Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Governance, Issuance Restrictions, And Competition In Payment Card Networks

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

A new NBER working paper, Governance, Issuance Restrictions, and Competition In Payment Card Networks, by Robert S. Pindyck of MIT's Sloan School of Management takes on the antitrust payment network debate.

ABSTRACT: I discuss the antitrust suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Visa and MasterCard in 1998.  Banks that issue Visa cards are free to also issue MasterCard cards, and vice versa, and many banks issue the cards of both networks.  However, both Visa and MasterCard had rules prohibiting member banks from also issuing the cards of other networks, in particular American Express and Discover.  In addition, most banks are members of both the Visa and MasterCard networks, so governance is to some extent shared.  The DOJ claimed that restrictions on issuance and shared governance were anticompetitive and should be prohibited.  Visa and MasterCard argued that these practices were procompetitive.  The case raised important questions:  Given that many banks issue both Visa and MasterCard, and that most merchants that accept one also accept the other, do the two networks really compete, and if so, how? And do Visa and/or MasterCard have market power, if so, in what market, and how is it exercised?

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