Free from What? Competition, Regulation and Antitrust During the Gilded Age
45 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2015
Date Written: October 30, 2015
As the embodiment of classical competition, freedom of contract was still a fundamental notion for the American economists of the Gilded Age. For this reason, it played a key role in the controversies about competition and regulation that agitated the US legal and political landscape between 1880 and 1910, following the dramatic rise in industrial size and concentration. The essay argues that when debating about the good and the bad of a free market system vis-à-vis government interference, American jurists and politicians were actually referring to the freedom of contract ideal developed by the Classics and still endorsed by most economists of the time.
Keywords: competition; regulation; antitrust; American constitutional law; Gilded Age; reproduction cost; history of American economics
JEL Classification: B12, B13, K21, L43
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