What is the issue?
Competition policy is potentially the most powerful economic toolbox a government possesses. Yet it is almost entirely ignored by civil society. We aim to re-vitalise these tools by showing civil society why and how to engage, and by spreading a bold new paradigm offering clear solutions. We are a unique multi-disciplinary team with expertise in competition law and journalism, and a track record building the tax justice movement.
Competition policy can be used to shape the structure of an economy, disperse concentrated economic power, and regulate markets in the public interest, across all sectors. It is the default industrial policy of any nation.
Civil society has ignored competition policy for two reasons. First, competition policy is made behind closed doors by elite technocrats whose abstruse economics and language hide political decisions. Second, regulators operate under a neoliberal paradigm that encourages concentration, so civil society sees competition tools as weak and problematic.
This paradigm, emerging in the 1970s, told regulators to narrow their focus to consumers only, ignoring power, economic diversity, the interests of workers / small businesses, and the public interest. The mandate of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to promote competition “for the benefit of consumers,” reflects this. Getting regulators to ignore power let financial actors drive a “tsunami” of mergers, buyouts and monopolisation, almost unopposed, across sectors from big tech to supermarkets to music. The results are inequality, the subversion of markets and of democracy, and blockages to a just transition to a sustainable economy.
What will the project try to achieve?
Our core goals are to:
i) Map a “System of Monopoly” of institutions, practices, interests, and ideas promoting concentration, and identify leverage points (short term);
ii) Democratise policy-making and build “missing infrastructure” of civil society by showing why they must engage, and how to engage; we need a new global anti-monopoly movement to rival the tax justice movement (of which two of us were leaders) (short-to-medium term);
iii) overturn the consumer-focused paradigm, to bring in power and the wider public interest (medium-to-long term).
Our strategy draws on an approach proven in the US, where since 2010 a small, radical movement (also led by lawyers and journalists – who are actively helping us) gained huge supportive media coverage, and cross-party buy-in. In mid-2021, Biden appointed leaders of the movement to top positions. Yet there is no remotely comparable movement in the UK. Many do organize against corporate power but in silos (such as on tax, labour laws, or climate change), and without competition tools. Amazingly, UK regulators inspired by the US movement are starting to be more radical than civil society. Without accountability they are likely to be captured.
Who might be interested in this project?
Anyone who is interested in how privatisation of the public sector impacts communities, how public ownership can be re-established, and how accountability and sustainability can be increased in public projects.
Civil Society Organisations whose work touches on corporate power, corporate malfeasance or financialisation, or its effects (inequality, harms to democracy, damage to society or environment). Policymakers, academics and journalists.