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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Russell Pittman, 2007. "Consumer Surplus as the Appropriate Standard for Antitrust Enforcement," EAG Discussions Papers 200709, Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.
  • Handle: RePEc:doj:eagpap:200709
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    File URL: https://www.justice.gov/atr/public/eag/225696.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Brennan, Timothy J., 2011. "Energy efficiency and renewables policies: Promoting efficiency or facilitating monopsony?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 3954-3965, July.
    2. Emilie Dargaud & Carlo Reggiani & Andrea Mantovani, 2013. "The fight against cartels: a transatlantic perspective," Post-Print halshs-00878871, HAL.
    3. Motta, Massimo & Tarantino, Emanuele, 2017. "The effect of horizontal mergers, when firms compete in prices and investments," Working Papers 17-01, University of Mannheim, Department of Economics.
    4. Pingping Shan & Guofu Tan & Simon Wilkie & Michael Williams, 2012. "China’s Anti-Monopoly Law: What is the Welfare Standard?," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 41(1), pages 31-52, August.
    5. Marc Escrihuela-Villar, 2016. "On the price effects of collusion and the number of firms," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 36(3), pages 1694-1704.
    6. Dennis W. Carlton & Ken Heyer, 2008. "Appropriate Antitrust Policy Towards Single-Firm Conduct," EAG Discussions Papers 200802, Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.
    7. Rosa-Branca Esteves & Helder Vasconcelos, 2015. "Price Discrimination under Customer Recognition and Mergers," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(3), pages 523-549, September.
    8. Brennan, Timothy J., 2009. "Energy Efficiency: Efficiency or Monopsony?," Discussion Papers dp-09-20, Resources For the Future.
    9. 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.
    10. Marc Fusaro & Richard Ericson, 2010. "The Welfare Economics of “Bounce Protection” Programs," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 55-73, March.
    11. Thomas Jeitschko & Nanyun Zhang, 2011. "Patent Pools and Product Development," Working Papers 2011-02, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Feb 2011.
    12. Yannis Katsoulacos & Eleni Metsiou & David Ulph, 2016. "Optimal Substantive Standards for Competition Authorities," Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 273-295, September.
    13. Kevin Currier & Susanne Rassouli-Currier, 2016. "The impact of energy market mergers on “green†producers' cost efficiency incentives: some preliminary results," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 36(4), pages 2474-2481.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • G34 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Mergers; Acquisitions; Restructuring; Corporate Governance
    • K21 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Antitrust Law
    • L40 - Industrial Organization - - Antitrust Issues and Policies - - - General

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