Antitrust and Economic History: The Historic Failure of the Chicago School of Antitrust

Download paper


This paper presents an historical analysis of the antitrust laws.

This paper presents an historical analysis of the antitrust laws. Its central contention is that the history of antitrust can only be understood in light of U.S. economic history and the succession of dominant economic policy regimes that punctuated that history. The antitrust laws and a subset of other related policies have historically focused on the negative consequences resulting from the rise, expansion, and dominance of big business. Antitrust specifically uses competition as its tool to address these problems. The paper traces the evolution of the emergence, growth and expansion of big business over six economic eras: the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the post-World War II Era, the 1970s, and the era of neoliberalism. It considers three policy regimes: laissez-faire during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, the New Deal, policy regime from the Depression through the early 1970s, and the neoliberal policy regime that dominates today and includes the Chicago School of antitrust. The principal conclusion of the paper is that the activist antitrust policies associated with the New Deal that existed from the late 1930s to the 1960s resulted in far stronger economic performance than have the policies of the Chicago School that have dominated antitrust policy since the 1980s.