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A History of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics

 |  September 23, 2015

Posted by Social Science Research Network

A History of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics Paul A. Pautler (U.S. Federal Trade Commission)

Abstract: The Bureau of Economics in the Federal Trade Commission has a three-part role in the Agency and the strength of its functions changed over time depending on the preferences and ideology of the FTC’s leaders, developments in the field of economics, and the tenor of the times. The over-riding current role is to provide well considered, unbiased economic advice regarding antitrust and consumer protection law enforcement cases to the legal staff and the Commission. The second role, which long ago was primary, is to provide reports on investigations of various industries to the public and public officials. This role was more recently called research or “policy R&D”. A third role is to advocate for competition and markets both domestically and internationally. As a practical matter, the provision of economic advice to the FTC and to the legal staff has required that the economists wear “two hats,” helping the legal staff investigate cases and provide evidence for support law enforcement cases while also providing advice to the legal bureaus and to the Commission on which cases to pursue (thus providing “a second set of eyes” to evaluate cases). There is sometimes a tension in those functions because one can help the attorney staff build a case that they want to pursue, but at the same time consider that case to be a poor choice for enforcement. Economists and the Bureau of Economics have provided such services to the FTC for over 100 years proving that a sub-organization can survive while playing roles that sometimes conflict. Such a life is not, however, always easy or fun.