The contest between big business and big government has gone through countless phases of enforcement, of regulation, of deregulation and recriminations. The debate focuses on denunciations of the power of huge corporate interests and claims by their defenders that limiting their scope violates rules of free enterprise and ultimately works against the interests of millions who stand to profit by working for them or investing in them.
The philosophy behind the anti-trust movement in the United States, from the 19th century to the early 21at century, would appear to contrast totally from that of the Korean leader widely credited with having done the most to lift South Korea from the depths of economic hardship after the Korean War. The late Park Chung Hee, during eighteen years as president, presided over a policy and programs posited in the need for leaders of the rising jaebol to dominate entire segments of business and industry. The idea was there was no need for companies to engage in cutthroat competition that might undermine if not destroy them and prevent Korea from rising as a global economic powerhouse.
Clearly competition did exist within major fields, but it was in this hothouse atmosphere that jaebol chieftains flourished and rose to unprecedented heights of wealth and power. Some observers now describe them, and their many descendants and relatives and heirs, as a new Korean "nobility." There is no question, though, that the "jaebol system," as it's also sometimes known, has had much to do with Korea's rapid growth, including the rise of a large middle class that in many ways forms the backbone of Korean society.
Americans like to think of themselves as "middle class," but the rich-poor gap in the United States ranks as possibly the widest among countries that regard themselves as democracies with free elections. Much of this gap is the result of financial manipulations that have little to do with monopolies in industry and business, but regulators are constantly battling to keep huge companies from dominating their fields. The rise of the internet and electronic communications represents a phenomenon that no one envisioned when the Sherman act was passed, but the underlying issues remain the same.
Over the past 125 or so years, the anti-trust debate in the U.S. has essentially pitted right against left, conservatives against liberals. T he air is often filled with invective in which the right denounces the left as "socialist" if not "communist" while the left says the right represents the rich against the poor and middle class. Thus it should come as no surprise that the liberal Obama administration has sought to get tough in cases in which the Bush administration did away with or bypassed key rules and regulations. The whole issue comes up in the current presidential campaign with candidates for the Republican nomination unanimously accusing Obama of favoring a bloated bureaucracy that inhibits big business.
Leading the charge for the Obama administration is Christine Varney, assistant attorney-general in charge of the anti-trust division of the Justice Department. "We cannot sit on the sidelines any longer, both in terms of enforcing the anti-trust laws and contribution to sound competition policy as part of our nation's economic strategy," she warned in one widely quoted speech.
Conservatives, however, offer quite a different view. Alan Greenspan, the former federal reserve chairman, has suggested the Sherman act destroyed "new products, processes, machines" by "cost-saving mergers." The legacy of the Sherman act, he said, has been to keep "our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible." (Future Korea)
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