Some of the chief aims of President Ronald Reagan's economic agenda
were to reduce the "regulatory burden," minimize state
intervention, and reinvigorate market mechanisms. Toward these
ends, his administration limited antitrust enforcement to technical
cases of price-fixing, invoking the doctrine of the Chicago school
of economics. In Antitrust and the Triumph of Economics
Marc Eisner shows that the so-called "Reagan revolution" was but an
extension of well-established trends. He examines organizational
and procedural changes in the Antitrust Division of the Department
of Jusice and the Federal Trade Commission that predated the 1980
election and forced the subsequent redefinition of policy.
During their early years, the Antitrust Division and the FTC gave
little attention to economic analysis. In the period following
World War II, however, economic analysis assumed an increasingly
important role in both agencies, and economists rose in status from
being members of support staff to being pivotal decision makers
who, in effect, shaped the policies for which elected officials
were generally assumed to be responsible.
In the 1960s and 1970s, critical shifts in prevailing economic
theory within the academic community were transmitted into the
agencies. This had a profound effect on how antitrust was
conceptualized in the federal government. Thus, when Ronald Reagan
became president in 1981, the antitrust agencies were already
pursuing a conservative enforcement program.
Eisner's study challenges dominant explanations of policy change
through a focus on institutional evolution. It has important
implications for current debates on the state, professionalization,
and the delegation of authority.
Originally published in 1991.
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