Tag Archives: competition

The DOJ’s Antitrust Seers

Today, the Department of Justice sued to stop the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger. They claim to know in advance how the merger will affect the mobile market for years to come. It’s an example of F.A. Hayek’s fatal conceit. Of course, most people haven’t read Hayek. So over in the Daily Caller, I use a better known thinker to make the same point:

The philosopher Yogi Berra once said that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Let’s apply his lesson to the proposed $39 billion AT&T-T-Mobile merger…

Competitors are also surprisingly confident in their ability to predict the future. A Sprint spokeswoman said that “Sprint applauds the DOJ for conducting a careful and thorough review and for reaching a just decision … Today’s action will preserve American jobs, strengthen the American economy, and encourage innovation.”

This translates roughly to “We think the merger would make the market more competitive. We were scared that we’d have to work harder to innovate and cut costs to keep our customers happy. Whew.”

Most mergers fail. Nobody knows if a merged AT&T and T-Mobile would offer a better, cheaper product line. The only way to find out is trial and, often, error. The Justice Department’s astounding claim that it knows the merger’s effects in advance is either proof of its superior enlightenment, or else the height of hubris. I’m guessing the latter.

Read the whole thing here.

Competitors: Stop That Merger!

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger is drawing the usual antitrust scrutiny. Fearful competitors say the $39 billion deal will make the market less competitive. Or so they say. Over at the Daily Caller, I point out that actions speak louder than words:

[I]f Sprint is willing to devote resources to fighting the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, then it probably thinks the new post-merger company will be more competitive, not less. That cuts directly against their main argument – that the merger reduces competition.

Put yourself in Sprint’s shoes for a minute. If your competitors are making what you think is a foolish business decision, you’re not going to try to stop them. If anything, you’ll actively encourage them.

Instead, Sprint’s opposition is proof positive that it thinks the competition is about to get more formidable, not less.

Antitrust authorities, blind to that obvious fact, stand a real risk of stunting the competitive process. They should ignore competitors’ pleas for special government favors and let the merger succeed — or fail — on its own terms. Real competition happens in the market. Not in Washington.

Read the whole article here.

Police Shut Down Renegade Lemonade Stand

Appleton, WI police taught some children a lesson about regulation’s true purpose by shutting down their lemonade and cookie stands. The children live about a block from an annual Old Car Show, and have been selling lemonade and cookies near the event for six years.

Vendors inside the car show didn’t appreciate the competition. So they talked the city government into passing a new ordinance that put the girls out of business.

After a round of bad publicity, city officials are thinking of re-writing the ordinance.

Regulation of the Day 180: Braiding Hair

Businesses often use regulations as a cudgel to bludgeon their competitors. Occupational licensing is one of the most-abused types of regulation. John Stossel’s latest column shows how by telling the story of Jestina Clayton, an immigrant from Africa who braids hair for a living.

Her customers are satisfied. But now her competitors want her to take 2,000 hours of classes and spend thousands of dollars to get a cosmetology license. This even though braiding is the only service Jestina offers. And because the her competitors are the very people who grant or deny licenses, it will be easy for them to keep entrepreneurs like Jestina out of business even after she completes the licensing requirements.

Jestina’s story repeats itself every day in any number of occupations. Stossel writes:

Once upon a time, one in 20 workers needed government permission to work in their occupation. Today, it’s one in three. We lose some freedom every day.

“Occupational licensing laws fall hardest on minorities, on poor, on elderly workers who want to start a new career or change careers,” Avelar said. “(Licensing laws) just help entrenched businesses keep out competition.”

This is not what America was supposed to be.

He’s right.

Are Text Messages an Antitrust Issue?

Text messages cost 20 cents to send, even though they use a fraction of a penny of bandwidth. What gives? Antitrust authorities want to know.

Over at The American Spectator, I explain that it is likely a case of unbundling:

Maybe phone companies are unbundling texting from their other services. That way the only people who pay for text messages are the people who use them. If phone companies don’t have to provide texting service for people who don’t want it, they can keep costs down and charge lower prices.

This is much more fair to customers:

Why not just give all customers unlimited texting and charge a higher monthly bill? That would punish people who don’t text, such as this writer. By eschewing the flat rate and tolerating a few texts per month from family and friends who haven’t been properly trained, non-texters can save $50 or more per year.

Monopolists (and oligopolists) don’t behave that way. Companies competing against each other on price do. Trustbusters are forgetting something else, too. If a monopoly exists at all, it is very temporary.

It turns out that a young company called Beluga makes a free texting application for smartphones. Few things are as temporary as monopoly (or oligopoly) power. Since Beluga bypasses the texting cartel, you can have unlimited texting without the $5 monthly fee. Think of it as Skype for the text messaging set.

Read the whole article here.

CEI Podcast – November 11, 2010: Taxing New IRS Regulations

This week I switch from host to guest. Have a listen here.

Fellow in Regulatory Studies Ryan Young explains how an IRS proposal for mandatory certification of tax preparers would hurt consumers and taxpayers. It is one more example of how regulation can hurt competition. Large tax preparation firms would benefit at the expense of individuals and smaller firms who can’t afford the added regulatory burden.

The Wisdom of George Stigler

George Stigler won a Nobel Prize for his work on the economics of regulation. He wrote extensively about regulatory capture, and in fact coined the term. He was one of only a few sane souls who stubbornly insisted that regulations be judged by their actual results, not their intended results. Good intentions, however noble, are not enough. Here’s an example of Stigler at his finest:

Regulation and competition are rhetorical friends and deadly enemies: over the doorway of every regulatory agency save two should be carved: “Competition Not Admitted.” The Federal Trade Commission’s doorway should announce , “Competition Admitted in Rear,” and that of the Antitrust Division, “Monopoly Only by Appointment.”

-George Stigler, “Can Regulatory Agencies Protect the Consumer?”, from The Citizen and the State: Essays on Regulation (1975), p. 183.