Economics symposium weighs up the competition

Dr Simona Fabrizi

Competition policy, particularly in the energy sector, will be the focus of the inaugural Applied and Theoretical Economics (ATE) Symposium at Massey University next week.

Event organiser Dr Simona Fabrizi says the symposium will bring together academics, policymakers and industry to discuss an important area of economic research.

“Competition law and policy is really about the functioning of markets to create a fair playing field, to discourage anti-competitive behaviour and to protect consumers. It’s very important to get it right,” she says.

“The main mission of the ATE network is to get policymakers and economics researchers together and competition is a key area where research can really inform policy – and we want to facilitate that dialogue.” 

The first day of the symposium is dedicated to the electricity market, and keynote speaker Professor Frank Wolak from Stanford University will give a free public lecture in the evening.

Professor Wolak is very familiar with the New Zealand context and will give his insights into how best to create an efficient and fair market, which is becoming one of the key issues in the run-up to next year’s general election. His lecture is titled ‘Regulating monopolies in a small economy’. 

“Professor Wolak is a leading expert who has studied market design from around the world,” Dr Fabrizi says. “He will have firm opinions on what New Zealand is doing well and not so well.”

The morning of the second day of the symposium will discuss the role competition policy plays in encouraging innovation. The keynote speaker, Scientia Professor Jay Pil Choi from Michigan State University and the University of New South Wales, will talk about patent theory. 

“There should be good discussion about the patent system and how best to foster innovation and collaboration while protecting intellectual property. These are not trivial questions,” Dr Fabrizi says. 

The afternoon will be given over to policymakers, with Dr Koki Arai from Japan’s Fair Trade Commission and Dr Lilla Csorgo, the chief economist of the Competition Branch of the New Zealand Commerce Commission, speaking during the final session.

Dr Fabrizi says effective competition is often an issue for small countries like New Zealand and she hopes the symposium will lead to robust discussion about the best way forward.

“We are a small country with a small population so historically we have had many natural monopolies because the market has only been large enough for one, or very few, players,” she says.

“Technology is changing that but, to some extent, New Zealanders don’t put pressure on companies to deliver goods and services at a better price because they are used to little competition.

“The Commerce Commission is doing an excellent job at slowly changing the culture but there are many sectors where things could improve substantially and we hope the symposium will facilitate that process and help bring about a bit more competition, which would ultimately benefit consumers.”

The 1st ATE Symposium is organised by the Research Network in Applied and Theoretical Economics, which is hosted and administered at Massey University. It was founded to bridge the gap between the work of theoretical economists and how their research is applied in practice.

The Symposium takes place at Massey’s Albany campus on December 12-13 and the full programme can be downloaded from the ATE website: http://ate.massey.ac.nz. The programme committee consists of Dr Simona Fabrizi, Dr Steffen Lippert (Otago) and Professor Hodaka Morita (UNSW).

Professor Frank Wolak’s Public Lecture is at 5.30pm on December 12 in the Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatre Building on Massey’s Albany campus.

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