Live comments from the CCP Summer Conference 2014 – Session 9

Session 9: Debate:

“This house believes that interventions which go beyond standard antitrust and consumer law have a valuable role to play in tackling problem markets”

The motion was debated by an eminent mix of consultants and practitioners in economics (Mike Walker (Competition and Markets Authority) and Adrian Majumdar (RBB Economics)) and law (Anneli Howard (Monckton Chambers) and Niamh Dunne (Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge))

The debate opened with the clarification that “going beyond standard antitrust and consumer law” involved three specific areas:

  1. Market investigations (including remedies);
  2. Antitrust settlements short of decision;
  3. Advocacy to discourage anticompetitive political announcements.

The arguments in favour of non-standard intervention in problem markets include the great importance of these markets to ordinary consumers. According to estimates of the net benefits of competition policy in the UK, the net benefits of market investigations dwarf those of standard competition law. From a legal perspective, concerns arise because the focus of antitrust law is individual conduct, not whole markets. Furthermore, although a binary choice existed between ex ante price regulation and ex post antitrust, the latter became the default option. However, there are now more sophisticated regulatory mechanisms. The question of which tool is most suitable therefore arises.

Opponents of the motion were concerned that such tools gave policymakers extremely wide-ranging powers to redesign markets, potentially causing catastrophic damage. Audience members were warned to “beware the tinkering of deranged economists.” The severe consequences associated with certain types of behaviour which firms may not know to be problematic may lead to the overdeterrence of socially beneficial behaviour. From a legal perspective, concerns about compliance with the rule of law, legitimacy and legal certainty arise.


About CCP
The Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) conducts interdisciplinary research into competition policy and regulation.

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