TESTING POLITICAL ANTITRUST

Nolan McCarty, Sepehr Shahshahani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Observers fear that large corporations have amassed too much political power. The central fact that animates this concern is growing economic concentration—the rise in the market share of a small number of top firms. These firms are thought to use their enhanced economic power to capture the government and undermine democ-racy by lobbying. Many scholars and activists have urged the use of antitrust law to combat this threat, leading a “political antitrust” movement that advocates explicit incorporation of political considerations into antitrust enforcement. Political antitrust has sparked great debate not only in academic circles but also among policymakers. But the debate has been largely data-free; there is little systematic evidence on whether increased economic concentration leads to democratic harms in established democracies. This Article seeks to fill that gap, bringing systematic data analysis to bear on the issue for the first time. We make three contributions. First, we create a comprehensive dataset on lobbying of the federal government, capturing nearly one million records over the past two decades. This data was drawn from the reports required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act as compiled by In Song Kim, to which we contributed by refining the coding, improving the matching between lobbying reports and industry and firm data, and adding new data. Second, we use our dataset to map lobbying patterns, focusing on the connection between economics and politics. Third, we empirically test some postulates of political antitrust. Our findings do not support the political antitrust movement’s central hypothesis that there is an association between economic concentration and the concentration of lobbying power. We do not find a strong relationship between economic concentration and the concentration of lobbying expenditure at the industry level. Nor do we find a significant difference between top firms’ and other firms’ allocation of additional revenues to lobbying. And we find no evidence that increasing economic concentration has appreciably restricted the ability of smaller players to seek polit-ical influence through lobbying. Ultimately, our findings show that the political antitrust movement’s claims are not empirically well-supported in the lobbying con-text. Our findings do not allay all concerns about transformation of economic power into political power, but they show that such transformation is complex and nuanced, and they counsel caution about reshaping antitrust law in the name of protecting democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1169-1264
Number of pages96
JournalNew York University Law Review
Volume98
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law

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