Antimonopoly in American Politics, 1945-2000

Scroop, D. (2018) Antimonopoly in American Politics, 1945-2000. In: Butler, J. (ed.) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199329175 (doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.405)

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Abstract

Antimonopoly, meaning the exclusive or near-exclusive control of an industry or business by one or a very few businesses, played a relatively muted role in the history of the post-1945 era, certainly compared to some earlier periods in American history. However, the subject of antimonopoly is important because it sheds light on changing attitudes toward concentrated power, corporations, and the federal government in the United States after World War II. Paradoxically, as antimonopoly declined as a grassroots force in American politics, the technical, expert-driven field of antitrust enjoyed a golden age. From the 1940s to the 1960s, antitrust operated on principles broadly in line with those that inspired its creation in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, acknowledging the special contribution small business owners made to US democratic culture. In these years, antimonopoly remained sufficiently potent as a political force to sustain the careers of national-level politicians such as congressmen Wright Patman and Estes Kefauver and to inform the opinions of Supreme Court justices such as Hugo Black and William O. Douglas. Antimonopoly and consumer politics overlapped in this period. From the mid-1960s onward, Ralph Nader repeatedly tapped antimonopoly ideas in his writings and consumer activism, skilfully exploiting popular anxieties about concentrated economic power. At the same time, as part of the United States’ rise to global hegemony, officials in the federal government’s Antitrust Division exported antitrust overseas, building it into the political, economic, and legal architecture of the post-war world. Beginning in the 1940s, conservative lawyers and economists launched a counterattack against the conception of antitrust elaborated in the progressive era. By making consumer welfare—understood in terms of low prices and market efficiency—the determining factor in antitrust cases they made a major intellectual and political contribution to the rightward thrust of US politics in the 1970s and 1980s. Robert Bork’s The Antitrust Paradox, published in 1978, popularized and signalled the ascendency of this new approach. In the 1980s and 1990s antimonopoly drifted to the margin of political debate. Fear of big government now loomed larger in US politics than the spectre of monopoly or of corporate domination. In the late-twentieth century, Americans, more often than not, directed their antipathy toward concentrated power in its public, rather than its private, forms. This fundamental shift in the political landscape accounts in large part for the overall decline of antimonopoly—a venerable American political tradition—in the period 1945-2000.

Item Type:Book Sections (Encyclopaedia entry)
Keywords:Antimonopoly, antitrust, conservatism, consumer, corporations, government, politics, law.
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Scroop, Dr Daniel
Authors: Scroop, D.
Subjects:E History America > E11 America (General)
E History America > E151 United States (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
K Law > K Law (General)
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISBN:9780199329175
Published Online:01 February 2018
Copyright Holders:Copyright © Oxford University Press USA
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy
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