The debate on competition and its limits, which has its roots at the very foundation of economics as a discipline, has a phoenix-like quality. It periodically flares up, burns itself out, and rises again, but largely without memory, unconscious of its previous incarnations. Certain themes appear and reappear – competition in the sense of structure, or of conduct, or of performance; potential distinguished from actual competition; advertising as a source of information or a means of persuasion; antitrust or competition policy seen as the heavy hand of government regulation or as the last best alternative to the heavy hand of government regulation – but each iteration seems to begin more or less anew, with different parties staking out positions that to them seem new but in fact are new only to them. The issues raised by globalization at the dawn of the 21st century were also raised, on a smaller, but still ample stage, by the forging of a continent wide economy in the United States in the generation after the U.S. Civil War. Contrasting positions on those issues were laid out in a debate on competition and its limits that preceded passage of the Sherman Act of 1890. Those positions appeared again in policy debates in the run-up to the 1914 passage of the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. They appeared yet again in U.S. debates about the depression-era National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, in the early 1950s, and again in the 1970s.
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