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….

Angela Huyue Zhang, Jingchen Liu and Nuno Garoupa on ‘Judging in Europe: Do Legal Traditions Matter?’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(1) 144

Infringement decisions adopted by the European Commission in competition procedures are subject to review by the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘CJEU’). The CJEU is an international tribunal comprising judges from countries with varying legal traditions within Europe. This empirical paper, available here, seeks to determine whether the outcome of appeals from European Commission infringement decisions are affected by the legal origins of the judge rapporteur. In particular, the authors test whether judges coming from countries with French-inspired administrative systems are more likely to decide in favour of the Commission. They find that this is indeed the case, and that the results are robust to alternative political ideology variables, including left–right politics and a preference for European integration. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 delves into the various legal traditions of Europe, and how they may influence the judicial review of competition appeals. There is extensive literature demonstrating that preconceptions nourished by education, work experience and…

Jonathan T. Fried ‘The place of competition and development in the global trade and economic architecture’ (2017) Concurrences 1 3

The author was the Canadian ambassador to the WTO. In this piece, available here, which is the opening speech to a conference on ‘Competition and globalization in developing economies’, he argues that trade liberalisation must be accompanied by sound economic regulation that enables trade and investment to occur. Robust and effective competition law and regulation is a key element of this enabling environment, and a potential contributor to sustainable development as well. The trade and competition communities have been supporting each other’s goals, and applying similar approaches, for some time. Building on this base, there are actions that will lead to the better integration of trade and competition perspectives, while avoiding being drawn into grand debates about new forms of global governance, as has happened in the past. In a first section, the paper provides an overview of the international trade regime. From its post-war beginnings as an “interim” agreement called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (‘GATT’) through…

Dagmar Schiek and Andrea Gideon on ‘Outsmarting the gig-economy through collective bargaining – EU competition law as a barrier?’ (2018) International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 32(2-3) 275

While the use of information technology can enhance personal self-determination, its use in the context of the gig-economy also creates the risk of entrenching casual, precarious and exploitative working conditions. A crucial question that arises is how far gig-workers are able to shape their work conditions. Within the sphere of employment law, the right of workers to organise collectively provides the opportunity to achieve just that. This paper, available here, aims to analyse the barriers posed by EU competition law to collective labour rights of gig-workers. It argues that EU competition law, as currently interpreted by the Court of Justice, would hinder collective organisation of those serving the gig-economy. It also advances an interpretation of the competition provisions which would allow EU competition law to adapt to recent developments in labour markets. It is structured as follows: A first section sketches the basic features of the gig-economy. The gig-economy is mainly characterised by the extensive use of IT for the distribution, allocation,…

Chiara Muraca ‘Cultural and Political Forces in the Criminalisation of Cartels: A Case Study on the Chilean Experience’ (2018) World Competition 579

In addition to rising monetary fines against both companies and individuals, over the last ten years more than thirty countries have decided to criminalise cartel activities. At the same time, and despite the growing number of countries opting for a criminal enforcement, the implementation of such measures has been quite deficient outside the US. Many of these countries have encountered procedural and political obstacles to enforcing criminal provisions against anticompetitive conduct, including a lack of support from key players in the enforcement process. Among the main explanations for this state of affairs is a belief that criminalisation of cartels outside the US is often the product of a top-down process led by transnational enforcement interests rather than domestic bottom-up forces. The aim of this article, available here, is to test this explanation by conducting an empirical study of criminalisation efforts in Chile. The study involved interviews with the main stakeholders who took part in the criminalisation process in Chile, such…

Ioannis Liannos ‘The Poverty of Antitrust’ CLES Research Paper Series 2/2018 [UPDATED]

This working paper, which can be found here, starts from the author’s (openly acknowledged) view that competition law should have a role in tackling economic inequality and poverty, and seeks to provide a coherent theoretical framework for competition law’s role in this regard. [ADDENDUM] Since this was a working paper, I sent the author some comments which were more detailed than the overview below. Following this, the author and I had a conversation about the paper. We concluded that I had misunderstood the paper, and he was kind enough to prepare a clarification. I would like to thank him for this. You can find the clarification below in the comments. [End of addendum] The paper is structured as follows: Part I explores the various roles of competition law and its evolution over time. In the US, antitrust was originally a tool of social regulation, which sought to ensure that smaller firms had a fair chance to participate in the economic expansion generated by…

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…

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”…