Distribution, Competition, and Antitrust / Intellectual Property (IP) Law

16th Century European Competition Law vs. 21st Century Competition Law in Singapore

Today, it just so happens that we have an awesome (but coincidental) juxtaposition of historical views on competition law.

First, NPR’s “Planet Money” blog presented an episode on 16th Century European law (or quasi-law) on local guild monopolies in the form of an interview with Cambridge Professor Sheilagh Ogilvie.  (As an aside, from little I know, there is some disagreement about whether guilds actually impeded innovation, and if so, to what extent.)

Second (hat tip to the Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog for this one), Singapore’s Competition Commission has released a cartoon video explaining the dangers of price-fixing and how regulators can stop it.

Price Fixing

Singapore Competition Commission

The cartoon is priceless, and is a wonderful counterpoint to the medieval views discussed in the NPR piece.

Competition Law in the Ancient World

Regarding my recent post on Roman competition law, a reader sent in this link about an economic study of the Athenian grain merchants in the 4th Century B.C.

From the paper’s abstract:

This paper examines one of the earliest known antitrust or competition policy cases for possible lessons concerning antitrust treatment of monopsony power in the present day. In 388 B.C., grain regulators in Athens, Greece, were attempting to respond to a sharp increase in grain prices. They encouraged grain importers to form a buyers’ cartel with the purpose of decreasing the price of imported grain. However, this action resulted in an overall increase in price and the grain merchants soon found themselves on trial for their lives. In this paper the information presented at that trial is used to evaluate the grain merchants’ actions and the impact of monopsony on prices and consumption more generally.

Reader, I’m happy to give credit to you by name for this interesting link — just let me know.

Ancient Rome Had Competition Law

Ancient Rome

Sometimes we think that competition law is new-fangled.  Or maybe we think it’s a 20th century phenomenon.

Clearly it’s developed the most over the past 100 years.  But did you know that the Romans had competition law?

According to Wikipedia,

“The Lex Julia de Annona was enacted during the Roman Republic around 50 BC. To protect the grain trade, heavy fines were imposed on anyone directly, deliberately and insidiously stopping supply ships. Under Diocletian in 301 AD an edict imposed the death penalty for anyone violating a tariff system, for example by buying up, concealing or contriving the scarcity of everyday goods. More legislation came under the Constitution of Zeno of 483 AD, which can be traced into Florentine Municipal laws of 1322 and 1325. This provided for confiscation of property and banishment for any trade combination or joint action of monopolies private or granted by the Emperor. Zeno rescinded all previously granted exclusive rights. Justinian I subsequently introduced legislation to pay officials to manage state monopolies.”

I wonder if Roman magistrates ever adjudicated product ties or exclusive dealing.

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