By Maurice E. Stucke, Ariel Ezrachi
Using dozens of vivid examples to show how society overprescribed competition as a solution and when unbridled rivalry hurts consumers, kills entrepreneurship, and increases economic inequality, two free-market thinkers diagnose the sickness caused by competition overdose and provide remedies that will promote sustainable growth and progress for everyone, not just wealthy shareholders and those at the top.
Whatever illness our society suffers, competition is the remedy. Do we want better schools for our children? Cheaper prices for everything? More choices in the marketplace? The answer is always: Increase competition.
Yet, many of us are unhappy with the results. We think we’re paying less, but we’re getting much less. Our food has undeclared additives (or worse), our drinking water contains toxic chemicals, our hotel bills reveal surprise additions, our kids’ schools are failing, our activities are tracked so that advertisers can target us with relentless promotions. All will be cured, we are told, by increasing the competitive pressure and defanging the bloated regulatory state.
In a captivating exposé, Maurice E. Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi show how we are falling prey to greed, chicanery, and cronyism. Refuting the almost religious belief in rivalry as the vehicle for prosperity, the authors identify the powerful corporations, lobbyists, and lawmakers responsible for pushing this toxic competition—and argue instead for a healthier, even nobler, form of competition.
Competition Overdose diagnoses the disease—and provides a cure for it.
Anonymous on Kirkus Reviews wrote:
"This new book by two prominent competition law thinkers, Maurice E Stucke (Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee) and Ariel Ezrachi (Professor of Law at the University of Oxford) has triggered a vivid discussion over the ever-fading question on the goals of competition law, economics and policy and – more broadly – on the very nature of the multifaceted phenomenon of competition. The previous blockbuster of the duo, Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy (2016), has generated vocal and diverse feedback, and the authors continue their market success with publishing another thought-provoking piece. The book provokes not only thoughts. From its very title, subtitle, name of chapters, normative position, methodological argumentation and the choice of preprint reviewers, across the selection of case studies and to its very writing style, the book is designed to generate discussion. [...] A quick look at the composition of the book makes clear the authors’ intention to transpose their well-established and highly influential academic reasoning from the narrow world of competition theorists to a broader and more diverse audience. The key objective of the book in this respect is to convince such broader societal circles of the need to reform competition policy – or rather to revise our perception of the very essence and the very mission of economic competition as such. The book is in several senses iconoclastic. As skilful diagnosticians, the authors reveal weakness after weakness of the market-centred ethics. The main cures offered by the book – both in terms of the normative propositions as well as the politicised vocabulary and intentionally approachable argumentative apparatus – will be appealing to many."
Thomas A. Hemphill on Cato Institute wrote:
An exploration of how many of us feel “increasingly uneasy about the results of unbridled competition.” In their latest collaboration, Stucke (Law/Univ. of Tennessee) and Ezrachi (Competition Law/Univ. of Oxford), who co-authored Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy (2016, etc.), parse the theory of competition within a society, delineating how sometimes the positive aspects of competition—e.g., in choosing a college, on supermarket shelves, regarding hotel prices, etc.—can spiral downward, becoming a menace. Because competition has been sold for centuries as an unbridled positive, reading this book requires counterintuitive thinking and an open mind. Using a lucid, conversational style, the authors thoroughly explain each case study and anecdote. Does competition regularly result in a race to the bottom? Yes, the authors maintain, and they present ideas about how to achieve what they term “noble competition,” in which sellers, buyers, and society at large all benefit. One homespun example of noble competition can be found at local farmers markets, where, for example, a few local growers of tomatoes offer quality produce grown organically at reasonable prices. Each grower wants to earn the most cash on a given Saturday, but there is nothing destructive about the friendly competition. On the other hand, in one of the book’s most effective sections about negative competition, in which almost everybody loses, the authors examine big-time college football. Dollars that could have been allocated to improving academics on campus instead end up going toward exorbitant coaches’ salaries and luxury boxes for wealthy alumni. Consequently, colleges engage in an arms race to see who can provide the most impressive facilities or pay their coach the most. The authors also offer persuasive studies about how too much competition can lead to consumer paralysis, and they clearly demonstrate how advocates of untrammeled competition successfully lobby against government regulation, thus causing harm to the general citizenry. Useful reading for business owners and attentive consumers."
"While the authors repeatedly discuss the virtues of competition (and their support of it), there is insufficient evidence of why it is their paradigm of choice. In this case, the reigning antitrust paradigm is the Chicago‐based, utilitarian approach, which they allege supports (too often) a market “race to the bottom.” While in some cases there is sufficient evidence to support specific antitrust or regulatory intervention, such as the growing list of abusive anticompetitive behaviors associated with Big Tech, their arguments go well beyond “competition” in the narrow sense of antitrust policy. [...] A weakness in their approach is that it needs to be offset with the many examples where existing competition is working to benefit consumers and society or how a specific regulatory intervention will improve the outcome for consumers and society. [...] In addition, the concept of “government failure” did not appear until late in the book. Government failure, in the context of public policy, is an economic inefficiency caused by a government intervention if the inefficiency would not exist in a freely operating market. While the authors acknowledge that government has failed to regulate responsibly in many of their examples [...]. their remedies also represent a progressive agenda of policy initiatives representing further economic expansion of the social “safety net”—such as legislating an increase in the minimum wage—which may also represent (in certain instances) a continuation of ongoing government failure. Nevertheless, the authors are correct in their assessment of business, government, and consumers needing to focus on working to realistically attain a positive‐sum, ethical form of competition. Their concept of “noble competition” seems a bridge too far and may likely resemble that of unattainable “perfect competition.” Reinforcing ethical competition is as much a necessity for a vibrant, innovative capitalist economy (as Milton Friedman recognized) as actively enforcing existing laws and regulations that prevent unfair competition."
- "The Race to the Bottom: What Competition Overdose Does to Our Wallets and Well-Being" - article by the authors on Porchlight Books, 18 March 2020
Table of Contents of Competition Overdose
Part I - When Is Competition Toxic?
- First Overdose: The Race to the Bottom
- Second Overdose: "Excuse Me, Sir, I Did Not Order Horsemeat"
- Third Overdose: Exploiting Human Weakness
- Fourth Overdose: Choice Overload
Part II - Who Is Pushing the Toxic Competition?
- The Ideologues: The Defenders of Competition Ideology
- The Lobbyists: How to Kudzu the Competition Ideology Like a Pro
- The Privatizers: When in Doubt, Privatize!
- The Gamemakers
Part III - What Can We Do About It?
- How Greedy Are We? Redefining the Competition Ideal to Reflect Our Values
- Competition: From Toxic to Noble
About Maurice E. Stucke and Ariel Exrachi
Maurice E. Stucke is a co-founder of the Data Competition Institute, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, and of counsel at the Konkurrenz Group. Professor Stucke publishes and speaks regularly on competition policy in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Professor Stucke serves as one of the United States' non-governmental advisors to the International Competition Network, as a Senior Fellow at the American Antitrust Institute, where he chaired a committee on the media industry that drafted a transition report for the incoming Obama administration, on the board of the Academic Society for Competition Law, and on advisory board of the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies. Professor Stucke received a number of awards including a Fulbright fellowship to teach at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, and the Jerry S. Cohen Memorial Fund Writing Award for his article "Behavioral Economists at the Gate: Antitrust in the Twenty-First Century." He has twenty years experience handling a range of competition policy issues in both private practice and as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ariel Ezrachi is the Slaughter and May Professor of Competition Law and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. He serves as the Director of the University of Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy. He is co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Antitrust Enforcement (OUP) and the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of numerous books, including Virtual Competition - The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm Driven Economy (2016, Harvard), EU Competition Law - An Analytical Guide to the Leading Cases (6th ed, 2018, Hart), Global Antitrust Compliance Handbook (2014, OUP), Research Handbook on International Competition Law (2012 EE), Intellectual Property and Competition Law: New Frontiers (2011, OUP), Criminalising Cartels: Critical Studies of an International Regulatory Movement (2011, Hart), Article 82 EC - Reflections on its recent evolution (2009, Hart) and Private Labels, Brands and Competition Policy (2009, OUP).