Reimagining Antitrust Institutions: A (Modest?) Proposal

ABSTRACT:

It is always an appropriate time to reevaluate, reexamine, and question the optimal scope and shape of our antitrust institutions. For example, the United States is peculiar in having two distinct antitrust enforcement agencies. More peculiar still, the agencies have both common and unique functions. For example, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) review mergers pursuant to Section 7 of the Clayton Act and enforce Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act through civil actions. At the same time, the Division alone is responsible for criminal enforcement of the Sherman Act, and the FTC alone enforces the Clayton Act provisions that prohibit tying and unfair methods of competition. Layered atop the peculiar dual jurisdiction of the FTC and DOJ at the federal level is a remarkably complex and decentralized system of competition enforcement authority distributed among myriad federal sectoral regulators, state attorneys general, and private litigants.

This article asks whether the current distribution of competition functions in the U.S. can be improved by some reorganization or other reform. We answer in the affirmative and propose several changes — perhaps the most significant being consolidating the competition functions of the FTC into the Antitrust Division. We also propose stripping the Federal Communications Commission of authority independently to review mergers, as the Congress did with regard to the Department of Transportation in view of its similarly poor performance reviewing airline mergers. Our more general proposals regarding the authority of sectoral regulators over competition should not be overlooked, however; it would do much good and has little or no downside.