Time for a New Sherman Act? The Debate on Antitrust Reform in Historical Perspective

Rooney, William H.; Fleming, Timothy G.

The Sherman Antitrust Act (“Sherman Act” or “Act”), the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, and the Clayton Antitrust Act represent the core antitrust statutes. While these core statutes have remained largely the same, antitrust law has undergone sea changes since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To place the contemporary debate in historical context, this Introduction traces the trajectory of the Sherman Act and its diverging interpretations from the Act’s inception to date. This Introduction discusses the state of antitrust law during the early years of the twentieth-century, which featured the judicial development of the rule of reason. It also address the Progressive Era amendments to the antitrust laws, which reflected that era’s increased confidence in the efficacy of governmental and regulatory intervention as reflected in the amendments to the Clayton and FTC Acts. The Introduction then focuses on the state of antitrust law during the middle years of the twentieth century, sometimes characterized as operating according to a “big is bad” principle. It then turns to the modern era and discusses the last great revolution in antitrust thought: the arrival of the consumer welfare standard, which directs courts and practitioners to view antitrust law through the prism of how a given practice affects the consumer. This standard often, though not exclusively, focuses on a practice’s impact on prices and output. The Introduction discusses what may be the next revolution in antitrust thought, which some characterize as “the New Brandeis Movement.” It largely addresses the impact of increased concentration on economic as well as social and political issues. Finally, the Introduction concludes by discussing the various legislative proposals, from both Democrats and Republicans, to reform antitrust law, either through modest alterations or thorough overhauls.


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December 7, 2022