Ariel Ezrachi on ‘EU Competition Law Goals and The Digital Economy’ (2018) Report for BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation

This paper – which can be found here – remarks that questions regarding whether certain conducts pose competition problems have become increasingly common in the face of new business strategies, new forms of interaction with consumers, the accumulation of data and the use of big analytics. It argues that answers can only be provided by taking into account the goals and legal framework of specific competition regimes. The author focuses on the EU. The paper thus outlines the goals and values of European Competition law, and looks at how they apply to digital markets. The report is structured as follows: The paper begins with an introduction to the constitutional foundations of European Competition law. Competition policy is one of several instruments used to advance the goals of the European Treaties. In this context, competition rules must be interpreted in the light of the wider normative values of the EU. These are not limited to economic goals such as promoting consumer welfare, but…

Maurice Stucke and Marshall Steinbaum ‘The Effective Competition Standard – A New Standard for Antitrust’ (2018) Report for the Roosevelt Institute

This is a report published for the Roosevelt Institute, and can be found here. It builds on the Neo-Brandeisian canon and tries to develop an applicable antitrust standard out of it. According to the authors, the consumer welfare standard is to blame for the role that competition has played in a number of social ills, including increased market concentration. To redress this, the authors advance an alternative standard: the effective competition standard. This framework would restore the primary aim of antitrust, namely to protect competition wherever it has been compromised. This new standard would: 1) protect individuals, purchasers, consumers, and producers; 2) preserve opportunities for competitors; 3) promote individual autonomy and well-being; and 4) disperse and de-concentrate private power. In particular, the effective competition standard would allow enforcement against vertical integration and the adoption of bright-line indicators for anticompetitive behaviour. The paper is structured as follows: It begins with an introduction that describes a number of economic trends, and explains that…

Makam Delrahim (Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division, U.S. DoJ) ‘Antitrust Enforcement in the Digital Era’

In these remarks, hich can be found here, AAG Delrahim defends the ‘broad antitrust consensus that still reigns today’ and considers how it might apply to the digital sphere. He begins by outlining the two key components of the current antitrust consensus. The first is the consumer welfare standard, which requires that some business practices should be condemned as unlawful only where they harm competition in such a way that consumers suffer. The second component is “evidence-based enforcement”. Outside the realm of naked horizontal restraints such as price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation, antitrust demands evidence of harm or likely harm to competition, often weighed against efficiencies or procompetitive justifications. Evidence-based enforcement also requires a readiness to adapt our existing antitrust framework and tools to new or emerging threats to competition. One such threat comes from digital platforms and the increased market concentration they give rise to. AGG Delrahim considers that the antitrust consensus approach is flexible to new business…

Tim Wu ‘After Consumer Welfare, now what? The ‘Protection of Competition’ Standard in Practice (2018) CPI Antitrust Chronicle April

The goal of this short piece, which can be found here, is to address arguments that abandoning the ‘consumer welfare’ standard would make antitrust law too unworkable and indeterminate. The paper argues that there is an alternative standard ‘protection of competition’ that is practicable and at least as predictable as the consumer welfare standard. This standard has the additional advantage of being much truer to the legislative intent underlying US antitrust laws than the consumer welfare standard. The piece is structured as follows The first section provides an overview of the two main criticisms of current antitrust practice. Critics of current antitrust practice are committed to antitrust revival, and broadly opposed to the extremes of the Chicago. However, they then divide as regards their approach to the “consumer welfare” standard. The first group – comprising mainly economist and lawyers – believes that the standard has been abused and misused, but nonetheless retains its utility as the anchor of antitrust law and policy….

Sandeep Vaheesan ‘The Twilight of the Technocrats’ Monopoly on Antitrust?’ (2018) Yale L.J. Forum 127 980

This issue of the Yale Law Journal above has  provoked a reaction, which can be found here.  The article argues, even as they present worthy policy recommendations, the contributions in this issue of the Yale Law Journal are disappointingly modest in scope, particularly in their acceptance of the consumer welfare standard. Rather than contribute to and engage with the growing debate on the suitability of the consumer welfare standard, the contributing scholars write as though consumer welfare antitrust is cast in stone. This is so even though current antitrust doctrine has aided and abetted the concentration of numerous markets. Powerful businesses have used their might to hurt people in myriad ways, and consumer welfare captures at most only a subset of these public harms. Not questioning the goals of antitrust—hardly even acknowledging that these goals, and particularly the consumer welfare standard, are contested—reveals a fixation on the technical trees at the expense of the philosophical forest. At heart, his argument…

Thomas Horton on ‘Rediscovering Antitrust’s Lost Values’ (2018) New Hampshire Law Review 16(2) 179

Antitrust is now widely said to be dedicated to maximizing “consumer welfare” through an intense focus on promoting “allocative efficiency”. This article, which can be found here, seeks to provide evidence of how such a limited goal has no support in legislative history by tracing U.S. Congress’s consistent balancing of social, political, moral, and economic values and objectives over the course of more than a century of antitrust legislation. The paper is structured as follows: Part II reviews antitrust statutes throughout the years, and how they blend fundamental political, social, moral, and economic values. This section begins by reviewing scholarship on the legislative history of the US’ antitrust statutes. This review shows that there are differences in how conservative and progressive scholars have interpreted the relevant statutes. Conservatives traditionally identified mainly economic goals in the law, while Progressives extracted a number of other political and social goals from the relevant legislative acts. Differences regarding the goals found to be present…

Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke ‘The fight over antitrust’s soul’ (2017) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(1) 1

The piece – which can be found here – begins by describing recent trends in academic discussions in antitrust, which I think this blog has followed in some detail over the past two years. On the one hand, we have the ‘hipster antitrust/New Brandeis’ school, with its criticism of Chicago school-based enforcement and its calls for greater intervention. On the other hand, we have the reactions to this antitrust movement which: ‘warn about enforcement chilling pro-competitive behaviour, and undermining the market’s ability to self-correct […] is unconcerned about the trend toward concentration, and reject fairness or distribution concerns as part of competition policy.’ The authors trace this debate to a number of factors. While they identify a number of them, from my perspective the debate ultimately stems from different understandings about how the economy works in practice. Some differences could ultimately be settled by reference to empirical data – for example, the debate between those who believe markets necessarily self-correct…

Frank Pasquale “When Antitrust Becomes Pro-Trust: The Digital Deformation of US Competition Policy” CPI ANTITRUST CHRON. (May 2017).

This paper – which can be found here – argue that “in digital industries in particular — such as search engines and social networks — U.S. merger review has been lax”. According to the author: “Massive digital platforms have exacerbated an old problem in American antitrust law — the tension between the efficiencies that mergers achieve in theory, and the pressure they inevitably create for firms in, or adjacent to, the industry of the merged firms, to themselves combine in order to better compete.” Problems are said to arise from adherence by antitrust enforcers to three myths that rationalize market power online: The Myth of Easy Platform Switching – This theory holds that consumers can and will easily shift from Google to Yahoo, or from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, or from Uber to Lyft. In reality, however, a long history of personalisation of results (through machine learning algorithms), network effects and lock-in make it hard to switch providers. The Myth of the…

Lisa Khan ‘Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox’

This is a bold paper which argues that competition law, as it stands, is not an apt gauge of competition in the twenty-first century marketplace—especially in the case of online platforms. It was published in the Yale Law Review, and can be found here. The argument is built around a critique of the way antitrust has (failed to) deal with Amazon. In particular, it argues that a close look at Amazon’s business strategy reveals that the current framework of antitrust— especially how it equates competition with “consumer welfare”, and “consumer welfare”  with short-term effects on price and output—fails to capture the architecture of market power in the twenty-first century marketplace. The paper holds that, instead, antitrust should analyse the underlying structure and dynamics of markets. Rather than pegging competition to a narrow set of outcomes, this approach would examine the competitive process itself. Animating this framework is the idea that a company’s power, and the potential anticompetitive nature of that power,…

Lisa Khan ‘The New Brandeis Movement: America’s Antimonopoly Debate’

This paper is a full-blown defence of the New Brandeis movement by one of its most visible proponents. It is to be published in the Journal of European Competition Law & Practice and can be found here: https://academic.oup.com/jeclap/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jeclap/lpy020/4915966 The paper begins by mapping out the emergence of the New Brandeis (or anti-monopoly) movement as a reaction to growing concentration in the American economy. The movement takes its name from Louis Brandeis, who served on the US Supreme Court between 1916 and 1939 and was a strong proponent of America’s Madisonian traditions—which aim at a democratic distribution of power and opportunity in the political economy. The movement is anchored in the following pillars: There are no such things as market ‘forces’. The Chicago School assumes that market structures emerge in large part through ‘natural forces.’ The New Brandeisians, by contrast, believe the political economy is structured through law and policy. The goal of antimonopoly laws is to ensure that citizens are…