United States antitrust law

In the United States, antitrust law is a collection of federal and state government laws that regulate the conduct and organization of business corporations and are generally intended to promote competition and prevent monopolies. The main statutes are the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. These Acts serve three major functions. First, Section 1 of the Sherman Act prohibits price fixing and the operation of cartels, and prohibits other collusive practices that unreasonably restrain trade. Second, Section 7 of the Clayton Act restricts the mergers and acquisitions of organizations that may substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly. Third, Section 2 of the Sherman Act prohibits monopolization.[2]

"The Bosses of the Senate", a cartoon by Joseph Keppler depicting corporate interests—from steel, copper, oil, iron, sugar, tin, and coal to paper bags, envelopes, and salt—as giant money bags looming over the tiny senators at their desks in the Chamber of the United States Senate.[1]

Federal antitrust laws provide for both civil and criminal enforcement of antitrust laws. The Federal Trade Commission, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and private parties who are sufficiently affected may all bring civil actions in the courts to enforce the antitrust laws. However, criminal antitrust enforcement is done only by the Justice Department. U.S. states also have antitrust statutes that govern commerce occurring solely within their state borders.

The scope of antitrust laws, and the degree to which they should interfere in an enterprise's freedom to conduct business, or to protect smaller businesses, communities and consumers, are strongly debated. Some economists argue that antitrust laws, in effect, impede competition,[3] and discourage businesses from activities that would be beneficial to society.[4] One view suggests that antitrust laws should focus solely on the benefits to consumers and overall efficiency, while a broad range of legal and economic theory sees the role of antitrust laws as also controlling economic power in the public interest.[5] A survey of 568 member economists of the American Economic Association (AEA) in 2011 found a near-universal consensus, in that 87 percent of respondents broadly agreed with the statement "Antitrust laws should be enforced vigorously."[6]