The American Antitrust Institute is an independent Washington-based non-profit education, research, and advocacy organization. Our mission is to increase the role of competition, assure that competition works in the interests of consumers, and challenge abuses of concentrated economic power in the American and world economy. We have a centrist legal-economic ideology and promote the vigorous use of antitrust as a vital component of national and international competition policy.
This website is intended to provide useful information about antitrust to journalists and academic researchers, to lawyers, economists, business people, government officials, and others having professional interests in antitrust, and to the general public, including students and individuals or businesses concerned about anticompetitive practices.
Founded in April, 1998, AAI is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt Washington, D.C., corporation. Our contributors include foundations, law firms, corporations, associations, individuals, and some public entities including courts. Our policy is to not accept earmarked funds from private interests. We will disclose on request our list of those who have contributed $1,000 or more since inception.
A Unique Public Interest Voice and Counterweight to Conservative Influence
Until we came on the scene in 1998, there was no public interest organization principally dedicated to supporting a more aggressive antitrust agenda. At that time, the public was becoming more aware of the need for antitrust as it witnessed the Justice Department's opposition to Microsoft's abuse of monopoly power, the Federal Trade Commission's successful opposition to the Office Depot/Staples merger, and the Justice Department and Transportation Department's investigation of predatory pricing at air hubs, among other highly visible actions.
The AAI wanted to use this new salience as a platform for building much greater support for an environment (political, economic, and theoretical) in which antitrust can play its historic role of preserving a competitive economy in an increasingly internationalized and technologically-connected world. At the same time, the AAI also saw the need to be on the alert for, and defend against, (often subtle) efforts to reduce the role of antitrust and insulate businesses from true competition.
To a remarkable extent, the current sub-optimal level of antitrust enforcement is the result of advocacy for an entire generation by sophisticated conservative institutions including, among others: the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute. Well-funded by large corporations and able to draw on the scholarship of conservative academics, these institutions succeeded in turning one version of economic theory into an ideology that often opposes governmental and private efforts to eliminate monopolistic and anticompetitive practices. Part of their program has been very successfully to "educate" judges and opinion leaders to their perspective.
The AAI exists because a counterweight is needed to support a more balanced, multifaceted, empirical, and dynamic conception of competition policy.
Both the need and the opportunity for rallying a pro-antitrust constituency have increased since 1998. But public resources devoted to antitrust are well below their level of 25 years ago, despite today’s larger and more complex economy. Although we applaud much of the antitrust activity of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, the FTC's Competition Mission, and the States in recent years, antitrust enforcement budgets remain too low, staff is stretched too thin, and the agenda is determined by a mentality which promotes a constricted view of the antitrust mission, leading to relatively lax merger and antimonopoly enforcement.
Antitrust enforcement was severely reduced in staffing and scope during the Administration of Ronald Reagan. It began to come back to life in the Administration of George H.W. Bush and reached a level that we would describe as "moderately aggressive but resource-constrained" during the Clinton Administration. The second Bush Administration has proclaimed itself in continuity with a new Chicago School tradition that began around 1981 and which then-FTC Chairman Muris argued (in 2003) is now universally accepted both academically and institutionally.
In light of the rollback in antitrust enforcement and overly-narrow view of the antitrust mission, new ways of thinking are needed to keep antitrust relevant in the face of increased international trade, emerging technologies, and ever-expanding knowledge about market economies and strategic behavior. A better-educated public is needed to provide the grassroots support for a re-invigorated antitrust program.
AAI therefore advocates for more rigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws, a position that has not gone unnoticed. For example, former FTC Chairman Muris declared that, "Those who wish to expand enforcement in ways that would retard the progression in recent decades toward sensible substantive and institutional norms now have an organization dedicated to that end, the American Antitrust Institute."
Contrary to Muris’ defense of the Chicago School and critique of the AAI, we do not desire to return to some mythical golden past. Instead, the AAI has a balanced viewpoint that has strong roots in history--some of it at the University of Chicago and some in current academia. This perspective is based in economic analysis but differs from the Chicago School in several key respects. For example, we:
- are more likely to recognize market failures
- believe that monopolies, vertical relationships, predatory strategies, and exclusionary activities are more likely to create incentives for anticompetitive behavior
- advocate for a non-conclusive negative presumption concerning high levels of concentration
- have somewhat more confidence that government intervention—when necessary and appropriately fashioned--can lead to gains in competitiveness
The AAI’s balanced perspective on antitrust enforcement means that we are not knee-jerk critics of the enforcement agencies, either across the board or in a particular Administration. The record shows that the AAI has both praised the antitrust agencies for sound decision-making and pointed out the flaws in enforcement when appropriate. For a self-examination of the AAI’s first five years (history, accomplishments, and challenges), please click here. To view the AAI's 10th anniversary booklet, please click here.
Multidisciplinary and Bipartisan Perspective
The AAI’s amicus program is an important component of its advocacy work. The AAI has filed nearly 40 amicus briefs since 2001, obtaining significant victories in the federal appeals courts, including in FTC v. Whole Foods, Broadcom v. Qualcomm, In re American Express Merchants Litigation, and In re Cardizem CD Antitrust Litigation. AAI’s positions have also been adopted by the Supreme Court (e.g., Quanta Computer v. LG Electronics) and state supreme courts (e.g., Lorix v. Crompton). In the 2008-09 term of the Supreme Court, AAI participated in the oral argument in Pacific Bell v. linkLine, a rare honor for a non-profit amicus curiae. Operational Guidelines for American Antitrust Institute’s Amicus Program are available here.