There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Posts from — May 2009

An Interesting Consequence of Regulation

Milton Friedman once said that regulations favor big businesses and put small businesses at a disadvantage. The theory goes that big businesses can afford the lawyers, accountants, and staff to manage complex regulations, as well as the lobbyists to influence regulators and other government bureaucrats, while small businesses and fledgling companies cannot. It should therefore be the case, that in the most heavily regulated industries, you will see some of the largest and most powerful companies.

Of course, large companies sometimes have advantages in other ways (industries with high startup costs, economies of scale, etc.) And also some might say that the regulations are put in place because the companies became too large. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at a list of the largest companies in 2008 (by revenue) in the U.S., and to see what industries they represent:

  1. Wal-Mart – Retail
  2. ExxonMobil – Energy/Oil
  3. Chevron – Energy/Oil
  4. General Motors – Automobiles
  5. ConocoPhillips – Energy/Oil
  6. General Electric – Congolmerate
  7. Ford Motor – Automobiles
  8. Citigroup – Banking
  9. Bank of America – Banking
  10. AT&T – Telecommunications

So in the top 10 we have companies representing banking, energy/oil, the auto industry, and telecom. Though I haven’t proved anything, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these are some of the most heavily regulated industries in the country.

Another way of looking at is to look at the age of companies. The idea is that regulations would give the advantage to older, more entrenched corporations. That’s exactly what Brian Gongol has done. His data shows that corporations in countries with heavy regulations tend to be much older. Again, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but the data is interesting nonetheless.

So next time someone suggests that government somehow needs to restrain the size of banks, auto companies, or pharmaceutical companies, so that they don’t become too big (to fail) and powerful, think for a second that the reason those companies are so large may due to government involvement in the first place.

May 20, 2009   No Comments