"My favorite game growing up was Monopoly," Sen. Amy Klobuchar writes in Chapter 1 of "Antitrust," opening with a homey personal detail before she plunges into a more than 600-page treatise on the history and current state of federal efforts to curb monopolistic practices in American business.
With a national profile freshly boosted by her bid for president, the Minnesota senator is asserting herself as a central player in the political fight against corporate consolidation. Klobuchar's book, on sale in April, coincides with her recent elevation to chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, where she's pushing an overhaul of federal antitrust laws.
Huge corporate mergers of recent decades have largely benefited the already rich while squeezing middle-class consumers, Klobuchar writes, as bigger and bigger companies corner various markets. She sees examples of pharmaceutical manufacturers, airlines and cable companies overcharging customers after absorbing or joining with competitors. Monopolistic growth by tech giants such as Facebook and Google have allowed them to skimp on privacy protections that users say they want, Klobuchar argues.
"It is high time for Congress to act," Klobuchar writes, even as she acknowledges political realities given the vast resources corporations pour into influencing Congress: "The tsunami of money that has flooded American politics has perverted the country's laws and our whole electoral and political system."
Klobuchar sees hope in earlier eras of American history, when antitrust measures rose on waves of populist support in response to the growing power of titans of industries like oil, steel and railroads. That peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which saw congressional passage of the Sherman Act, the prairie populism of William Jennings Bryan and President Theodore Roosevelt's trustbusting.
"Antitrust" is at its most readable as Klobuchar frames the issue historically, breezily recounting episodes of American and Minnesota history while occasionally weaving in bits of family and professional experience.
"Our family — at least on my dad's Slovenian iron ore miner side — built that house," she writes of the James J. Hill House, relating how as a child her family would drive by the 19th-century railroad baron's St. Paul mansion. "Metaphorically, of course, but we did. Because for Hill to build that house, he needed the monopoly railroads, the iron ore and the steel to create his wealth."
Later chapters, as Klobuchar digs deep into federal antitrust law and various congressional proposals, get a bit more dry (she acknowledges major help from her law professor husband, who helped with the legal content and wrote the book's voluminous endnotes).
Antitrust policy doesn't seem like the juiciest angle for an ambitious national politician. Klobuchar acknowledges the wonky nature of the issue, and even proposes a rebranding. Antitrust law, Klobuchar writes, should become "competition policy."