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Archive for December 16th, 2011

The Friday Slot (2) – Bill Kovacic

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For this second edition of the Friday Slot, Bill Kovacic (George Washington University, former FTC Commissioner and Chairman)  has  kindly accepted to answer to our questions. I suppose Bill needs no further introduction to most of our readers. Yet, for those of you who have never seen Bill “live”, I have to say he belongs to the top five speakers on the antitrust conference circuit. A biography is attached at the end of this post. Thanks again to him for taking the time to answer our questions (with, as you will see, a great sense of humour and humility).

Question 1: “Oscar” of the best antitrust law book?  And of the best non-antitrust law book?

Here are two books which, owing to their age, may not be well known to new generations of competition economists and lawyers.  For the best antitrust law book, read Ellis Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly (Princeton University Press 1966).  Hawley provides essential background on the US antitrust system, and his discussion of antitrust in the 1930s has powerful relevance today.  For the best non-antitrust law book, read Marver Bernstein, Regulating Business by Independent Commission (Princeton University Press 1955).  Bernstein studies US experience with regulatory commissions, but his assessment has universal application.  Most honorable mention for category two: Richard Harris & Sidney Milkis, The Politics of Regulatory Change – A Tale of Two Agencies (Oxford University Press, 2d Edition, 1996).  Every newly appointed competition agency leader should read this book before the job begins.

Question 2: “Oscar” of the best case-law development in the past 5 years? “Oscar” of the worst case-law development?

My nominees for best and worst are FTC cases I worked on.  The envelope with my answers can be opened five years hence.

Question 3: Let’s do it like economists => assume that you could change 3 rules, principles, judgments, institutions in the current US antitrust system. What would you do?

Three institutional changes to the US system:

First, reform the criteria that academics, government officials, journalists, and practitioners frequently use to grade competition agencies.  Abandon performance measures that equate activity (cases filed, fines imposed, days in prison) with accomplishment.  Define agency effectiveness by the economic outcomes achieved by litigation and non-litigation policy tools.  When a competition agency official says “We’ve been very busy!,” respond “Have you been very effective?”

Second, bolster efforts by competition agencies and external researchers to measure the economic effects of antitrust policy.   Evaluating outcomes is a difficult, necessary task.   Distrust assertions that competition law is valuable economic policy, but there is no way to tell if it works.

Third, increase policy integration between the two federal antitrust agencies and among the federal authorities and the states.  Create a US equivalent of the European Competition Network.   Greater policy coherence at home is ever more important to influence norms abroad.

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Written by Nicolas Petit

16 December 2011 at 9:37 pm

Posted in The Friday Slot