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FTC chair Lina Khan on playing "anti-monopoly"

FTC chair Lina Khan on playing "Anti-Monopoly"
FTC chair Lina Khan on playing "Anti-Monopoly" 05:07

Monopoly is the game where you bankrupt competitors, buying up the board and charging sky-high prices. But in Washington, Lina Khan is playing a different game: Anti-Monopoly. "The experience is not quite akin to playing a board game, but there are challenges and unpredictable swerves," said Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

And she has rolled the dice, with one buzzy lawsuit after another, going after Big Tech (suing Microsoft to block its proposed $69 billion acquisition of Activision), Big Pharma (suing to block Amgen's $27.8 billion deal to acquire Horizon Therapeutics), even Big Grocery (suing to stop a proposed $25 billion deal between Kroger and Albertsons, the largest grocery store merger in U.S. history).

Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan. CBS News

The FTC is an independent watchdog and warden of competition in business. "When you have companies that are not disciplined by competition, oftentimes they can get away with abusing their customers; firms can become too big to care," said Khan. "There can be this basic indignity of being a consumer in America today. And that's what the FTC's trying to fix."

Khan finds inspiration in the Golden Age of trust-busting, when government broke up big oil and the railroads. She views recent decades as government being too lax, even too cozy with big business: "There was a clear policy decision back in the '80s that it was better for the government to be hands-off. I think several decades on, we're really living with the costs of those decisions."

One of those costly decisions, she said, was consolidation of the U.S. aerospace industry. "Over the last few months we've seen firsthand how Boeing not being checked by competition in the marketplace has led to all sorts of issues," she said.

Khan's biggest case so far? Amazon, arguing the retailer's tactics punish sellers over prices. "It can de-list them from the buy box, make them disappear from the search results page effectively," said Khan. "Amazon knows that a lot of small businesses live in constant terror of Amazon, because they know that with the press of a single button, a business can see its sales drop by 80% or 90%. Overnight a business can be looking at bankruptcy or liquidation if it gets on the wrong side of Amazon."

Amazon is fighting back, and says its practices provide good deals for customers.

Khan's scrutiny of the online megastore began as a star law school student, and that stardom has only grown for the 35-year-old, earning praise from so-called "Khanservatives." Republican Senator J.D. Vance described Khan as "one of the few people in the Biden administration that I actually think is doing a pretty good job."

Her critics are just as fervent, casting her as an overreaching, anti-business crusader. "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer labeled Khan "a one-woman wrecking crew for your stock portfolio," and at a July 2023 committee hearing, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa called her "a bully."

Asked whether she thinks there is a risk for the FTC to take an aggressive approach against big companies, Khan said, "Our focus is on making sure that we are enforcing the rule of law. And I see an enormous amount at risk if you instead sit on your hands and don't address the problems that people face in their day-to-day lives."

Khan's next move? Investigating pharmacy benefit managers, including OptumRx, Express Scripts and CVS Caremark.

In Philadelphia this month she met with independent pharmacists, who say these prescription drug middlemen are hurting their bottom lines and their patients. [According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, more than 300 independent pharmacies shut their doors in 2023.]

On April 2, FTC chair Lina Khan participated in a roundtable of community pharmacists in Philadelphia. Among the issues discussed: addressing the behavior of pharmacy benefit managers (or PBMs). CBS News

One man at the meeting told Khan, "My voice is asking, it's pleading with you: something has to be done."

Whether it's on the road or in court, Lina Khan wants corporate America on alert: the only place you can get a monopoly is a board game.

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Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Joseph Frandino. 

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