Thursday, April 12, 2018
Barry Hawk reflects on English Competition Law Before 1900.
ABSTRACT: English competition law before 1900 developed over the course of many centuries beginning in the medieval period. That development reflected changes in political conditions, economic theories, and broader cultural values. English competition law mirrored the historical movements in England from the medieval ideal of fair prices and just wages to 16th and 17th century nation state mercantilism to the 18th and 19th century Industrial Revolution, laissez faire capitalism and freedom of contract. The development of English competition law is rich in insights for modern antitrust issues like the adaptability of case law and legislation to changing economic conditions, the role of economic theories in the formulation of legal rules, and the role of political and social values in competition policy.
Today the predominant if not exclusive emphasis on economics in the application of modern antitrust laws has resulted in a quasi-regulatory system far more technical, specialized and narrowly focused than the case making of generalist English common law judges. Modern antitrust law adapts well to changes in economic theories and conditions but it is less adaptable than English common law to shifts in political and social values. This lack of adaptability is viewed by most commentators as a beneficial insulation of decision-making from political or social influences. Proponents of non-economic policy concerns (like fear of concentration for political or social reasons), on the other hand, are forced to formulate their concerns in economic terms because of the prevailing view that only economics counts in antitrust. They would have had an easier task under the English common law.