Antitrust Follies

Missouri politicians are trying to block the purchase of St. Louis beer maker Anheuser-Busch by the Belgian brewer InBev. Sen. Christopher Bond, a senior member of the party of free enterprise, has written to both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, asking them to examine the merger for any possible antitrust problems.  Sen. Claire McCaskill said she would “do everything I could to stop this sale from going through” because “we do not have a ‘For Sale’ sign on our front lawn in America.”

Of course, nobody’s proposing to sell America. The question on the table is whether the people who have invested their money in Anheuser-Busch will choose to sell their shares at the handsome price offered by InBev. And that really should be their decision, not the business of Bond or McCaskill.

What really is the concern here? That beer prices might rise? Surely that’s something that could be left to a robustly competitive marketplace with lots of new entrants. Or that some people in St. Louis might lose their jobs? That’s understandably a concern for Missouri’s senators, but there’s constant job churn in a dynamic market – between 1993 and 2002 in the American economy, 327.7 million jobs were added, while 309.9 million jobs were lost – and there’s no good reason for senators to thrust a monkey wrench in a few high-profile cases. At least no good economic reason.

Maybe the real concern is that an “iconic” American brand will be owned by foreigners. Anheuser-Busch is indeed a classic piece of Americana, a company founded by German immigrants in a city founded by Frenchmen and named for the French king. And now, in an increasingly globalized world, it might be owned by a Belgian company that has been controlled by Brazilians since a 2005 merger. This sort of globalization is increasingly common. As Robert Reich said as far back as 1991, “It’s very hard to separate out any longer who is us and who is them. If you want to buy an American-made car today, you have a better chance buying an American-made car if you buy a Honda than if you buy a Pontiac LeMans, most of which is produced outside of the United States. People forget or they don’t understand the extent to which globalization has taken over these corporations  – foreigners coming here, we’re going there. Chrysler owns a big chunk of Mitsubishi, Ford owns 25 percent of Mazda.”

Have a cold Bud and chill out, senators.