The antitrust books you should’ve read in 2023

antitrust books

This fifth edition of ‘the antitrust you should’ve read last year’ has three entries. This is notably fewer than the four to six books included the previous years, which is due either to a slow year in antitrust publishing, or to my starting a new job and having less time to read. There were also some last-minute contenders such as Pablo Ibáñez Colomo’s The New EU Competition Law but as it published just two weeks before year-end, you’ll forgive for not getting through it yet. And someone published a decent book about antitrust and digital platforms but by including it, I would be self-referencing (almost as great a sin as self-preferencing!). Without further ado, here are the three books on/relevant to antitrust, typically written for a wider audience, that I enjoyed in the past year.

‘Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology’ by Anu Bradford

In short: Anu Bradford identifies three Digital Empires, each with their own regulatory model: the US has a market-driven model (centred on protecting free speech and incentives to innovate); China has a state-driven model (maximizing the country’s technological dominance and citizen control); the EU has a rights-driven model (founded on fundamental rights and the notion of a fair marketplace). While each model has pros and cons, they are now at the basis of imperial rivalries, which are fought both horizontally (between governments) and vertically (between governments and tech companies). Each empire seeks to extend its power via different methods: the US relies on private power, China on infrastructure power, and the EU on regulatory power. The stakes? The soul of the digital economy.

Favourite chapter: While the US–China battles on digital trade make headlines, regulatory relations between the US and EU are not exactly harmonious either. Chapter 6 (‘When Rights, Markets, and Security Collide: the US–EU regulatory battles’) addresses that disharmony. I particularly enjoyed the section the EU’s antitrust policy and the US’s allegations of digital protectionism (pp. 242–50) but I’m biased, having recently done some empirical research on the topic.

Quotable: Bradford spends some time refuting the argument that regulation explains the EU’s lack of home-grown tech giants (pp. 136–39 and 369–76). Her take? ‘Looking more closely, the EU’s innovation gap can be largely explained by other factors … including the fragmented digital single market, underdeveloped capital markets, punitive bankruptcy laws that deter risk-taking, and the absence of a proactive immigration policy that would allow the EU to harness foreign talent in the way the US has done over the past decades.’ (p. 371)

Further reading: To some extent, Digital Empires builds on Bradford’s previous book, The Brussels Effect, which was on my 2020 list. A worthwhile section is dedicated to common criticism of the Brussels Effect, and the countermeasures taken by government and tech companies (pp. 353–359). A recurring case study concerns microchips, a particularly heavy battle in the broader US–China trade conflict, on which Chip War is excellent (see below). If instead you’d like to read more on China, definitely pick up Chinese Antitrust Exceptionalism (a 2021 recommendation), written by Angela Zhang, whom Bradford thanks deeply in her acknowledgements.

‘Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology’ by Chris Miller

In short: Chris Miller is a historian and his craft shows in Chip War, which takes the reader from the humble beginnings of the microchip after World War II all the way until today, when there is little in this world not powered by the tiny pieces of silicon. But Miller does much more than recount history; he explains the underlying technology, highlights questions of business strategy, and reflects on industrial policy. For EU competition lawyers, chips are everywhere: they are the subject of cartel and abuse of dominance investigations (e.g., Intel and Qualcomm), of ‘important projects of common European interest’ (IPCEIs), of the Chips Act, and perhaps of the enforcement under the Foreign Subsidy Regulation soon. In fact, if an antitrust scholar wanted to write a full book on chips, there would be enough material. Until then, reading Miller’s Chip War will serve you well.

Favourite chapter: The rise of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is unexplainable, at least from a narrow economic lens: a small island going from modest manufacturing base to the world’s most advanced chip-making hub in a couple of decades, propelled by State intervention? Other economists, like Mazzucato and Chang, would not be as surprised. But it’s a good story not only for its challenging of economic preconceptions. Miller describes how it started in Chapter 29, titled ‘We Want a Seminconductor Industry in Taiwain’.

Quotable: ‘Intel had been one of the world’s most valuable companies in the early 2000s, but had been overtaken by Apple, whose new mobile ecosystem didn’t rely on Intel’s chips.’ (p. 198) Miller traces the rise and decline (or at least stagnation) of many chip firms, but no story is more poignant than Intel’s. This is all the more so because Intel’s founder Andy Grove wrote Only the Paranoid Survive, the Silicon Valley fixture about overcoming disruptive innovation. Steve Jobs called the book called ‘super-important’—and now the company he built is making its own Apple Silicon chips.

Further reading: If you just can’t get enough of chips, I highly recommend the podcast series Acquired, which has hour-long episodes on all the largest chip makers (Nvidia, TSMC, Intel, Qualcomm).

‘Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back’ by Rebecca Giblin & Cory Doctorow

In short: In Chokepoint Capitalism, Giblin and Doctorow explore concentration and its consequences in creative labor markets. They argue that firms (often platforms) ‘have demonstrated particular ingenuity in finding ways of burrowing between audiences and culture producers to capture the value that flows between them.’ (p. 15) They support their thesis by examining a variety of creative industries including publishing (of books and news), music (streamed and live), television, and gaming. In the end, one has to agree that all is not well. But solving the problem is more difficult than diagnosing it. The authors argue that a combination of solutions is required, including transparency rights, collective action, minimum wages, copyright changes—and, of course, antitrust enforcement.

Favourite chapter: Chapter 9, ‘Why Seven Thousand Hollywood Writers Fired Their Agents’ describes how agents evolved from representatives of tv writers to just another chokepoint abusing their power to extract value at the expense of writers. The story shows the power of collective action: coordinated by the Writers Guild of America, 7.000 writers fired their agents for not abiding by union rules; in the end, agencies agreed to realign their incentives with those of the writers they represent.

Quotable: Collecting societies could be part of the solution but are currently too often part of the problem. In part due to mismanagement, in part due to siloed databases: ‘Up to 75 percent of music royalties can get swallowed elsewhere before copyright owners see a dime. And, because matching uses to owners is so difficult, an estimated 20–50 percent of what’s left won’t make it to the correct hands.’ (p. 224)

Further reading: The last few years have seen the publication of some great books on (competition in) creative industries. On the music industry, Alan Krueger’s Rockonomics (a 2019 recommendation) is excellent, as is Patrik Wikström’s The Music Industry. On the gaming industry, Joost Van Dreunen’s One Up (a 2021 recommendation) is unbeatable. I’ve also been enjoying Steven Kent’s two volumes on video game history. On concentration more generally, read The Great Reversal by Thomas Philippon (a 2019 recommendation) or The Profit Paradox by Jan Eeckhout (a 2021 recommendation).

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Picture via Unsplash

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Friso Bostoen

Blog Editor

Assistant Professor of Competition Law and Digital Regulation, Tilburg University

Friso Bostoen is an assistant professor of competition law and digital regulation at Tilburg University. Previously, he was a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute. He holds degrees from KU Leuven (PhD, LLM) and Harvard University (LLM). Friso’s research focuses on antitrust enforcement in digital markets. His work has resulted in numerous international publications, presentations, and awards (including the AdC Competition Policy Award 2019 and the Concurrences PhD Award 2022). In addition, Friso edits the CoRe Blog and hosts the Monopoly Attack podcast.

>> Friso’s CoRe Blog posts >>

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