Presidential Candidates and Antitrust

Cite this Article
Joshua D. Wright, Presidential Candidates and Antitrust, Truth on the Market (January 14, 2008),

We’ve been following presidential statements on antitrust here at TOTM — mostly through press releases to the AAI (e.g. our analysis of statements from Obama and Edwards).  I’ve been largely disappointed at the lack of attention to antitrust thus far from the candidates, with virtually no statements at all from the Republican side and only a few from the Dems.  This Reuters story (HT: Antitrust Review) offers a little bit of information from the perspective of antitrust practitioners on the predicted policies from various candidates.  Noticeably, there was nothing directly from the candidates’ camps.

The themes of the story are fairly predictable: (1) Edwards is the only “progressive” who would offer more than incremental change, (2) Clinton and Obama would offer roughly the same antitrust policy which, we are told, would be more active than the current administration without any specifics (see our critical discussion of the “more is better” view of antitrust here, here and here), and (3) its really hard to predict what any of the Republicans would do.  The Edwards and Obama statements are consistent with the characterizations in (1) and (2).  And (3) is certainly fair given the lack of attention to antitrust issues (at least publicly) from the conservative candidates.  

There was at least one excerpt from the story that raised my eyebrows.  Here it is:

Clinton and Obama likely hold similar views on enforcing anti-monopoly statutes, opposing price-fixing and other competition issues, according to several lawyers.  Obama’s time teaching law at the University of Chicago, where pro-market emphasis is strong, would affect his antitrust views, Sharp said.  But Hamilton Loeb of Paul, Hastings LLP disagreed, saying Obama had studied law at Harvard Law School, where “the prevalent antitrust theory was more moderate.”

Geoff, Thom or Keith will likely have a more insider perspective on this than I, but I am very skeptical about the assertion that Obama teaching at the University of Chicago would likely to lead to pro-market or “Chicago School” antitrust views.  Or for that matter, that Chicago economics is still a dominant component of the law and economics at University of Chicago (though there is still plently of law and economics there).  Here are a few reasons why I’m skeptical about the claim about Obama.  First, the connection between where you teach and your views on substantive areas outside your expertise seems fairly weak to me.  Second, is the University of Chicago Law School still associated with views of the “Chicago School” of antitrust analysis?  Was it in the 90’s when Obama taught there?   Third, Obama’s statements on Walmart and his reported but questionable association with behavioral economics don’t appear to betray any pro-market bias.  Fourth, a look at Obama’s own published statements about antitrust don’t reveal any Chicago School influence.  I might be willing to buy that Obama might be influenced by his antitrust teachers at Harvard.  But I’d need some more evidence or a mores specific statement from the Obama camp about the details of an Obama antitrust regime.

But to be clear, Obama is one of the only candidates to issue something on the issue and should be congratulated.  Where are the statements on antitrust from the rest of the candidates?  I understand that there are plenty of other important issues to go around this election cycle.  I don’t pretend that the average voter is as interested in antitrust as I am.  But it is my view that U.S. antitrust policy, and its role in the global antitrust environment, is more important than ever.  But do any of the Republican candidates think antitrust is an important enough issue to release a statement with some details?  Does anybody associated with any of the candidates know of statements on antitrust by the candidates that I’ve missed?