When Progress Is Regressive: The Ordo-Brandeisian Devolution
It is no coincidence that ordoliberalism—the European (originally German) alternative to classical liberalism that emphasized the importance of the “social market” economy—and the New Brandeis or “neo-Brandeisian” movement, which harkens back to the Progressive Era thought of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, both are enjoying comebacks simultaneously. The effects of these ideological resurgences are most apparent specifically in the field of antitrust law (see here and here). But you can also see them in the broader political-economy movement to formulate an alternative to “neoliberalism” (here and here) that at least some audience find appealing.
The antitrust mainstream has long dismissed the ideas associated with these movements as populist, romantic, or naïve. Being called an “ordoliberal” was, until relatively recently, considered an epithet in Europe. And before individuals associated with their views were elevated into the U.S. antitrust establishment, gaining the attendant aura of respectability that accompanies occupying such lofty heights, the neo-Brandeisians were commonly derided as practicing “hipster antitrust.”
But these glib dismissals underestimated, at their own expense, the visceral appeal of the arguments the ordoliberals and neo-Brandeisians put forward. Ideas that had been relegated to the fringes of academia have begun to seep into the mainstream, and now threaten to upend the “neoliberal” antitrust order—all because opponents refused to take them seriously. As in the past, this trend can only be reverted through a better understanding of why these ideologies are so attractive, and why they ultimately fall flat.