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This chapter has shown that government intervention in markets takes the form of antitrust action to prevent the abuse of market power and regulations aimed at achieving socially desired objectives that are not or cannot be provided by an unregulated market system.
We saw that antitrust policy has evolved from a view that big business was bad business to an attempt to assess how the behavior of firms and the structure of markets affect social welfare and the public interest. The rule of reason rather than per se illegality guides most antitrust policy today, but because there is considerable debate concerning the appropriate role of government antitrust policy and regulation, application of the rule of reason in specific cases is uneven. Prosecution and enforcement of the nation’s antitrust laws has varied over time.
The rising role of a global economy in the last half of the twentieth century reduced the degree of market power held by domestic firms. Policymakers have reconsidered antitrust policy and what types of joint ventures and cooperation among competing firms should be allowed. U.S. antitrust policy has not been abandoned, but since the early 1980s it has been applied with greater consideration of its implications for the competitiveness of U.S. businesses against Asian, European, and other firms. Whether or not antitrust laws among nations will be made more compatible with each other is an issue for the future.
We saw that there are many different schools of thought concerning regulation. One group believes that regulation serves the public interest. Another believes that much current regulation protects regulated firms from competitive market forces and that the regulators are captured by the firms they are supposed to regulate. Yet another group points out that the regulators may do little more than serve their own interests, which include increasing the bureaucratic reach of their agencies.
Finally, the chapter looked at the complex issues surrounding consumer protection regulations. Consumer protection legislation has costs, borne by consumers and taxpayers. Economists are not in agreement concerning which, if any, consumer protection regulations are warranted. They do agree, however, that market incentives ought to be used when appropriate and that the most cost-effective policies should be pursued.
In 1986, Pepsi announced its intention to buy 7-Up, and Coca-Cola proposed buying Dr Pepper. The table below shows the market shares held by the soft-drink firms in 1986. Assume that the remaining 15% of the market is composed of 15 firms, each with a market share of 1%.
|Market share (percent)
(By the way, the proposed mergers were challenged, and neither was completed.)