Many consumers have never heard of antitrust laws, but enforcement of these laws saves consumers millions and even billions of dollars a year. The federal government enforces three major federal antitrust laws, and most states also have their own. Essentially, these laws prohibit business practices that unreasonably deprive consumers of the benefits of competition, resulting in higher prices for products and services.
The three major Federal antitrust laws are:
- The Sherman Antitrust Act
- The Clayton Act
- The Federal Trade Commission Act.
The following information on these laws comes from the Antitrust Enforcement and the Consumer guide.
The Sherman Antitrust Act
This Act outlaws all contracts, combinations, and conspiracies that unreasonably restrain interstate and foreign trade. This includes agreements among competitors to fix prices, rig bids, and allocate customers, which are punishable as criminal felonies.
The Sherman Act also makes it a crime to monopolize any part of interstate commerce. An unlawful monopoly exists when one firm controls the market for a product or service, and it has obtained that market power, not because its product or service is superior to others, but by suppressing competition with anticompetitive conduct.
The Act, however, is not violated simply when one firm's vigorous competition and lower prices take sales from its less efficient competitors; in that case, competition is working properly.
The Clayton Act
This Act is a civil statute (carrying no criminal penalties) that prohibits mergers or acquisitions that are likely to lessen competition. Under this Act, the Government challenges those mergers that are likely to increase prices to consumers. All persons considering a merger or acquisition above a certain size must notify both the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission. The Act also prohibits other business practices that may harm competition under certain circumstances.
The Federal Trade Commission Act
This Act prohibits unfair methods of competition in interstate commerce, but carries no criminal penalties. It also created the Federal Trade Commission to police violations of the Act.
The Department of Justice also often uses other laws to fight illegal activities, including laws that prohibit false statements to Federal agencies, perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracies to defraud the United States and mail and wire fraud. Each of these crimes carries its own fine and imprisonment term, which may be added to the fines and imprisonment terms for antitrust law violations.
Read more about the activities of the Antitrust Division:
Antitrust Enforcement and the Consumer
Price Fixing, Bid Rigging and Market Allocation Schemes: What They Are and What to Look For
Antitrust Division Manual, Chapter 2: Statutory Provisions and Guidelines of the Antitrust Division.