Opening Keynote Speech: William Kovacic
William Kovacic opened his remarks by pointing out that universities, like George Washington University, provide the natural place to foster discussion and new ideas in antitrust. Over the last 40 years, the two predominant schools of thought have been the Chicago school, and the Harvard school, both featuring a strong focus on consumer welfare, and adoption of policies that favor less scrutiny of dominant firms. As a result, the modern antitrust world became a lot more favorable to dominant firms than it used to be. This has inspired changing the framework of the debate in the other direction.
Mr. Kovacic put the current question of where antitrust policy is going into the historical context of the last 40 years, using the example of FTC’s egalitarianism being replaced by Chicago and Harvard’s consumer welfare standard.
Kovacic explained that during his time at the FTC in the 1970s, then Chairman Michael Pertschuck outlined his competition policy, which included a strongly articulated egalitarian enforcement vision. Pertschuck noted there was a need to redefine what antitrust is about, and to develop competition policy in the “broadest sense”, which meant that no responsive competition policy can neglect the social and environmental harms produced as unwelcome byproducts of the marketplace, e.g. resource depletion, energy waste, and worker alienation. Pertschuck concluded that FTC would conduct a large scale investigation of the impact of macro concentration on our lives, and offered very broad examples of what might be unfair methods of competition, including: hiring illegal aliens, evading taxes, and placing environmentalists on boards of repeat polluters. This set of ideas sent a tremor through the entire field.