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Antitrust Laws Essential to Keep
Markets Competitive, Says Klein
October 18, 1999

Antitrust enforcement is one of the government's most important forms of intervention in today's increasingly global economy, according to Joel I. Klein, the assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division.

Klein's remarks were part of the 1999 Day, Berry & Howard Visiting Scholar Lecture, "Antitrust Enforcement in the 21st Century," which he delivered at the School of Law on Wednesday.

The United States has moved from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on high tech, Klein said. In each type of economy, competitive markets work best. Antitrust laws are needed because, without them, markets wouldn't remain competitive.

As we move toward the 21st century, there is competition in areas such as telephone service, an idea that was unheard of 20 years ago, he said. With business moving so rapidly, the government must keep up and ensure that markets remain competitive.

"The challenge to the government is going to be how to effectively intervene at warp speed," Klein said.

One way to do that is to prosecute those who violate antitrust laws, he said. The antitrust division has recently brought charges against numerous corporations and individuals for participating in a worldwide conspiracy to raise and fix prices and allocate market shares for various vitamins sold throughout the world.

In another well known example, the government accused software giant Microsoft of having a monopoly and breaking a promise not to bundle its Internet browser with new versions of its Windows operating system. The case went to trial and a verdict is pending.

Throughout the government, there is widespread, bipartisan support for the antitrust division, Klein said.

He added that if the government stopped enforcing antitrust laws, the consumer would be the one to suffer: "If we don't put people in prison and don't have fines on the order of $14 million, it hurts the consumer."

Additionally, without government intervention, there would likely be mergers that would never be allowed today. "There would be cartels in every major industry," he said.

Klein was confirmed as assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division in July 1997. He previously served as acting assistant attorney general and as the antitrust division's principal deputy.

Klein spearheaded the creation of the government's International Competition Policy Advisory Committee in 1997. The committee is charged with developing strategies for effective antitrust enforcement in a global economy.

Klein's lecture at the law school was sponsored by the Connecticut Law Review.

Allison Thompson