036, 86 Fed. Reg. 36987, July 9, 2021, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/07/14/2021-15069/promoting-competition-in-the-american-economy.