Talk about goofy.
Today's WSJ — The Wall Street Journal — includes a column that gets antitrust law so wrong you wonder why the paper's pundits, who include those who write the official editorials, bother.
The column in question takes aim at the U.S. Department of Justice's case that calls Apple and five book publishers price-fixers for, well, fixing prices.
As the WSJ so often does when dealing with antitrust law, this item reflects a breed of magical thinking.
It first claims that the e-book cartel couldn't have conspired because they simply applied Apple's standard "agency model" to e-books. That model lets the makers of a good or service — here, the book-publishers — set Apple's price. Apple keeps 30 percent of that price.
The writer doesn't seem to have picked up on the fact that the book people didn't use the agency model until they jointly chose to change their model. Adoption of the model resulted not from independent decisions but from a string of secret meetings where the book-makers' top execs agreed on a common plan to keep book prices high. Prices for their books shot back up and have stayed there. Buyers paid more. And Apple got 30 percent of the bigger take.
Can you say price-fixing?
The writer claims that the DOJ lawsuit has HURT competition by giving Amazon cover to . . . lower prices. You read that right. Paying less for e-books hurts competition.
Who does the author cite for that idea? The head of a group that lobbies for people who write books. They of course want high prices for their products, pretty much for the same reason Apple does — they get a cut, too.
But, wait, there's more.
The writer ends by quoting antitrust guru and prophet Richard Posner, who for many years has taught antitrust law both as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and as a prof at the University of Chicago. The quote has Judge Posner saying that courts may often do a bad job of weighing "efficiency against monopoly". But the e-book case doesn't deal with "monopoly" — which by its terms ("mono") involves a single firm. No, this case concerns a price-fixing cartel. And the balance in cases like that falls almost always on the side of condemnation.
The irony? The same paper talked with a bunch of antitrust experts and put what they said about United States v. Apple Corporation in an article. The title?
"Critics of E-Books Lawsuit Miss the Mark, Experts Say".