This working paper – which can be found here – focuses on recent trends in cartels worldwide, with a special emphasis on the economic injuries generated by illegal collusion. The basic argument is that the harm caused by cartels is immense; and that global antitrust fines for discovered international cartels were less than 1% of the economic injuries sustained (my emphasis).

The data is derived from his Private International Cartels (PIC) database; in particular, he examined a sample of more than 1100 private international cartels that were discovered between January 1990 and the middle of 2015. It leads to a number of findings:

  • The number of discovered cartels across the world has consistently increased over the last 25 years. This trend is likely related to the increasing number of jurisdictions that  have adopted competition rules and created competition agencies during this period.
  • Affected commerce (i.e. estimates of the dollar value of commerce controlled by these cartels)  are available for about two-thirds of the discovered cartels in the PIC data set. For the period from 1990 to 2014, known affected sales conservatively totalled $13.6 trillion The mean average of sales per cartel was $21 million, and this average rose fast during the relevant time period.
  • Assuming, as most experts do, that only somewhere between 10% and 30% of all hidden cartels ever come to light, the likely total global affected commerce by cartels is somewhere between $64 and $189 trillion.
  • International cartels overcharge customers on average about 19%. This overcharge rate varies little across geographic regions, but the average hides great variation in the sizes of overcharges by cartels. Approximately 5% of all cartels are able to achieve overcharges of 200% or more – a tripling of prices.
  • Taking the average internal cartel overcharge of 19%, it is estimated that during 1990-2014 overcharges totalled $2.6 trillion.
  • The world’s antitrust authorities have responded to the discovery of international cartels primarily by imposing fines totalling $101 billion as of April 2015.

Comment:

These are mind-numbing numbers (and I would love to know where the average overcharge data comes from). Even taking into account other costs that cartelists face – in legal and reputational costs, in private damages paid, etc. – it is hard to avoid the conclusion that additional enforcement and more severe sanctions may be required to ensure deterrence.

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