By Marina Lao
Among the many who agree that the antitrust laws are underenforced, some see the consumer welfare standard as fundamentally flawed and say it should be abandoned. While I share their concerns about the enormous power of the largest digital platforms, I argue that the consumer welfare standard is capable of a broader reach than is often assumed. It can reach effects on non-consumers, including even competitors; and it can also take into account nonprice effects. Antitrust enforcement has fallen short, not because of legal deficiencies in the standard but because of practical problems of implementation and other factors. Finding solutions to those problems within the consumer welfare rubric would be less disruptive and more effective than abandoning a paradigm that is conceptually sound. Consumer welfare, it is true, does not address social and political harms unrelated to competition, but there are better instruments for directly addressing those harms. Abandoning the economically grounded paradigm risks throwing out the good along with the bad.