Revitalizing Antitrust in Its Second Century: Essays on Legal, Economic, and Political Policy

By Harry First; Eleanor M. Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

The antitrust laws of the United States have reached their one-hundredth birthday. Adopted in 1890 with bipartisan support, the antitrust laws express the fundamental belief of the American people in a democratic economic system that promotes pluralism, opportunity, autonomy, and freedom from exploitation. Antitrust law tends to achieve these objectives, not by assuring any particular outcome, but by protecting a process--the process of competition.

Much battered at various times in our history--notably by central planning in the 1930s and extreme laissez faire in the 1980s--the law and its spirit have survived, always with changes adapting the law to new economic and political conditions.

This volume represents a centennial project. The project was begun in the mid-1980s when the antitrust laws were minimalized and trivialized. Many mergers between extremely large companies--in the oil, airlines, retailing, food products, and electronics industries--were sanctioned by government authorities. Indeed, the government welcomed nearly all transactions that business chose to do on the supposition that, if business wanted them, they must be efficient.

The theoretical framework for (as Professor Walter Adams says) the euthanasia of antitrust was supplied by Chicago School economics. Chicago School economics is not new. It has been a subject of debate for many years. Its roots are in the nineteenth-century liberalism that, in 1890, failed to defeat the passage of the Sherman Act. From at least 19601 to 1980, Chicago School was a theory in search of a platform. In 1981, it found its platform--the Reagan Administration, which promised to get government off the back of business.

Chicago's theoretical framework is very simple; indeed, simplicity commends it. It relies on a few premises and assumptions: (1) Efficiency promotes the public welfare. Efficiency must not be diluted by any other

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