Professor Fiona M. Scott Morton
Yale School of Management
I was drawn to the field of industrial organization economics because of my interest in the way firms compete. My research papers in economics fall in this area, as does my policy writing. In addition, my experiences outside of academia inform my understanding of competition and antitrust enforcement policy. When I served as chief economist at DOJ I learned how the government enforces the antitrust laws. When I consult, I see the strategy of the company from the inside, including documents and data, and often speak with decision-makers at the company. I analyze how competition works and whether some action or event made the market more competitive or less competitive. I primarily teach professional school students about strategy and competition; these are business students who are about to take jobs as managers, law students, and students from the schools of public health and environment.
Given my professional school setting and my research interests, it is very important to me to do some consulting of an appropriate type. If one does not practice, one risks not being current with what economic theories are being used and which are not, how an enforcement agency reasons, the nature of the resources and practices on both sides, and other topics that are critical to antitrust enforcement in practice. It is virtually impossible to know what is wrong with an approach to law enforcement, a theory of harm, or a theoretically plausible application of law to corporate behavior by looking at it only from the outside. Furthermore, a competition problem applied to a new issue or product requires creative thinking and development of new enforcement arguments, counter-arguments, and methods within the framework of how enforcement agencies prosecute cases and courts interpret the law. Working on new problems is something I do routinely in the course of consulting – indeed, it is the primary characteristic by which I choose cases – and it is impossible to do on one’s own because the setting of interest is both novel and confidential. Sitting in an ivory tower and attempting to write about antitrust economics is just not as productive for me as learning about real-life issues that challenge both companies and enforcers.
I try to disseminate this accumulated perspective through interactions with enforcers, colleagues, and policy-makers who share my goal of promoting competition and protecting consumers. Perhaps the most important place I share these ideas is the classroom; training the next generation of managers, scholars, and enforcers is a critical and rewarding part of my work. The principles I see employed in making business decisions appear in my teaching and improve it. My own learning from the classroom, colleagues, and consulting often creates the kernel of an idea for a follow-on research project.
But, in the course of disseminating knowledge gained partly from consulting, I make disclosures when the topic I am discussing overlaps with an assignment (or past assignment) for a corporate client. When giving presentations that overlap with issues on which I have consulted I also disclose these corporations. I am also very careful about protecting confidential information. A conflict in a typical antitrust case does not arise at the industry level but is attached to a particular company. For example, one does not have a consulting conflict with the entire “transport” industry or “home décor” industry. A typical industry is large enough that there are all sorts of different business models and all sorts of different behaviors that have different impacts. Thus, conflicts in antitrust cases tend to be determined at the corporate level and that is how I make my disclosures. I also disclose the sources of funding for the antitrust project I run, the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale.
While my mix of activities may attract criticism (different people’s views on this issue vary), I continue to do them all because I believe the combination provides value. For example, I took on the Stigler project on digital platforms to lay out a variety of policy options based on sound economic analysis and my experience with law enforcement. I am now taking those findings further through additional writing, public statements, engagement with enforcement and response to policymakers. I hope by appropriately disclosing, continuing to work on new economic problems, and contributing practical, real-world knowledge, I can contribute positively to the enforcement policy debate.