The Kennedy-Johnson years witnessed the third and greatest merger movement to that time in the history of the United States, when over 9,400 formerly independent firms were absorbed into other corporations. An overwhelming number of these mergers were of the conglomerate variety, bringing together companies from differing rather than similar industries. By 1968, 200 corporations held over 60 percent of the nation's manufacturing assets and total annual profits. The diminution of competition and corresponding increase in economic concentration that accompanied this great merger wave were contrary to America's historical commitment to competition and aversion to monopoly power.
Presidents Kennedy and Johnson knew they could expect little public support for a crusade against the increasing concentration of economic power. World War II production, and America's industrial leadership since that time, had made big business acceptable to the American public. Moreover, the success of the New Frontier and Great Society programs, and America's involvement in Vietnam, were dependent upon a strong and growing economy, which in turn was dependent upon business optimism and support. This realpolitik view of government-business relations had its effect on the antitrust activities of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Faced with a shortage of resources and the lack of a White House commitment to antitrust, only 170 of the thousands of mergers during these years were challenged by the two agencies.
Congress was generally indifferent to antitrust during this period. Despite the efforts of a few Senators and Representatives, and years of hearings into the effects of economic concentration, no significant antimerger legislation was enacted.
Only the Supreme Court was consistently procompetition and anticoncentration during these years. In the 16 merger cases that came before it, the Court interpreted the antitrust laws so as to strike down every actual or potential threat to competition and to prevent further concentration.