When Is a Cartel Not a Cartel?

This seems mighty odd to me:

Allen Mutter reports that a number of CEO currently in San Diego for the Newspaper Association of America convention are holding a clandestine meeting to discuss, among other topics, whether and how to start charging readers to view articles and other content online. The presence of a lawyer in meant to ensure the conversation doesn’t stray into antitrust territory, whatever David Carr might wish. Still, one might think these executives — whose companies are, after all, competitors — might wish to keep any brilliant ideas about monetizing journalism to themselves. Chances are this confab will be less a workshop than a support group.

It seems to me that when your trade association is contemplating cartelization schemes that are so clearly illegal that you need to keep a lawyer on hand to ensure that you’re avoiding illegal cartelization schemes, you’re probably contemplating an illegal cartel. This would be like the Brownsville Boys having an attorney around to advise them how to make things look like suicide.

As Adam Smith wrote: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”