I got some funny comments at last night's LEANZ section 36 debate, along the lines that I'd suddenly gone weird and soft about competition law enforcement.
Haven't I been banging on about more effective legislation to patrol abuse of market power? About how competition authorities may be getting too lenient on mergers? On throwing the book at criminal hard core cartels?
I tracked down where people had got the idea from. This:
So you can see why people would look at this and think at first glance that the headline represented my view.
It doesn't. Never has. Never will.
The headline is actually the headline from a recent post, 'Is no competition policy the best competition policy?', on Paul Walker's Anti-Dismal blog. The headline is his. I'm only in the first paragraph because Paul started his piece with a reference to a post I did about getting the best out of competition agency economists, and went on from there with his own views about the desirability or otherwise (mainly otherwise) of competition law.
As for Paul's arguments? Nah (mostly). The odd point has some validity - yes, overzealous competition enforcement could interfere with the very competition it's meant to promote, which is (for example) one of the reasons people point to the potential "chilling effects" of the likes of section 36 of our Commerce Act on big companies' willingness to be tough competitors.
But for the most part it's off beam. You don't want mergers leading to very large firms wielding monopoly power (giving less, charging more). You don't want cartels forming, persisting, or going unpunished when rumbled: they're a rort and a distortion, and in the worst cases akin to fraud. You don't want the competitive auction process sidelined by bid rigging. You don't want companies carving up markets into exclusive sales territories. You don't want big companies foreclosing the opportunity for new entrants to compete. And to make all that happen, you need effective competition law and enforcement. No hanging judges, no slaps with a wet bus ticket, but good middle of the road rules, effectively monitored.
Right. That clear enough for everyone? Jolly good.