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Competition policy

Competition and poverty: How far have we come in understanding the connections?

Sara Nyman's picture


Women in a grain market in Kota, Rajasthan. 

Strengthening competition policy is an under-acknowledged but potentially cost-effective way to boost the incomes of the poor. Greater competition between firms has the potential to boost growth through its impact on productivity, and it is increasingly acknowledged as a driver of welfare in the long term.

Despite that fact, competition reforms are notoriously difficult to implement. One of the reasons is opposition from interested groups that stand to lose out from these reforms in the short term – and a frequent lack of evidence or voice on the side of those who could gain from the direct effects of more competition.
 
What is the evidence on the direct impact of competition on the poorest in society, and what do we still need to learn?

A recent review of the evidence by the World Bank Group (WBG) seeks to answer these questions. The review follows two basic ideas. First: Competition policy has the greatest impact on the poor when it is applied to sectors in which the poor are most engaged as consumers, producers and employees. Second: Competition policy should have a progressive impact on welfare distribution in sectors where less-well-off households are more engaged relative to richer households.

Several sectors stand out as being particularly important here. 
 
  • Food products and non-alcoholic beverages are by far the most important sector for poor consumers in terms of their share of the consumption basket. They also make up a relatively higher proportion of the consumption basket of the least-well-off households. (See Figure 1, below. Source: WBG computations based on household survey data.)
  • The retail sector is also important for consumers as the final segment of the food and beverages value chain. It is also a significant employer of the poor.
  • Services such as transport and telecommunications play an important dynamic role in combatting poverty and reducing inequality. Better informed and more mobile consumers are more able to switch suppliers, thus moderating suppliers' market power. Services are also an important input for entrepreneurs.
  • Other agri-inputs, such as fertilizer and seed, are key for the incomes of small agricultural producers. 

Disruptive innovations and new business models: The role of competition policy advocacy

Anabel Gonzalez's picture

Despite the persistent low-growth environment, the benefits of the digital era are within our grasp to help reignite the growth engine.

Digital trade is the fastest-growing component of trade, and 4.4 billion people globally are yet to come online. In the first quarter of 2015 and in major U.S. cities, an average of 46 percent of all total paid car rides were through Uber. In Kenya, the digital payment system creates additional income for more than 80,000 small business owners. The Chinese e-commerce sector has created 10 million jobs. The Internet of Things, self-driving cars and 3-D printing have now arrived as part of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.
 
These benefits will materialize faster if competitive dynamics allow and drive innovation. Disruptive innovation has a great potential to shake up markets, increase productivity and bring benefits to consumers. And yet, if there are government-imposed rules that close markets and unjustifiably protect incumbents from such competing new solutions, these benefits do not materialize. Cities around the world have blocked Uber from offering services. The debate on President Obama’s Executive Order to boost competition has centered around a pending decision by the communications regulator on whether to open the market for TV cable set-top boxes to allow for competition.
 
Conscious of such challenges, forward-looking competition authorities around the world are advocating several measures that will allow consumers and businesses to benefit from disruptive innovations and new business models. A new World Bank Group publication on competition advocacy tools highlights examples of successful initiatives to promote pro-competitive regulatory reform in markets subject to disruptive innovations.

How advocacy strategies can help boost competition and transform markets

Tanja Goodwin's picture



Many of the World Bank Group’s client countries face a difficult challenge – and the White House recently put this issue at the top of the agenda, too: How can policymakers increase competition to support continued growth of the economy? In a global low-growth environment, developing and advanced economies alike are looking for new ways to boost productivity and innovation. A global panel of Ministers agreed at a recent Spring Meetings event that market competition is pivotal in finding a solution.

When firms collude to fix prices or divide markets, thus harming consumers and reducing competitiveness in their sector and the broader economy, independent competition authorities can fine and therefore deter such illegal conduct. When governments set up rules that reinforce the market power of a dominant firm or that allow such illegal conduct, then competition authorities can rarely demand that those rules be changed – even though the effects on prices, service quality or the availability of products can be just as severe. If champions of competition seek to promote more pro-competition government interventions in markets, they must rely on competition advocacy.

Last Thursday in Singapore, Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade and Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice of the World Bank Group, and Andreas Mundt, Chair of the International Competition Network (ICN), presented awards to the winners of the 2015-2016 Competition Advocacy Contest – a joint WBG and ICN initiative – at the ICN Annual Conference.

new World Bank Group publicationlaunched by T&C on April 15, showcases the results of the 2014-2015 Competition Advocacy Contest, sharing the lessons that have been learned about effective advocacy and discussing innovative ways of adapting to new competition challenges. Previous rounds of the contest have shown how the notable impact of competition advocacy can change mindsets.

Our newest publication highlights the tools that competition authorities have developed to overcome the practical challenges, political-economy constraints and emerging trends that affect competition advocacy.

Does competition create or kill jobs?

Klaus Tilmes's picture

Greater competition is crucial for creating better jobs, although there may be short term tradeoffs.

Job creation on a massive scale is crucial for sustainably ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity in every economy. And robust and competitive markets are crucial for creating jobs. Yet the question of whether competition boosts or destroys jobs is one that policymakers often shy away from.

It was thus valuable to have that question as a central point of discussion for competition authorities and policymakers from almost 100 countries – from both developed and developing economies – who recently gathered in Paris for the 14th OECD Global Forum on Competition (GFC).

According to World Bank Group estimates the global economy must create 600 million new jobs by the year 2027 – with 90 percent of those jobs being created in the private sector – just to hold employment rates constant, given current demographic trends.
Yet the need goes further than simply the creation of jobs: to promote shared prosperity, one of the urgent priorities – for economies large and small – is the creation of better jobs. This is where competition policy can play a critical role.
 
Competition helps drive labor toward more productive employment: first, by improving firm-level productivity, and second, by driving the allocation of labor to more productive firms within an industry.
 
Moreover: Making markets more open to foreign competition drives labor to sectors with higher productivity – or, at least, with higher productivity growth. Making jobs more productive, in turn, generally increases the wages they command.
 
That’s in addition to cross-country evidence on the impact of competition policy on the growth of Total Factor Productivity and GDP, and the fact that growth tends not to occur without creating jobs. Thus there’s compelling evidence that – far from being a job killer, as skeptics might fear – competition (over the long term) has the potential to create both more jobs and better jobs.



The key question then becomes whether such long-term benefits must be achieved at the expense of short-term negative shocks to employment – especially in sectors of the economy that may experience sudden increases in the level of competition.
 
Progress toward better jobs is driven partly by the disappearance of low-productivity jobs, as well as the creation of more productive jobs in the short run. Competition encourages that dynamic through firm entry and exit, along with a reduction in “labor hoarding” in firms that have previously enjoyed strong market power.
 

Development, politics, competition and bread: Lessons from South Africa

Andrew Myburgh's picture

credit: 10btraveling, Flickr Creative CommonsBread, civil society, bank charges, and Competition Authorities: what do these have in common? The surprising answer is that these elements help explain how South Africa’s Competition Authorities have become a standout success in the country’s economic policy making. Nowadays, competition policy forms a central pillar of South Africa's development strategy, and the South African Competition Authorities command substantial respect and widespread support. A crucial ingredient to this success has been the Competition Authorities’ strategic use of convening power to rally stakeholders, focus public discussion, and deliver tangible results.

Creating competitive markets

Ryan Hahn's picture

It is a matter of debate whether governments should play an active role in stimulating industrial upgrading. But it strikes me as highly unlikely that an activist role for government has much benefit for products low on the value chain. A new policy note from ODI on four product markets in five developing countries seems to bear this out.