April 2012 Vol. 110 No. 6 THE REVIEW

The Institutions of Antitrust Law: How Structure Shapes Substance

William E. Kovacic

Forty years ago, Graham Allison wrote the Essence of Decision and transformed the study of foreign policy and public administration. Allison's analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis appeared amid profound concerns about the competence of U.S. government institutions. "Few issues about the American government," he wrote, "are more critical today than the matter of whether the federal government is capable of governing." To Allison, better performance required greater insight into how the structure and operations of public institutions shaped policy results. "[B]ureaucracy is indeed the least understood source of unhappy outcomes produced by the U.S. government," Allison wrote. "If analysts and operators are to increase their ability to achieve desired policy outcomes, . . . we shall have to find ways of thinking harder about the problem of ‘implementation,' that is, the path between preferred solution and actual performance of the government." Essence of Decision quickly appeared on reading lists in political science departments and schools of public administration, and its analytical orientation and vocabulary have become enduring elements of academic discourse.

Daniel Crane's The Institutional Structure of Antitrust Enforcement ("Institutional Structure") may do for antitrust law what Essence of Decision did for public administration. Unlike most literature on antitrust law, this superb volume does not address pressing issues of substantive analysis (e.g., when can dominant firms offer loyalty discounts?). Instead, Institutional Structure studies the design and operation of the institutions of U.S. antitrust enforcement. Professor Crane skillfully advances a basic and powerful proposition: to master analytical principles without deep knowledge of the policy implementation mechanism is dangerously incomplete preparation for understanding the U.S. antitrust system, or any body of competition law. "Institutions," Professor Crane observes, "are a critical and underappreciated driver of an antitrust policy that interacts in many subtle ways with substantive antitrust rules and decisions" (p. xi). Institutional Structure demonstrates that the causes of observed policy outcomes, good and bad, often reside in the institutional framework. Seemingly potent conceptual insights may fizzle, or create mischief, if the institutions that must apply them are deformed. Good policy results depend on the strength of what Allison called "the path between preferred solution and actual performance." In the language of modern technology, one cannot deliver broadband-quality policy outcomes through dial-up institutions.

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