Posts tagged with: competition

One of the most worrisome economic troubles coming down-the-pipe is the “student debt bubble” which many argue is caused by too many students seeking degrees in higher education as the costs of tuition increase. Because we understand that poverty and economic misfortune are serious barriers to human flourishing, it is very important to try and understand the economics involved in the education market. Dylan Pahman gave a good explanation earlier today about how administrative costs are rising to promote a myriad of diversity-advocacy programs, a process which is clearly affecting  the supply-side of the issue. What about the demand side where students are making the decision to go to college?

How is it that so many students are making a seemingly irrational choice? In a post at strategyprofs, Steve Postrel explains here that while it may be true that college degrees may be becoming more common and watered down in the quality of education they represent, that it is also true that high school quality is dropping. This means that college degrees represent a greater increase in knowledge than they used to, signaling a greater value relative to non-college educated persons.

Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.

So the value of a college education has increased even as its rigor has declined, because willingness to pay for quality is really willingness to pay for incremental quality. This principle holds true in many markets.

Interestingly, one of the best ways to help lower the cost of college education might to be to improve the quality of education that a high school diploma represents. Understanding why high school education is declining requires us to think beyond a knee jerk “just spend more” reaction and understand that our current public education system is insulated against the processes that wipe out nearly all other inefficient and inferior services: the market.

To effectively help others become productive agents in the market and realize their vocations, we need to advocate for steps that will cause education at all levels to reflect a true added value. School choice seems to be an obvious candidate for improving educational outcomes.

H/T Marginal Revolution

In a new essay for Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg explains why we shouldn’t only focus on public sector unions as examples of organizations that seek government power and taxpayer dollars to advance their ends. “A considerable portion of the business community is equally culpable,” Gregg writes. Excerpt:

The attractions of business-government collusion are enhanced when the state’s involvement in the economy grows. This is partly a question of incentives. The larger the scope of government economic intervention, the more businesses are incentivized to cultivate politicians in much the same way that public sector unions have.

As a result, consumers become displaced as the focus of business activity. Nor do the incentives for people of an entrepreneurial bent lie with creating something that the entrepreneur thinks consumers will value.

Instead the incentives become increasingly aligned with successful political entrepreneurship. Competition becomes less about a company’s ability to offer new and better products for consumers at lower prices. Instead, it become a struggle among businesses to secure state subsidies, to lobby legislators to establish tariffs that stack the deck against foreign competition, or to persuade governments to provide one company with exemptions from regulations that apply to every other company in the same industry.

It’s a form of soft corruption that produces higher prices for consumers, undermines value creation in the marketplace, and facilitates unwholesome relationships between politicians and businesses. It also represents the gradual subversion of the market economy by mercantilist arrangements. Smith identified the core of the problem in his Wealth of Nations (1776): “in the mercantile system, the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer; and it seems to consider production, and not consumption, as the ultimate end and object of all industry and consumption.”

In the end, however, everyone loses.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “Business vs. the Market” on the Public Discourse website.

Our latest health care video short is up: “Why Consumer-Driven Healthcare Beats Socialized Healthcare.” And John Hinderaker of Powerline has an incisive analysis of the president’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress. The passage that stood out to me was this one about competition:

This seems to me to be the most critical moment in Obama’s speech:

My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down.

In fact, Obama and Congressional Democrats have zero interest in increasing choice and competition. If they did, there is an easy solution. There are over 1,000 health insurance companies in the United States; why do you think it is that in Alabama, one company has 90 percent of the business? It is because there are major legal obstacles to insurance companies operating across state lines. State legislatures, and lots of the companies, like it this way. Competition is hard. But if Obama really wanted to expand “choice and competition” in health care, all he would have to do is go along with the Republican proposal to allow health insurance companies to sell on a national basis. Like, say, computer companies, beer companies, automobile companies, law firms, and pretty much everyone else.

The video and transcript of President Obama’s speech is available here. And more Acton analysis of healthcare policy is available here.

Everybody realizes that the current healthcare system in the United States has problems. Unfortunately, much of the discussion about what to do rests on a false premise. The argument goes something like this: Our current free market system is not working: health care costs are astronomically high, and close to 50 million people aren’t insured. Maybe it’s time to let the government try its hand.

But we don’t have a free market health system; we have a highly managed, bureaucratic system that lowers the level of health care and increases costs.

As Acton’s Michael Miller argues in a new video short, the government is already involved in healthcare, and this is part of the problem. Getting the government more involved will only make the situation worse.

The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.

Railing against corporate dictatorship, helps consumers find locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and movie theatres in their area — alternatives to the “invasion” of Starbucks, Borders, and their ilk. The site itself is actually quite an interesting capitalist idea in its freshness and creativity, and people certainly should eat or drink or shop where they are most comfortable. That’s the beauty of competition! And the kind of community-building that often takes place at familiar, time-tested, local shops is to be encouraged.

But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous. Such shops may be more ethically run in some ways, partially through close personal ties to the community and to fellow owners and employees. But this bespeaks the virtue of the management, not of the abstract institution of the local business itself (just as it indicates the poor character of the management of a corporate business, and not all of corporate business itself, when one falls into unethical dealings). Also, independent stores are often smaller, so they may provide fewer jobs to people in the community and supply fewer products to their customers. Neither of these are inherently good qualities for businesses to have.

In saying that independent, community-operated businesses “deserve your dime,” forgets that consumers may have different preferences, needs, and reasons for choosing bigger stores, and that it is not immoral for them to do so. While it is true that corporate business is not inherently praiseworthy, neither are small businesses — but inherently good things can come out of both types of stores in different circumstances, even if ignoring the economic benefits of competition. Making books more widely available to average people is a good thing. Having a choice of coffee shops — for atmosphere, taste, cost, or convenience — is a good thing. Even facing more snack options at a bigger movie theater is, in its own sense, desirable.

If delocator fans don’t find these things desirable, they should by all means avoid them. But to limit personal choice and to condemn the multiplicity of options seems to defeat the principle of independence that claims to inform them in the first place.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably “No.” Faced with loss of market share and declining revenues, Ford announced a restructuring plan that would cut nearly a quarter of its workforce and close 14 plants over the next six years. The moves are intended to bring the auto giant back to profitability by 2008.

What has caused the competitiveness of Ford to plummet? It’s part of the larger trend among American automakers. Ford’s “Way Forward” plan was preceded by GM’s flirtation with a “cloud of bankruptcy” and was followed by DaimlerChrysler’s announcement of layoffs (many of which would be in Germany).

NBC Nightly News featured a story on the U.S. auto industry’s woes on Tuesday night (Netcast available here). Patriotism is being replaced by pragmatism, says NBC’s Anne Thompson.

MSNBC’s Roland Jones writes, “Like its U.S. rival GM, Ford has struggled in recent years with a loss in U.S. market share to Asian rivals, a decline in sales of its large SUVs because of higher gasoline prices and a crippling healthcare bill and pension costs for its U.S. workforce and retirees.”