Dissertation and Book Project

Unruling Markets: How the Fight Against Monopolies Derailed Globally

Corporate monopolization has grown more acute in the last three decades and created serious problems in consumer and worker protection, economic stability and democratic representation all over the world. Despite the fact that policymakers have recently turned their attention to these issues, social scientists have largely overlooked monopoly problems and anti-monopoly policies as a whole.

My dissertation and book project titled “Unruling Markets: How the Fight Against Monopolies Derailed Globally” examines the following puzzle: Why have antitrust (competition) laws and policy failed in their mission to prevent concentration of economic power? Antitrust laws were created in the US in late 19th century with the goal of preventing concentration of economic power in the hands of a few corporations, and there are now similar competition laws in over 160 countries around the world. Relying on extensive archival research in the US, over 100 interviews with competition law and policy experts from around the world, and a comparative case study on Mexico and Turkey based on 10 months of fieldwork, I argue that antitrust rules not only failed, but also actively contributed to the global rise in monopolization by creating hegemonic perceptions of markets conducive to monopolies.

Bringing legal studies into conversation with the sociology of markets, ideas and expertise, I show through six empirical chapters that the US antitrust law reforms responding to the 1970’s economic and intellectual crises unintentionally created a new competition policy “paradigm” more forgiving of corporate monopolization by increasing the authority of the antitrust agencies, which upheld the new Chicago School Law and Economics approach to antitrust. This paradigm then diffused to the rest of the world and became universally accepted through the international “competition expert” networks connecting national competition policymakers to each other. I also reveal, however, that this diffusion is filtered through local business interests and norms in other countries, creating variations in particular elements of competition policy and different kinds of monopolization. Antitrust policies are more restrictive in the EU than in the US, but competition policy variations are not limited to these advanced economies. Turkey and Mexico offer ideal sites for studying the diffusion of the EU and US antitrust policies and the role of developing countries in shaping other competition policy regimes. My research shows that while the Mexican competition laws and policy protect private monopolies, Turkish laws instead affirm state monopolies. These different models of competition policy have subsequently diffused to other developing countries in Latin America and the Middle East.

My sociological study on corporate monopolization departs from the research in other disciplines, which emphasizes the recent technological and organizational changes to explain monopolies, and instead considers how the monopoly problem is embedded in formal government actions (laws, policies, etc.) and shared cultural norms and understandings. It also extends beyond the typical focus on Western advanced economies to bridge these contexts with those of developing countries, which have also contributed to the creation of new international competition policy regimes.

I plan to transform my dissertation into the first sociological book that explains the global rise in monopolies through a comparative analysis of the political economy of antitrust. The book will comprise of three main empirical sections (each section 2-3 chapters). The first section will examine the historical shift in the US Antitrust policy through the intellectual disputes and legislative changes in the 1970s. The second section will cover the global spread of US Antitrust laws and the international policy expert networks that propagate competition law diffusion. The third and last section will analyze competition policy adoption and enforcement in developing countries.