“Antitrust” or “competition law,” a set of policies now existing in most market economies, largely consists of two or three specific rules applied in more or less the same way in most nations. It prohibits (1) multilateral agreements, (2) unilateral conduct, and (3) mergers or acquisitions, whenever any of them are judged to interfere unduly with the functioning of healthy markets. Most jurisdictions now apply or purport to apply these rules in the service of some notion of economic “efficiency,” more or less as defined in contemporary microeconomic theory.
The law has ancient roots, however, and over time it has varied a great deal in its details. Moreover, even as to its modern form, the policy and its goals remain controversial. In some sense most modern controversy arises from or is in reaction to the major intellectual reconceptualization of the law and its purposes that began in the 1960s. Specifically, academic critics in the United States urged revision of the law’s goals, such that it should serve only a narrowly defined microeconomic goal of allocational efficiency, whereas it had traditionally also sought to prevent accumulation of political power and to protect small firms, entrepreneurs, and individual liberty. While those critics enjoyed significant success in the United States, and to a somewhat lesser degree in Europe and elsewhere, the results remain contested. Specific disputes continue over the law’s general purpose, whether it poses net benefits, how a series of specific doctrines should be fashioned, how it should be enforced, and whether it really is appropriate for developing and small-market economies.
Nikolaus Robalino and Arthur Robson
Modern economic theory rests on the basic assumption that agents’ choices are guided by preferences. The question of where such preferences might have come from has traditionally been ignored or viewed agnostically. The biological approach to economic behavior addresses the issue of the origins of economic preferences explicitly. This approach assumes that economic preferences are shaped by the forces of natural selection. For example, an important theoretical insight delivered thus far by this approach is that individuals ought to be more risk averse to aggregate than to idiosyncratic risk. Additionally the approach has delivered an evolutionary basis for hedonic and adaptive utility and an evolutionary rationale for “theory of mind.” Related empirical work has studied the evolution of time preferences, loss aversion, and explored the deep evolutionary determinants of long-run economic development.
The origins of modern technological change provide the context necessary to understand present-day technological transformation, to investigate the impact of the new digital technologies, and to examine the phenomenon of digital disruption of established industries and occupations. How these contemporary technologies will transform industries and institutions, or serve to create new industries and institutions, will unfold in time. The implications of the relationships between these pervasive new forms of digital transformation and the accompanying new business models, business strategies, innovation, and capabilities are being worked through at global, national, corporate, and local levels. Whatever the technological future holds it will be defined by continual adaptation, perpetual innovation, and the search for new potential.
Presently, the world is experiencing the impact of waves of innovation created by the rapid advance of digital networks, software, and information and communication technology systems that have transformed workplaces, cities, and whole economies. These digital technologies are converging and coalescing into intelligent technology systems that facilitate and structure our lives. Through creative destruction, digital technologies fundamentally challenge existing routines, capabilities, and structures by which organizations presently operate, adapt, and innovate. In turn, digital technologies stimulate a higher rate of both technological and business model innovation, moving from producer innovation toward more user-collaborative and open-collaborative innovation. However, as dominant global platform technologies emerge, some impending dilemmas associated with the concentration and monopolization of digital markets become salient. The extent of the contribution made by digital transformation to economic growth and environmental sustainability requires a critical appraisal.
Carlos Garriga and Aaron Hedlund
The global financial crisis of 2007–2009 helped usher in a stronger consensus about the central role that housing plays in shaping economic activity, particularly during large boom and bust episodes. The latest research regards the causes, consequences, and policy implications of housing crises with a broad focus that includes empirical and structural analysis, insights from the 2000s experience in the United States, and perspectives from around the globe. Even with the significant degree of heterogeneity in legal environments, institutions, and economic fundamentals over time and across countries, several common themes emerge. Research indicates that fundamentals such as productivity, income, and demographics play an important role in generating sustained movements in house prices. While these forces can also contribute to boom-bust episodes, periods of large house price swings often reflect an evolving housing premium caused by financial innovation and shifts in expectations, which are in turn amplified by changes to the liquidity of homes. Regarding credit, the latest evidence indicates that expansions in lending to marginal borrowers via the subprime market may not be entirely to blame for the run-up in mortgage debt and prices that preceded the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Instead, the expansion in credit manifested by lower mortgage rates was broad-based and caused borrowers across a wide range of incomes and credit scores to dramatically increase their mortgage debt. To whatever extent changing beliefs about future housing appreciation may have contributed to higher realized house price growth in the 2000s, it appears that neither borrowers nor lenders anticipated the subsequent collapse in house prices. However, expectations about future credit conditions—including the prospect of rising interest rates—may have contributed to the downturn. For macroeconomists and those otherwise interested in the broader economic implications of the housing market, a growing body of evidence combining micro data and structural modeling finds that large swings in house prices can produce large disruptions to consumption, the labor market, and output. Central to this transmission is the composition of household balance sheets—not just the amount of net worth, but also how that net worth is allocated between short term liquid assets, illiquid housing wealth, and long-term defaultable mortgage debt. By shaping the incentive to default, foreclosure laws have a profound ex-ante effect on the supply of credit as well as on the ex-post economic response to large shocks that affect households’ degree of financial distress. On the policy front, research finds mixed results for some of the crisis-related interventions implemented in the U.S. while providing guidance for future measures should another housing bust of similar or greater magnitude reoccur. Lessons are also provided for the development of macroprudential policy aimed at preventing such a future crisis without unduly constraining economic performance in good times.
Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Blanca Sánchez-Alonso
In assessments of modern-day Spain’s economic progress and living standards, inadequate natural resources, inefficient institutions, lack of education and entrepreneurship, and foreign dependency are frequently blamed on poor performance up to the mid-20th century, but no persuasive arguments were provided to explain why such adverse circumstances reversed, giving way to the fast transformation that started in the 1950s. Hence, it is necessary to first inquire how much economic progress has been achieved in Spain and what impact it had on living standards and income distribution since the end of the Peninsular War to the present day, and second to provide an interpretation.
Research published in the 2010s supports the view that income per person has improved remarkably, driven by increases in labor productivity, which derived, in turn, from a more intense and efficient use of physical and human capital per worker. Exposure to international competition represented a decisive element behind growth performance. From an European perspective, Spain underperformed until 1950. Thereafter, Spain’s economy managed to catch up with more advanced countries until 2007. Although the distribution of the fruits of growth did not follow a linear trend, but a Kuznetsian inverted U pattern, higher levels of income per capita are matched by lower inequality, suggesting that Spaniards’ material wellbeing improved substantially during the modern era.
In the early 21st century, the U.S. economy stood at or very near the top of any ranking of the world’s economies, more obviously so in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but also when measured by GDP per capita. The current standing of any country reflects three things: how well off it was when it began modern economic growth, how long it has been growing, and how rapidly productivity increased each year. Americans are inclined to think that it was the last of these items that accounted for their country’s success. And there is some truth to the notion that America’s lofty status was due to the continual increases in the efficiency of its factors of production—but that is not the whole story.
The rate at which the U.S. economy has grown over its long history—roughly 1.5% per year measured by output per capita—has been modest in comparison with most other advanced nations. The high value of GDP per capita in the United States is due in no small part to the fact that it was already among the world’s highest back in the early 19th century, when the new nation was poised to begin modern economic growth. The United States was also an early starter, so has experienced growth for a very long time—longer than almost every other nation in the world.
The sustained growth in real GDP per capita began sometime in the period 1790 to 1860, although the exact timing of the transition, and even its nature, are still uncertain. Continual efforts to improve the statistical record have narrowed down the time frame in which the transition took place and improved our understanding of the forces that facilitated the transition, but questions remain. In order to understand how the United States made the transition from a slow-growing British colony to a more rapidly advancing, free-standing economy, it is necessary to know more precisely when it made that transition.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) marked in the long history of China a period of cultural, political, demographic, and economic renaissance, after less than a century (1271–1368) of rule by the alien Mongol conquerors from the steppes. The wealth of the Ming Empire attracted European traders and missionaries with whom foreign silver, crops, and knowledge flowed into the country at unprecedented speed. Meanwhile, the Ming Empire reached out to the Indian Ocean with the largest armada in the world at the time.
The Ming rule was ended by a military takeover by Manchu mercenaries who did not return to Manchuria after helping the Ming authorities crack down on a rebellion, an important factor that ultimately dictated the behavior of the Qing state (1644–1911). The main institutions and policies of the Ming remained intact, and in 1712 the Qing state voluntarily capped its total tax revenue, a Confucian gesture to gain legitimacy, which marked a major step toward a withering state whereby the tax burden became lighter and consequently state control over the population and territory became weaker. At the beginning, the waning state produced some positive outcomes: both farmland and population multiplied, and domestic and foreign trade were prosperous. The Qing economy outperformed that of the Ming and became one of the largest in the world by 1800, with a decent standard of living.
Even so, a withering state was a time bomb. The unintended consequences of the weakening state loomed large. Externally, the empire did not have the ability to prevent the invasion of foreign bullies. From 1840 to 1900, China lost all five wars it fought with foreign forces. Internally, unrest swept the empire from 1860 to 1880. Imperial order and tranquility was replaced by anarchy, a rather logical outcome of a withering state. To a great extent the benefits of growth during the Qing rule had been lost by the second half of the 19th century.
Meanwhile, fully aware of the root cause of the problem, the Qing elite sought solutions to save the empire from within. This led to a more open approach to foreign aid, loans, and technology, known as the “Westernization Movement” (c. 1860–1880). This movement marked the beginning of state-led modernization in China.
The path of modernization in China was, however, rugged. It began with the ideal of “Chinese knowledge as the foundation and Western learning for utility” (until 1949), then proceeded to “Russian (Soviet) ideology as the foundation and Russian (Soviet) learning for utility” (1949–1976), and then to “Russian (Soviet) ideology as the foundation and Western learning for utility” in the post-Mao era (1977–present day). With such a swing, the performance of China’s growth and development fluctuated, sometimes violently.
Hilario Casado Alonso and Teofilo F. Ruiz
The period between 1085 to 1815 witnessed important transformations in Spain’s economic history. The transition from a frontier society to one of the largest empires in the world was soon followed by its subsequent decline. During Spain’s Middle Ages two kinds of economies, societies and political structures, existed side by side: One represented by the various Muslim kingdoms and another by the Christians. Their frontiers shifted constantly between 1035 and 1212 to the detriment of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), concluding with the conquest of Granada in 1492. Economic dynamism resulted in Christian expansion, reflected in demographic, agricultural, livestock, and commercial growth during the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries and comparable to that of other medieval kingdoms. Under the stress of the mid-14th-century crisis (plagues, wars, and civil conflicts), economic growth came to a partial halt in the second half of the century. Yet, unlike other areas in Europe, the late medieval crisis had less of an impact in Spain, differently affecting some of the Iberian realms.
After the second third of the 15th century, as it was the case in Portugal, the economy in the Crown of Castile began to grow once more. Castile became the demographic and economic hub of Spain to the detriment of other areas, such as Catalonia, Navarra, or Aragón, which had been more developed in earlier times. The Catholic Monarchs’ rule and their reforms made Spain one of the most prosperous economies in Europe and the center of a sprawling empire. The colonisation of the Americas and the Philippines with their untold wealth further bolstered Spain’s economy. As a result, most researchers agree that Spain reached the height of its economic growth in the mid-16th century, although in a number of regions growth extended into the 1580s. Based mostly in agriculture, the economy also benefitted from the development of crafts and, above all, trade, generating vast tax revenue for the Habsburg monarchy’s expansive policy of war.
After the late 16th century, however, the Spanish economy began to show signs of fatigue, leading to severe crisis that lasted until at least the mid-17th century. This recession heralded a major shift in Spain’s history. Whereas it was the inland areas of Spain that were the most populated and wealthy during the 12th and 13th centuries, these areas were also most affected by the crisis, while the coastal regions would be the first to emerge from the recession. Although Spain failed to reach the heights attained in other countries such as Britain, France, or the Netherlands, an economic revival occurred during the 18th century, moving the Spanish economy beyond what it had been during the final third of the 16th century. Nonetheless, as had occurred in the 17th century, coastal areas developed more intensely than inland, leading to the economic geography of modern-day Spain.
Thomas E. Getzen
During the 18th and 19th centuries, medical spending in the United States rose slowly, on average about .25% faster than gross domestic product (GDP), and varied widely between rural and urban regions. Accumulating scientific advances caused spending to accelerate by 1910. From 1930 to 1955, rapid per-capita income growth accommodated major medical expansion while keeping the health share of GDP almost constant. During the 1950s and 1960s, prosperity and investment in research, the workforce, and hospitals caused a rapid surge in spending and consolidated a truly national health system. Excess growth rates (above GDP growth) were above +5% per year from 1966 to 1970, which would have doubled the health-sector share in fifteen years had it not moderated, falling under +3% in the 1980s, +2% in 1990s, and +1.5% since 2005. The question of when national health expenditure growth can be brought into line with GDP and made sustainable for the long run is still open. A review of historical data over three centuries forces confrontation with issues regarding what to include and how long events continue to effect national health accounting and policy. Empirical analysis at a national scale over multiple decades fails to support a position that many of the commonly discussed variables (obesity, aging, mortality rates, coinsurance) do cause significant shifts in expenditure trends. What does become clear is that there are long and variable lags before macroeconomic and technological events affect spending: three to six years for business cycles and multiple decades for major recessions, scientific discoveries, and organizational change. Health-financing mechanisms, such as employer-based health insurance, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are seen to be both cause and effect, taking years to develop and affecting spending for decades to come.
Long-distance international trade for hundreds of years stemmed primarily from differences in climate. Generally free-trade policy and reduced transport cost superimposed another pattern by 1914; one of greater international specialization based upon land and labor abundance or scarcity. The broadly open trading world of the beginning of 1914 broke down first under the impact of war and then of the Great Depression. By 1945 the United States had emerged as the most powerful nation, committed to establishing a world order that would not make the mistakes of the preceding decades. The promotion of more liberalized trade among the wealthier nations, over the following decades hugely expanded the volume of trade. Trade in manufactures—based on skill endowments and preference diversity—came to dominate that in primary product. Services strongly increased in importance, especially with the rise of e-commerce. Oil displaced coal as the world’s principal fuel, redistributing income to those countries with substantial oil deposits. The greatest threat to the continuing expansion of world incomes and trade came from the Great Recession of 2008–2009, but the World Trade Organization regime discouraged the mutually destructive trade wars of the earlier period. However, the WTO was less successful 10 years later in restraining the damaging United States–China trade conflict.