Collusion Is Harmful and Illegal—Except When a Federal Agency Does It?

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The Wall Street Journal reports today, thanks to FOIA requests by the Chamber of Commerce, that it appears the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) conspired with European competition authorities to block the merger of two U.S. companies. 

The documents show heavily redacted email exchanges between the FTC and its counterparts in Europe. The redactions remove everything but “dates, FTC staff names, pleasantries, and mentions of calls or Zoom meetings.” The Journal was able to determine, by matching the dates of the emails with “regulators’ public announcements,” that regulators were likely discussing how to thwart the purchase of Grail by Illumina, one company with a new early cancer detection test and another with a platform making it possible bring that test to market. Only at today’s FTC could ideology be put ahead of such a noble cause.

The obvious hypocrisy of the agency charged with policing collusion by private industry, likely participating in the very same behavior won’t be lost on students of antitrust law. But every American should be worried by a U.S. regulator conspiring with agents of foreign governments to restrict domestic companies from innovating. The secrecy and lack of transparency with which the FTC acted also reeks of dishonesty and is rarely a sign of good governance. Perhaps the most offensive aspect of it all is that the cost of blocking this merger, had officials been successful in doing so, could be measured in body bags.

The only silver lining is that the documents will provide plenty of red meat for Congressional oversight of an agency gone completely off the rails.