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Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer told the 20th National Business Conference of the Business School Saturday that the nation's anti-trust laws need revision, and by inference, he attacked current Justice Department suits and court rulings against big business.
Sawyer's address highlighted a day-long session of Business School alumni and business leaders. A record number of more than 900 attended the session, which is sponsored annually by the Business School Association, the School's alumni group.
Bigness in business is not a sign of evil or of the stifling of smaller firms, the Secretary of Commerce maintained in his address at the Harvard Club of Boston.
"Those who claim that competition does not exist between giant firms do not know what they are talking about," he said. "The competition which goes on between large business organizations is as real as the struggle between contending armies in war."
Sawyer attacked "certain theorists, both in and out of government, including some on the bench, who undertake to decide questions about business with a magnificent indifference to the daily difficulties which face businessmen."
Sawyer's remarks were apparently in conflict with recent Justice Department policy and court decisions. The Justice Department's Anti-Trust Division has, during the past decade, undertaken cases against large concerns in the grocery, oil, movie, aluminium, and tobacco industries, charging that individual large firms, or several large firms were dominating these industries, either in particular localities or throughout the country.
The Supreme Court and lower courts have decided in the Justice Department's favor in most of these cases. As a result, the Justice Department has within the past year filed important new suits in the grocery and oil industries.
Many commentators believe that if the Justice Department wins these cases, it will be able to prosecute successfully any single firms or groups of a few firms which do a substantial portion of the business in their industries. Theses commentators also believe that the courts are coming more and more to hold that any domination of an industry by one or a few firms, even if no overt collusion among them can be shown, is a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
By inference, Sawyer attacked this approach to maintaining competition.
Instead, he called upon the country's business schools to re-appraise American competition "and then to see if our legal situation conforms to the real-life facts which we have discovered.
"At the moment, the rulings, the judicial decisions, and the thinking upon this subject are so conflicting and confusing that a re-study . . . is in order," he said.
Sawyer maintained that "when consumers can choose freely between alternative sellers, each seller has an incentive to offer his customers more for their money and consumers are protected against high prices and monopolistic exploitation.
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