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Consolidated economy favors the sellers

AP photo Decades of lax antitrust enforcement has created this consolidation.

Our nation’s economy runs on a free market, creating wealth and success with good ideas and hard work. But a free market also requires a fair market. Open competition is the engine of our economy, but every car needs guardrails to keep it on the road and speed limits to protect other drivers.

Here in Pennsylvania and across the nation, we’ve seen the rules that protect competition and innovation broken by those with monopolistic power over their slice of the economy. Like in the Gilded Age, the American economy today is too consolidated into the hands of the very few and powerful who dictate prices, suppress wages, strangle small businesses and leave consumers little choice but to pay more for less.

This country has only four major airlines, four major banks, four major oil companies, one major online retailer, and two of the largest grocery stores trying to merge so they can control 70% of the grocery business in the entire country. So, you pay more for food, get less interest on your savings account, and watch as other nations start taking the lead in innovation and manufacturing jobs.

Just this month, the Federal Trade Commission publicly disclosed evidence that higher gas prices from 2021 to 2023 were influenced by illegal collusion between OPEC and an American company, costing a family of four $4,000 every year, which would be impossible if our oil industry wasn’t monopolized by a few corporations.

Within the last month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to break up the monolith that controls your access to most live entertainment — LiveNation/Ticketmaster. Their domination of venues, artists and ticketing enables ludicrous price-gouging and junk fees combined with woeful customer service. Just ask any Swiftie left outside the Eras Tour looking in.

Decades of lax antitrust enforcement has created this consolidation. Because a few conglomerates own most of the brands, consumers can’t find lower cost products or jobs at rival companies paying more. If someone does start a new company that actually creates competition, the big guys just buy that company up to preserve their dominance. This is also why corporate profits are the highest in history even as we all feel the pinch — the lack of competition creates an unfair market that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Capitalism rewards success which creates growth, but unregulated growth creates monopolies which lead to economic stagnation. Monopolies are less concerned with earning your business by offering the best product than they are with protecting their monopoly. Over a hundred years ago, leaders like President Teddy Roosevelt took action against monopolies that strangled our economy — even going so far as to break up Standard Oil and inject competition back into our free market.

The good news is that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are allocating resources and taking action to protect our free market and open competition. But there is more we can do in Harrisburg to help restore and protect the competitiveness in our statewide economy.

Pennsylvania is the only state in America without a law protecting consumers and businesses from monopolistic behavior.

While the Pennsylvania attorney general has a group of dedicated lawyers that pursue antitrust cases, they have weakest tools in the nation to investigate, prosecute and recover damages from companies breaking laws against price fixing and economic monopolization.

Worse still, the lack of state antitrust law prevents Pennsylvania from recovering damages awarded as a result of successful multi-state litigation. So even if Pennsylvania joins other states in successfully suing a company for breaking the law, Pennsylvanians don’t receive an equal share of the damages awarded by the court. In one such case, other states received 85 cents on the dollar in recovery while Pennsylvania received a paltry 9 cents. In another case PA consumers won $500 million but will only get $50 million. The attorney general estimates the lack of such a state law costs Pennsylvanians billions of dollars in recoverable relief.

Weaker laws that hamstring law enforcement and cost you money are a bad deal for everyone – except those breaking the law. My legislation, the Pennsylvania Open Markets Act, would give the Attorney General’s Office the tools it requires to fix this issue and enforce antitrust law on behalf of all Pennsylvanians. We need to ensure that our economy is fair and free so that workers, consumers and small businesses all have a fair shake. By simply updating our laws to match everyone else’s, we can bring billions back to Pennsylvania from companies breaking the law. It’s that simple. Call your state representative and state senator to tell them we need to pass the Pennsylvania Open Markets Act.

Rep. Nick Pisciottano ,D-Allegheny, is Chair of the PA House Allegheny County Delegation and the prime sponsor of the Open Markets Act.

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