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Consumer Surplus as the Appropriate Standard for Antitrust Enforcement

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  • Russell Pittman

    (Economic Analysis Group, Antitrust Division, Department of Justice)

Abstract

In antitrust enforcement as in cost-benefit analysis, neoclassical economics may be interpreted as arguing for the use of a “total welfare” standard whose implementation treats transfers as welfare-neutral. Several recent papers call for antitrust agencies to move in the direction of this version of a total welfare standard for enforcement. However, as Williamson (1968) noted, horizontal mergers typically result in transfers that may greatly exceed in magnitude any deadweight loss or efficiency gain, so that a decision to ignore transfers may be quite important. I argue that such transfers are likely overall to be quite regressive, and thus that a consumer surplus standard rather than a total welfare standard may be appropriate for antitrust. Two common arguments against this standard – that most mergers are in markets for intermediate goods, and that a consumer welfare standard implies a tolerance for monopsony – are examined and found wanting. I argue in addition that, even if a total welfare standard is used, both the finance literature on merger outcomes and the structure of the U.S. enforcement agencies suggest that the use of a consumer surplus standard by the agencies is more likely to achieve that goal.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Justice, Antitrust Division in its series EAG Discussions Papers with number 200709.

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Length: 19 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:doj:eagpap:200709

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Postal: Department of Justice Antitrust Division 450 Fifth Street NW Washington, DC 20530
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Web page: http://www.justice.gov/atr/
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  1. Gary Gorton & Matthias Kahl & Richard Rosen, 2005. "Eat or Be Eaten: A Theory of Mergers and Merger Waves," NBER Working Papers 11364, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Vijay Gondhalekar & R. Raymond Sant & Stephen Ferris, 2004. "The price of corporate acquisition: determinants of cash takeover premia," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(12), pages 735-739.
  3. Farrell, Joseph & Katz, Michael L, 2006. "The Economics of Welfare Standards in Antitrust," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt1tw2d426, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  4. Louis Kaplow & Carl Shapiro, 2007. "Antitrust," NBER Working Papers 12867, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Pittman, Russell W, 1990. "Railroads and Competition: The Santa Fe/Southern Pacific Merger Proposal," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(1), pages 25-46, September.
  6. Damien J. Neven & Lars-Hendrik Röller, 2000. "Consumer Surplus vs. Welfare Standard in a Political Economy Model of Merger Control," CIG Working Papers FS IV 00-15, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG).
  7. Harberger, Arnold C, 1971. "Three Basic Postulates for Applied Welfare Economics: An Interpretive Essay," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 785-97, September.
  8. Baker, Jonathan B & Shapiro, Carl, 2007. "Reinvigorating Horizontal Merger Enforcement," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt4x44j66x, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  9. Bargeron, Leonce & Schlingemann, Frederick & Stulz, Rene & Zutter, Chad, 2007. "Why Do Private Acquirers Pay So Little Compared to Public Acquirers?," Working Paper Series 2007-8, Ohio State University, Charles A. Dice Center for Research in Financial Economics.
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  12. Besanko, David & Spulber, Daniel F, 1993. "Contested Mergers and Equilibrium Antitrust Policy," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29, April.
  13. Coate, Malcolm B & Higgins, Richard S & McChesney, Fred S, 1990. "Bureaucracy and Politics in FTC Merger Challenges," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 463-82, October.
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  16. F. Scherer, 2006. "A New Retrospective on Mergers," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 28(4), pages 327-341, June.
  17. Dennis W. Carlton, 2007. "Does Antitrust Need to be Modernized?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 155-176, Summer.
  18. Raghavendra Rau, P. & Vermaelen, Theo, 1998. "Glamour, value and the post-acquisition performance of acquiring firms," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 223-253, August.
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  20. Kenneth Heyer, 2006. "Welfare Standards and Merger Analysis: Why not the Best?," EAG Discussions Papers 200608, Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.
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  23. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
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Cited by:
  1. Rosa Branca Esteves & Hélder Vasconcelos, 2009. "Price Discrimination under Customer Recognition and Mergers," NIPE Working Papers 23/2009, NIPE - Universidade do Minho.
  2. Brennan, Timothy J., 2011. "Energy efficiency and renewables policies: Promoting efficiency or facilitating monopsony?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 3954-3965, July.
  3. Jarig Sinderen & Ron Kemp, 2008. "The Economic Effect Of Competition Law Enforcement: The Case Of The Netherlands," De Economist, Springer, vol. 156(4), pages 365-385, December.
  4. Dennis W. Carlton & Ken Heyer, 2008. "Appropriate Antitrust Policy Towards Single-Firm Conduct," EAG Discussions Papers 200802, Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.
  5. Pingping Shan & Guofu Tan & Simon Wilkie & Michael Williams, 2012. "China’s Anti-Monopoly Law: What is the Welfare Standard?," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 31-52, August.
  6. E. Dargaud & A. Mantovani & C. Reggiani, 2013. "The fight against cartels: a transatlantic perspective," Working Papers wp894, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
  7. Brennan, Timothy J., 2009. "Energy Efficiency: Efficiency or Monopsony?," Discussion Papers dp-09-20, Resources For the Future.
  8. Thomas Jeitschko & Nanyun Zhang, 2011. "Patent Pools and Product Development," Working Papers 2011-02, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Feb 2011.
  9. Marc Fusaro & Richard Ericson, 2010. "The Welfare Economics of “Bounce Protection” Programs," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 55-73, March.
  10. Timothy J. Brennan, 2009. "Energy Efficiency: Efficiency or Monopsony?," UMBC Economics Department Working Papers 09-110, UMBC Department of Economics, revised 01 May 2009.

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