The White House named Columbia Law's Professor Tim Wu to the National Economic Council, focusing on competition policy, which is interesting for at least two reasons. First, Wu is one of the intellectual architects of the current antimonopoly movement, especially as it applies to big tech. As the NY Times article notes, Wu thinks he and others were insufficiently aggressive against the tech industry when he served in the Obama administration, and he has the experience and understanding of the antitrust laws to be effective in his new role.
Second, Wu's appointment comes before Biden fills several appointments at the Antitrust Division and the FTC, the agencies with the actual responsibilities for enforcing the law. The agencies should (and usually do) act independently of the White House and soon to be confirmed Attorney General Garland has explicitly promised as much in his confirmation hearings. Does the timing of Wu's announcement signal Biden's interest in a more politically oriented antitrust agenda?
As a former enforcer I hope that's not the case. The antitrust laws are a broad and blunt instrument and maintain legitimacy through even application without political interference. The statutory language hints at no limiting principles and there is a significant danger of the law being turned from a public interest statute into another tool for rent seeking, rewarding political friends and punishing political enemies. If the NEC position were filled with a typical DC activist I would be less concerned since a few press releases and congressional testimony sound bites would be quickly forgotten. Wu, on the other hand, is in a position to affect real change.
Mr. Biden has not yet named nominees to officially lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission — the main agencies overseeing competition in commerce. Progressives have vociferously fought for the appointments of left-leaning advocates like Mr. Wu over individuals with histories of working for tech companies and law firms that represent them.