Federal Antitrust Policy during the Kennedy-Johnson Years

By James R. Williamson | Go to book overview

4
The Response: The Congress

THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH: THE GOVERNMENT-BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

In a speech to the Democratic Policy Council on February 25, 1970, Senator Philip A. Hart, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, made the following comments:

Perhaps the greatest bill of goods sold in this country today is that we have a free competitive economy. In fact, there may be no more competition today than . . . when Congress was so shocked by the action of the trusts that it passed the Sherman Act to break them up. . . . Increasing economic concentration--spurred in large part by the growth of the multi-tentacled conglomerate--now gives the majority of all manufacturing assets to 200 corporations. With this comes the immunities to marketplace demands that giantism endows. 1

Although specific industries may have been more or less concentrated in the 1960s than in the early 1900s, some industries that were vibrant at the turn of the century had declined by the Kennedy-Johnson years (e.g., anthracite coal mining), and others had not existed in the earlier period (e.g., aircraft engines), many center firms in industries that were established in the early 1900s were still among the most powerful in the Kennedy-Johnson years. Thomas K. McCraw, referring to data developed by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., pointed out that in 1917, 103 of the 200 largest corporations in the United States were in petroleum, rubber, machinery, food products, and transportation equipment. In 1973, 87 were still among the 200 and the others had been absorbed by the 87 or had become units of conglomerates. He also noted that 36 of the largest 100 corporations in 1909 were still among the top 100 in 1958. 2 These figures indicate the stability of the large center firms over five decades and reflect the degree of market concentration in their respective industries.

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