Federal Antitrust Policy during the Kennedy-Johnson Years

By James R. Williamson | Go to book overview

6
Conclusions

The Kennedy-Johnson years witnessed the third and greatest merger movement up to that time in U.S. history. During these years, over 9,400 firms disappeared into merger, increasing from 954 in 1961 to 2,442 in the peak year of 1968 (Table 1.1). In addition, an overwhelming number of the large mergers were of the conglomerate variety (Figure 2.3).

Despite America's historical (both idealistic and statutory) commitment to competition and opposition to monopoly, President Kennedy knew he could expect little public support for a crusade against the increasing concentration of economic power. The generally remarkable performance of the national economy since the beginning of World War II, and the United States' industrial leadership since that time, had made big business palatable to the American public. Moreover, Kennedy's campaign theme, which was to remain the goal of his Presidency, was economic growth. He needed business support for that growth. President Johnson, too, knew the importance of business support. The success of his Great Society's many programs was dependent upon a strong and growing economy, which in turn was dependent upon business optimism and confidence in his administration. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War increased, economic growth and business support became even more important.

This realpolitik view of the government-business environment had its effect on the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission. Faced with a shortage of resources and the lack of a White House commitment to antitrust, only 170 mergers were challenged by the two antitrust agencies during the Kennedy-Johnson years. And of these, only I I acquisitions of the 25 most active acquiring firms were challenged.

During these years, the Congress was generally indifferent to antitrust. Senator Hart, like Senator Kefauver before him, found that, despite numerous speeches and years of hearings into administered prices and economic concentration, their

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