Search Results For RPM

I’ve recently finished reading Jonathan Baker’s Preserving a Political Bargain: The Political Economy of the Non-Interventionist Challenge to Monopolization Enforcement, forthcoming in the Antitrust Law Journal.

Baker’s central thesis in Preserving a Political Bargain builds on earlier work concerning competition policy as an implicit political bargain that was reached during the 1940s between the more extreme positions of laissez-faire on the one hand and regulation on the other.  The new piece tries to explain what Baker describes as the “non-interventionist” critique of monopolization enforcement within this framework.  The piece is motivated, at least in part, by the Section 2 Report debates.  Baker’s basic story is fairly straightforward.  Under Baker’s account, competition policy is the outcome of the political bargaining process described above.  The “competition policy bargain” was then successfully modified in the 1980s in response to the Chicago School critique.  According to Baker, during the 1970s and 80s, “the Supreme Court revised many if not most of aspects of antitrust law along the lines suggested by legal and economic commentators loosely associated with the University of Chicago,” though this revolution changed the antitrust laws “dramatically but not fundamentally” and reflected a “bipartisan consensus in favor of reforming antitrust rules to enhance the efficiency gains arising from competition policy.”

Baker applies his “political bargain” framework to argue that the “modern non-interventionist critique,” unlike the successful attempt to modify the “terms” of the bargain in the 1980s, is highly likely to fail.  Baker defines the non-interventionist critique as relying on a particular series of legal and economic arguments.  For example, Baker describes the economic arguments deployed by the non-interventionists as that “markets are self-correcting,” “monopoly fosters economic growth,” “there is a single monopoly profit,” “excluded fringe rivals may not matter competitively,” “courts cannot reliably identify monopolization,” and so on.  Animated by the Section 2 Hearings, Report, its withdrawal, and the subsequent controversy, Baker begins from the assumption the non-interventionists are trying to modify an existing bargain, since non-interventionists are “the primary source of recent criticism of monopolization standards.”  From there, Baker argues that this concerted effort to modify the competition bargain in favor of less intervention is unlikely to succeed because such an attempted modification is unlikely to mobilize broader political support in the current social environment.

Let me start by saying that I agree entirely with the ultimate conclusion in so far as I don’t think there is any doubt that, in the current environment,  it is unlikely that the implicit “policy bargain” will be modified in a way that makes it more difficult for monopolization plaintiffs.  I have much more trouble with the premise of the exercise, and on how one knows a deviation from the current policy bargain when he sees one, and so will focus my critique on those issues.

Baker paints the picture of a dramatic and fundamental attack by non-interventionists on monopolization enforcement.  My response to the premise of the paper was: What non-interventionist effort to further relax monopolization standards?” To be sure, there are plenty of folks who have cautioned against expansive use of Section 2.  It strikes me that the fundamental weakness in Baker’s analysis is that his starting point – the “terms” of the current political bargain — derives from  assumptions that don’t seem to square with reality.    In other words, rather than envisioning the current debates around Section 2 as an assault by non-interventionists, there is a much more compelling case that it is the interventionists attempting to “deviate” from whatever implicit political bargain exists with respect to competition policy.  Christine Varney’s declaration that there is “no such thing as a false positive” – the presence of such being a seminal observation since The Limits of Antitrust (in 1984, no less) immediately leaps to mind.  I will turn to making the case that it is the interventionists making the offer for modification below.

But first note that Baker leaves out of his list of “economic arguments” against Section 2 both error costs and that there is little empirical evidence that aggressive monopolization enforcement generates consumer benefits.  This is, in my view, an important omission since Baker makes the point that all of the other economic arguments have attracted rebuttals.  If there has been a rebuttal of the argument that the empirical evidence suggests that instances of anticompetitive exclusive dealing, RPM, tying and vertical integration are quite rare, or an empirical demonstration that monopolization enforcement has generated consumer welfare gains bet of error and administrative costs, I’d like to see it.  Further, note that the original Chicago School argument, a la Director & Levi, against monopolization enforcement was not that anticompetitive exclusion was impossible, but rather that it was sufficiently rare in the world as an empirical matter as to be irrelevant to policy formation.  Baker ignores this empirical, evidence-based non-interventionist critique, which, for example, has been the core of the position taken by modern academic skeptics of monopolization enforcement like myself, Dan Crane, Tim Muris, Bruce Kobayashi, Luke Froeb, and David Evans.

What is the evidence that there is a non-interventionist attack on the current competition policy bargain as it exists with respect to monopolization? Not much.  The first is that the non-interventionists are the “source of criticism of recent monopolization standards.”  In parts of the paper, Baker equates the non-interventionists with business interests.  But under that formulation, there is not much evidence to support this proposition.  If anything, and as Baker readily acknowledges in a footnote, the headlines seem to tell a story of AMD, Google, Microsoft, Adobe and others expending resources to instigate antitrust enforcement against rivals not to restrict the scope of Section 2.

Baker cites more generally the recent monopolization controversy as driven by the non-interventionist attempt to deviate from the status quo.  But this part of the analysis reads to me as driven entirely by assertion that the competition policy preferences that Baker appears to prefer are in the “political bargain” and deeming opposition to those (interventionist) policies attempted “deviations.”  Perhaps this is a problem of hammers and nails.  Baker’s more interventionist than I and so sees obstacles between his ideal vision of antitrust law and reality as caused by non-interventionists.  But I’ve got a different hammer and see different nails.  For example, I read the Section 2 Report as largely (but not entirely) limited to a description of Section 2 law as it exists and the vigorously dissenting voices coming from the interventionist crowd.  As George Priest has put it:

It’s fair enough for a succeeding administration to reject policies of its predecessor. But the Justice Department report was not authored by John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales. It was the work of a year-long study that considered recommendations from 29 panels and 119 witnesses, most of them critical of the minimalist Chicago School approach to antitrust law. The report’s conclusions basically track Supreme Court law with modest extensions in areas where the Supreme Court has not ruled. Ms. Varney denounced the report in its entirety.

Finding the evidence lacking of some strong non-interventionist attempt to impose dramatic change on Section 2 that deviates from the current political bargain, I offer an alternative hypothesis: it is the interventionists that are attempting to deviate from the current political bargain and propose change.

For starters, I think that Baker and I would agree that there actually is a “stable” competition policy bargain with respect to monopolization that has drawn bipartisan over the last twenty years – at least in the courts.  Note that even restricting attention to decisions during the George W. Bush administration from 2004-08, the total vote count of these decisions was 86-9, with 7 of 11 decisions decided unanimously, and only Leegin attracted more than two votes of dissent (and more likely, as others have pointed out, for its implications with respect to abortion jurisprudence than anything to do with the antitrust analysis of vertical restraints!).  The monopolization-related decisions of the modern era, including Trinko, Linkline, Credit Suisse, and Brooke Group have all made lift more difficult for plaintiffs in one way or another.  But as I’ve written on this blog over and over again, the error-cost analysis embedded in these decisions is a key feature of modern Section 2 jurisprudence that is part of the current bargain.  So as I understand it, these decisions must be part of the current bargain.  It would be difficult, in fact, to find another area of law in which the Court has articulated principles with such overriding unanimity despite persistent attempts by some scholars to advocate for an alternate overarching legal framework.  I think there is a much more compelling story – and one backed by greater evidence than Baker’s narrative — to tell about the modern attempt of the interventionists to renegotiate terms.    Let’s discuss some of the evidence.

For starters, the strongly-toned dissents from the Section 2 Report from both Agencies after Hearings with witnesses and testimony from all possible sides of debate — even the parts that merely describe the law — suggest dissatisfaction with the terms of the modern bargain Baker describes and that are represented by the monopolization case law created over the past several decades by supermajority Supreme Court decisions.  It is AAG Varney who recently, as Baker acknowledges in the paper, minimized the importance of Trinko under Section 2 in favor of “tried and true” cases like Aspen Skiing.  This is, of course, to say nothing of AAG Varney’s endorsement of an antitrust policy free of error-cost considerations.

Further, it is the interventionists at the Federal Trade Commission that have turned to an expanded vision of Section 5 to evade the constraints imposed by Section 2.  In fact, the Commission has explicitly announced that it does not think that the constraints imposed on plaintiffs under Section 2 should apply to the antitrust agencies!  If this is not an attempt to deviate from the existing political bargain in an interventionist direction, I’m not sure what is.  Put another way, interventionists are currently attempting to re-write existing Section 2 law – the “political bargain” – through Section 5. Given the Complaint in Intel and promised use of Section 5 in broad circumstances previously covered under the Section 2 law envisioned under the “stable” bargain that Baker describes as generating bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans, surely this is an attempt to deviate from the prior bargain.

It is the interventionists that have provided new economic arguments in favor of greater antitrust enforcement.  For example, the recent trend towards reliance on behavioral economics endorsed by the agencies emerges out of dissatisfaction with Chicago and Post-Chicago School theories that adopt rational actor models and, presumably, inability to get substantial traction in the federal courts from existing interventionist models provided by the Post-Chicago School.

The interventionist assault on the current implicit competition policy bargain goes further than the agencies though.  Congress currently has in front of it pending legislation to take out of the courts the development of a rule of reason standard for minimum RPM, a Twombly-repealer, legislation to make reverse payments in pharmaceutical patent settlements illegal, and legislation to regulate interchange fees.  Every one of these proposals represents an interventionist reaction attempting to overturn a judicial application of current competition law and suggest that perhaps the interventionists do not trust the courts to oversee the political bargain.

The premise of Baker’s analysis (that the non-interventionists are strongly challenging the current status quo) is either false to begin with or practically irrelevant in light of the much more important interventionist challenge.  Note again that Baker’s claim is that the non-interventionists would fail in any attempt to reduce the scope of monopolization enforcement because they will not be able to generate more broad political support in the current environment.  No doubt that is true.  But what about the interventionists chances for success?  Baker’s analysis provides a very interesting lens to analysis evaluate questions like whether the interventionists will be successful in renegotiating the terms of the competition policy bargain.  At the moment, though things may be changing, they seem to have greater political support.  I think the most interesting conflict arising out of Baker’s interesting conception of competition between stakeholders in antitrust policy is that it illuminates what might be a battle for supremacy in governing the bargain between agencies and courts.  As Baker notes, the courts have been a critical part of establishing the terms of the bargain and adjudicating attempts to “re-negotiate” by private plaintiffs and agencies over time.  Recently, interventionists have attempted to shift antitrust (and consumer protection) enforcement away from courts and towards administrative agencies, such as with Section 5 and the proposed CFPA.   To me, these present more important and interesting policy questions than whether non-interventionists will be successful in further shrinking Section 2 law.  I believe that the prediction emerging from Baker’s model depends on what happens with the political environment in the next few years.

My prediction, for what its worth, is that the current policy bargain will certainly hold together in the courts.  The remarkable strength of the current Section 2 status quo is held together by a combination of the intuitive appeal of price theory for generalist judges relative to more interventionist Post-Chicago and Behavioral economic alternatives, the relative explanatory power of the so-called Chicago School theories relative to contenders.  Nothing there has changed.  I have less of a sense about the impact of Congressional changes, judicial nominations, and the rise of the EU as monopolization enforcer have on monopolization in the US.

I want to second Josh’s commendation of Ben Klein’s submission to the recent FTC Hearings on Resale Price Maintenance. Klein’s paper, which bears the same title as this post, is lucidly written (blissfully free of equations, Greek letters, etc.) and makes a point that, at this juncture in antitrust’s history, is absolutely crucial.

In the pre-Leegin era, commentators who were critical of Dr. Miles‘s per se rule (including yours truly) usually emphasized the so-called free-rider rationale for minimum RPM. According to that rationale, manufacturers frequently set minimum resale prices for their products in order to encourage demand-enhancing point-of-sale services upon which retailers could free-ride. Golf club manufacturer Ping, for example, tried to control its dealers’ resale prices because it wanted dealers to expend great effort helping customers find the perfect set of highly customizable clubs. It worried that the ability to compete on resale price would lead some dealers to cut their own customizing services (and thus their costs), direct their customers to high-service dealers for the necessary customization, and then offer a discount to those customers on the clubs selected by the high service (and thus higher cost) dealers, who couldn’t afford to match the discount. If such free-riding were pervasive, Ping dealers would eventually stop providing the sort of customizing services that enhance demand for Ping clubs.

In the pre-Leegin era, it made sense for critics of Dr. Miles to emphasize the free-rider rationale because (1) it’s easy to explain, and (2) it applies often enough that we can say with confidence that RPM — often motivated by a desire to avoid free-riding on output-enhancing services — is not “always or almost always anticompetitive.” That, of course, is all we Dr. Miles critics needed to establish in order to undermine the per se rule against minimum RPM. (Per se illegality is appropriate only for practices that are always or almost always anticompetitive.)

It’s now a new day in antitrust. Dr. Miles is dead, and the key question for courts, commentators, and the regulatory agencies is how particular instances of RPM should be evaluated to determine their legality. Answering that question requires more than a simple showing that RPM can, under a fairly common set of circumstances, lead to higher output. Indeed, if our rule of reason focuses exclusively on the free-rider rationale for RPM, it may well lead to condemnation of procompetitive instances of RPM in circumstances in which the free-rider rationale does not apply. For example, the highly influential Areeda-Hovenkamp treatise proposes a rule of reason that would automatically condemn RPM arrangements on “homogeneous products,” for which there are unlikely to be any point-of-sale services that are susceptible to free-riding. (See par. 1633c of the Second Edition.) The assumption here is that RPM’s only significant procompetitive effect is the elimination of free-riding.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s Leegin decision recognized that RPM may be output enhancing even in the absence of free-riding. The Court explained (page 12):

Resale price maintenance can also increase interbrand competition by encouraging retailer services that would not be provided even absent free riding. It may be difficult and inefficient for a manufacturer to make and enforce a contract with a retailer specifying the different services the retailer must perform. Offering the retailer a guaranteed margin and threatening termination if it does not live up to expectations may be the most efficient way to expand the manufacturer’s market share by inducing the retailer’s performance and allowing it to use its own initiative and experience in providing valuable services.

The idea here — developed fully in Klein & Murphy (1988) — is that RPM, which guarantees retailers a healthy margin on sales of the product at issue, can be used to generate retailer services that are hard to secure contractually. Exhaustively specifying ex ante all the services a retailer should provide would be quite difficult for a manufacturer. In addition, monitoring and enforcing a dealer’s performance obligations along multiple service dimensions would require substantial effort. RPM coupled with a liberal right of termination can provide an alternative means of securing the retailer services(attractive product placement, etc.) that enhance demand for the manufacturer’s products. If the manufacturer generally observes its retailers’ performance, retains an unfettered right to terminate underperformers, and provides an attractive retail margin as an incentive to avoid termination, then the manufacturer can motivate its retailers to provide demand-enhancing point of sale services without specifying them exhauastively.

While the Leegin majority nicely explained how RPM can be used to enhance demand-enhancing retailer services even when those services are not subject to free-riding, it failed to address one crucial question: Why would a manufacturer need to use RPM to encourage these services, since retailers themselves would also benefit from increasing the sales of their manufacturers’ products?

Justice Breyer pounced on this omission in his Leegin dissent. Referring to the majority’s contention that RPM “may be the most efficient way to expand the manufacturer’s market share by inducing the retailer’s performance and allowing it to use its own initiative and experience in providing valuable services,” Justice Breyer stated (pages 14-15):

…I do not understand how, in the absence of free-riding (and assuming competitiveness), an established producer would need resale price maintenance. Why, on these assumptions, would a dealer not “expand” its “market share” as best that dealer sees fit, obtaining appropriate payment from consumers in the process? There may be an answer to this question. But I have not seen it.

Klein’s submission to the FTC’s RPM hearings provides a straightforward answer to Justice Breyer’s question. RPM may be necessary, Klein contends, because a manufacturer and its dealers often have divergent incentives when it comes to services that expand demand for the manufacturer’s products. Frequently, a manufacturer will stand to gain much more from its dealers’ promotional efforts than the dealers themselves. Thus, “RPM plus a liberal right of termination” may be needed to incentivize dealers to provide the services that will maximize sales of the manufacturer’s products. Klein points to three commonly present economic factors that create the sort of incentive divergence that warrants RPM:

(1) Manufacturers often enjoy a larger per-unit profit margin than do their retailers. Because manufacturers’ products tend to be more highly differentiated than the services retailers provide, and because the ability to charge prices in excess of one’s costs is a function of the uniqueness of whatever one is providing, manufacturers will generally earn higher per-unit profits on their products than will the retailers who resell those products. Accordingly, manufacturers stand to gain more from incremental sales of their products than do their retailers, and they may therefore need a way to give their retailers an extra incentive to promote their products.

(2) Many manufacturer-specific retailer promotional efforts lack significant inter-retailer demand effects. While some retailer promotional efforts, such convenient free parking or extended store hours, would provide competitive benefits for both the manufacturers whose products are carried by the retailer and the retailer itself, other retailer promotional efforts, such as prominent placement of the manufacturer’s product within the “impulse buy” section of the retailer’s store, would really benefit only the manufacturer without enhancing demand for the retailer’s services over those of its competitors. Absent some nudge from the manufacturer, retailers won’t be adequately incentivized to perform these sorts of services. RPM can provide the needed nudge.

(3) Manufacturer-specific retailer promotional efforts may cannibalize a multi-brand retailer’s sales of other brands. Many retailer services that would promote a manufacturer’s brand of a product would merely reduce the retailer’s sales of competing brands of the same product and would thus provide little, if any, net benefit to the retailer. Granting favored shelf space to one brand, for example, may require moving a competing brand to less favorable shelf space, thus reducing the sales of that brand. A manufacturer can induce its retailers to provide it with “cannibalizing” promotional services by employing RPM to guarantee the retailer a higher markup on sales of the manufacturer’s brand.

These sources of divergence between manufacturers’ and retailers’ incentives are discussed in more detail in Josh’s 2007 collaboration with Klein, The Economics of Slotting Contracts, 50 J. L. & Econ. 421 (2007). Taken together, the various sources of divergence make it in the interest of many manufacturers to adopt some sort of RPM policy, even when the product at issue is not one that is sold along with services that are susceptible to free-riding. The RPM policies manufacturers adopt to address incentive divergence enhance the manufacturers’ overall output and should thus be assumed to be procompetitive. Accordingly, liability rules such as that proposed in the Areeda-Hovenkamp treatise, which maintains that “[p]roduct homogeneity is an easily observable fact that is inconsistent with known legitimate uses of RPM” (Par. 1633c, at 334 (2d ed.)), are unsound and should be rejected.

I’ve posted to SSRN a new essay entitled Overshot the Mark?  A Simple Explanation of the Chicago School’s Influence on Antitrust.  It is a book review of Robert Pitofsky’s recent volume How the Chicago School Overshot the Mark: The effect of Conservative Economic Analysis on U.S. Antitrust, and is forthcoming in Volume 5 of Competition Policy International.

The book review is a critical review of the Post-Chicago antitrust agenda adopted by many of the volume’s authors, and a defense of what the editors describe as conservative economics (but seem to mean Chicago School), from an empirical, evidence-based perspective.  The idea of the review is avoid the ideological component of the Chicago v. Post-Chicago debate by choosing to focus instead on the relative predictive power of the economic models.  In short, the evidence-based antitrust concept is one that requires running a horserace between the competing economic models of various forms of antitrust relevant behavior (I focus on RPM and exclusive dealing in the review) in order to identify the best available economic learning upon which antitrust policy can and should be built.  The standard requires flexibility over time but also commits policy makers to take seriously predictive power of models rather than grabbing whatever is convenient from the menu.

There are a number of other critical points about the volume, the approach to antitrust it advocates, and responses to specific essays in the review.

Here is the abstract:

Using George Stigler’s rules of intellectual engagement as a guide, and applying an evidence-based approach, this essay is a critical review of former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky’s How the Chicago School Overshot the Mark: The Effect of Conservative Economic Analysis on U.S. Antitrust, a collection of essays devoted to challenging the Chicago School’s approach to antitrust in favor of a commitment to Post-Chicago policies. Overshot the Mark is an important book and one that will be cited as intellectual support for a new and “reinvigorated” antitrust enforcement regime based on Post-Chicago economics. Its claims about the Chicago School’s stranglehold on modern antitrust, despite the existence of a perceived superior economic model in the Post-Chicago literature, are provocative. The central task of this review is to evaluate the book’s underlying premise that Post-Chicago economics literature provides better explanatory power than the “status quo” embodied in existing theory and evidence supporting Chicago School theory. I will conclude that the premise is mistaken. The simplest explanation of the Chicago School’s continued influence of U.S. antitrust policy — that its models provide superior explanatory power and policy relevance — cannot be rejected and is consistent with the available evidence.

You can download it here.

Dan Crane and Thom (who has promised more remarks!) have now both posted their prepared remarks for the Section 2 hearings panel on bundled discounts. Both call for bright-line, administrable liability rules for all forms of unilateral exclusionary conduct, and have important things to say about designing antitrust rules for bundled discounts. Both are worth reading in their entirety. Administrable rules that sensibly balance Type I and II errors are certainly an indisputably admirable goal for antitrust analysis and bundled discounts have proven to be a particularly tricky form of conduct for Section 2 analysis. Despite all of the agreement around here between Thom, Dan and I on the design of antitrust rules in a world of costly Type I errors, I think I have found a topic upon which I can at least offer a mild dissent (or at least a different perspective) regarding the usefulness of the analogy of various anticompetitive theories of bundled discounting practices to exclusive dealing.

The overlap between exclusive dealing and bundled/ loyalty discounts is frequently addressed by commentators, and is a topic of newfound interest in what has become the quest for a “holy grail’, one size fits all standard for Section 2 analysis of exclusionary conduct. At times, I detect a tension between the analysis of bundled discounts and exclusive dealing contracts which both purport to exclude exclude by depriving rivals from the opportunity to compete for distribution sufficient to support minimum efficient scale. For example, I discuss what I perceive to be a tension in Professor Hovenkamp’s very sensible analysis of bundled discounts and exclusive dealing in this post:

Hovenkamp concludes that adminstrative costs justify a predatory pricing-type rule in the context of for bundled discounts where the anticompetitive mechanism is de facto “foreclosure” or deprivation from distribution resources (i.e. shelf space) that would prevent rivals from achieving minimum efficient scale and extend the duration of monopoly by increasing barriers to entry. One would think that it would follow from Hovenkamp’s position that a predatory pricing-type rule would also be sensible for exclusive dealing and tying arrangements where the anticompetitive mechanism is the economic equivalent. To the contrary, Hovenkamp advocates rule of reason analysis (p. 201) for exclusive dealing and tying, noting that “foreclosure concerns can be assessed meaningfully only via the rule of reason” and that “the antitrust law of exclusive dealing,” which generally requires proof of substantial foreclosure as a necessary condition of competitive harm, “seems to be on the right track.”

The basic tension here is that the anticompetitive theories underlying both forms of conduct require foreclosure of a rival sufficient to deprive the opportunity to compete for minimum efficient scale. Of course, the pro-competitive side of the ledger differs. One might sensibly believe that the standard for the two forms of exclusion should be different because lower prices are inherently pro-competitive whereas exclusive dealing may not invoke the same immediate consumer benefits. This is certainly a sensible position. But it only suggests that the standard for bundled discounts ought to be more difficult to satisfy than the exclusive dealing standard given equal administrative costs and the same anticompetitive mechanism. This point is not sufficient to render the exclusive dealing analogy fruitless. I offer below some tentative thoughts on the usefulness of the exclusive dealing analogy to bundled discounts.

Continue Reading…

Huh? This statement appears in this article by Professor Anthony D’Amato (Northwestern) on the failure of interdisciplinary scholarship in the legal academy. HT: Brian Leiter. Quite frankly, I was very surprised to see a claim like this in a paper written after 1970 or so. Even in corners of the academy hostile to economic analysis, antitrust is conventionally distinguished as a special case where economics is useful, typically along with some statement about the uniqueness of antitrust. D’Amato reserves no such special treatment for antitrust, criticizing that field in the context of a more general critique of what he describes as the “interdisciplinary turn” in the legal academy on three grounds:

First is the unlikelihood that the joint-degreed persons who join the law faculty will happen to be the ones that their colleagues will end up collaborating with. Second is the even greater unlikelihood that any given discipline can communicate usefully with another discipline. Third is the opportunity-cost factor: that the new interdisciplinary courses will crowd out an essential part of the legal discipline, namely, an understanding of the foundations and dialectical evolution of its forms of language.

Those who study antitrust might be surprised to read the claim that economics has not changed antitrust in any significant way. To give some context, this claim comes as part of D’Amato’s rebuttal case against law and economics as an example of successful interdisciplinary scholarship. D’Amato’s conclusion? Economic analysis earns a “gentlemanly C+” on its report card and claims of success are “misleading if not false.” The rebuttal case consists largely of claims that economic analysis has not been fruitful in many areas of law: contracts (see Eric Posner), torts, criminal law, and includes the statement that the Coase theorem “is hardly helpful to lawyers.” I admit that I found the argument about criminal law difficult to follow (it consists largely of a response to hypothetical examples of crimes that Richard Posner could have but apparently did not write and the obligatory mention of Posner’s comments on the potential benefits of a market in parental rights.

My disagreement is somewhat predictable, as someone engaged in law and economics. But I want to focus on D’Amato’s claim that economic analysis has not even been successful in areas that are “ideal for the division of labor between lawyer and economist,” like antitrust. D’Amato offers as support for the words in the title to this post the following analysis (p.65):

The focus on the quantitative aspects of antitrust — such as Robert Bork’s reductionism of antitrust to the goal of delivering the lowest prices to the consumer — has had a distorting effect on the field. The original impetus for antitrust legislation — combating an incipient fascist tendency of huge corporate combinations to overwhelm and run the government — seems to be an inconvenient memory for those who would like economic analysis to place a price tag on every legal value.

I respectfully dissent. I discuss an objection to D’Amato’s characterization of the antitrust endeavor and ten reasons to think that D’Amato’s claim in the title of this post are wrong below the fold.
Continue Reading…

Professor Sokol points to this paper by Ittai Paldor (an SJD student at U. Toronto) which Sokol points out qualifies as the rarely observed defense of the per se rule against RPM. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

In the following I argue that legal policymakers’ current approach is economically justified. I show that all pro-competitive explanations for RPM suffer from a common flaw, the possibility of non-price competition, which challenges RPM’s ability to achieve any of the pro-competitive goals attributed to it. I then proceed to show that non-price vertical restraints are capable of achieving the pro-competitive goals which RPM is incapable of achieving. This justifies both applying a per se illegality rule to RPM and applying a different rule, namely a rule of reason, to other vertical restraints.

Dr. Miles, RPM, the pending Leegin decision, and the economics of vertical restraints are topics that we have blogged about quite a bit here (see here for a collection of these posts). In fact, Thom wrote a very persuasive response to Commissioner Harbour’s “Open Letter” to the Supreme Court which cites to Paldor’s article. Readers of this blog know my views on the economics of RPM and my belief that the per se rule is not appropriate for any vertical restraints.  So without saying much more about them here, it should not be difficult to figure out that I think Paldor misunderstands the economics of vertical restraints — and more specifically, the promotional services rationale for RPM.

However, I want to make a simpler point here. Paldor’s argument is not even capable of justifying the per se approach to RPM even if his claims about the pro-competitive explanations were true. Let’s assume arguendo that the author had successfully shown that the existing pro-competitive rationales for RPM were invalid (he has not, but that is besides the point).  It would not follow from such a showing, as the author asserts, that “this justifies both applying a per se illegality rule to RPM and applying a different rule, namely a rule of reason, to other vertical restraints.”   The default rule in antitrust analysis, the one applied when we know nothing or little about a practice, is the rule of reason.   This principle is settled and well known.

The real burden is for those advocating the use of the per se prohibition to demonstrate that RPM always or almost always tends to produce anticompetitive effects.  A claim that we dont know much about the practice just doesn’t cut it in terms of justifying use of the per se rule on the Court’s own terms.  There is plenty of disagreement on the relative importance of various pro-competitive explanations (discount free-riding, inducing promotional services without such free-riding, dealing with demand uncertainty … ) and the cartel explanations.  But I don’t know of a single economist familiar with the RPM literature that has taken the view that RPM satisfies the “always or almost always” anticompetitive standard — and for good reason.  The focus of the per se advocates must turn away from the evidence.  As we’ve discussed here previously, there is a good amount of empirical evidence that supports the view that RPM is generally output-increasing and very little to support the view that RPM is frequently (much less always or almost always) used to facilitate a dealer or manufacturer cartel. Frankly, it is a bit surprising to see support for the per se rule given the high standard for use of these rules in the United States coupled with the strength of the evidence here.

The bottom line: Consumers will be better off when Dr. Miles is overturned.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read at least two dozen papers, mostly by legal scholars (but some by economists) employing or critiquing economic analysis of law, that use the term “Chicago School,” in a critical and misleading way.  Conventionally, use of this nomenclature comes along with a claim that “Chicago School” economics is code for a particular form of non-interventionist, politically conservative philosophy based upon only an unjustified “faith” in markets.

In the antitrust context, the “Chicago School” label is frequently use to contrast against the “Post-Chicago” literature.  For those unfamiliar with this branch of economics, the main contribution of what is known as the Post-Chicago literature, I think it is fair to say, has consisted primarily of number of possibility theorems suggesting that conduct previously thought to be universally pro-competitive could harm competition under some conditions.  Frequently, the Post-Chicago narrative goes something like: “Chicago School economists argued that X was always efficient but Post-Chicago authors have shown the Chicago view to be false by demonstrating that X may harm competition.”

Now, there is a substantial value in the Post-Chicago literature and I do not mean to imply otherwise.  It has increased our knowledge about what can and sometimes does happen in markets.  The point of this post is not to disparage what any of these economists have done.  Quite the contrary, it is to make the point that the Chicago v. Post-Chicago labels are being used in an a manner that is neither productive nor descriptive in a helpful way. 

Here are a few reasons why I think the distinction is not as useful as it once was and is generally counterproductive unless used carefully by the author.

Continue Reading…

Danny Sokol points to Professor Einer Elhauge’s (Harvard) forthcoming paper in Competition Policy International where he argues that recent Supreme Court antitrust jurisprudence reflects a choice in favor of the Harvard School rather than the Chicago School of antitrust analysis. I recommend Professor Elhauge’s analysis to our readers for at least two reasons. The first is that his work is always very thoughtful and worth reading, and this piece is no exception. The second reasons is that I will have a paper in the very same journal taking what amounts to the opposite position: that the Roberts Court’s antitrust jurisprudence reflects the adoption of Chicago School’s methodological commitments. Of course, this style of argument is really about matters of degree because the Chicago and Harvard approaches have experienced some convergence in some areas. I plan on posting a version of this paper in the next week or so after doing some fine-tuning this week. In the meantime, it is clear that Professor Elhauge and I agree on at least one point: recent Supreme Court antitrust jurisprudence has been a serious attempt to engage in analysis and not a simple “pro-defendant” attitude as some have erroneously suggested.

UPDATE: Hanno Kaiser at Antitrust Review highlights another interesting portion of Elhauge’s analysis.  Elhauge points out that under the Harvard School approach, the per se approach to RPM is inappropriate but argues that Justice Breyer’s dissent in Leegin on stare decisis grounds was likely “mixed up with abortion politics” rather than motivated by getting the economics right.   As readers of TOTM will know, Thom and I have blogged extensively about the errors in Justice Breyer’s analysis of vertical restraints.