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The IMF adds to a chorus of concern about competition

PHYSICISTS’ QUEST for a “theory of everything” is well-known. The equivalent in economics is the hunt for common causes for the rich-world macroeconomic trends of the past decade or so: a shrinking share of the economic pie for workers, disappointing investment and lacklustre productivity growth. These must be reconciled with low interest rates, pockets of technological advance and juicy returns for investors willing to take risks.The leading economic theory of everything is that competition has weakened as markets have become more concentrated. Unlike firms in competitive markets, monopolies limit production in order to keep prices and profits high. They can therefore be expected to restrain their investment, too. They might still be innovative—with monopoly profits up for grabs, why not be?—but market power usually makes economies less productive overall. And monopolies have many opportunities to take bites out of labour’s share of the pie. Their high profits typically flow to investors, not workers. Their high prices eat into the purchasing power of wages. Their bargaining clout may even allow them to suppress pay directly.
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