Monday, September 19, 2016

Anti-Trust vs Regulation: The Case of Baysanto

by Levi Russell

Bayer's impending purchase of Monsanto is all over the news lately. As is typical in these situations, the conversation centers around concerns of increasing market power and monopoly profits. Regular readers might expect me to focus on the notion that industry concentration doesn't necessarily imply welfare losses, but I'm not.

It seems to me that the relationship between anti-trust legislation and regulation is an under-discussed issue in these cases. Agribusiness firms are heavily regulated by three of the most powerful regulators in the US: the FDA, the USDA, and the EPA. Many regulations function as fixed costs, implying that there are economies of scale in regulatory compliance. Thus, the greater the regulatory burden placed on firms in an industry, the greater the inducement to merge.

These regulatory economies of scale militate directly against the goals of anti-trust policy. The latter, perhaps as an unintended consequence, gives us fewer and larger firms while the latter attempts to reign in these cost-saving mergers in the name of competition. If we're going to seriously discuss regulation and anti-trust, we need to be cognizant of the interplay between them.

Of course, there are plenty of problems with the regulatory revolving door and other public choice issues to deal with as well. On this front, it seems fairly obvious that the incentive to rent-seek is positively correlated with the prize being offered. Perhaps this is an argument for less power vested in the administrative state and more power returned to the courts.

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