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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden wants to remake the U.S. economy by injecting more competition into highly concentrated industries including airlines, Big Tech and agriculture to improve choices and prices for consumers.

Why it matters: The ambitious executive order signed Friday directs the federal government to step up antitrust enforcement and regulation. The move marks a sea change from four decades of a hands-off-big-business approach ushered in by Ronald Reagan.

What they're saying: "Let me be very clear, capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation," Biden said at a White House signing ceremony for the order.

  • The president argued that industrial concentration harms employees by giving them less choice in where to work and lowering their wages.

Details: The administration's order urges agencies to take specific actions help consumers' pocketbooks, including ...

  • Charting a path for states and tribes to safely import drugs from Canada, and urging the Federal Trade Commission to ban arrangements in which name-brand drug makers pay generic companies to stay out of the market.
  • Allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter, and cutting down on costs Americans' pay to get them from specialists.
  • Forcing airlines to to refund fees when baggage is delayed or when in-flight WiFi doesn't work.
  • Banning internet service providers from charging high early termination fees, which can run upwards of $200.
  • Barring non-compete clauses in employment contracts that make it harder for workers to change jobs.

Between the lines: Don't expect any of this to happen quickly — the process of adopting new regulations can take months or even years.

  • The executive order relies on individual agencies to carry out the White House policies — which means lengthy rulemaking processes and lobbying frenzies from powerful industries.

The big picture: The order will make it harder for companies across sectors to merge or create joint venture agreements, and may lead to federal attempts to unwind acquisitions.

  • That includes more scrutiny of Big Tech platforms' attempts to buy smaller rivals or scoop up troves of consumers' data through deal-making.

Yes, but: The president has yet to name a nominee to lead the antitrust division of the Justice Department, who, along with newly named FTC Chair Lina Khan, will be key in carrying out antitrust action.

Our thought bubble: Executive orders can be an ineffective means to change federal policy, as numerous failed initiatives by the Trump administration demonstrated. But the Biden administration is well stocked with bureaucratic veterans who may be able to make at least some of these changes stick.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 9, 2021 - Technology

Biden takes aim at Big Tech, broadband with sweeping competition order

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

President Biden is setting the federal government's sights on the power of Big Tech and Big Telecom in a competition order that will urge more regulation and enforcement against the sectors.

The big picture: The new executive order, expected to be signed Friday, includes over 70 initiatives aimed at promoting competition in areas of the economy the Biden administration finds a troubling amount of concentration — including technology markets.

Biden launches 72 initiatives to boost competition in U.S. economy

President Biden delivers remark regarding the Afghanistan drawdown in the East Room of the White House on July 8, 2021. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Biden will sign an executive order on Friday promoting 72 initiatives across more than a dozen agencies that aim to reduce corporate consolidation, increase competition and offer benefits to consumers, workers, farmers and small businesses.

Why it matters: It's a sweeping push to fulfill Biden's goals of making the U.S. economy more dynamic and fair, as the administration seeks to crack down on highly concentrated industries like Big Tech and compete more effectively with China.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden, trustbuster

Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden has decided to become the antitruster-in-chief, today signing a sweeping executive order that could limit corporate consolidation.

The big picture: Biden is explicitly asking regulators to not only block new mergers, but also to consider unwinding prior mergers that were not challenged by past administrations.