The antitrust consumer welfare paradox

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Abstract

"Consumer welfare" is the only articulated goal of antitrust law in the United States. It became the governing standard following the 1978 publication of Robert Bork's The Antitrust Paradox. The consumer welfare standard has been instrumental to the implementation and enforcement of antitrust laws. Courts believe they understand this standard, although they do not bother to analyze it. Scholars hold various views about the desirable interpretations of the standard and they selectively use random judicial statements to substantiate opposite views. This article introduces the antitrust consumer welfare paradox: it shows that, under all present interpretations of the term "consumer welfare," there are several sets of circumstances in which the application of antitrust laws may hurt consumers and reduce total social welfare. This article shows that, when Bork used the term "consumer welfare," he obscured basic concepts in economics. This article clarifies that the antitrust methodology permits only surplus analysis and does not accommodate welfare analysis. It explains the conceptual differences between the terms "surplus" and "welfare" and the relevant implications. This article further explains the differences between two other competing standards-"consumer surplus" and "total surplus"-that presently serve as proposed interpretations for the term "consumer welfare." Each interpretation has some limitations and the necessary analytical progress calls first for conceptual clarity. This article argues that whatever good ends the "consumer welfare" phrase may have once served, antitrust law should now lay it to rest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernhq019
Pages (from-to)133-164
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Competition Law and Economics
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Economics and Econometrics

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