Washington Law Review


The uproar of the ancient market place was the symbol of competition until contemporary times. Each purchase or barter was a thing of its own; each buyer was to be treated according to "what this part of the traffic will bear"; each seller was to be heckled until the price would be cut no lower. Although "survival of the fittest" was the keyword, by and large the majority survived. Contrary to popular opinion, however, history has numerous examples of ancient and semi-modern attempts to control some of the unwanted effects of the competitive system. Furthermore, while early civilizations may have agreed in practice, the doctrine of laissez faire did not get a firm foothold until the end of the 18th century. The United States started its great century of expansion under the political and governmental philosophy of "hands off", and until 1890 unrestricted free competition had a fine opportunity to demonstrate its over-all results. Men discovered not only that too few were proving themselves fit in some industries, but that, horrible as it seemed to the advocate of free competition, the healthier boys were making agreements not to fight with one another. Mr. Business Without Restriction had to be prosecuted. He was not jailed, but was paroled in the care of the Sherman Act. This was our first important governmental control which aimed to foster free competition and, in a broad sense, the beginning of a series of Congressional paradoxes.

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