Date Posted: August 2009
Harold Demsetz once claimed that “economics has no antitrust relevant theory of competition.” Demsetz offered this provocative statement as an introduction to an economic concept with critical implications for the antitrust enterprise: the multi-dimensional nature of competition. Competition does not take place upon a single margin, such as price competition, but several dimensions that are often inversely correlated such that a liability rule deterring one form of competition will result in more of another. This insight has important implications for the current policy debate concerning how to design antitrust liability standards for conduct involving both static product market competition and dynamic innovative activity. The primary purpose of this essay is to revisit Demsetz’s broader challenge to antitrust regulation in the context of the frequently discussed tradeoffs between innovation and price competition. I summarize recent developments in our knowledge of the relationship between competition and innovation, highlighting the deficiencies that significantly constrain antitrust enforcers’ abilities to confidently calculate inevitable welfare tradeoffs. I conclude by discussing policy implications that follow from these limitations.