Competition Policy in America, 1888-1992: History, Rhetoric, Law

Competition Policy in America, 1888-1992: History, Rhetoric, Law

Competition Policy in America, 1888-1992: History, Rhetoric, Law

Competition Policy in America, 1888-1992: History, Rhetoric, Law

Synopsis

Americans have long appealed to images of free competition in calling for free enterprise, freedom of contract, free labor, free trade, and free speech. This imagery has retained its appeal in myriad aspects of public policy--for example, Senator Sherman's Anti-Trust Act of 1890, Justice Holmes's metaphorical marketplace of ideas, and President Reagan's rhetoric of deregulation. In Competition Policy in America, 1888-1992, Rudolph Peritz explores the durability of free competition imagery by tracing its influences on public policy. Looking at congressional debates and hearings, administrative agency activities, court opinions, arguments of counsel, and economic, legal, and political scholarship, he finds that free competition has actually evoked two different visions--freedom not only from oppressive government, but also from private economic power. He shows how the discourse of free competition has mediated between commitments to individual liberty and rough equality--themselves unstable over time. This rhetorical approach allows us to understand, for example, that the Reagan and Carter programs of deregulation, both inspired by the rhetoric of free competition, were driven by fundamentally different visions of political economy. Peritz's historical inquiry into competition policy as a series of government directives, inspired by two complex yet distinct and sometimes contradictory visions of free competition, provides an indispensable framework for understanding modern political economy-- whether political campaign finance reform, corporate takeover regulation, or current attitudes toward the New Deal Legacy. Competition Policy in America will be of great interest to lawyers, historians, economists, sociologists, and policy makers in both government and business.

Excerpt

The two decades between 1911 and 1933 were a time of accelerating, sometimes cataclysmic, change in the economic, political, and cultural currents of everyday life in America. the First World War produced the most evident upheaval, not only in the physical and economic ravages of war but also in its political aftermath. in the United States, the Great War stands as the great divide between an earlier era of progressive politics and a decade of conservative Republican administrations. If the 1930s are recalled as the decade of the Great Depression, the twenty years preceding it should be remembered, much as we view the 1960s, as an era of turmoil--of tyrannies, resistances, and excesses. Not only World War I and its international aftermath, but also the first women's movement in America, urban race riots and a revival of the Ku Klux Klan, labor uprisings, repression of dissident speech, the burlesque of Prohibition, and an anti-immigrant nativism betray any effort to portray those years in harmonious terms.

In this context, the Supreme Court's "Rule of Reason," whether applied to antitrust, labor, or constitutional law, seems to have been at best hortatory, calling for a rational resolution of conflict, and at worst reactionary, wielding the iron hand of reason to maintain the status quo. Much the same can be said of the era's "cooperative competition," particularly Herbert Hoover's nationwide trade association movement. in its most favorable light, it too emerges as a hopeful vision, a peaceful and productive oasis amid a desert storm of threatening and sometimes violent struggle. in its harshest light, it appears as just another kind of factional alliance, a cartelization movement to exploit customers, suppliers, and employees.

The two decades between 1911 and 1933 can be understood as a series of efforts to make a place for cooperative associations, for the collective actions of economic and political groups, in a classical political economy and ideology founded in individualism. Classical theory and ideology were called upon to accommodate new social and economic practices. the Supreme Court in Standard Oil (1911) announced the antitrust Rule of Reason, which resolved the lingering question of how to treat commercial collectives organized as . . .

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