Biden-backed antitrust crackdown could worsen inflation: Summers

The Biden administration’s push to crackdown on antitrust violations could cause the ongoing inflation crisis to worsen rather than improve, economist Larry Summers warned this week.

Summers, the former Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, said proposed antitrust actions were “more likely to raise than lower prices.”

President Biden has called for scrutiny of top meat industry firms and US oil companies, arguing that a lack of competition has contributed to artificially high consumer prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The emerging claim that antitrust can combat inflation reflects ‘science denial,’” Summers wrote on Twitter. “There are many areas like transitory inflation where serious economists differ. Antitrust as an anti-inflation strategy is not one of them.”

US consumer prices surged 5.7 percent in November compared to the same month one year earlier, marking the fastest increase in four decades, according to Commerce Department data. An ongoing labor shortage and supply chain issues have contributed to the problem.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has said that Biden’s attempt to push to crackdown on antitrust violations could cause the ongoing inflation crisis to worsen rather than improve.
Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Surging inflation has put pressure on American workers by effectively erasing wage gains and raising the cost of everyday goods. Biden has pushed back on critics who argue his pandemic-era economic policies are stoking inflation.

In November, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider opening a probe into whether “illegal conduct” was contributing to higher gas prices. He has repeatedly called out meat providers over increased profits during the pandemic.

Summers said he “strongly” supports the Biden administration’s push to ensure fair competition in business. However, the Harvard University economist asserted some measures, such as a Biden-backed push to crackdown on prominent meatpacking firms, would result in reduced supply and higher prices.

President Biden has repeatedly asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider opening a probe into whether “illegal conduct” was contributing to higher gas prices.
President Biden has repeatedly asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider opening a probe into whether “illegal conduct” was contributing to higher gas prices.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Consumer prices rose 6.8% for the 12 months ending in November, a 39-year high. Many economists expect inflation to remain near this level a few more months.
Consumer prices rose 6.8% for the 12 months ending in November, a 39-year high. Many economists expect inflation to remain near this level a few more months.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

“Monopoly may lead to high prices but there is no reason to expect it to lead to rising prices unless it is increasing,” Summers added. “There is no basis whatsoever thinking that monopoly power has increased during the past year in which inflation has greatly accelerated.”

Summers argued the labor shortage will be the “primary root” of inflation over time. He proposed a different approach to addressing the crisis, including a reduced emphasis on buying American-made products, lower tariffs and a cutback on regulatory delays.