The Education of Lina Khan, Whose Superpower is Busting Monopolies

Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post: It is one of the recurring plotlines in the psychodrama of U.S. politics: A talented and charismatic young reformer goes to Washington, is hailed for taking on a corrupt and self-satisfied establishment, but in the end is nearly undone by inexperience, naiveté and unbending idealism. The latest “Mr. Smith” to hit the capital is Lina Khan, the crusading chair of the Federal Trade Commission who, at the age of 35, has become the wonky cult hero and legal wunderkind of a new progressive movement determined to break the economic and political power of Big Business and Big Tech.

At the top of Khan’s agenda is ending the 40-year orgy of corporate mergers that has enriched Wall Street and left industry after industry dominated by a handful of giant firms. She also vows to tap the FTC’s broad but rarely used powers to break up monopolies and prevent dominant firms from snuffing out competitors, squeezing workers and small business suppliers, and extending their dominance to new markets.

Khan’s impatience to revitalize antitrust after what she often characterizes as four decades of “failed” and “feckless” enforcement has not sat well inside the cozy, bipartisan community of lawyers and economists who specialize in antitrust law, many of whom once worked at the FTC or the antitrust division at the Justice Department. Among the commission’s professional staff, the reception has ranged from resentment to outright hostility. A series of rookie management mistakes and an embarrassing run of losses in court undermined confidence in Khan, even among those who sympathize with her mission.

She has also become a lightning rod for the criticism and contempt of the business lobby and its cheerleaders in the media, while House Republicans have made her the target of one of their ongoing partisan investigations. Apple went so far as to prevent Jon Stewart from having her as a guest on his Apple-hosted talk show’s companion podcast. More ominously, several companies that are targets of what they characterize as Khan’s “regulatory overreach” — Walmart, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter — have launched constitutional challenges to her agency’s power and independence, arguments likely to get a friendly hearing from a conservative Supreme Court.

More here.