David Dayen writes in The American Prospect about President Biden’s efforts to limit corporate power and spur competition.

Dayen begins:

On July 9, 2021, President Joe Biden signed one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR. It was not legislation: His signature climate and health law would take another year to gestate. This was a request that the government get into the business of fostering competition in the U.S. economy again.

Flanked by Cabinet officials and agency heads, Biden condemned Robert Bork’s pro-corporate legal revolution in the 1980s, which destroyed antitrust, leading to concentrated markets, raised prices, suppressed wages, stifled innovation, weakened growth, and robbing citizens of the liberty to pursue their talents. Competition policy, Biden said, “is how we ensure that our economy isn’t about people working for capitalism; it’s about capitalism working for people.”null

The executive order outlines a whopping 72 different actions, but with a coherent objective. It seeks to revert government’s role back to that of the Progressive and New Deal eras. Breaking up monopolies was a priority then, complemented by numerous other initiatives—smarter military procurement, common-carrier requirements, banking regulations, public options—that centered competition as a counterweight to the industrial leviathan.

It’s been a year and a half since Biden signed the executive order; its architect, Tim Wu, has since rotated out of government. Not all of the 72 actions have been completed, though many have. Some were instituted rapidly; others have been agonizing. Some agencies have taken the president’s urging to heart; others haven’t. But the new mindset is apparent.

Seventeen federal agencies are named specifically, tasked with writing rules, tightening guidelines, and ramping up enforcement. I wrote to each agency, asking how they have complied with the order; all of them answered but one (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, whose role is admittedly tangential). Even Cabinet departments that weren’t mentioned wrote in to explain their approach to competition. Clearly, agencies are aware of the emphasis being put on reorienting their mission.

Bringing change to large bureaucracies is often likened to turning around a battleship. One way to get things moving is to have the captain inform every crew member of the intention to turn the battleship around, counseling them to take every action from now on with that battleship-turning goal in mind. The small team that envisioned and executed the competition order put the weight of the presidency behind it, delivering a loud message to return to the fight against concentrations of power. It’s alarming and maybe a little disconcerting that you have to use a high-level form of peer pressure to flip the ship of state. But that battleship is starting to change course.

TIM WU WAS THE FIRST OF THE TRIUMVIRATE of Wu, Khan, and Kanter (a motto emblazoned on mugs by advocates) to actually get appointed in the Biden administration, joining the National Economic Council (NEC) to work on competition policy in early March 2021. Hiring the author of The Curse of Bigness signaled the administration’s strong anti-monopoly thrust. Khan (Lina, chair of the Federal Trade Commission) and Kanter (Jonathan, heading the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division) would arrive later.

The competition order was released four months after Wu’s appointment, but in reality, it was laid out over the previous five years. In that time, a collection of policymakers, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and experts, sometimes known as the New Brandeis movement, warned of the dangers of economic concentration. Wu, Khan, and Kanter were part of this crusade, and prior to the 2020 election, they and others strategized about how to reinvigorate competition policy if Democrats took the presidency.

This is an unusual story about an accomplishment or series of accomplishments that have gone unnoticed. Read on to the end.