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Gramm and Ellig Bust Myths that Fuel Antitrust Activism… But…

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Today at a seminar sponsored by the Law and Economics Center at GMU’s Scalia School of Law I lectured, in part, on the myth that the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was meant to protect consumers from monopolists. The truth behind that piece of legislation is quite the opposite of what its p.r. proclaims. In reality, the Sherman Act was meant to protect some businesses from the competition of others – which means that it is an anti-consumer piece of legislation.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, GMU Econ alum Jerry Ellig and former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm join in the party to bust the baseless myths that have for too long encrusted U.S. economic history in general, and antitrust in particular [2]. A slice:

In reality, the turn of the 20th century was an era of vigorous industrial competition driven by the implementation of new technologies, new sources of supply, and improved management. Economies of scale produced industrial concentration. Most of the trusts and cartels that subsequently formed to keep out competition gradually failed without any government intervention.

I encourage you to read the entire essay (although it’s gated).

But I must register a rather large objection that I have to Jerry’s and Mr. Gramm’s piece. I object to this sentence near the end:

There are legitimate policy concerns involving Big Tech, such as claims of censorship.

No. No. No.

Censorship is an offense committed only by government – or, perhaps more generally, only through the use of force. Each private person – individually or in voluntary league with other private persons, such as in households or firms – is perfectly within his or her rights to govern what is and what is not said on his or her property or with the use of his or her property.

The right of free expression would be violated by government if it denies or otherwise restricts the ability of private individuals to determine what is and what isn’t said, sung, written, drawn, danced, projected, or otherwise peacefully expressed on their properties. And so when Jerry and Mr. Gramm here lend credence to the complaints of people such as Dennis Prager that some tech companies  “censor” conservatives, they not only err; they court danger. Their express agreement that the actions of private companies are censorious encourages – in an awful irony – the use of the state to supplant these private parties in determining what sorts of expression are permitted on their private properties.

You might despise Facebook’s or Google’s or Aunt Emma’s rules about how their properties can be used to convey your and other people’s expressions. But that’s exclusively the business of these private entities. And to call the decisions of these private entities “censorship” is a use of language no less inappropriate than to call the price-cutting and output-expansions of 19th-century firms such as Standard Oil “monopolistic.”

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