Conservatives have learned never to underestimate the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate paranoia of Democrats and liberals. Of course, there is some irony in this, given the incestuous relationship that exists between the Democratic Party and countless major corporations. Recognition for the ironic, however, has never been the left's strong suit. How else can you explain a movement that colludes with Russians to “steal” an election, and then accuses its opponents of the very same thing?
Recently, the anti-corporate bias of liberals has taken yet another strange turn. Some are seeking to block the merger of two printing companies, Quad/Graphics and LSC Communications, on the pretext that their consolidation would create a “monopoly.” Critics of the proposed merger are thus positioning themselves as defenders of healthy capitalist competition and of the interests of “the little guy,” i.e. American consumers. The truth, as usual, is far more complicated.
Antitrust concerns are the talk of the town in Washington, D.C., and they are attracting more and more interest from the general public, mainly because some on the left and on the right are calling for “Big Tech” companies, like Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google, or Amazon, to be broken up. The idea is that these companies control major aspects of the U.S. technology sector and/or of social media, and thus they effectively enjoy monopolies, which they sustain by anti-competitive practices.
For conservatives, the concerns go even deeper. Not a day goes by without a story in the right-leaning media about an attempt by Big Tech to silence or intimidate conservative voices and opinion leaders. Indeed, the corporate culture of these technology and social media companies is almost uniformly oriented towards liberalism and political correctness. Since they have wide powers of censorship over content, and since they can “deplatform” anyone whose views they consider dangerous or irresponsible, their capacity to manipulate public opinion and democratic discourse is virtually infinite. These companies are, in short, a perfectly legitimate target for potential antitrust actions by the Department of Justice, and for acute public concern more generally.
In the case of two relatively humble printing companies, however, the calls for trust busting DOJ intervention are more farcical than serious. In terms of market capitalization, only one of these companies barely qualifies as “small cap,” so the idea that American capitalism is threatened by either, or both in combination, is absurd. In fact, no print company in the United States controls even as much as 5% of the industry as a whole.
Moreover, America's print industry has been struggling for years, as digital alternatives proliferate. Thus, consolidation is inevitable — in fact, it is essential, if any U.S. print industry is to survive at all. This is especially so as U.S. print companies face increasingly lethal competition from abroad, making it impossible for any single American company to assume monopolistic control of what is now a global marketplace for printing services.
No, the cry for the DOJ to block the proposed merger of Quad and LSC cannot be justified by any legitimate antitrust concerns. Something else is clearly afoot.
One possibility is that the campaign to block the merger is merely left-wing anti-capitalism run amuck. Are liberals so hyper-sensitive to “corporate greed” that they see a Standard Oil or a U.S. Steel, salivating at monopolistic profits sucked from the lifeblood of hard-working Americans, hiding behind every bush? Maybe. Take note that the campaign against the Quad-LSC merger is led by the ultra-liberal Open Markets Institute, an offshoot of New America. It recently accepted a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. If you are not familiar with the Fund’s agenda, it is slightly to the left of Hugo Chávez.
Another explanation, though, is that those who oppose the consolidation of two major printing companies are doing so out of self-interest. It is probable that Quad and LSC's adversaries in the printing industry see the prospect of a larger and stronger competitor as a threat to their dwindling profits. Rather than compete with this consolidated and presumably more efficient company, they prefer to have the federal government step in. And the most convenient way to accomplish that? By donning the cloak of trust busting and positioning oneself as a champion of the free market.
Ha! A champion of the corporate status quo is more like it.
The good news is that Bill Barr runs a tight ship at the Department of Justice, and he and men like Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim are not likely to be fooled by the antitrust hot air generated by liberal special interests. The merger, in all likelihood, will go ahead — and the DOJ can get back to more important matters.
Among other things, it can get to the bottom of the Trump-Russia hoax, and it can ensure that the tech sector and social media remain competitive, capitalistic, and pluralistic.
On these fronts the very future of our democracy may be at stake. On the question of whether two printing companies should be allowed to merge...not so much. The government of the United States can afford to mind its own business on that score. Wouldn't that be refreshing?
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears weekly on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.