By James Bernard, Rebecca Kirk Fair & D. Daniel Sokol

The appropriate goals of antitrust have again became the subject of debate, with some critics questioning whether an economics-based goal (the consumer welfare standard) is still relevant. In our view, economic reasoning provided the foundation for the courts’ adoption of the consumer welfare standard as the framework through which to evaluate antitrust enforcement, and it has also provided the tools used to apply the standard to specific markets. In this paper, we maintain that consumer welfare, as understood today, is flexible to changes in economic thinking and continues to work as the method of analysis for antitrust law. Using examples from several prominent merger reviews, we illustrate how economic analysis has shifted over time in ways that both promote enforcement and limit enforcement. These examples illustrate the importance of mapping theory to practical realities when analyzing competitive effects in different markets.