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The Lawful Acquisition and Exercise of Monopoly Power and Its Implications for the Objectives of Antitrust

 |  October 30, 2008

David Evans, Keith Hylton, Nov 01, 2008

The antitrust laws of the United States have, from their inception, allowed firms to acquire significant market power, to charge prices that reflect that market power, and to enjoy supra-competitive returns. This article shows that this policy, which was established by the U.S. Congress and affirmed repeatedly by the U.S. courts, reflects a tradeoff between the dynamic benefits that society realizes from allowing firms to secure significant rewards, including monopoly profits, from making risky investments and engaging in innovation; and the static costs that society incurs when firms with significant market power raise prices and curtail output. That tradeoff results in antitrust laws that allow competition in the market and for the market, even if that rivalry results in a single firm emerging as a monopoly, but also prevent firms from engaging in practices that go out of bounds. The antitrust laws ultimately regulate the boundaries of the game of competition. Three implications follow: First, the antitrust laws and intellectual property laws are based on similar policy tradeoffs between static and dynamic effects. Second, the antitrust rules have, all along, been based on this tradeoff and not on the effects of business practices on static consumer welfare in relevant antitrust markets. Third, one unintended consequence of the increased role of economics in antitrust analysis is to overemphasize the static considerations which are almost the sole focus of the economics literature considered by courts and competition authorities.

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