ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Alternating Pressures of Antitrust and Intellectual Property

The Great Leveler: Capitalism and Competition in the Court of Law by Brett Christophers; Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2016; pp 360, $46.50.

Brett Christophers has written a stimulating, if at times repetitive, book that underlines the importance of intellectual property (IP) law and antitrust (AT) law in shaping the institutional structure of capitalist economies. Among the strengths of The Great Leveler is its detailed description of how IP laws—protecting patents, copyrights, and trademarks—and AT laws have evolved in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) since the 19th century. He shows convincingly that they have alternated between periods in which (via stronger IP and weaker AT) they have promoted greater monopolisation, and periods in which (via weaker IP and stronger AT) they have promoted greater competition. His analysis of how IP laws in recent decades have been increasingly harmonised at an international level to favour corporate capitalists is compelling. And, he presents evidence that overall measures of profitability are higher when a capitalist economy is in a relatively monopolistic phase, than when it is in a relatively competitive phase.

Christophers’s emphasis on the impact of IP and AT laws on the extent of monopoly versus competition is insightful, though he tends to downplay other factors that have surely also affected the extent of monopoly. And, there can be no doubt that greater monopoly tends to lead to higher profits. However, Christophers’s attempt to explain the alternating pattern of laws, monopoly, and profitability that he observes in the US and UK economies is unpersuasive. In the first two chapters of the book, he develops a dialectical theory inspired by his reading of Karl Marx,1 in which the alternation of IP and AT laws is attributed to a purported need of capitalism to avoid excessive monopoly or excessive competition in order to successfully reproduce itself. In building his argument, he cites the work of many Marxist scholars, from Marx himself to David Harvey, but in so doing he does not provide much evidence for his case.

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Updated On : 30th Jun, 2017

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