Reciprocal Altruism as a Felony: Antitrust and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

This essay is about the idea of cooperation in antitrust law. At the outset, ·I clarify my terminology. Biologists often refer to reciprocal altruism. “Reciprocal altruism” in the antitrust context has an odd semantic ring. There is nothing altruistic or self-sacrificing about the cooperation that antitrust rules outlaw: cartel price fixing. Firms do it strictly for the money. I prefer the term reciprocity to describe a firm’s strategy to pursue behavior that will profit it only if competing firms engage in similar behavior. This usage can create confusion in the present context, however, because reciprocity is also an antitrust term of art that refers to one firm’s decision to sell to another only if the second agrees in turn to buy from the first. In this Article I use reciprocity in the former sense rather than in its latter, antitrust sense.