Harry First and Stephen Webber Wallace ‘Pairing Public and Private Antitrust Remedies’ in Albert A. Foer Liber Amicorum, Concurrences (Forthcoming)

Discussions on private competition remedies most often deal with questions of optimal deterrence and effectiveness. Lost in conversation is the basic idea that antitrust violations cause economic harm, and that those victimised by that harm should be entitled to damages from those who have violated the law. This is the underappreciated compensatory function of antitrust. Section 4A of the Clayton Act is a powerful, yet historically underused enforcement tool that empowers the United States to obtain treble damages for anticompetitive conduct when the government is itself the victim. The paper, which can be found here, focuses on whether the US government should not only pursue public enforcement activities, but also engage in private enforcement claims to be compensated for losses as a result of anticompetitive conduct. It examines the limited use of Section 4A, and discusses some possibilities for future cooperation between public and private plaintiffs that could advance the compensatory goal of antitrust. It is structured as follows: Section I looks…

Miriam C. Buitem ‘The Ambivalent Effect of Antitrust Damages on Deterrence’ (2019) CPI Antitrust Chronicle Ju

The possible undermining effect of damages actions on leniency programs has been hotly debated. The concern is that the prospect of damages claims may discourage colluding firms from applying for leniency, since the leniency program only shields them from public fines, not from civil damages. Civil damages may contribute to the goal of preventing cartels by increasing the expected costs of starting a cartel. However, civil damages may not enhance antitrust deterrence if colluding firms believe it to be unlikely that competition authorities will detect their cartel. For leniency programs to put cartel members in a prisoners’ dilemma, confessing must be more attractive than staying quiet. If civil damages are substantial, leniency may not sufficiently improve a colluding firms’ position as compared to their non-reporting co-conspirators, and hence their incentive to apply for leniency will decrease, together with the overall odds of cartel detection. This note, available here, discusses the ambivalent effect of antitrust damages actions on deterrence. It considers how fines…

Nicole Rosenboom and Daan in ’t Veld ‘The Interaction of Public and Private Cartel Enforcement’ (2019) World Competition 42(1) 87

Despite its broad title, this article – available here – investigates mainly the interaction between leniency programmes and civil damages claims.  Most competition authorities have adopted leniency programmes to uncover cartels. To increase the overall deterrent effect of competition law, many jurisdictions have also introduced private competition enforcement, which increases the total potential financial exposure of cartel members. The impact of private competition enforcement – and particularly the concomitant increase in the liability of potential leniency applicants – on leniency programmes has been discussed in the literature, but there is an absence of empirical studies. This article tries to fill this gap by studying the empirical impact of private competition enforcement on leniency. It uses two methods: surveys of Dutch firms and competition lawyers, and econometric conjoint analysis. The authors conclude that firms’ decisions to apply for leniency are affected by the magnitude of the personal penalty to which directors are subject and the amount of fine reduction following a successful leniency application….

Weekly Digest in the Time of Coronavirus – An Update

For your attention: I have noted a sharp decline in users of my website. I am considering suspending new posts for a few weeks since fewer people will read them. At the moment I am on the fence, so I would like to ask for your opinion. I would remind you that: (i) preparing these posts takes work. If you are not going to read them, it makes little sense for me to circulate them; (ii) I have a batch of emails on private enforcement ready to go out, so maybe you are not even that interested on the topic.

OECD work on Crisis Cartels (2009)

The OECD background paper on this topic was written by Professor Simon J. Evenett in 2011, and can be found here. The purpose of this paper is to consider whether changes in policies towards cartel formation are merited during economic crises and associated recoveries. The paper is structured as follows: Sections two defines crisis cartels. The term crisis cartel is used to refer to a cartel that was formed during a severe sectoral, national, or global economic downturn. Such cartels can occur without state permission or legal sanction, which may trigger enforcement; or they may be permitted, even fostered, by a government, which may trigger advocacy. The impact of a crisis on the incentive of firms to cartelise will depend on the nature of the crisis, be it sectoral, national, or international. In thinking through the impact of each type of crisis on the behaviour of cartel members, one must identify the ways in which the crisis affects the business…

OECD work on Competition and the Financial Crisis (2009)

This paper can be found here. Systemic crises reopen the question of what is the role of competition policy in such scenarios. The main issues are whether competition is desirable at all in times of systemic crises, and how to limit potential negative effects of state intervention on competition in the medium and long term. The paper investigates these questions, and is particularly interesting because it was written while the aftershocks of the crisis were still being felt. It notes that while the crisis started in the financial sector, it had an important impact on the real economy. Nonetheless, the paper focused mostly on interventions in the financial sphere, which are – at least at present – of limited interest to us. As such, I will focus on the sections of the paper that are likely to prove more relevant to us going forward. Section II provides an overview of the relationship between the financial sector and competition law. Most of…

OECD work on Excessive Pricing (2011), looking also at price gouging

The OECD has ever written anything on competition law and price gouging. It has, however, asked Prof. Frank Maier-Rigaud to write a paper exceeding 80 pages on Excessive Pricing in 2011 (see here). Despite its title, the paper seeks to provide a framework for all exploitative practices. This is well beyond my focus today, so I will review those sections of the paper relevant for sudden price increases and exploitative practices following sudden shocks. The first and second sections discuss ideas of fair prices and economic value, and whether intervention against excessive pricing is justified. The idea of a just, fair or natural price, and with it the concept of economic value and rudimentary equilibrium notions, can be traced back to ancient Greece. They have occupied political philosophers and economists for well over 2000 years. Despite this longstanding debate, the fundamental question of the appropriate benchmark for assessing whether prices are unfair, unjust or excessive remains unresolved to this day….

Viktoria Robertson on ‘Excessive Data Collection: Privacy Considerations and Abuse of Dominance in the Era of Big Data’ (2020) Common Market Law Review 57 161

It is debatable whether EU competition law already contains – or could and should potentially develop – antitrust theories of harm that apply to third-party tracking of personal user data on the web. Focusing on data gathering, this paper – available here – assesses two scenarios under which EU competition law may deem the vast amounts of data gathered by certain digital platforms excessive: excessive data “prices” and unfair data policies. In both cases, the competition law assessment is autonomous from other areas of the law: while a breach of data protection rules is not automatically a breach of competition law, a company adhering to data protection rules may still violate competition laws. The paper finds that EU competition law already possesses the necessary tools to address excessive data collection, while data protection rules provide much-needed context for this type of exploitative abuse. Section II discusses data gathering through third-party tracking. Tracking occurs both on the web and in applications (apps) for electronic…

Marco Botta and Klaus Wiedemann  ‘To Discriminate or not to Discriminate? Personalised Pricing in Online Markets as Exploitative Abuse of Dominance’ (2019) European Journal of Law and Economics 1

The advent of big data analytics has favoured the emergence of forms of price discrimination based on consumers’ profiles and their online behaviour (i.e. personalised pricing). This paper, available here, analyses this practice as a possible exploitative abuse by dominant online platforms. It concludes that such practices can have ambiguous welfare effects, and be subject to a case-by-case analysis. It also argues that competition law is more suitable than omnibus regulation – particularly data protection and consumer law – to tackle the negative effects of personalised pricing, particularly because competition authorities could negotiate with online platforms different kinds of behavioural commitments that could significantly tame the risks of personalised pricing. Section II looks at price discrimination in online markets. Economists typically distinguish between three different types of price discrimination. First-degree price discrimination takes place when a firm is able to discriminate perfectly among its customers. Second-degree price discrimination means that the firm discriminates between its customers by granting discounts once…

Daniele Condorelli and Jorge Padilla ‘Harnessing Platform Envelopment through Privacy Policy Tying’ (working paper)

Entry into platform markets subject to strong network effects and high switching costs can occur in two ways. First, by offering drastically new functionality (i.e. through Schumpeterian innovation). Second, through “platform envelopment” whereby a provider in one platform market – the origin market – enters another platform market – the target market – and combines its own functionality with that of the target in a multi-platform bundle that leverages shared user relationships and/or common components. Envelopers capture market share by foreclosing an incumbent’s access to users; in doing so, they harness the network effects that previously had protected the incumbent. This working paper, available here,  revisits the economics of “platform envelopment”, with a focus on data-related strategies. In particular, it analyses the logic and effects of “privacy policy tying”, a strategy whereby the enveloper requests the consumers’ consent to combining their data in both origin and target markets. This allows the enveloper to fund the services offered to all sides…