Good Government! (Sit!…Stay!…)

The Antitrust Modernization Commission will report recommendations for streamlining the nation’s antitrust laws sometime in April 2007; while the ponderous commission has been around for three years nearly undetected and undetectable, there are good signs that even commissions like this are heeding the wisdom of the magnificent Milton Friedman, lost to us yesterday at the age of 94. (See stories and pictures here, and my colleague Iain Murray’s appreciation here.)

According to Dow Jones Newswires, the AMC panel recognizes that regulators get several bites at the apple when it comes to examining mergers, and they want to cut down on the practice. Along with authority at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commissions, specific regulatory bodies also often get a say-so in mergers, supposedly from a “public interest” standpoint. Notably the Federal Communications Commission (over telecom mergers) and and the Federal Reserve Board (over banking mergers) enjoy this right to interfere.

The AMC, however, properly regards a pro-competitive merger as one pretty much consistent with being in the public interest already; so they want to eliminate those overlapping downstream reviews. CEI, as well as many other groups, has proposed streamining merger reviews at FCC; and being radical reformers, we also proposed a set of even more sweeping recommendations for the Modernization Commission to consider back when it was still new.

The topic of liberalized the competive marketplace is a perfect opportunity to note still another contribution of Milton Friedman. It a 1999 address at Cato called “The Business Community’s Suicidal Impulse,” Friedman said:

When I started in this business, as a believer in competition, I was a great supporter of antitrust laws; I thought enforcing them was one of the few desirable things that the government could do to promote more competition. But as I watched what actually happened, I saw that, instead of promoting competition, antitrust laws tended to do exactly the opposite, because they tended, like so many government activities, to be taken over by the people they were supposed to regulate and control. And so over time I have gradually come to the conclusion that antitrust laws do far more harm than good and that we would be better off if we didn’t have them at all, if we could get rid of them.

It’s bad enough when regulators needlessly interfere. But when businesses bring it on themselves and erect the regulatory state themselves, it’s far worse. We’ll miss him.

(Hat tip to Cato for the image.)