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What is the Hipster Antitrust Movement and Why Your Company Needs to Pay Attention


In a nutshell, the Hipster Antitrust Movement is a call to bring back a comprehensive reading of Progressive-Era antitrust laws.  Currently, the FTC uses a single lodestar in their antitrust investigations, consumer welfare.  The FTC consumer welfare standard focuses on the ability to charge overinflated prices, loss of quality or innovation, and reduced output. The hipster antitrust movement rejects this limited application of antitrust law.  Instead, they call for a comprehensive look at competition and the long-term effect on the entirety of the market, down to its very architecture. 

The movement specifically calls out major tech companies.  For example, Amazon’s significant control over a vast amount of the cloud storage market gives them power over other major companies such as Netflix, AirB&B, and Adobe.  This gives Amazon the ability to play puppet master, as Progressive-era railroads did, over the entire market, but because Amazon charges such low prices and is constantly innovating, they’ve escape scrutiny from the FTC.

Why Your Company Needs to Pay Attention

  • Legislation has Been Introduced

In late 2017, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation that would make it easier for mergers and acquisitions to be challenged under the Clayton Act and for the FTC to consider any damage to competition in their review of potential deals. While it’s unlikely that either of the bills submitted by Sen. Klobuchar will make it out of committee, it is a sign that lawmakers are listening.  Her legislation is a warning of possible coming changes should Democrats take back Congress or the White House. 

  • Amazon and Tech Companies May Not be the Only Targets

While Amazon, Google, and Facebook are the movement’s named culprits, the increase in corporate consolidation over the past decade, means that other industries are at just as much risk.  Airlines, banking, and telecommunications companies are at just as much risk from a more comprehensive and scrutinizing look at antitrust law.

  • Historically, America Fears Big

Let’s face it, big is scary. So, many consumers have ignored just how big some of these big companies have gotten to reap the benefits of lower prices, two-day shipping, and convenience. Now, we’re forced to grapple with how big some mega-companies have gotten. 

As American’s, resistance to the consolidation of power is a manifestation of a desire for freedom and the American dream.  As many families and consumers continue to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, corporate consolidation and monopolization are especially sensitive triggers.  The pain of the how “too big to fail” companies can kill the American dream is real.  Realizing the insurmountable climb to the top of the corporate ladder, can make one resent the ladder.

Facing these truths has the ability to change how consumers shop, how the public votes, the relationships consumers have with big companies, and employee loyalty in a far more impactful and immediate way than any looming antitrust reform may. 

  • Opportunity in the Hipster Antitrust Movement

America has the opportunity to redefine their relationship with bigness and corporate America in general.  Corporations have the ability to show how big isn’t always bad.  Now is the time corporate America can show the people how companies can act responsibly with the large amount of power they have found themselves with.  By redefining their relationship with customers, employees, and society in general, companies can take a threat and turn it into an opportunity.

Bigness has its benefits.  For companies, employers, and consumers, bigness and diversity of services can allow investment in new ideas, maximized efficiency, lower prices, and the ability to take risks that benefit the whole.  Highlighting for the public how much good companies in position of power can and have done can help America accept the risk of big.

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