The Hidden Rules of a Modest Antitrust
80 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2017 Last revised: 26 May 2021
Date Written: January 9, 2017
Reforming antitust’s rule of reason by shifting burdens of proof to defendants will not solve antitrust’s enforcement drought. For the drought is due in part to the cost to enforcers of identifying rule of reason cases to bring and not just to the cost of winning the cases that enforcers do bring. Enforcement costs matter because enforcers’ budgets are limited—they have failed for a long time to keep up with GDP—and the rule of reason’s emphasis on case-specific effects makes it costly for enforcers to identify good cases to bring. The Supreme Court’s adoption of the rule of reason approach in recent decades must therefore have caused enforcers to police less conduct in order to balance their budgets, thereby turning the rule of reason into a hidden rule of per se legality for conduct no longer subject to enforcers’ watch-ful gaze. Whether this hidden rule has harmed consumers de-pends on whether the Court believes suspect conduct to be mostly good for consumers—in which case per se rules of legality are appropriate—or mostly bad, in which case the Court ought to balance enforcement budgets by scrapping the rule of reason in some areas and replacing it with the inexpensive-to-enforce per se rules of illegality that characterized mid-twentieth-cen-tury antitrust law. Either way, the Court’s current failure explic-itly to recognize that an antitrust enforcement apparatus of mod-est means is incapable of delivering upon the idealism of case-by-case inquiries into consumer harm is intolerable. For the gap it creates between the careful adjudication described by the Court and the non-enforcement of actual practice makes a mock-ery of the law.
Keywords: antitrust, error costs, false positives, false negaltives, per se rule, rule of reason, adjudication, legal error, law and economics
JEL Classification: D02, D81, K21, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation