In his 1979 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter proposed to fight crippling inflation through, in part, “better enforcement of our antitrust laws.” A month later, Carter withheld support from new antitrust legislation championed by Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Kennedy’s efforts fizzled. The next year Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan, who ushered in an era of widespread, little-challenged corporate concentration that continued largely unabated through the Obama administration.
When, in February, President Biden asked Congress to “pass bipartisan legislation to strengthen antitrust enforcement,” it marked the first time since Carter’s address that a president’s State of the Union had included the word “antitrust.” Since taking office, Biden has placed aggressive antitrust advocates in prominent positions, including Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission and Jonathan Kanter at the Department of Justice. They have joined a group of concerned senators, including Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren and even some Republicans like Mike Lee, to create new momentum around antitrust.
Klobuchar and Lee led a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee into the monopolistic practices of concert promoter Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which merged in 2010. Ticketmaster built its monopoly through a run of acquisitions—it bought seven competitors between 1985 and 1991—and a mix of aggressive and illegal tactics like predatory pricing, kickbacks, exclusivity agreements with artists and venues, and retaliation against those challenging its position. When Pearl Jam circumvented Ticketmaster by scheduling a 1994 tour in far-flung outdoor venues, the company was accused of organizing promoters to boycott the tour. A subsequent antitrust investigation by the Justice Department ended without action against Ticketmaster.