THE ECONOMICS OF ANTITRUST: ILLEGAL ACTIONS BY SURVIVOR FIRMS IN BASIC MANUFACTURING
The primary goal of this dissertation is to unravel the complex relationships between economic conditions and corporate crime. Theoretically, I propose that much corporate illegality stems from firm profit constraints, constraints which may be located in the corporate environment. Historically, the concept of organizational environment has been specified as internal to the firm and/or the company's immediate product market. Firm profit-squeeze may arise not only from these sources, but may be found in business cycle trends as well.
The relationship between economic conditions and corporate illegality is tested using longitudinal time series and OLS regression analysis. Fifty-two survivor firms within seven product markets are tracked across fifty-five years, matching firm, industry, and business cycle economic conditions with patterns of antitrust criminality. The findings neither wholeheartedly support or refute this economic framework. I find that a firm's external environment, as measured by industry and business cycle indicators, has more of an effect on antitrust activity than firm profitability per se. Moreover, the utility of an economic model in explaining antitrust illegality varies greatly by: (a) economic conditions; (b) level of analysis; (c) crime seriousness; and (d) crime type. For example, certain types of antitrust crime (trivial violations) are more likely when industry measures of profitability reflect prosperity rather than scarcity. Serious crimes and/or conspiracy actions are strongly related to declining industry and macro conditions. On the other hand, for some crimes (e.g., price discrimination) an economic explanation of illegality is woefully lacking.
The relationships between antitrust criminality and economic conditions clearly are not unequivocal. It is facile to argue that economic constraints alone produce crime or that all antitrust crime is produced from similar conditions. While this study is limited in focus to a few large manufacturing corporations, the fact that such a small sample of firms and industries could produce these diversities of crime types clearly warrants improved conceptual specification of both corporate crime and crime etiology. Until our imagery of corporate illegality can move beyond the monolithic, specific policies aimed at deterrence, punishment, and/or regulation are not firmly grounded.