My interest in antitrust policy grew out of my experience as a staff economist and, later, as special assistant to the director of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Economics. The four and a half years I spent at the FTC were eye-opening, especially as they came so soon after graduate school--only a year of teaching intervened between graduation and my introduction to the antitrust bureaucracy. Suffice to say that I soon learned that the economic theory I had been taught as a student bore little or no resemblance to the analysis typically applied in antitrust cases. Economics was valued not for its power to shed light on the behavior of firms and markets, but rather for how it might be twisted in ways that lent support to monopoly "theories" concocted by the FTC attorneys. Staff economists were evaluated not on the basis of their independent judgments concerning the merits of the cases under review, but instead on the basis of how well they "cooperated" with the team of lawyers to whom they were assigned. I did not prosper in this environment.
Fortunately, however, my tenure at the FTC overlapped the heady first years of the Reagan administration. As a result of personnel changes and staff reorganization initiated by James C. Miller III, the first professional economist to serve as chairman of the FTC, I came in contact with a remarkable group of colleagues. These economists, most of whom were trained at the University of Virginia in the early 1960s and had links to my alma mater, Texas A&M, set about under the intellectual leadership of Robert Tollison to apply the insights of the public choice model to the process of antitrust enforcement. The research agenda developed by this group of scholars, which included Miller, Tollison, Richard Higgins, Fred McChesney, Robert Mackay, Bruce Yandle, myself, and others, resulted in a series of academic papers that appeared in leading journals over the ensuing years and were collected in an edited volume published by the Hoover Institute in 1987.
The centennial anniversary of the Sherman Act seemed to me a propitious occasion for attempting to organize the theory and