Over the years, state attorneys general have become increasingly influential in shaping discourse and political agendas across America. Assuming the role of “top cop” in each of their respective states, their purview rests in the consumer protection space: going after fraudsters, scammers and price gougers.
One mechanism that has grown in popularity over the past decade has been pulling the levers of antitrust law to protect consumers. In this space, in particular, there is a need for a reset. With local economies and family budgets on the line, prioritization is crucial.
As Democratic attorneys general gather this week in Minneapolis for their annual policy conference, there is an opportunity to do just that.
Democratic AGs have largely proven a force for good in recent years, taking on a host of issues from protecting civil liberties, defending the right to vote, and working to curb gun violence. And while the priorities of each AG are often fine-tuned to the needs of their state, we can expect to see many of the AGs in attendance this week coalesce around a few key areas.
With the price of everyday life rising to unprecedented levels, Americans need pragmatic governance now more than ever. With that, we should all hope that AGs in attendance spend time discussing how to deliver an enforcement strategy that will ultimately uplift our economy and provide families and businesses with a bit of economic relief in the process. This is not a partisan issue, as the impacts of the inflation that followed the COVID-19 pandemic did not differentiate based on party affiliation or zip code.
Every person and industry in America felt that financial strain, and so AGs and other leaders should bring forward initiatives to indiscriminately alleviate the economic strain felt across our country.
One surefire way to accomplish this, and promote competition in the process, is turning attention toward consolidation in the food and healthcare sectors. As we wrote back in 2021 following President Biden’s executive order on competition, the administration’s focus on harms of hospital consolidation is incredibly worthwhile. And as Minnesotans know well, agricultural consolidation and issues in the meatpacking space are areas where AGs can and should focus their attention.
Despite these areas of true consumer harm, we have seen a curious focus on technology companies among AGs. Our chief economist Michael Mandel recently uncovered that the rate of inflation for digital goods and services has been low — and in some cases, nearly zero. Yet, both sides of the political spectrum have launched unending attacks aimed at our domestic tech sector, claiming consumer harm while jeopardizing employment opportunities and America’s technological competitiveness internationally in the process.
Many of the AGs in Minneapolis this week are already involved in fragile lawsuits against our nation’s tech companies. Some of these lawsuits have already been deemed partially baseless, and many other similar lawsuits have failed in years past.
At the end of the day, there are limited resources in an AGs office. While there are areas of the tech sector that deserve a look under the hood, the volume of lawsuits should be a concern to consumers who are rightfully looking for more focused leadership.
I hope that Democratic AGs will leave Minneapolis with a renewed focus on true consumer issues that must be addressed such as predatory robocalls, absurd entertainment ticket pricing, and the consequences of consolidation in the hospital and meatpacking industries — all of which are areas where demonstrable outcomes for consumers are possible. Minnesotans, and all Americans, would be better off with such a reset.
Lindsay Lewis is executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute.