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…

John M. Newman ‘Complex Antitrust Harm in Platform Markets’ Antitrust Chronicle 2017, Spring, Vol. 1(2)

This paper – which can be found here – develops a rather orthodox argument about market leveraging and foreclosure. In short, the argument is that: “Under certain conditions, digital platforms can harness the power of reputation to steer users to favored suppliers. This steering forecloses non-favored suppliers in a related, though distinct, relevant market. Where favored suppliers are able to split the resulting rents with the platform, the strategy s rational. The resulting foreclosure reduces efficiency and consumer welfare.” In short, “Platform markets exhibiting substantial algorithm-driven reputation competition can facilitate a unique type of competitive harm. This article briefly summarizes the marketplace evolutions that have fiercely intensified [algorithm driven] reputation competition. It then describes this novel second-order, out-of-market competitive harm that can arise as a result of certain conduct in such markets.” Given this, it is unsurprising that the paper begins with a discussion of why reputation is relevant to competition. Antitrust doctrine generally treats “consumer choice” as being good. Yet…

Tim Wu ‘Blind Spot: The Attention Economy and the Law’ (2017) Concurrences

This paper – which can be found here – seeks to address an imbalance: while it “has become commonplace, especially in the media and technology industries, to speak of an “attention economy” and of competition in “attention markets” (…)the study of “attention markets” has only very recently become of interest to legal scholars, and only in connection with specific cases (…)”. This paper is “an effort to close that gap, and show why a better understanding of attentional markets will be critical to addressing pressing legal issues, such as antitrust’s treatment of the high technology industry and emerging public policy questions surrounding the “theft” of attention from captive audiences.” The fulcrum of the analysis is the “attention broker” – someone who “attracts attention by offering something to the public and then reselling that attention to advertisers for cash”, such as Google, Facebook or, more prosaically, TV channels and free subway newspapers. The author contends that the concept of “Attention Brokers”…

Alessandro Acquisti, Curtis Taylor, and Liad Wagman ‘The Economics of Privacy’ (2016) Journal of Economic Literature 54(2) 442

This article – which can be found here – summarises theoretical and empirical research on the economics of privacy. It focuses on the economic value and consequences of protecting and disclosing personal information, and on consumers’ understanding and decisions regarding the trade-offs associated with the privacy and the sharing of personal data. Their starting point is that the economics of privacy is a branch of information economics. Economists’ interest in privacy has primarily focused on its informational dimension: the trade-offs arising from protecting or sharing of personal data. At its core, the economics of privacy concerns the trade-offs associated with the balancing of public and private spheres between individuals, organizations, and governments. In this regard, the authors identify a number of important characteristics of privacy and personal information as economic goods: First, the value of keeping some personal information protected, and the value of it being known, are almost entirely context-dependent and contingent on essentially uncertain combinations of states of…

A. Douglas Melamed ‘Antitrust Law is Not That Complicated’ (2017) Harvard Law Review 130(2) 163

This paper – which can be found here – is a reaction to Louis Kaplow’s article “On the relevance of market power” which I discussed here. It provides a much better summary of Kaplow’s article than what I managed to write then, and also a very apt critique of that paper. As such, I think it would be useful if I were to provide you with a summary of this piece. While seemingly agreeing with the conceptual framework developed by Kaplow, the author (a professor at Stanford) shares some of my critiques (which makes me feel rather relieved, because it means I understood at least parts of Kaplow’s paper). Like me, he reads Kaplow’s paper as implicitly assuming that competition law is ultimately a broad standard directed at maximising economic welfare on each situation. This standard is applied as follows: conduct that reduces economic welfare is unlawful, and conduct that increases economic welfare is lawful. Hence, market power is not really…

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,…

Christopher Buccafusco and Jonathan Masur ‘Intellectual Property Law and the Promotion of Welfare’

This paper – a University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Paper Series, No. 607 (2017) available here – focuses on the relationship between IP and welfare. Broadly speaking, the paper is devoted to examining the various types of theories underpinning IP law (i.e. IP law’s deeper normative goals) in the US context. As the authors put it: “Most courts and scholars agree with the idea that IP law should provide incentives to creators, but there has been almost no analysis of why creativity and innovation are good. This is simply taken as given.” Their goal is to discuss the variety of ways in which one can understand the normative goals of IP regimes. The basic argument is that the main goal of IP laws should be to maximize social welfare, where welfare is understood as subjective well-being. However, and although there is broad consensus that the law should promote good outcomes, there has been less discussion of the kinds…

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…

Maurice E. Stucke ‘Reconsidering Antitrust’s Goals’

This is a more recent paper to the ABA one identified in the post below, which has the advantage of also being an analytical / critical piece. To be clear, I do not necessarily support or condone the criticisms set out in the paper – but I do like how his analysis makes one think about what antitrust should be about. The article can be found at http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol53/iss2/4/. While mainly focused on the US, the paper is interesting for its (critical) description of how our current understanding of antitrust as being mainly devoted to promoting consumer welfare and efficiency came about (interesting tidbit: before 1975, the US Supreme Court had never mentioned “consumer welfare” in an antitrust case); and of how this “official” understanding conflicts with the proliferation of antitrust goals to be found in laws across the world (which leads to a useful review of such antitrust goals, mainly relying on ICN work). The critical part is also interesting for…

American Bar Association ‘Report on Antitrust Policy Objectives’

This is a fairly old paper  – available at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/antitrust_law/report_policyobjectives.authcheckdam.pdf – that describes how, although most jurisdictions maintain that their competition laws “preserve competition”, the preservation of competition can mean different things in different places. It also discussing how these different meanings of competition can reflect the fact that antitrust laws can protect many different objectives. To my knowledge, this is one of the best description of the various goals of antitrust – it is comprehensive, to the point, and easy to read (for those interested, there is also a survey from the ICN on this). Even though jurisdictions adopt competition rules for differing reasons, each tends to describe its competition law initiatives in the same manner, as rules that aim “preserve competition.” However,  “preserving competition” is defined in different ways. Among the objectives that this paper identifies as informing the application of competition rules in different countries are: consumer welfare, total welfare, economic efficiency, protection and promotion of business rivalry,…