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In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter wrote a famous sentence about the importance of antitrust law. “Anybody who knows anything about the conduct of American business”, he noted, “knows that the managers of the large corporations do their business with one eye constantly cast over their shoulders at the antitrust division.”
This piece is about how far we have fallen from that era. It’s also about how Equifax - through its monopoly power - has become a firm that sells what are effectively tax records of any American to pretty much anyone who wants them.
First, some house-keeping. Last week, I wrote a piece for paid subscribers on how the antitrust bar is gearing up to support non-compete agreements. It’s called ‘Non-Compete Agreements and the Cult of the Antitrust Bar.’ Also, every week, I do a round-up of monopoly-focused news for paid subscribers. If you want to get pieces for paid subscribers when they come out, and get access to the round-up, then you can subscribe here.
The movie The Big Short is about the housing crisis and its collapse, along with all the fraudulent activity up and down the financial system that abetted it. It is as much a cultural story as it is one about finance, a film about what banking corruption does to human beings and the law itself. In it, there’s a famous scene where fund investors betting on a housing collapse are trying to learn about the Florida housing market, and are interviewing some frat-boy type Florida real estate agents. The agents keep discussing their self-serving and illegal behavior, like falsifying paperwork or selling to people who knowingly can’t pay back loans. At a certain point, the main character asks his colleagues, ‘why are they confessing?’ to which the others respond, “they’re not confessing, they’re bragging.”