American Column & Lumber Co. v. United States, 257 U.S. 377 (1921)

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Author: Justice Holmes

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American Column & Lumber Co. v. United States, 257 U.S. 377 (1921)

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, dissenting.

When there are competing sellers of a class of goods, knowledge of the total stock on hand, of the probable total demand, and of the prices paid, of course, will tend to equalize the prices asked. But I should have supposed that the Sherman Act did not set itself against knowledge -- did not aim at a transitory cheapness unprofitable to the community as a whole because not corresponding to the actual conditions of the country. I should have thought that the ideal of commerce was an intelligent interchange made with full knowledge of the facts as a basis for a forecast of the future on both sides. A combination to get and distribute such knowledge, notwithstanding its tendency to equalize, not necessarily to raise, prices is very far from a combination in unreasonable restraint of trade. It is true that it is a combination of sellers only, but the knowledge acquired is not secret, it is public, and the buyers, I think I may assume, are not less active in their efforts to know the facts. A combination in unreasonable restraint of trade imports an attempt to override normal market conditions. An attempt to conform to them seems to me the most reasonable thing in the world. I see nothing in the conduct of the appellants that binds the members even by merely social sanctions to anything that would not be practiced, if we could imagine it, by an all-wise socialistic government acting for the benefit of the community as a whole. The parties to the combination are free to do as they will.

I must add that the decree as it stands seems to me surprising in a country of free speech that affects to regard education and knowledge as desirable. It prohibits the distribution of stock, production, or sales reports, the discussion of prices at association meetings, and the exchange of predictions of high prices. It is true that these acts are the main evidence of the supposed conspiracy, but that to my mind only shows the weakness of the government’s case. I cannot believe that the fact, if it be assumed, that the acts have been done with a sinister purpose justifies excluding mills in the backwoods from information, in order to enable centralized purchasers to take advantage of their ignorance of the facts.

I agree with the more elaborate discussion of the case by my Brother BRANDEIS.

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Chicago: Holmes, "Holmes, J., Dissenting," American Column & Lumber Co. v. United States, 257 U.S. 377 (1921) in 257 U.S. 377 257 U.S. 413. Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPN799Y9PKTX8G8.

MLA: Holmes. "Holmes, J., Dissenting." American Column & Lumber Co. v. United States, 257 U.S. 377 (1921), in 257 U.S. 377, page 257 U.S. 413. Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPN799Y9PKTX8G8.

Harvard: Holmes, 'Holmes, J., Dissenting' in American Column & Lumber Co. v. United States, 257 U.S. 377 (1921). cited in 1921, 257 U.S. 377, pp.257 U.S. 413. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPN799Y9PKTX8G8.