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Small-time Justice

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The mergers game has become the greatest show on Wall Street, with huge companies gobbling each other up woth nary a protest from the trustbusters in Washington. But the total number of antitrust cases has dropped only slightly since President Reagan took office. The vast majority of antitrust cases now, as in the past, are brought against small or medium-size companies.

These defendants make easy targets, because they have neither the money nor the management depth to defend a case for years. And most are charged with bid rigging and price fixing, allegations that are comparatively easy to prove. The prosecution just has to establish that conspiracy for the purpose or effect of restraining competition did in fact take place. On the other hand, monopolization or restraint-of-trade cases against large companies are so complicated that they can consume a decade or more of litigation -- witness the mammoth cases against American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and IBM Corp.

Small government contractors, especially those involved in road work and other construction, were the most common antitrust defendants in both 1980 and 1984, the fourth years of the Carter and Reagan Administrations. Professional associations were a hot target in 1980 because of alleged restrictions on membership or pricing, practices that can make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to enter a market. Here are the top 11 antitrust targets:

1980 1980 1984 1984

Rank Industry # cases Rank Industry # cases

1. Road building 34 1. Road building 45

2. Elect. construction 20 2. Professional services 11

3. Paving material 12 3. Construction 6

4. Utility construction 3 4. Concrete construction 4

5. Waste disposal 3 5. Asphalt/paving 4

6. Aerial spraying 3 6. Steno reporting 4

7. Petail gasoline 2 7. Milk/dairy products 3

8. Scrap metal 2 8. Chemicals 3

9. Supermarkets 2 9. Airport construction 2

10. (none with more than 1) 10. Home food processors 2

11. (none with more than 1) 11. Screws 2

Total # cases: 100 Total # cases: 115

CORRECTION-DATE: November, 1985

CORRECTION:

The dates at the top of the Scorecard chart (Insider, October, page 22) were reversed.

Last updated: Oct 1, 1985




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