Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Apple vs. Pepper: Rationalizing Antitrust’s Indirect Purchaser Rule’ (2020) Columbia Law Review Forum 120(1) 14

The simplest measure of loss caused by an antitrust infringement is the amount of the overcharge caused by a conduct. However, customers of the infringing party may be able to pass on this overcharge to their own customers, which means that indirect purchasers may also suffer loss. The US – unlike other countries – typically limits the ability to claim damages to direct purchasers for the amount of the relevant overcharge (typically trebled). In Apple Inc. v. Pepper, the Supreme Court held that consumers who allegedly paid too much for apps sold on Apple’s App Store because of an antitrust violation could sue Apple for damages because they were “direct purchasers”. The paper, available here, argues that, working within the context of applicable rules, the majority reached the right conclusion. At the same time, and while this judgment eliminates some of the irrationalities of the indirect purchaser rule as it has been applied, it hardly adopts a definite solution to the…

Jorge Padilla and Nicolas Petit on ‘Competition policy and the Covid-19 opportunity’ (2020) Concurrences 2 1

Every economic crisis raises the same normative question for competition law. Should decision makers be temporarily more permissive in their application of the law to private and public restraints of competition? While historical evidence suggests that this is a bad idea, most economic crises since the 1970s led to some softening of competition law. In countries around the world, massive amounts of state aid have been injected into the economy. While such policies deserve praise in their concern for the protection of jobs, recessions have a “cleansing effect” which is desirable and can be dampened by such interventions. Recessions facilitate the exit of zombie firms that crowd out growth opportunities for more efficient competitors, and delay the diffusion of technological innovation. A case might thus be made that the current recession might be a source of opportunities for the EU economy, long trapped in a cycle of weak productivity, low economic dynamism and conspicuous absence of superstar firm creation. The…

Felipe Irarrázabal ‘Competition and the plague’ (‘La libre competencia y la peste)

This piece is available here, but only in Spanish. The summary below reflects my own translation of the piece. Emergencies – such as wars and natural disasters – undermine the assumptions underpinning competition law and policy. Competition enforcement against cartels builds on the premise that fierce competition is highly beneficial for society, whereas firm cooperation will only create benefits in much more restricted situations. Competition enforcement also relies on legal procedures, which are by nature slow and lend themselves to sophisticated disputes. Covid-19 has forced authorities to enact exceptional regimes and pressured them to take urgent and even drastic measures. The coming economic recession will likely require similar measures. The main competition agencies in the world have started to react to this negative scenario. Several of them have declared that they will be alert to any possible violation of competition law. Others have specified that they will not accept excessive prices as a result of the crisis (although this legal…

Frederic Jenny ‘Economic Resilience, Globalization and Market Governance: Facing the Covid-19 Test’

Globalisation contributed to the rapid spread of COVID to all corners of the globe. The economic cost of fighting the virus froze a number of economies and disrupted global value chains, and is likely to be followed by several years of an economic depression that will dwarf the cost of the 2008 financial and economic crisis. The dramatic events of the first quarter of 2020 challenge some of the implicit assumptions underlying the design of our economic systems, and should make us think about some of the dilemmas and trade-offs that this crisis has foisted upon us. This piece, available as a working paper here,  is not mainly about competition – instead, it is a piece that thinks widely about the implications of this pandemic for the economic architecture underpinning globalisation, which also touches on competition. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, competition law and policy plays a relatively limited role when markets are not in equilibrium,…

Francisco Costa-Cabral, Leigh Hancher, Giorgio Monti and Alexandre Ruiz Feases ‘EU Competition Law and Covid-10’

This paper, which is from the whole of Tilburg’s competition department, as far as I can tell, is available here. It explores how EU competition enforcement might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors recommend that competition authorities should be watchful of excessive prices and price discrimination, and rely on interim measures if necessary. Collusion should remain an enforcement priority, but a procedural pathway to review agreements that may be in the public interest should be adopted. In merger control, the Commission’s strict interpretation of the failing firm defence is appropriate but, in general, a more sceptical attitude towards mergers may be warranted during this period. Advocacy will play a key role: competition agencies can both point to existing regulations that limit competition and monitor proposed emergency legislation that would harm competition for no good reason. A first section provides an overview of the nature of competition law in the midst of a crisis. Competition law is a political enterprise,…

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….

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 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….