While most everyone recognizes the federal bureaucracy moves slowly, the Department of Justice may hold the record as it brings an end to some of its long-open cases regarding monopolistic practices and unfair competition.
In fact, the agency’s antitrust division is currently looking at eliminating hundreds of out-of-date antitrust agreements. Dating as far back as the 1800s, many have outlived their usefulness.
Among the biggest cases the department recently decided to terminate was the decree that led to the breakup of the Standard Oil Co., which faced antitrust concerns as far back as 1911. The Justice Department earlier this spring asked the U.S. District Court in St. Louis to terminate the 1911 ruling that led to the Standard Oil breakup and the eventual organization of 34 smaller companies.
Federal antitrust legislation began in 1890 with passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was intended to prevent unlawful restraints and monopolies. It was based on the principle that a free competitive system should result in the best distribution of economic resources and the greatest possible production of goods.
Unfair Horseshoe Competition
Surprisingly, among a number of old antitrust cases still on the Justice Department’s books is one that dealt with anti-competition issues in the horseshoe market that involved the Master Horseshoers’ National Protective Association of America (MHNPAA). Becoming law in the early 1900s, that decree barred 13 defendants from blocking potential competitors from the market for “drilled horseshoes, adjustable calks or rubber hoof pads.” Why that group was specifically involved more than 100 years ago in that antitrust decree is not known.
13 defendants were banned from marketing drilled horseshoes, adjustable calks or rubber hoof pads …
Since there’s little argument today in regard to antitrust issues with horseshoes, the Justice Department earlier this spring proposed termination of this out-of-date decree.
The MHNPAA was a New Jersey-based non-profit corporation that filed its legal papers on March 1, 1907. Its membership consisted of big city horseshoe shop owners who schemed to set journeyman farrier wages across cities and states. If hours and wages for shoers were identical, the group’s members felt there would be little incentive for their workers to move to another shop or city. They also used illegal wage-setting measures to stabilize the workforce, which allowed shop owners to shoe the most horses at the lowest possible cost while pocketing the highest possible profit.
Over the years, these owners continued to raise shoeing prices without increasing the wages of their workers. Political favors paid to city government cronies led to special laws being enacted that exempted these shop owners from limiting the number of hours worked per week while avoiding higher overtime wages.
To protect the rights of big city farriers, the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers had been incorporated in 1893. The group fought for better wages and a limit on the number of hours worked per week for good reason. Journeyman horseshoers in New York City in 1908 only earned $2.37-$2.97 a day for 9 hours of daily work that required 6 days of shoeing per week. By 1901, the international union had 132 local affiliates across the country that represented 6,800 horseshoers.