The Antitrust Revolution: Economics, Competition, and Policy

By John E. Kwoka Jr.; Lawrence J. White | Go to book overview

Introduction

Antitrust policy in the United States now spans three different centuries and many epochs in this nation's economic history. The first law to be enacted—the Sherman Act of 1890—was a reaction to widespread discontent with business during the Industrial Revolution. The Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 were directed at anticompetitive mergers and other conduct as the nation moved toward the Great Depression and two world wars. Most recently, this country has found itself in the midst of an equally profound Information Revolution. Each of these periods has raised questions concerning the effects of dominant firms, mergers, collusive behavior, vertical integration, predatory pricing, tying, and other matters. And each of these periods has answered these questions with an antitrust policy that has reflected the objectives and the understanding of its time.

But over the past thirty years another revolution has taken place—a revolution in antitrust policy itself. This revolution has involved the ascendance of industrial organization economics in antitrust policymaking, with profound effects on the institutions, interpretation, and enforcement of antitrust. The concept of antitrust has had broad political and popular support throughout its history, but there never has been an equivalent consensus about what actual policy should be. One reason is that the language of the original laws left many of the important details unresolved, so that policy came into focus slowly as the courts provided interpretations of such terms as monopolization, substantial lessening of competition, and conspiracy. That process in turn tended to produce a formalistic interpretation of the law without much regard for the growing body of knowledge about the economics of companies and industries. Another reason for the lack of consensus was the tension between populism—which gave rise to the antitrust laws—and the equally strong belief that private enterprise ought to be left alone. This tension has run through the entire history of antitrust, periodi-

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