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Are Antitrust Laws Immoral?

Jeffrey Tucker


Are moral assumptions woven into the fabric of economic analysisand resulting public policy rulesof what constitutes a monopoly or not? Conservative thinkers have generally made monopoly and antitrust an exception to a preferred general rule against interfering with market relations. In the debates between libertarians and conservatives in American ideological circles in the early 1960s, the validity of the states antitrust power was always a sore spot. The followers of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek argued for the laissez-faire position, while the conservatives, grouped around Russell Kirk, favored more economic intervention, particularly the power of the state to break up industrial concentrations. Russell Kirks own high school economics text makes the case for the free market in nearly every conceivable area save one: the supposed existence of market-generated monopolies, which he labels as dehumanizing. Yet none of these moralistic critiques of industrial concentration deal with economics as such. These critiques have been undertaken at the same level as the anti-monopoly instincts of public opinion, which has usually backed trust busting. These traditions of thought have drawn on a negative response to bigness as such, because bigness is associated with power, which is in turn associated with exploitation, a term with a great deal of moral content.

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