A Love Of Competition, Not Protectionism
from the culturally-difficult dept
Eliot Spitzer (yes, that Eliot Spitzer) makes some interesting points in a column where he attacks both the SEC and GM for focusing on protectionism rather than competition. When it comes to GM, the argument is easy to understand. GM has done much to try to resist novel and useful innovations in the interest of protecting its own business. As for the SEC, that's a bit more of a stretch -- and obviously stems from Spitzer's own efforts back when he was NY's Attorney General and attempted to take on Wall St. while the SEC resisted any such investigations and lawsuits. Thus, to him, he represented "competition" and the SEC tried to block out such competition (which brings up some weird questions concerning whether or not it's good to have competition within the regulatory structure).
But the key point Spitzer makes is that we need to build a "culture of competition" into American organizations, rather than protectionism. That sounds good, but I'm having trouble seeing how you could actually make that work directly. There are some things you can do on the margins -- and, in fact, research has shown that making noncompete agreements unenforceable actually does increase competition (is it worth pointing out at this time that noncompetes went from unenforceable to enforceable in Detroit in the 80s...?). But, you can only do things like this at the margin. There is no way to flat out change a culture in this manner. Instead, I think you actually need to create incentives for companies to take a longer term view, rather than the short term view we get today. With the quarterly report set up, everyone has a 3-month time horizon on pretty much everything they do (in some cases one year, but never more). If companies actually had incentives to look at the significantly longer term, they would recognize themselves that ongoing competition and innovation are the only way they're going to continue successfully serving a market in the long run. But until someone comes up with a way to create incentives that allow for both transparency and longer term views, then it's likely that companies will focus on beating down competitors rather than winning through innovation.