Competition matters

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
12 May, 2017

The Commerce Commission is nothing if not clever. While it kept everyone busy watching for its rulings on media mergers, it quietly cornered the market on competition policy conferences.

I wonder whether it’s time to break things up a little.

The Commission’s 2017 Competition Matters conference has a stellar line-up – and a price that more than matches it.

The Early Bird price for the two-day conference is $1175, with a $1295 fee for later registrations. If we take a perfect competition benchmark, this kind of price discrimination would be impossible. And any difference between blackboard models and the real world suggests something foul is afoot. Something in need of investigation – and potentially action.

The programme lists two parallel sessions of speakers. Has the Commerce Commission inappropriately merged what could have been two separate and competing conferences?

Even worse, there is evidence that New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has colluded with Australia’s in this anticompetitive activity. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s Commissioner, Roger Featherston, will be presenting with the NZ Commerce Commission’s General Manager for Competition, Antonia Horrocks, in a panel session inappropriately tying the two separate conference streams together.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who ensures the Competition Commission is not behaving anticompetitively? What agency might break up their cartelised conference so competition consumers might have more affordable seminars?

Just think about the policy issues that could come up without the monopoly stranglehold on competition conferences.

An education session could cover the government’s near-monopoly, and the teachers’ unions’ role in stymieing competitors. The Productivity Commission tells us that tertiary education regulation creates market power, local monopolies, and cartel structures: the kinds of things that the Competition Commission is elsewhere supposed to stop.

Another session could stress the importance of not letting the Retailers Association use a lower GST threshold to block potential competitive parallel imports through non-tariff hassle barriers at the border.

There could be a plenary session on the effects of the government monopoly on kiwifruit export.

And imagine applying competition policy to politics. If National starts looking too dominant, maybe ComCom should unwind the inappropriate 1936 merger of the Reform and Liberal parties. Tell me with a straight face that coalition agreements are anything other than illegal cartel arrangements.

In a world of competitive Competition Policy conferences, these kinds of topics might get a reasonable airing.

It’s time to break the monopoly.

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