Albert Foer on Starting the American Antitrust Institute

The president of the American Antitrust Institute and father of a literary brood on the difficulty of getting his advocacy group off the ground

Thinking like a businessman [in the late ’90s] I found an unfilled niche. There was no one out there to support antitrust as a tool for government policy. I talked to Ralph Nader, who helped me conceptualize and start American Antitrust Institute. After about four or five months, there was no money coming in. I sat down with my family [including his wife, Esther, and sons Joshua, a science journalist, Frank, former editor of The New Republic, and novelist Jonathan Safran] and said, “It looks like I’m going to go back to practicing law.” And they said, “Well, this is something you really want to do. We’re not starving—you’re going to take one year and give it all you can.” Immediately, money started coming in, right when I renewed my commitment to it.

This was the time when the potential of the Internet was just beginning to be exploited. I got my son Joshua—author of Moonwalking with Einstein—who was 14 at the time, to develop a website for me. He’d gone to computer camp a few times. So he wrote my first website and got a Yale education in return. Then we developed an advisory board, which is more than 120 people around the entire world—many of the best and brightest in the field. I fell into a virtual network of experts where I am essentially the hub.

Regarding the possible AT&T and T-Mobile merger [that eventually fell apart in December], we were immediately worried. We saw this merger as reducing the number of significant wireless players from four to three, and quite possibly to two. We felt it would be harmful to consumers because it would reduce competition, give them fewer choices, and in the long run lead to less innovation. It looked to us like a horizontal merger of national proportions.

We developed a very extensive white paper, which took the form of a filing with the FCC, and gave it to the Justice Dept. We wrote op-eds, participated in panel discussions, and otherwise made arguments like any think tank or advocacy group would. So in terms of our impact, it’s very hard to say. I think we helped popularize opposition to the merger. AT&T and T-Mobile were very well represented, and we were trying to even the playing field. — As told to Keenan Mayo

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.