Professor Fiona Scott Morton Reports on a Year at the Department of Justice

Serving as the chief economist in the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division for one year gave Fiona Scott Morton, professor of economics, a deeper appreciation of how antitrust policies benefit American consumers, she told a Yale SOM audience.

Speaking on February 20, Scott Morton discussed her just-completed stint as the deputy assistant attorney general for economic analysis at the DOJ. She was the first woman to hold the post, which is a job traditionally held by an academic for a one- or two-year period.

Introducing Scott Morton, Dean Edward A. Snyder said that her talk was particularly apt, as antitrust policy is becoming increasingly important. Since their introduction in 1890, antitrust laws have come to impact every major industry in the United States, and 120 other countries have adopted some form of competition statutes, Snyder said. In all, 70% of the world’s GDP is now covered by some form of antitrust law, he said.

Scott Morton said that the Antitrust Division plays a very important role enforcing competition statutes in the U.S. “The quality of the work being done was really excellent,” she said. “We are remarkably lucky in this country to have the kind of talent we have in these jobs. Consumers get so much more for their money than in other countries where there are more monopolies.”

Scott Morton explained that antitrust law is not intended to prevent lawful monopolies, which are those created when a company creates a new and successful product, for example, but to prevent unlawful monopolization of an already existing market. Her primary role, she said, was to help develop and explain economic arguments and strategies to attorneys preparing legal cases. Attorneys did not take on every case in which staff economists indicated that practices harmful to competition were present, she noted. If a legal precedent involving the relevant issue and product did not exist, economists typically had to work harder to convince attorneys that a case was worth pursuing, she said.

Among the special projects that Scott Morton worked on were an initiative to recruit and train new expert witnesses; healthcare industry mergers and policy in light of the Affordable Care Act; and analysis for intellectual property cases made necessary by growing markets for all types of IT products.

Scott Morton also pointed to emerging trends in antitrust regulation. “These are areas to keep an eye on for interesting antitrust issues,” she said. They included the interaction of multiple national competition authorities in global transactions; the growth of “trickier industries,” such as healthcare networks, that are difficult and complex to analyze; and the increasing prominence of industries where variable costs are low (e.g. digital businesses) and firms’ competitive strategies are often novel.