The Robinson-Patman Act: A Look Backwards, a View Forward
41 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2013 Last revised: 24 Oct 2013
Date Written: October 2, 1986
Ever since its enactment years ago, the Robinson-Patman Act has been the center of intense and continuing controversy. Supporters, acclaiming the act as the "Magna Carta of Small Business," contend that the Robinson-Patman law is important to ensure fair competition and to stop monopolies in their incipiency. Critics, characterizing the act as "protectionist" legislation, argue that Robinson-Patman attempts to protect inefficient competitors while stifling vigorous competition.
Even with half a century of experience, the fundamental questions -- whether the Robinson-Patman Act is helpful or harmful to American economic goals, and whether the act should be strengthened, restricted in scope, or repealed altogether -- remain unanswered. These issues have been addressed in numerous articles by legal scholars, practicing attorneys, economists, and businessmen. A number of groups have examined and criticized the act, including a national committee in the Attorney General’s Office, two separate presidential task forces, and the Department of Justice. Hearings, yielding hundreds of pages of testimony, have been held by Congress to determine the extent of the problems caused by price discrimination and the effects thereon, both positive and negative, of the act. Three separate congressional reports' have been issued replying to calls for reform and explaining the continuing need for the act. Despite the wealth of material amassed, the considerable amount of discussion and study, and the extended period of time over which the controversy has raged, no consensus has been achieved. Rather, a great divergence of opinion persists between those who harshly criticize the act and those who support it. Accentuating this divergence are basic differences of opinion as to the goals of the antitrust laws, the desirability and the means available to protect small businesses, the role and effect of price discrimination in the market, and the actual impact of the Robinson-Patman Act on the marketplace. The arguments and responses of these two sides, as well as some proposals for reform of the act, are summarized and examined in this article.
Keywords: Robinson-Patman, antitrust
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation