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antitrust

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Antitrust is a group of laws established to regulate business practices in order to ensure that fair competition occurs in an open-market economy for the benefit of consumers.

Antitrust exist as regulations on the conduct of business and are a part of competition law in the United States. Antitrust laws work to stop unjust practices, break down unfair collaborations against smaller competitors and promote healthy competition in the free market. By leveling the playing field of the open market, competition among vendors results in better quality goods, greater selection, lower prices and more innovation.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for the enforcement of antitrust laws and is focused on the most lucrative consumer markets, including informational technology (IT), Internet services, energy and healthcare. Antitrust laws include prohibiting price fixing and restriction of trade by special interest groups. Antitrust laws also ban mergers that would reduce a market’s competition, the creation of monopolies to obtain control of market share and efforts to maintain a monopoly by dishonest practices. The Department of Justice (DOJ) may sanction organizations for criminal antitrust violations when given evidence from the FTC. Industries that fall under the authority of the DOJ include banks, telecommunications and transportation such as airlines and railroads.

Key antitrust legislation in the US includes the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. Supporters of anti-trust laws assert that without government oversight, corporate abuse and wealth and power consolidation will lead to higher prices and fewer choices, hurting consumers. While supporters of antitrust laws believe they guarantee a free market, opponents argue that the free market, not the government, should correct bad business behavior. They also believe that, by self-governing, corporations can use mergers to increase efficiency and adapt quicker to new markets, while government intervention through antitrust laws only stifles potential innovation.

This was last updated in September 2018

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