Dynamic Competition in Antitrust Law
The September 2009 announcement that the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice have initiated a review of the Horizontal Merger Guidelines provides a formal process for redefining the proper role of dynamic competition in antitrust law.
How would competition policy be shaped if it were explicitly to favor Schumpeterian (dynamic) competition over neoclassical (static) competition? Schumpeterian competition is the kind of competition that is engendered by product and process innovation. Such competition does not merely bring price competition. It tends to overturn the existing order. A “neo-Schumpeterian” framework for antitrust analysis that favors dynamic competition over static competition would put less weight on market share and concentration in the assessment of market power and more weight on assessing potential competition and enterprise-level capabilities.
By embedding recent developments in evolutionary economics, the behavioral theory of the firm, and strategic management into antitrust analysis, one can develop a more robust framework for antitrust economics. Such a framework is likely to ease remaining tensions between antitrust and intellectual property. It is also likely to reduce confidence in the standard tools of antitrust economics when the business environment manifests rapid technological change.
It appears that the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has attempted to incorporate more dynamic analysis, but the result has been inconsistent across different mergers and different doctrinal areas of antitrust law. Moreover, a complicating factor in the transformation of the law is the fact that the federal courts have, by embracing the reasoning in the Merger Guidelines promulgated several decades ago by the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission, caused antitrust case law to ossify around a decidedly static view of antitrust.
Put differently, in the years since 1980, the Division and the FTC have successfully persuaded the courts to adopt a more explicitly economic approach to merger analysis, yet one that has a static view of competition. The result is not a mere policy preference. It is law. To change that law to have a more dynamic view of competition will therefore require a sustained intellectual effort by the enforcement agencies (as well as by scholars and practitioners) that, once more, engages the courts to reexamine antitrust law, as they did in the late 1970s during the ascendancy of the Chicago School, when antitrust law became infused with its current, static understanding of competition.
A necessary but not sufficient condition for that effort is a public process by which the Division and the FTC revisit and restate the Merger Guidelines in a manner that clarifies and defends the role of dynamic competition in antitrust analysis. We therefore applaud the announcement of the antitrust agencies in September 2009 to solicit public comment on the possibility of updating the Merger Guidelines. Assuming that the Division and the FTC decide to revise the existing Merger Guidelines, those revised guidelines (and useful complementary undertakings, such as generalized guidelines on market power and remedies) then will require leadership by the enforcement agencies to persuade the courts that antitrust doctrine should evolve accordingly. That neo-Schumpeterian process may take a decade or longer to accomplish, but it is a path that we believe the Roberts Court is willing to travel.