Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Competition Law and Distributive Justice: A Critical State of Play

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

UCL's Centre for Law, Economics and Society at the UCL Faculty of Laws presents

Competition Law and Distributive Justice: 
A Critical State of Play 

on Wednesday 13 July 2011, from 4-7pm


  • Professor Herbert Hovenkamp
    Ben and Dorothy Willie Chair, College of Law, University of Iowa


  • Professor Kai-Uwe Kühn
    Chief economist, DG Competition, European Commission
  • Dr. Jorge Padilla
    Senior Managing Director and Head of Compass Lexecon Europe
  • Dr. Ioannis Lianos
    City Solicitors' Educational Trust Reader in European and Competition Law; Director, Centre for Law, Economics and Society, Faculty of Laws, UCL


About this talk: 
The debate over the objectives of competition law statutes has recently intensified. There are many reasons for this:

First, competition law has expanded globally to different forms of economies and societal bases, thus leading to different conceptions over its scope and aims.

Second, the expansion of competition law has led to tensions between different legal regimes regulating the conduct of corporations in global markets.

Thirdly, more and more State activities are now infused with a form of competition culture: competition law is applied to previously exempted economic activities and even to some State activities, competition advocacy has also developed. Equity considerations are explicitly integrated as objectives of several competition legislations around the world, and more specifically EU competition law in the area of state aids control, alongside efficiency (total welfare). Some could also envision the standard of consumer welfare as a distributive justice standard, in the sense that it focuses on wealth transfers from consumers to antitrust law infringers. This raises questions over the deep meaning of competition law and its interaction with other public policies, including policies aiming at wealth redistribution.

Fourthly, economic analysis and evidence has become an essential ingredient of competition law discourse. Economic rhetoric emphasises efficiency considerations, but does not suppress the need for distributive choices. The recent work of the Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress and the OECD happiness index illustrate this trend. Recent work has also highlighted the importance of equality concerns and distributive justice in public policy more generally (e.g. "The Spirit level"). More generally, there are fundamental questions raised by the application within the legal system of the principles of welfare economics, in view of the Stiglitz-Atkinson theorem and more generally the consideration of distributive justice by welfare economics.

The concept of distributive justice also has considerably evolved over time. To be sure, its content is not the same as in the 1930s'. Finally, the recent emphasis of competition law worldwide on fostering consumer interest requires difficult choices from policy makers, competition authorities and the courts. They must set priorities over the long v. short term consumer interest (thus including intertemporal trade offs), trade off the interest of some classes of consumers versus others, adopt - explicitly or implicitly - a specific conception of the consumer (marginal versus infra-marginal, neoclassical versus behavioural...).

The objective of this workshop will be to reflect on these fundamental issues in competition law and policy by inviting contributions from competition lawyers, economists, historians of economic thought, philosophers and sociologists.


Accredited with 3 CPD hour by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board (applied for)

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