John Asker is a leading antitrust and competition expert, whose research addresses various policy-relevant questions.
John Asker’s work analyzes industries characterized by market power, a complex vertical structure, and an active government presence. Using a combination of empirical and theoretical tools, his work helps policy practitioners to frame and study anti-competitive issues related to cartels and vertical restraints, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) pricing mechanisms, an area of rising antitrust concern.
Economic theory provides strong foundations for antitrust policy and enforcement in most developed economies, yet large areas of these laws’ administration remain open to debate. Professor Asker’s paper, “A Study of the Internal Organization of a Bidding Cartel,” uses a unique data set of information accumulated by a cartel participant to unravel issues of collusion, market efficiency, and market impact in the New York market for collectable postage stamps. His findings are important because they suggest ways in which cartels can inflict economic damages in settings with bidding rings, as well as new methods to estimate them.
Prominent among Professor Asker’s contributions to antitrust enforcement scholarship is his skill in sourcing and bringing to light new data sets, often in unexpected or under-studied markets. In addition to postage stamp cartels, he has examined exclusive contracting practices between brewers and their distributors. In this innovative research, “Diagnosing Foreclosure due to Exclusive Dealing,” Professor Asker collected data on registered distribution contracts and sales territories from the Illinois liquor regulator. Would such contracts decrease competition through foreclosure of competing brewers, forcing them to use higher cost distributors?
Combining economic theory and empirical methodology, Professor Asker determined that the concerns of foreclosure in this market were unfounded. This and other examples of Professor Asker’s research on vertical restraints (e.g., “Raising Retailers’ Profits”) provide frameworks for practitioners to evaluate potential anti-competitive harm, both in the studied markets and in other vertical competition scenarios.
Professor Asker has conducted research of AI pricing mechanisms. In “Artificial Intelligence and Pricing,” he and his coauthors contrast “synchronous” AI algorithms (which factor in demand conditions and competitors’ pricing) and “asynchronous” algorithms (which learn entirely from their own actions and profits realized). Professor Asker’s research demonstrates that these algorithms can differ in both pricing outcomes and antitrust implications. Prices set using synchronous algorithms tend to converge to competitive levels, whereas asynchronous algorithms tend toward less competitive levels. Professor Asker’s research has the potential to shape antitrust policy on this emerging feature of many retail markets.