Don't bust the trustbusters

Do you remember Sen. John Sherman of Ohio? If you are like us, you probably have only a vague recollection, if even that, of the 19th-century lawmaker. On the other hand, you probably have heard at some point of the well-known 1890 antitrust law that bears the senator's name -- the Sherman Antitrust Act.

There is one other fact that warrants notice. Mr. Sherman was a Republican.

We mention all this because of unease about what appears to be the demise in Congress of one of the public's most important legislative bodies, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Antitrust Subcommittee. The current chairman of Judiciary. Sen. Strom Thurmond, has decided to abolish the sub- committee and keep antitrust policy under the jurisdiction of the full committee. Ironically, the Antitrust Subcommittee was set up back in 1953 when Republicans last controlled the Senate. Under William Langer, a Republican, and then such Democratic chairmen as Estes Kefauver, Philip Hart, and Edward Kennedy, the subcommittee became a vigilant legislative watchdog looking at the type of pell-mell conglomerate mergers that have characterized recent years.

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We hope that the Senate "reorganization" does not portend a pullback from a tough antitrust policy by the Reagan administration. As we have noted before, corporate bigness continues to grow in the US. By the mid- 1970s, for example, 451 of the largest US firms controlled 70 percent of the nation's manufacturing assets and 72 percent of total profits. The Senate as a whole ought to rethink Mr. Thurmond's decision to scuttle the antitrust subcommittee. Corporate concentration has become enough of a way of life in the US to warrant full-time review. Without such constant scrutiny, the American public will be losers, and not incidentally teh Republican Party, which has given the trustbusting an honorable name since the days of Teddy Roosevelt -- and John Sherman.

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