Government Interference

General Electric Co has pulled the plug on the agreed $3.3 billion sale of its appliance business to Sweden’s Electrolux AB, bowing to pressure from the US Justice Department which wanted to block the transaction on antitrust grounds.

DoJ’s sham beef was that the deal would likely—notice that: not definitely would—lead to

less competition, higher prices and fewer options for millions of Americans who buy major cooking appliances each year.

Let’s leave aside the fact that GE’s appliance business, like appliance businesses generally, is a low margin, slow growing enterprise and that these characteristics don’t lend themselves overmuch to monopolies or to declining competition. Indeed, competition must heat up even more for such enterprises to survive.

No, the important thing is that monopoly power, in and of itself, is not against the law, it does not violate antitrust law. Only the abuse of that power is illegal.

Might the sale have led to abuse? Sure. But that’s speculative. Under American law, speculation isn’t grounds for interference, only the actual commission of a law-breaking act can be sanctioned.

DoJ’s interference in this deal, this private enterprises’ voluntarily entered into exchange, to the point that it successfully blew up the pending agreement, is Big Government overreach. It’s prior restraint, and it stinks.

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