Is talking about antitrust becoming relatively less trendy?

I recently came across Google’s really cool application, Ngram Viewer, which displays the occurrence of given words in the body of books stored on Google Books. Not only that but it plots these relative frequencies on a timeline, therefore we know that x per cent of the books published in year t contain a reference to a given word. These  relative frequencies do not account for the underlying trend in the increase in the number of books published. However one could think of these lines as the fluctuation around the general trend of the number of books published. When a plotted line is increasing, it means that new references to a given word increase at a larger pace than the increase in the number of new books published. Similarly, a decreasing line means that new references to a word increase slower than general book publishing trends. The search below only looked at books published in the English language.

The figure below plots monopoly, antitrust, and cartel on the same timeline (antitrust and cartel occurrences are multiplied by 3 to make it easier to compare relative frequencies – unfortunately Ngram does not do dual vertical axes). The plot is interesting for a couple of reasons.

antitrust copy

First thing that struck me is the decline in the relative frequency of referring to all three words. This decline started in the 50s for ‘monopoly’ and around 20 years ago for ‘cartel’ and ‘antitrust’. The word ‘monopoly’ was used in the highest proportion of all books in the 40s. The same is true for ‘cartel’. ‘Antitrust’ peaked in the 80s (roughly around the breakup of AT&T). Does this mean a drop in the relative importance of IO (and competition) in economics and all literature?

Secondly, it was not until the early 50s that reference of antitrust overtook reference to cartels, implying that beyond cartels, antitrust references started to also include other issues (probably predatory behaviour, mergers, etc).

Some other thoughts:


  • The first references followed the Sherman Act (obviously).
  • The start of the biggest rise in the discussion of ‘antitrust’ coincides with Stigler’s A Theory of Oligopoly paper.
  • The increase in another local peak for ‘antitrust’ started in 1954 (Helberger’s paper on Monopoly and Resource Allocation?).


  • Reference to monopoly started a monotonic incline in the late 19th century (Sherman Act, 1890) which continued to the start of the First World War.
  • The steepest incline started in 1926 and peaked at the start of the Second World War (coincides with NRA encouraged cartels in the process of recovery after the Great Depression).


  • The term cartel was widely used in the decade starting in the late 30s, which seems logical as the name cartel was imported into the English language from German in the 30s (another reason is that the NRA ‘leaglised’ price fixing to stop ‘destructive price cutting’ in post-depression recovery).
  • The 1970s surge in using the word cartel may have something to do with increased attention on OPEC.

Of course, these thoughts are only speculations and surely many other explanations exist.

Update: two thoughts raised by a reader: (1) rise of journals over books, (2) Europeans tend to use competition policy rather than antitrust. My response to (1) true but presumably the same is true for other areas where books are published, (2) I looked at the combined use of antitrust and competition policy, which did stop the decline in the use of the word antitrust.


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