On International Antitrust Law, Culture and M.C. Escher: The 2010 Antitrust Spring Meeting

On International Antitrust Law, Culture and M.C. Escher: The 2010 Antitrust Spring Meeting

I attended the 2010 Antitrust Spring Meeting at the J.W. Marriot Hotel in Washington DC.  The JW Marriot is a beautiful, modern space.  The conference rooms are located below the hotel lobby, on floors 0, -1 and -2 on the elevator panel.  That took me a few minutes to wrap my head around.  Using negative numbers on the elevator, combined with the fact that I was in the Nation's Capital, made me feel as like I was trying to access some sort of top-secret Government installation.

"Going down...floor Negative 2...Antitrust Spring Meeting and Roswell crash wreckage." 

Adding to my overall confusion was the fact that the conference room levels surround an impressive three story open area, with one-way escalators and various stair cases.  Until I got a feel for the place it seemed like I was trapped in a mobius strip or trying to traverse M.C. Escher's Ascending Staircase.  However, as my wife will gladly attest, I am a questionable navigator at best, so it may have just been me.

Once I got a handle on where I was going the conference itself was fascinating, with a very international flavor. Antitrust law, like all business-oriented law in the 21st century, truly straddles the entire globe, and the discussions were a reflection of that.  Among the conferences I attended Wednesday was Criminalization of Cartel Conduct around the World and the Limits of Extraterritorial Cartel Enforcement.  Although that may sound a little dry, the presenters made it more than interesting, particularly Terry Calvani, from Freshfields, Washington, DC, who actually managed to coax more than a few laughs from the normally staid crowd, and Jarrett Arp from Gibson Dunn.  Arp, who writes for LexisNexis' quarterly Antitrust Report was hitting cleanup and closed the show with a multi-faceted summation even though, as I was later to discover over drinks at the Gibson Dunn cocktail event, he had been on the road for his "day job" and was operating on far too little sleep.

The second day's highlight, for me, was the Ilene Knable Gotts moderated Chair's Showcase: Nature vs. Nurture: the Role of Culture in Competition Policy.  The sheer idea of looking at culture and its effect on competition law was fascinating; particularly the discussions of how some emerging markets that recently moved to competition formats still face a firmly entrenched cooperation culture. Imagine the heads of two industry leading companies getting together to set prices without any malicious intent whatsoever, even though such activity could mean fines and jail time, because they simply don't know any other way to work. 

In sum, while all the presenters were accomplished and brilliant, any time you put Gotts and fellow presenter Eleanor Fox together the result will be some high-level stuff.  Both women seem to equally comfortable tackling a raw fact pattern as they do musing about deeper, more theoretical antitrust issues.  They have known each other for so long they work together brilliantly and seamlessly: improvising within set themes, playing off of each other like Coltrane and Dolphy at the Five Spot.