Is Antitrust Too Complicated for Generalist Judges? The Impact of Economic Complexity & Judicial Training on Appeals

Competition Policy and Antitrust

Article Snapshot


Michael Baye and Joshua Wright


George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 09-07, September 2008


This paper asks whether economics training helps judges make better decisions in competition law cases.

Policy Relevance

The parties involved in simple competition law cases are more likely to think that the judges has made an error when the judge has had no economic training, but in more complex cases training does not help.

Main Points

  • At one time, antitrust law relied on simple rules, such as those banning some ordinary business practices. Today, economists recognize that these practices often help consumers.

  • Courts deciding antitrust cases can no longer rely on simple rules, but carefully examine complex economic evidence to see if consumers are helped or hurt. Cases with complex evidence (such as merger cases) are 11-17% more likely to be appealed.

  • Most judges are generalists and have no special training in economics, but some law schools have set up controversial economics courses for judges. Other suggest that special antitrust courts would improve decisions, because those judges would have more antitrust experience.

  • Data from antitrust cases decided between 1996 and 2006 shows:
    • In simple cases, decisions by judges with economics training are about 10% less likely to be appealed.
    • Training has no effect on appeals of more complex cases.
    • More judicial experience with antitrust cases has little effect on whether a case is appealed.
    • Training seems to have the same effect on Republican and Democrat judges.

  • These results suggests that antitrust cases have become so complex, that even trained judges are likely to make decisions that harm consumers more than they help.

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