Debunking the Purchaser Welfare Account of Section 2 of the Sherman Act: How Harvard Brought Us a Total Welfare Standard and Why We Should Keep it
The last several years have seen a vigorous debate among antitrust scholars and practitioners about the appropriate standard for evaluating the conduct of monopolists under section 2 of the Sherman Act. While most of the debate over possible standards has focused on the empirical question of each standard’s economic utility, this Article undertakes a somewhat different task: It examines the normative benchmark that courts have actually chosen when adjudicating section 2 cases. This Article explores three possible benchmarks—producer welfare, purchaser welfare, and total welfare—and concludes that courts have opted for a total welfare normative approach to section 2 since the formative era of antitrust law. Moreover, this Article will show that the commitment to maximizing total social wealth is not a recent phenomenon associated with Robert Bork and the Chicago School of antitrust analysis. Instead, it was the Harvard School that led the charge for a total welfare approach to antitrust generally and under section 2 in particular. The normative consensus between Chicago and Harvard and parallel case law is by no means an accident; rather, it reflects a deeply rooted desire to protect practices—
particularly “competition on the merits”—that produce significant benefits in the form of enhanced resource allocation, without regard to the ultimate impact on purchasers in the monopolized market. Those who advocate repudiation of the longstanding scholarly and judicial consensus reflected in the total welfare approach to section 2 analysis bear the heavy burden of explaining why courts should, despite considerations of stare decisis, suddenly reverse themselves and adopt such a different approach for the very first time, over a century after passage of the Act.