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A specter is haunting the world economy…. the specter of hipster Neo-Brandeisianism. Hipster Brandeis is the term coined by Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers for the Neo-Brandeisian (named after former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis) approach to antitrust enforcement. Hipster Neo-Brandeisianists, like Brandeis himself, favor an aggressive use of antitrust to punish businesses for the crime of growing too big by efficiently satisfying consumers.

Hipster Brandeisianism also seeks to use antitrust as a tool to advance the interests of labor unions and achieve other progressive goals. Hipster Brandeisians also wish to use antitrust to “protect democracy” from the threat posed by “big tech” companies like Alphabet (parent company of Google and Microsoft), Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram), and Amazon. Under Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan (who helped launch the hipster Brandeis movement while still in law school) and Justice Department Antitrust Head Jonathan Kanter, hipster Brandeisianism has displaced the consumer welfare standard as the as the guiding principles of U.S. antitrust policy.

As the name suggests, the consumer welfare standard judges a business’s actions by how it affects consumers—which is the standard of the marketplace. Hipster Brandeisians dislike the consumer welfare standard because it limits the ability of Lina Khan and her allies to use antitrust to expand government power and reshape the economy. A Politico article on the recent Brussels Conference on Antitrust confirms fears that hipster Brandeisianism has spread to the European Union. According to the article, both U.S. and E.U. regulators are committed to not just using antitrust to ensure competitive markets- but as a tool for “saving democracy and stabilizing global politics.”

The U.S.-E.U. consensus on both the ends and means of the hipster Brandeisian agenda means that there will be more behind-the-scenes “cooperation” between U.S. and E.U. antitrust regulators. The cooperation ensures that if U.S. regulators are unable to block a merger or other transaction, their E.U. counterparts can step in and do their U.S. counterparts’ “dirty work” for them—and visa-versa.

The globalist hipster Brandeisians are not limiting themselves to expanding the use of antitrust. They also want to use industrial and tax policy to reshape the economy. Implementing this agenda would create the type of government planning apparatus not seen since the collapse of communism in the late 20th century—a collapse whose lessons have been forgotten (more likely never learned) by the hipster Brandeisians.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai also spoke at the Brussels conference. One would normally expect the U.S. Trade Representative’s remarks to extol the benefits of free trade and how international competition benefits consumers and domestic businesses and workers by forcing domestic business to be more competitive and innovative. At least one would not expect the U.S. Trade Representative to sound more like a woke college sophomore than a federal cabinet member.

But Tai is a hipster Brandeisian, so her remarks focused on the need to advance policies aimed at “breaking out of some of these colonial and post-colonial structures” and “transitioning out of old systems and trying to create new ones that are democratic and competitive.” In reality, a trade system designed to prove democracy and end colonialism will empower government bureaucrats to play a greater role in managing the economy. The increased regulations will mostly impact small and new businesses who, unlike the large established firms, cannot afford the increased costs imposed by government. So Tai and her allies would make international markets less competitive. Increasing the power of the E.U. and American regulators and facilitating further “cooperation” between them will make them unaccountable to the people’s elected representatives, thus making the U.S. and E.U. less democratic. Of course, Khan, Kanter, and Tai might view the ability to evade congressional accountability as a feature, not a bug of their system.

Representative Tai previously committed the Biden Administration to a “worker first” trade policy. In practice, this means using America’s status as the world’s leading economy to promote compulsory unionism and other big government “labor” policies amongst its smaller trading partners. The spread of hipster Brandeisians poses a clear and present danger to the U.S. and world economy. This trend is magnified by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s commitment to incorporating hipster Brandeisianism into the US trade agenda, instead of concentrating on reducing trade barriers and encouraging the free flow of goods across borders. Congress needs to expand their investigation into Lina Khan’s (mis)management of the FTC to look into how Khan, Kanter, Tai and others are working to impose the Neo-Brandeisian agenda under the cover of “cooperation and collaboration” with their E.U. counterparts and take steps necessary to stop them before the hipster Brandeisians further erode American’s sovereignty, prosperity, and liberty.

Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer ) is the president of the Market Institute. He has previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor, and for an academic think tank.

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