Digital Economy

Understanding Basic Principles & Facts About Antitrust To Create A Basis For Some (Any?) Consensus

By Dennis W. Carlton (University of Chicago)

The debates around antitrust reform have sometimes involved participants taking extreme positions. In some sense, this is good because it helps attract attention and there has been lots of attention from politicians, policy makers, academics, and the public. But it is not good if the debate winds up creating myths that are unhelpful in forging a path forward. I am convinced that there is a sufficient body of evidence to establish that, although there are many improvements that can be made in antitrust doctrine and enforcement, the claims by a growing number of academics, politicians, and government officials (often referred to as “Neo-Brandeisians”) that antitrust needs to be radically redirected and that the core principles that have guided it for the past half century should be jettisoned are wrongheaded and would lead to undesirable policy outcomes. My goal in this short essay is to explain a few key points that I hope many will see as obvious. I first start out with some basic theoretical/philosophical observations, and then move on to empirical ones. After setting a common theoretical and empirical background, I discuss whether there is a need for change and, if so, what change, for the major antitrust doctrines concerning cartels, mergers and exclusionary behavior. I then go on to discuss some possible improvements in how economics can be used in antitrust matters, as well as other ways in which we can better obtain the benefits of competition without, in effect, throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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