Weekend Miscellany: Will Congress Repeal the Antitrust Laws?

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I recently stumbled upon this bill (Senate Bill 2269) introduced by Senator Rand Paul a couple months ago.  It is a bill “[t]o permit voluntary economic activity.”  Who isn’t in favor of voluntary economic activity?

The bill is entitled “the Anti-Trust Freedom Act of 2012.”  But the bill probably should be named “A Bill To Repeal the Sherman, Clayton, and FTC Acts as to Individuals.”  Because here is its full text:

The Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. 1 et seq.), the Clayton Act (15 U.S.C. 12 et seq.), and section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45) shall not be construed to prohibit, ban, or otherwise extend to any voluntary economic coordination, cooperation, agreement, or  other association, compact, contract, or covenant entered into by or between any individual or group of individuals.

I don’t know what motivated the introduction of this bill, nor do I understand why it’s limited to individuals.  (I’d read the bill as not exempting corporations from the antitrust laws — Congress knows how to specify corporations when it wants to.  But what if corporations and individuals conspire together?  Are the corporations subject to antitrust laws, while the individuals are exempt?  Would that make any sense?  Since corporations can act only through individuals, does the bill by indirect implication exempt corporations, too?)

There are interesting and robust debates about whether there is too much, or too little, antitrust enforcement in the U.S.  But this bill goes much further than anything I’ve recently seen (and I for one think it goes much too far).  I suspect it’s not going anywhere, but in today’s difficult economic times, who knows for certain?

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