Do Expert Agencies Outperform Generalist Judges?

Josh Wright —  2 May 2012

My work (with GMU 3L Angela Diveley) featured on the University of Pennsylvania’s RegBlog.  An excerpt:

The comparison we conducted is one between institutions – the FTC and the federal judicial system – and not individual judges and commissioners. There is no doubt the antitrust and economic experts at the FTC are well equipped to analyze all modes of business dealings; in this sense, agencies certainly have greater economic expertise than courts as a general rule. However, like the FTC, courts incorporate economic expertise into their decision-making. While the FTC seeks to incorporate its staff’s expertise, courts seek to incorporate the expertise of expert witnesses. Both institutions are organizations with complex internal structures with different modes of transmitting economic expertise into decision-making outputs and different constraints and incentives.
We sought to determine whether the FTC’s institutional structure facilitates the transmission of economic inputs into its adjudicatory decisions more effectively than Article III judges in similar cases. The implicit assumption underlying the expertise hypothesis, and many of the calls for increased delegation to the agencies, is that they are better equipped to convert that expertise to litigation outcomes. If agencies do not hold such an advantage in converting expertise to outputs, interesting and important questions are raised concerning the optimal institutional design of the FTC and of administrative agencies generally. Our preliminary evidence suggests precisely this outcome as we find no advantage for administrative agencies.
Go read the whole thing.  The current draft of the paper is available here.