Barry Lynn had spent years trying to convince American politicians to worry about corporate concentration. It was, in his words, like “pushing a boulder up the hill” throughout much of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. That began to change with a fortuitous phone call he received in February 2016.
The staff of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) invited Lynn, executive director of an antitrust think tank that’s now called the Open Markets Institute, to a policy discussion over dinner. He could bring any other experts he wanted.
Warren, a markets enthusiast and former Republican who had become one of the country’s foremost experts on financial regulation, had an inkling that the consolidation problem plaguing Wall Street might be affecting other sectors of the economy, and she wanted to learn more.
Lynn brought along Teddy Downey, editor of a financial policy-focused Capitol Hill newsletter, and two committed anti-monopolists: Lina Khan, then a Yale law student, and Jonathan Kanter, a corporate lawyer who had been a Federal Trade Commission staffer.
Five years later, President Joe Biden named Khan to lead the Federal Trade Commission. Kanter is Biden’s nominee to lead the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. One of Warren’s protégés, now a top staffer at Biden’s National Economic Council, played a leading role in drafting a July 9 executive order declaring a “whole-of-government approach” to combating corporate consolidation and “unfair competition” in the U.S. economy.
“That executive order was the most important statement about regulating economic power since the New Deal,” said Lynn, a former business journalist convinced by the disruptive effects of a Taiwanese earthquake in 1999 that federal antitrust enforcement should return to its more aggressive Rooseveltian roots.
In Lynn’s eyes, the march toward Biden’s early and wholehearted embrace of the anti-monopoly movement ― and the first possibility of real government action against decades of corporate concentration ― began with Warren peppering the quartet with questions over a light buffet in her office.
Inspired by what she heard, Warren would go on to deliver a speech in June 2016 about “reigniting competition in the American economy” at Open Markets.
“The country needs more competition ― and more competitors ― to accelerate economic growth, more competition to promote innovation and more competition to reduce the ability of giant corporations to use their money and power to bend government policy and regulation to benefit themselves,” she declared.