Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Washington's Antitrust Timewarp

by George L. Priest

Wall Street Journal

September 6, 2011

The Obama administration's suit to block AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile will harm, not help, our sputtering economy. The administration claims the acquisition "would result in tens of millions of consumers . . . facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services." It argues that stopping the buyout "will help protect jobs in the economy" since mergers usually reduce jobs through the elimination of redundancies.

The first of these claims has no factual basis—indeed, the market believes otherwise. The second is indefensible as social policy.

It is very difficult at an abstract level to know what the effects of a merger or acquisition will be on competition within an industry. Firms may merge to create market power and increase prices, though they may also merge to create efficiencies that lower prices.

The Justice Department presumes that the acquisition of T-Mobile (the fourth largest wireless provider) by AT&T (the second largest) will lead to "higher prices . . . and lower quality products" based on the high market share that would result. But market share is a very rough proxy for market power and essentially meaningless in a network industry.


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