Traditions and change

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Spring is a special time in Washington. Since the first trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in 1912, viewing the cherry blossoms has become a Washington tradition.

Another spring tradition: the Bureau Director’s annual report to the gathering of antitrust lawyers and economists in town for the ABA’s Antitrust Law Spring Meeting. This year, it is my privilege to report on the activities and accomplishments of the Bureau’s 300 lawyers and support staff. 

This is a special year for the Federal Trade Commission. As we celebrate our centennial, we can certainly reflect on the ways in which the Commission has changed over the years. But what is remarkable is how much has remained the same. 

The Commission is still an expert independent agency, devoted to law enforcement as the primary means of protecting consumers and promoting competition. We remain vigilant in traditional industries such as oil and gas, health care and retail markets. But as the American economy has changed, so has the work of the Commission, drawing our attention to markets the creators of the FTC likely never imagined. These newer industries include products used in scientific research and high-tech gadgets, as well as database products and services that are taking the place of more traditional pencil-and-paper data collection. Some of these newer industries involve fast-paced, technology-driven markets where new entrants can quickly transform the competitive landscape.

Congress drafted the antitrust laws to accommodate changing markets and new products and created the FTC specifically to guide competition policy through changing competitive environments. Once again, the Commission’s competition work over the past year reflects the best of that tradition, through rigorous fact-development, economic research documenting the potential for consumer harm, and advocacy for the development of antitrust principles that promote market forces and enhance consumer welfare. The goal is not the number of enforcement statistics but a proven approach to enforcing the antitrust laws for the benefit of consumers.

Some traditions never get old.


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