STRUCTURALIST INNOVATION: A SHAKY LEGAL PRESUMPTION IN NEED OF AN OVERHAUL
How does a market’s structure affect innovation? This crucial question has occupied the world’s brightest economists for almost a century, from Schumpeter who found that monopoly was optimal, through Arrow who concluded that competitive market structures were key, to the endogenous growth scholars who empirically derived an inverted-U relationship between market concentration and innovation. Despite these pioneering contributions to our understanding of competition and innovation, if the past century of innovation economics has taught us anything it is that no market structure is strictly superior at generating innovation. Just as the SCP paradigm ultimately faltered because structural presumptions were a weak predictor of market outcomes, so too have dreams of divining the optimal market structure for innovation. Instead, in any given case, the right market structure likely depends on a plethora of sector- and firm-specific characteristics that range from the size and riskiness of innovation-related investments to the appropriability mechanisms used by firms, regulatory compliance costs, and the rate of technological change, among many others.
Against this backdrop, it may come as a surprise that the European Commission believes it has cracked the innovation market structure conundrum. Throughout its recent competition decisions, the Commission has almost systematically concluded that more firms in any given market will produce greater choice and more innovation for consumers. I call this the “Structuralist Innovation Presumption.” Notably, this presumption seems to have played a pivotal role in the recent Google Android decision (although the text of the Commission’s decision is not yet publicly available).
In what follows I argue that the Structuralist Innovation Presumption is a misguided heuristic that antitrust authorities around the globe would do well to avoid. Although it has been almost unequivocally endorsed by the European Commission, the presumption is at odds with the mainstream economics of innovation. To make matters worse, structuralist innovation also ignores the complex second-order effects that may arise when antitrust intervention tampers with rapidly evolving markets.