We need to stop big retailers from using their enormous financial leverage over suppliers to tilt the playing field. By resurrecting the Robinson-Patman Act, we could begin to put an end to decades of misguided antitrust policy in which regulators abandoned fair competition in favor of ever-greater corporate scale. There is promising momentum. Last year an unusual coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the F.T.C. urging it to dust off Robinson-Patman. The agency began a broad inquiry in late 2021 into grocery supply issues, which could uncover evidence of price discrimination. This year the agency opened investigations into soft drink and alcohol suppliers for possible violations of the act.
These moves are already drawing fire from an old guard locked in bigger-is-always-better thinking. Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who served as a top adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted recently that some of the views calling for a reset of our antitrust policies often seem “grounded less in consumer welfare and more in a view that everyone should be shopping at expensive craft boutiques.” But that’s not the story in places like Evans County. In the early days of the pandemic, as Walmart and Amazon compelled manufacturers to steer scarce supplies their way and worsened shortages at local grocers, Mr. Gay worked long days hustling to find alternate sources.