John Asker draws widespread praise from peers who applaud his deep understanding of antitrust policy and strong testifying experience.
John Asker is the Armen A Alchian chair in economic theory and professor of economics at UCLA, and a senior adviser at Cornerstone Research. He is an expert in antitrust and competition economics. He has testified as an expert witness and served as an economic consultant to several government agencies. Professor Asker has written about the impacts of market power, vertical market structure and cartels, from both theoretical and empirical perspectives. His research includes studies of financial markets, commodities, transportation and consumer goods.
What motivated you to specialise in competition economics?
As an economist, I want to be able to explore ideas that I feel are important to the development of antitrust policy. I’ve also been fortunate to extend my role beyond research to get involved in the administration of policy. For example, I have served as an economic consultant/adviser to federal and state regulatory agencies, including the US Federal Communications Commission, the US Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust bureau of the New York State Office of the Attorney General. I have also provided expert testimony in matters involving antitrust, competition and regulatory issues, including mergers.
What are the major themes of your research?
My research seeks to explain elements of how allocation, production and exchange work in industries characterised by market power, a complex vertical structure and an active government presence. Using a combination of empirical and theoretical tools, I try to contribute to our understanding of how these factors shape economic policy at the industry level, at both normative and positive levels. Each of my projects involves the study of some combination of market power, regulation and vertical market structures.
How do you see your research impacting social policy?
It is important to make sure you are communicating research results to audiences beyond academia. Much of my research is directly applicable to policy, particularly antitrust policy. In order to reach other audiences, such as practising attorneys, I have recontextualised much of my own work and that of others. It is important to write for non-technical audiences as well as for specialist academics.
Issues surrounding market power are also of increasing interest more broadly in economics, and so from time to time I find myself talking to researchers and policymakers working on issues more closely connected to macroeconomics or development economics. What little we know about the link between firms’ competitive conduct and aggregate economic performance increasingly suggests that the link may be significant and warrants further study.
A recent article you co-authored with Heski Bar-Isaac, on advertising and related restraints, was nominated for a 2019 Antitrust Writing Award. What is the main takeaway of your article?
Our article looks at vertical advertising restraints that manufacturers impose on retailers in e-commerce markets, such as minimum advertised price (MAP). We argue that the underlying economics and logic of MAP, as well as other advertising and related practices used in e-commerce, can differ markedly from those associated with the price-based restraints more commonly found in brick-and-mortar markets.
Since you began working in the field, how would you say the role of competition economists has developed?
The technical side of the field is rapidly changing. The analytical tools that can be deployed in regulatory and litigation settings continue to develop and expand, and empirical data is both more available and more numerous. As a result, the range of material with which an economist needs to be conversant has increased substantially.
What are the main challenges facing competition economists?
The central challenge continues to be the clear communication of informative economic analysis. A particular manifestation of this challenge arises in data-rich settings. With a large amount of data, the inclination could be to expect that every question can be neatly answered. Distinguishing between the volume of data and the informativeness of data – that is, understanding what questions the data can address in a specific context – can take considerable thought.