John M. Connor, Sep 28, 2011
In the old days-before price-fixing became illegal nearly everywhere-cartels operated in the public sphere. In some cases, the formation of a new cartel would be trumpeted to the business press because after a disastrous decline in prices, the market needed to be “stabilized.” Sometimes these saviors of industries would even publish the new scheme’s contract, which might be enforceable in a national court. Legal and scholarly opinion supported the many benefits of cartels in tough times. If successful, their members knew, profitability would return and possibly reach new heights. Most cartels died natural deaths-war, squabbles over market shares, and the like-not legal deaths after raids by antitrust authorities.
Today, detecting modern cartels is hard, and detecting international cartels is even harder. They tend to be populated with multinational corporations that have histories of engagement in cartels, and executives from these recidivists pass on their knowledge of both organizing and hiding the new virtual joint venture. Wily cartelists use all manner of subterfuge to keep their activities secret: by meeting in unexpected places (far from the eyes of their customers), at times that coincide with legitimate industry conferences, and in Switzerland or other cartel havens; by destroying written evidence of agreements; keeping the incriminating spreadsheets hidden in their homes; using code words and code names when telephoning; and fabrica