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Consumer Surplus as the Appropriate Standard for Antitrust Enforcement

  • Russell Pittman

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

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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File URL: http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/eag/225696.pdf
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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
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Justice Antitrust Division 450 Fifth Street NW Washington, DC 20530
Web page: http://www.justice.gov/atr/
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  1. Damien J. NEVEN & Lars-Hendrik RÖLLER, 2000. "Consumer Surplus vs. Welfare Standard in a Political Economy Model of Merger Control," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'Econométrie et d'Economie politique (DEEP) 00.24, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, DEEP.
  2. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1988. "Value Maximization and the Acquisition Process," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 7-20, Winter.
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  6. Albert A. Foer, 2006. "The Goals of Antitrust: Thoughts on Consumer Welfare in the US," Chapters, in: Handbook of Research in Trans-Atlantic Antitrust, chapter 21 Edward Elgar.
  7. 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.
  8. Fridolfsson, Sven-Olof, 2007. "A Consumer Surplus Defense in Merger Control," Working Paper Series 686, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
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  16. Lars-Hendrik Röller & Johan Stennek & Frank Verboven, 2000. "Efficiency Gains from Mergers," CIG Working Papers FS IV 00-09, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG).
  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. 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.
  19. Mandelker, Gershon, 1974. "Risk and return: The case of merging firms," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(4), pages 303-335, December.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Roll, Richard, 1986. "The Hubris Hypothesis of Corporate Takeovers," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(2), pages 197-216, April.
  24. 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.
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