When Low is No Good: Predatory Pricing and US antitrust law (1950-1980)
European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, December 2011
27 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009 Last revised: 30 Nov 2011
Date Written: June 1, 2009
The history of predatory pricing law and economics is peculiar on account of the seemingly inescapable contradiction between the legal habit of condemning a business practice on account of its possible unfair and inefficient effects and the necessity of providing an economic rationale for the condemnation without undermining the essence of competition itself. The apparently rock-solid equation “low price = good price” makes such a rationale neither immediate nor easy to find – and predatory pricing such an interesting issue from the viewpoint of historians of economics. How to circumvent the equation has been the challenge for several of the most brilliant minds of postwar microeconomics, as well as for outstanding law scholars. It is a fascinating story, with deep implications for at least two major historiographic issues: first, the evolution of neoclassical economics, as embodied in one of its most important branches, industrial organization; second, the relationship between the formal results of theoretical economics and their policy implications, in a particular their applicability for courtroom litigation.
This is the first in a pair of papers dedicated to this story. The division between the two works is strictly chronological: the present paper covers the period from the 1950s to about 1980, that is to say, until the verge of the game-theoretic revolution in industrial organization; the other will focus on the period 1980–2000, covering the above-mentioned revolution and its relationship with a couple of remarkable Supreme Court’s decisions on predatory pricing. The main thesis of the two works is that the traditional dichotomy between alternative legal standards, those based on “stories” and those based on “rules”, may prove useful in interpreting the evolution of economists’ thought about predatory pricing and, more generally, in explaining under what conditions a theoretical statement may have an effective policy impact, especially in courtrooms.
Keywords: predatory pricing, antitrust, Supreme Court, Chicago school, Harvard school, price theory
JEL Classification: B21, K21, L41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation