Oct 22, 2014 •
...JOLTS being the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary that the American Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes every month. You can find the text of the latest one here and it's on FRED (the St Louis Fed's economic database) if you'd like to d...
Oct 17, 2014 •
Last week the Australian Productivity Commission came out with a couple of reports, on the Aussie dairy trade (pdf) and on Aussie retailing (pdf). I wrote up the dairy one because it had various angles relevant to us, notably some discussion of our Fonterra-centred industry structure, a good smackdown of the 'national champions' idea, and some useful analysis of the economics of the global dairy trade.
I've only just got round to taking a squizz at the retail report, and it's equally good. It points out, for example, that a lot of planning/zoning regulation can be both inefficient and anti-competitive, and that there's a reasonably straightforward path to fixing both problems:
Two reforms have been identified as being of particular importance: first, the need to
reduce the number of business zones and increase the permissible uses of land (to reduce
prescriptiveness) within these zones; and second, to remove consideration of the effects on existing individual businesses from the approval process for development applications (to avoid anticompetitive outcomes) (p11)
The Commission is strongly of the view that state, territory and local governments canAs an example of how those reforms would work, the Commission had heard submissions about high rents being charged to retail outlet tenants by shopping centre owners, and while it noted that following best practice in leasing wouldn't be a bad idea, it also found that "the root cause of most retail tenancy lease problems are unduly restrictive planning and zoning controls that limit competition and restrict retail space, particularly in relation to shopping centres. Addressing the latter would also resolve many of the problems in the retail tenancy market" (p12).
assist consumers and the retail sector by developing and applying zoning policies that
ensure the areas where retailers locate are both sufficiently large (in terms of total retail
floor space) and sufficiently broad (in terms of allowable uses, particularly those relating to business definitions and/or processes). This would allow new and innovative firms to enter local markets and existing firms to expand (p11)
More generally, the report got me thinking about how far Australia, and New Zealand, have got with pro-growth, pro-efficiency, pro-competition deregulation. Because, as this report found, despite years and years of economic reform, there are still thickets of regulation that are absolutely bonkers.
Three examples. I'll let them speak for themselves, other than to note the Aussie Commission comment (p113) that "In many cases, these [trading] rules are anachronistic and have no apparent rationale".
Here's a map of trading hours regulation in Western Australia (p7, repeated on p113).
And here's a decision tree on whether you're allowed to open for business in Australia on Easter Monday (p114).
And here's what Woolworths discovered about trading rules in Western Australia for its Masters Home Improvement Stores (which are like Mitre 10 or Bunnings Warehouse megastores):
in Western Australia, regulations prevent Masters Home Improvement stores from trading in line with the hours enjoyed by other hardware stores. To be eligible to trade as a ‘domestic development shop’ Masters must only sell those goods that are prescribed by the Retail Trading Hours Regulations 1988. The regulations prescribe a list of what a ‘domestic development shop’ can sell, which gives rise to all sorts of inconsistencies and anomalies. The regulations allow the sale of:I suppose the good news is that both Australia and New Zealand now have Productivity Commissions that are able to turn over the flat stones and tell us what they're finding underneath, and there's the occasional one-off inquiry like Australia's recent Competition Policy Review that has been doing the same thing (have a read here in particular). It's good to know that there's still some kind of following wind to keep the momentum of reform going.
• light bulbs but not light fittings
• outdoor lighting but not indoor lighting
• kitchen sinks but not dishwashers
• wood-fire heaters but not gas heaters
• indoor television antennae but not outdoor television aerials (p10)
But isn't it strange, and a bit dispiriting, that after the best part of 30 years of progress in both countries, we're still lumbered with this kind of malarkey. And while I suspect we may not be as bad as the Aussies on most shop regulation (though I could be wrong about the Easter trading, where our regime is probably as chaotic as theirs), I wonder what we'd find if, for example, we turned over some flat stones of our own. I wonder what's underneath the occupational qualifications one?
Oct 17, 2014 •
In a previous post I mentioned that Australia's Competition Policy Review had put a torpedo into the side of 'national champions' - requiring or allowing mass consolidation of an industry to produce what will supposedly be a more internationally competitive player.
And last week, I'm pleased to say, the drifting hulk took another blow as Australia's Productivity Commission got it amidships with another one.
The occasion was the Commission's report on dairy manufacturing (pdf) - the latest in an industry series on 'Relative Costs of Doing Business in Australia'. There's lot of interesting stuff in the report, including the short but informative Appendix B down the back on 'Economics of dairy markets', but for me the highlights were the bits where the Commission responded to submitters arguing that Australia should go the Fonterra route (these are all on p3):
the Australian dairy industry is a price taker on global markets and has no capacity to alter this, irrespective of the structure of the industry. A belief that any single Australian dairy company could exert market power is not consistent with market realities
the emergence of a dominant manufacturer is not a prerequisite for developing distinctive Australian branding for dairy products
there are potential risks associated with highly concentrated industry structures if the overall performance of the industry is linked with one company
Fonterra-like arrangements are not necessary to ensure that scale benefits at the plant level are realised — indeed, there is considerable evidence that Australian dairy manufacturers are taking advantage of scale benefits where it is profitableAnd the Commission wrapped it up on p8 with this:
...industry participants are best placed to balance the various tradeoffs and commercial considerations they face (such as between scale and transport costs). Other than where legitimate competition concerns are relevant...the most beneficial dairy industry structure for Australia will be determined by the market place. Attempts by governments to ‘second guess’ market outcomes to achieve a particular industry structure are fraught with difficulty, and likely to impose net costs on the industry and the community more generally. It does not require much imagination — or experience with price setting by government — to envisage highly problematic judgements in setting an Australian price (or prices) for guaranteed domestic milk supply, as occurs today in New Zealand.The Commission also quoted (pp115-6) from a recent speech by Rod Sims, the head of the ACCC, where he said:
We are seeing a return to calls for ‘national champions’ in Australia. It is, of course, terrific when companies out compete their rivals and take on the world. The concern is when they call for restrictions on competition at home so they can better compete on the world stage. The argument is a contradiction: if you cannot beat your rivals at home how can you hope to do so overseas? Firms involved in cosy oligopolies or oligopolies in Australia are unlikely to succeed on the world stage.So it looks as if the old rustbucket SS National Champion has now taken three hits in a row. Unfortunately, if past experience is any guide, it will manage to struggle back to port, get patched up, and in due course set out again on another hopeful journey.
Oct 14, 2014 •
I've been engaged in a bit of tweeting to and fro about the rise in New Zealand's government debt in recent years, and what's behind it.The background is that there's been a fair bit of political point-making going on about the large rise in debt on Na...
Oct 09, 2014 •
In earlier posts (main one here, follow-up here) I've commended the wonderful work done by Australia's Competition Policy Review. They've systematically taken a pro-consumer, pro-competitive approach without wandering off piste into anti-business populism.
From time to time there are calls for competition policy to be changed to allow the formation of ‘national champions’ — national firms that are large enough to compete globally. While the pursuit of scale efficiencies is a desirable economic objective, it is less clear whether, and in what circumstances, suspending competition laws to allow the creation of national champions is desirable from either an economic or consumer perspective.
Porter and others have noted that the best preparation for overseas competition is not insulation from domestic competition but exposure to intense domestic competition. Further, the purpose of the competition laws is to enhance consumer welfare through ensuring that Australian consumers can access competitively priced goods and services. Allowing mergers to create a national champion may benefit the shareholders of the merged businesses but could diminish the welfare of Australian consumers.
Oct 01, 2014 •
Earlier this month the World Economic Forum came out with the 2014-15 edition of its Global Competitiveness Report (you can find a link to downloading it here). It got a bit of media attention at the time, mostly on somewhat invidious chauvinist grounds - we moved up a notch, and the Aussies moved down one.
Other than that, the detail didn't get much of an outing over the mainstream media fences, and that's a shame, because the report is full of interesting comparisons, which make for suggestive diagnostic policy tools. Here, for example, is what our business community rates as the main problematic factors for doing business.
This is an interesting diagnosis, especially as it's not the sort of clichéd grumbling you might expect from a business group. In fact, these surveys seem to be pretty accurate around the world. The equivalent French survey, for example, came up with this - quite a different set, and one that looks absolutely on the money.
Coming back to the 'Inadequate supply of infrastructure' theme, here's something that I found disconcerting.
By way of background, the Report covers three groups of things for each country - the essentials; things that make the country work better ("efficiency enhancers"); and things that enable you to compete in the deep end of the international swimming pool ("innovation and sophistication factors"). Those "efficiency enhancers" are made up of six "pillars", one of which is "technological readiness", and which in turn has seven components. Here's how we stack up (score and relative world ranking).
Sep 25, 2014 •
Post-election, thoughts have turned - finally - to policy. It's reported in the Herald that among the likely policy initiatives over the next three years, John Key "identified progress on a trade deal with South Korea, which is close to a conclusion, and the Trans Pacific Partnership as priorities".
A bilateral deal with South Korea is definitely a good idea: I know, in an ideal world we've have comprehensive multilateral trade agreements, but it's not an ideal world, and take what you can is the order of the day. These bilateral agreements can be quite handy: our agreement with China, for example, gave us a clear competitive advantage against the Aussies in the dairy trade with China (as I wrote up here).
Whether the TPP ever gets off the ground, and whether it will in fact be a genuine free trade agreement, is anyone's guess. There have been leaks about the negotiations that have raised suspicions of TPP as potentially protectionist of US intellectual property, rather than helping to free up trade, and I've also seen speculation that the Japanese will make sure that any agricultural trade liberalisation in the TPP will get watered down to meaninglessness.
One worry I've got is that a 'bad' TPP will taint the arguments for free trade, which tend to struggle at the best of times against the loud voices of anti-trade ideologues and of formerly protected interests. The voice of the family buying cheaper T-shirts and food tends not to get much of a look in.
So I thought I'd just point to some new research about one of the big free trade deals - NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. At the time the usual suspects came out in force against it: you might remember Ross Perot running for President in the US in 1992 on fears of the "giant sucking sound" of American jobs going down the gurgler towards Mexico (and finding nearly 20 million American voters to agree with him).
The latest research comes from the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, "a private, nonprofit institution for rigorous, intellectually open, and honest study and discussion of international economic policy...The Institute is completely nonpartisan". The summary is here and the whole thing (pdf) is here.
How did this contentious agreement work out? Pretty well, as it happens, though one of the lessons is that proponents of freer trade need to be more realistic about the payoffs: it's not just the opponents that can go off the deep end. That said, the benefits were real: look at this.
The same is true of the proposed agreement with South Korea, as MFAT's briefing page on the negotiations points out:Ample econometric evidence documents the substantial payoff from expanded two-way trade in goods and services. Through multiple channels, benefits flow both from larger exports and larger imports. As a rough rule of thumb, for advanced nations, like Canada and the United States, an agreement that promotes an additional $1 billion of two-way trade increases GDP by $200 million. For an emerging country, like Mexico, the payoff ratio is higher: An additional $1 billion of two-way trade probably increases GDP by $500 million. Based on these rules of thumb, the United States is $127 billion richer each year thanks to “extra” trade growth, Canada is $50 billion richer, and Mexico is $170 billion richer. For the United States, with a population of 320 million, the pure economic payoff is almost $400 per person.
An independent joint study into the benefits and feasibility of an FTA was completed in 2007. It found that New Zealand and Korea are two of the most complementary economies in the Asia-Pacific region and that an FTA would deliver economic benefits for both countries. The analysis, by the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research and the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy, suggested that the FTA would provide gains to real GDP between 2007 and 2030 of US$4.5 billion for New Zealand and US$5.9 billion for Korea.Opponents of trade liberalisation, in short, would take US$10 billion of benefits from a Korean agreement alone, and scatter them to the winds.
Sep 22, 2014 •
Inequality isn't one of my core research interests, but over the last few days I've found myself absorbed in lots of interesting bits of research on inequality all arriving at once (I wrote up one of them yesterday).
Sep 22, 2014 •
Yesterday evening in Auckland we had another interesting Law and Economics Association (LEANZ) event, with Max Rashbrooke talking on 'Inequality in New Zealand', largely based on his book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, published by Bridget William B...
Sep 12, 2014 •
Yesterday I posted some data showing the profitability of different sectors of New Zealand business, based on Stats' brand new release of the Annual Enterprise Survey for 2013. And based on a quick squizz at the data I concluded that "you start thinkin...