Economic Nonsense: 39. Only strong government regulation can hold big business in check


It isn't strong government that causes concern for big business.  They are more worried about the smaller, newer businesses that might take away their trade.  It is competition, not government that they worry about.  Big business often cozies up to big government.  It employs lobbyists to negotiate with civil servants and ministers, and hammers out agreements on what types of regulations should be introduced, and how they should be implemented.

Big business can cope with regulation.  It can afford the staff to deal with compliance.  Small businesses, especially start-ups, find it more difficult to afford the money or the staff time that regulatory compliance takes up.  Big business knows this, and often strikes deals with lawmakers to impose regulation that will deter newcomers from entering the market.  Far from it being used to control big business, regulation often helps big business by imposing unacceptable costs on its real or would-be competitors.  People speak of "regulatory capture" when the industry works with government to secure helpful regulation.

Some regulation is needed to reassure the public that it will not fall victim to sharp practice or shady dealing, but five words should be engraved above the door of every legislator: "Competition is the best regulator."  It is competition that keeps firms striving to deliver high quality and keen prices.  The fear of losing trade is more powerful than the fear of incurring the displeasure of government.

Regulation is commonly used to protect those in the market from competition by those who might enter it.  If no-one can trim hair without training and a certificate, the prices charged by existing hairdressers will not be undercut.  If no one can enter the taxi trade without a medallion or a two-year training course, the fares charged by existing cabbies will be protected.  All rules like these are done in the name of protecting the public, but in reality it is the established operators that they most commonly protect.

To control big business government should pursue a policy of promoting competition.  It should make it easier, not harder, to enter established markets.  This, more than regulation, will keep firms attentive to their customers.