Antitrust Consent Decrees in Theory and Practice: Why Less is More

Competition Policy and Antitrust

Article Snapshot


Richard Epstein


AEI Press, March 2007


This book looks at whether the remedies in antitrust cases work well.

Policy Relevance

Antitrust consent orders are often too complex, too ambitious, and/or last too long. Courts would accomplish more if the remedies were simpler and easier to enforce.

Main Points

  • If the law tries to do too much, it is likely to fail. Generally, this is true of antitrust consent decrees.
  • Courts generally favor remedies that are easy to administer. But caution is set aside in antitrust cases to punish high-profile offenders.
  • Antitrust orders often
    • Last too long, so that even well-written orders become obsolete.
    • Are too broad, ranging outside the issues addressed in the case, and constantly requiring expensive re-interpretation.
    • Are too complex, which causes confusion and can actually harm competition.
  • Examples of failed decrees the decree entered in breakup of the Bell System in 1982, which was ended by legislation, and the Microsoft consent decrees.

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