Trust-Busting 2024 with Stacy Mitchell & Matt Stoller: A Bipartisan Battle Against Monopoly Power

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Is 2024 the year of trust-busting? This bipartisan issue of small versus big is a fight taking place on the streets and in the Federal and State courts, from grassroots movements and Congressional hearings. Anti-monopoly action from both the public and the Biden administration is on the rise, but so is the number of merger filings. What should we make of this moment? To help answer that question, Laura is joined by two experts on anti-trust action: Stacy Mitchell, Co-Executive Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Matt Stoller, author of “Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy” and publisher of the newsletter “BIG” on Substack. Mitchell has played a leading role in today’s growing antimonopoly movement and her work informed the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against Amazon in 2023. Stoller is the former policy advisor to the Senate Budget Committee and also worked for a member of the Financial Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives during the financial crisis. In this episode, they unpack how decades of corporate consolidation did not lead to cheaper prices, better service or more jobs, but instead worsened our local economies, the quality of our lives and democracy. How have people power and government action brought about a policy shift? Hear why one guest calls this moment a delayed policy reaction of the 2008 financial crisis, plus a commentary from Laura.

“It’s very clear that not having competition in these markets kills . . . In areas like hospices and elder care, dialysis or other parts of healthcare people die. And also in things like Boeing, people die.” – Matt Stoller

“What we are seeing in this administration is we actually have people in place who are making huge change and are using the tools to the full extent that they have . . . There is a lot of grassroots support for the idea of dealing with corporate power. Everybody is feeling this . . .” – Stacy Mitchell


  • Stacy Mitchell: Co-Executive Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Matt Stoller: Research Director, American Economic Liberties Project


Trust-Busting 2024 with Stacy Mitchell & Matt Stoller: A Bipartisan Battle Against Monopoly Power Transcript

Trust-Busting 2024 with Stacy Mitchell & Matt Stoller: A Bipartisan Battle Against Monopoly Power



LAURA FLANDERS: Here’s a question for you. When you hear the news that two huge corporations are merging, becoming one, what’s your first thought? Do you think, “Oh, good. Cheaper prices, better service, more jobs, fewer environmental harms?” If you don’t, you are evidence that a 40-year effort by neoliberals to convince the public that corporate consolidation is good for consumers has failed. President Biden agrees. Here’s the President speaking in July of 2021.

We are now 40 years into the experiment of letting giant corporations accumulate more and more power. And where, what have we gotten from it? Less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses. Too many Americans who feel left behind. Too many people who are poor than their parents. I believe the experiment failed. We have to get back to an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out.

LAURA FLANDERS: Biden himself is no corporate dragon slayer, but the woman he appointed to head to the Federal Trade Commission or FTC, Lina Khan comes pretty close. With a long history in antitrust law, she has brought more challenges than we have seen in decades, slowing many mergers and stopping a few. That doesn’t mean that corporations don’t keep consolidating their power in terrifying ways, in healthcare, oil, telecommunications, media, and as one of our guests today has written, blood. But as our other guest has said, “This is an extraordinary time in antitrust action.” People power and government appear to have brought about a policy shift. Should we celebrate? Well, here to tell us more, our two experts. Stacy Mitchell is co-executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Her work, especially on Amazon, has been cited by Congress and the FTC. And Matt Stoller, author of the book, “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.” Stoller is a former policy advisor to the Senate Budget Committee. He now publishes the newsletter BIG on Substack. Welcome both. So glad to have you with us. Stacy, let’s start with you. Should we, who care about breaking up enormous monopolies, be celebrating?

STACY MITCHELL: I think we should feel very excited. I think that we have seen a real sea change shift in how people think about these issues and in what government is currently doing. And you know, it’s hard to say where the future is going, but I don’t think we’re going backwards. We have seen government dust off the FTC, the Department of Justice, dust off laws that have been lying dormant for most of our lifetimes and really putting those laws to use and going after concentrated corporate power. And they do, they are doing it in the context of building this growing political base. I mean, the reality is that most Americans, you know, small business owners, farmers, ranchers, pharmacists, working people, consumers, everybody has a stake in dealing with a problem of concentrated power. And so, the political momentum behind this and the politics behind it, I think is distinct from a lot of other issues. And I think there’s a lot of reason to feel that the path that we’re on is going to continue and is one of the most crucial things that’s going on in policy making right now.

LAURA FLANDERS: Matt, how would you look at the same picture? I mean the statistics are pretty clear that there’s been more action, but there’s also been a spike in merger efforts, merger filings.

MATT STOLLER: Yeah, I mean it’s hard to look around the world and say, “Oh, things are going great,” right? I mean, it just feels like an overwhelming bummer, but that’s really the residual consequences of 40 years of horrible policy. And so, what we’re seeing now, and it’s not just Lina Khan, it’s a whole bunch of other people, is what I would consider like a delayed policy reaction to the financial crisis of 2008. The younger generation of policymakers, you know, it’s been almost 15 years at this, it has been 15 years, have said no, actually too big to fail is a problem and it’s a problem everywhere. And you’re starting to see significant change. But it has been 40, 45 years of this, of policy pointed in one direction and it takes a while to reorient it. From 1998 to 2020, there wasn’t a single monopolization charge from the Department of Justice, not one. The Sherman Antitrust Act, the main part of it is monopolization, and they didn’t use it once. Today, there are five antitrust cases at a different level, state and federal, against Google alone. But you also see actions against Amazon. You see, you’re seeing investigations of United Health Group. You’re see it’s just this massive sea change in enforcement priorities. The other factoid that I bring is that the Department of Justice Antitrust Division had never stopped an airline merger. Everybody knows the airlines are consolidated, and bad, and they overcharge people. You know, the ticky tack fees, all the rest of it. Since the Biden administration started, there have been two successful merger challenges. And one of them was a kind of a quasi-merger challenge was about a joint venture between the American Airlines and JetBlue. But the other one was Spirit Airlines and JetBlue and that was a successful challenge. And one result is that airline prices today are actually lower than they were before the pandemic, because airlines actually have to compete. So, it’s hard to make the optimistic case, but if you look at the guts of policy, which is what Stacy and I pay attention to, it is actually an extraordinary time and we will and are starting to feel these positive effects

LAURA FLANDERS: Coming to you, Stacy, I mean, both of you have been there watching this happening on Capitol Hill. I know that you have worked closely with the caucus that exists on Congress now on this very question, what are you arguing is the problem?

STACY MITCHELL: I mean, every sector of the economy just about is incredibly concentrated in the hands of a very small number of corporations. And for many years, the effects of this were felt by working people, by small businesses, by farmers. And the bill of goods that we were sold was that this was gonna be good for consumers and that this was gonna make the economy work better, allowing all of these corporations to merge and to grow ever larger and to take over one industry after the other. The idea was we were gonna get more output and, you know, more efficiency and these kinds of benefits. And oh, well, we lost, you know, we lost many generations of businesses. We have farmers that are screwed, communities that are screwed, but we’re gonna reap all these rewards in other ways. And today, like not only is it clear that we have just extreme inequality, that what the cost that we have paid as people who produce value and work for a living has been extreme, but we also have an economy that just doesn’t function very well in so many respects. I mean, you go around and there are all of these communities, urban and rural, that are missing basic services. They don’t have grocery stores. They don’t have pharmacies. They don’t have banks. We have sectors where one disruption can shut down the supply of meat or baby formula, you know? I mean, and we can just go on and on with the list of things of this is dysfunctional.

LAURA FLANDERS: You wrote a chilling piece, Matt, about blood. I mean talk about blood boil. I mean, my blood kind of froze over reading that. Can you give people a summary?

MATT STOLLER: Okay, so I wrote a piece called, “The Dirty Business of Clean Blood,” which is about dialysis. Dialysis is what happens when your kidneys malfunction. Kidneys clean your blood. And it is actually the only area of our economy or the only area of healthcare, which is fully paid for by the government. So, Medicare actually covers dialysis no matter what age you are. So it’s Medicare for all, but only for, as John Oliver put it, one organ of the body, which is the kidneys. And it is controlled. This is an important problem because liberals like to think about we need single payer that will solve everything. Well, we have single payer in dialysis. And it turns out when you have single payer and it’s controlled, the provider side is controlled by monopolies. And in the case of dialysis, it’s controlled by two chains, DaVita and Fresenius, they have about 70 or 80% of the market. If you don’t get dialysis and your kidneys are malfunctioning three times a week, sitting there for four hours a time, you die. It’s very simple. But what we do know is that mortality rates for dialysis in the US are much higher than they are in Western Europe and Japan. And we also know that when there’s consolidation of these clinics, that hospitalization rates go up and deaths go up. I mean, this is just, it’s very clear that not having competition in these markets kills. And the problem is really fundamental. It’s really scary. It is the tectonic plates of politics, but fixing it isn’t that hard conceptually. And once we start to focus on it, and that’s what’s exciting about this social movement that Stacy and I are kind of a part of, is you’re like, “Oh, this is why everyone in America is mad.”

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, that’s what I wanna come to you about, Stacy. I mean, you and I have been talking about this for years, and I think it was clear to you well over a decade ago that monopolies were not helping your neighborhood or your healthcare or making you feel safer when you fly in planes. What shifted?

STACY MITCHELL: You know, it used to be back in the days like when Walmart was growing and we were sort of fighting about the consol-, you know, the proliferation of these big retail chains. We were doing this cost benefit conversation all the time. It was ridiculous. Where it was like, oh, well they lower wages, but they lower prices, which is worse, you know, and you just never get anywhere with that. And what changed is that the country started having conversation about power, you know, and saying the issue is not what marginal benefits this company might deliver or might not deliver. The question is, are we running our own lives? Are we running our own country? And there was a recognition that concentrated corporate power is a political problem because these companies effectively govern us and govern our communities. And that once that conversation started, it resonated so much with people because it’s people’s like lived experience in the reality of their daily lives. And that began to create this kind of bottom up political movement. And you know, fortunately I think to the surprise of many of us, including me, President Biden was a convert to that. He got that and he put in place some very strong leaders who are aggressively using the tools that they have.

LAURA FLANDERS: As you point, Matt, Lina Khan isn’t alone at the FTC. Tim Wu and others have been there at her back. But here she is speaking in the summer of 2023 at a House judiciary committee hearing, talking about how we got into this situation and how she hoped to get out.

Our work on the antitrust side is focused on ensuring robust competition. This is involved blocking mergers that we believed would’ve eroded competition, including in the defense industry, including in healthcare. We’ve brought a set of lawsuits alleging that certain types of hospital mergers would’ve deprived Americans of access to quality affordable healthcare. We have a whole set of work underway focused on the fact that all too often, drug prices are way too expensive for American people, and we’re scrutinizing the ways in which potentially unlawful practices may be contributing to those high prices. We’re also hearing directly day in, day out from small businesses, from independent grocers, independent pharmacists, franchisees about the ways in which the FTC’s work can help ensure that they have a robust open opportunity to compete in the marketplace and make sure that Americans are benefiting from robust competition.

LAURA FLANDERS: Coming back to you, Stacy, you’re being humble in the sense that you were a big part, as was Matt, in bringing public pressure and public attention to these issues. You’ve been at it for a long time. One of the refreshing things in both your writings and Matt’s and increasingly in the language coming from the FTC is that it’s very plainly spoken, plainly said. And then I looked into the laws, some of them a hundred, 110, 150 years old, they’re pretty plain spoken too and they talk actually less about competition and more about people.

STACY MITCHELL: I mean, what’s extraordinary now is you, you know, you have a lot of people going back and pulling up these laws, and pulling up the legislative history, you know? And we all grew up in this time where, you know, the line was that antitrust is about efficiency. And you go back and you look at these laws and it’s not about that at all. It’s really about how do you structure an economy where you promote competition and the beneficial effects of that. And you disperse power in a way that enables people to actually govern democratically and to exercise a degree of liberty as individuals and collectively in their communities. I mean, one of the extraordinary things that has gone on in the last year is that the current administration has adopted new merger guidelines. And I know that that sounds like way in the technical weeds, but it represents enormous sea change and how the government approaches mergers. It’s crucial. And part of how that change came about was going back and looking at the laws. For example, there’s a 1950 Anti-Merger Act and you go read the legislative history and the law itself, and it’s very clear that the goal is to stop mergers that might lessen competition.

LAURA FLANDERS: Also, I’m seeing in some of the new merger guidelines, more attention to the labor force. And Matt, I wondered if you wanted to speak to that part of this story.

MATT STOLLER: You know, antitrust and labor for a variety of historical reasons have kind of been separated. You have labor law and then you have antitrust law, which mostly people have thought of in product markets, like the stuff you buy and sell. But as it turns out, you can apply it to labor markets because companies buy and sell labor and they just haven’t. And what scholars have realized, and normal people realized before the scholars did, but you know, labor markets are really concentrated, like it’s pretty hard to get a job with someone else in the same industry when you have few options to do that. And so as it turns out, when you have a merger, you get to lower wages, right? And we’ve known this for a long time. In the 1980s, the whole thing about mergers is cool, we get to lay a bunch of people off. That is a merger. That is a lessening of competition in a line of business of for work. But we didn’t actually develop the economic and legal tools to address that until relatively recently. And now for the first time with the, a merger in the book publishing industry, and then a merger, which is Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, that was challenged by the Antitrust Division and now a challenge of the mega merger between Kroger and Albertsons supermarket chains. You would now have the enforcers actually saying that consolidating power over workers is in itself a violation of the law.

LAURA FLANDERS: These are, as you said, Stacy, exciting times, extraordinary times in lots of ways. We’ve painted out what’s good about them. What are you most concerned about in this moment?

STACY MITCHELL: I think the power of the tech companies, I mean, you, we have, you know, a handful of companies that control the flow of information, the flow of commerce. It is an extraordinary amount of power that they have.

LAURA FLANDERS: Does AI change the picture? I mean, I’m looking at OpenAI as buying this and buying that. That has me a little nervous.

STACY MITCHELL: Well, absolutely, and because of the resources, the computing resources that are required for AI you know, in the absence of intervention, it’s gonna be Google, it’s gonna be Microsoft, it’s gonna be Amazon that are able to control AI, because nobody else has the computing power and the money to actually to run those systems. And so, the real risk here is that they will use control over this new technology to, you know, prevent new developments that would challenge their power and to use it in ways that only augment their power. And that’s deeply concerning

LAURA FLANDERS: Coming to you, Matt, before we get to the politics of this, there are various tools that any administration has as its disposal. There’s the FTC, which we’ve talked about. There’s the Department of Justice and you’ve referred to the Antitrust Division, which I always thought would be a good name for a band. When it comes to remedies, what are possible remedies? And maybe take for as an example, the case the government currently has, one of several against Google.

MATT STOLLER: There’s antitrust, which is a legal, a narrow legal tool to address market competition in certain markets and it’s run by a couple of diverse divisions. The government states have some jurisdiction, but then there’s the broader anti-monopoly frame, which is not just about the antitrust division, but has to do with tax policy, and zoning policy, and bankruptcy, and healthcare plan, all sorts of things that you can do to structure markets. And so part of this, we’re just kind of at the beginning where we’re trying to embed the principles of open and fair competition back into these institutions. So, I just wanna make that clear. But in terms of Google and remedy is, right, this is specifically an antitrust question, right? Because you have an antitrust trial where the government or a private plaintiff tries to prove that a company is an unlawful monopoly. And if they win that, then it goes to what’s called the remedy phase, where the judge says, “Okay, I buy the argument,” or a jury says, “I buy the argument. This is an unlawful monopoly. Here’s what you have to do to no longer be an unlawful monopoly.” And that can be anything from break off these pieces of the company and sell them, like we did that with Standard Oil. We’ve done that with AT&T. We’ve done that with a whole bunch of other companies. It can be get rid of these patents, or let anybody license these patents, or get rid of these particular contracts like, or, you know, there’s lots of stuff you can do. So it’s just about saying, all right, what is causing the monopoly here and then, how do you restructure the business so that there is no more market power? It could also be financial damages and things like that. And so with Google, when you’re talking about Google, you’re talking about YouTube. You’re talking about Google Cloud. You’re talking about Search. You’re talking about all sorts of advertising plumbing. You’re talking about Maps. You’re talking about tons of different investments in automobiles, energy, like telecom, like this is a massive institution. And so, what you’re gonna have to do is you’re gonna have to do it like you eat an elephant, which is one bite at a time. But basically like split these companies up and make them serve all comers in a neutral way, kinda like a railroad.

LAURA FLANDERS: What about other options we’ve heard on this program around pharmaceuticals, Stacy, coming to you, the case made by patient advocates in response to the Biden plan to cap or the Biden action to cap insulin prices. Why don’t we just go public with some of these drug makers as Gavin Newsom has done in California, creating a generic publicly owned company. Is public ownership an alternative kind of remedy after some of this breakup happens or maybe as part of it?

STACY MITCHELL: I think there’s some sectors that where public ownership and public options makes a lot of sense and can create competition and alternatives and can hold companies accountable by essentially making them compete on the merits. And I think there are other sectors where if we can, you know, break up monopolies, if we can put in place the right kinds of measures to keep them in check, we began to open up a lot of space for people to create new enterprises and for, you know, the many existing businesses, and workers, and farmers to actually be able to succeed.

LAURA FLANDERS: There is bipartisan interest on this question. Certainly, in the last presidential race, we saw both President Biden and former President Trump talking sort of populous, talk about breaking up big corporations. I’m not, I haven’t a partisan, I’m not a partisan person in this. I’ve plenty of critiques of President Biden, but the records of these two administrations in power are quite different, aren’t they? Could you lay out the distinctions for anybody who’s hazy?

MATT STOLLER: I’m probably more charitable to the right than Stacy, but I think a fair comparison would be, there was a bill that passed in 2022 called the Merger Monetization, Merger Filing Fee Monetization Act, which strengthened antitrust laws and it wouldn’t have passed with just the Democrats, just the Republicans. So Trump, you know, he allowed Disney to buy Fox. So, he allowed the consolidation of Hollywood. He allowed, you know, private equity to do a bunch of different stuff. He allowed, you know, a lot of consolidation, but he also did initiate suits, antitrust suits against Google and Facebook, initiated the suit against AT&T-Time Warner. And with Operation Warp Speed, he handed out I think nine different contracts to pharmaceutical companies. So, they competed for that. So, there are reasons to see, I mean, they’re basically incoherent, right? And there are every presidency is a number of different factions and there were some anti-monopoly factions in the Trump administration. The anti-monopoly factions in the Biden administration are much larger and much more powerful.

LAURA FLANDERS: I don’t know whether you want to add anything to that, Stacy, but you’ve been working for years with your colleagues for local sustainable economies. Do you think we’re at a turning point? What do you think is the story the future will tell of now?

STACY MITCHELL: Yeah, I mean, I, we are definitely at a fork in the road and I, you know, have a lot of hope. I feel like we are at least actually talking about the core issues in a way that I don’t think was true a decade ago. My organization has been working for, as you noted many, many years around how do we build up the right kinds of local economic systems that nurture communities, that create prosperity, that create happiness at the local level, that create sustainability. And one of the reasons that we’re working on this set of issues is that we realize that no matter how successful those local efforts are, they have a hard time proliferating and really multiplying because the larger policies that structure our economy, particularly antitrust, also our banking policies that control the flow of credit, you know, really were, are standing against that those local economies. And so, you know, we, if we can change this bigger structure, I think a lot of things that you’ve highlighted on your program of great local solutions suddenly have the kind of oxygen to grow and multiply. And some of the biggest problems that we face, whether it’s inequality or the climate crisis, suddenly start to become solvable because we’ve taken the sort of yoke of these dominant corporations out of the picture.

LAURA FLANDERS: Stacy Mitchell, Matt Stoller, thank you so much for being with us. This is a great conversation. I’ll be back in just a second with some closing comments and thoughts. Monopoly power in the world of medicine is an obvious cause for concern. Are huge conglomerates really in the business of caring for people or simply cashing in on disease? So too in what used to be called journalism, now media. Are the owners of our most influential and powerful media outlets, really in the profession in order to educate and inform voters, so that we might have a responsible electorate or are they simply capitalists out to amass as many customers as they can by whatever means for the sake of their own and their shareholders’ profits? The last time that question was being taken up as actively as it is today was back in the 1940s when New Deal Democrats held hearings in Congress as they do today. And Supreme Court cases weighed an individual’s free speech rights with the responsibility of government to protect this democratic project from autocrats. What happened then? Well, in 1946, those New Deal Democrats were thrown out of office by red baiting Republicans and the whole issue was put to roost. There’s probably a lesson there somewhere, but what is worth remembering is that when it comes to the question of government intervention, none other than George Washington thought the journalism was so important to democracy that capitalism should be kept entirely out of it. Not only underwrite and subsidized journalists access to the media of the day, he said government should pay for it and keep it public. It’s worth remembering that boat has sailed, but we could perhaps invent a new one. You can find the full uncut version of each week’s conversation through a subscription to our podcast all the information’s at our website, and we’ll keep having conversations like this one. For “Laura Flanders and Friends,” I am Laura. Till the next time. Stay kind, stay curious, and thanks for joining us.

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