Ya hace algunos años que empecé a estudiar la política de competencia en Brasil a través de un enfoque socio-antropológico. La falta de estudios en sociología o antropología sobre este tema tan complejo me hizo llevo a conducirme cautelosamente por la investigación histórica llegando progresivamente a un enfoque más etnográfico. Mi impresión es que la sutileza de ciertas prácticas pueden ser mejor comprendidas a partir de un estudio etnográfico que permita considerar las maneras en que diferentes saberes (en el caso la ciencia económica y el derecho) se combinan dando forma a la política de competencia o antitrust. En este primer post trato de establecer los contornos históricos-genealógicos de la política de defensa de la competencia en Brasil, con base en mis investigaciones anteriores. En un segundo post (a principios de agosto) intentaré describir las cuestiones que me hicieron optar por un tratamiento más (clásicamente) etnográfico de esta política.
The ethical assemblage of antitrust in Brazil
Starting from the year of 1992, with the election of President Fernando Collor, a series of economic policies were implemented in Brazil, such as the privatization of telecommunication and energy sectors; the opening of national markets to international trade and capital, the increase in the Central Bank’s autonomy in deciding interest rates; the creation of regulatory bodies and agencies; and the enforcement of antitrust policy. These policies, known as neo-liberal reforms, constituted not only a new policy paradigm but also a new technology of government deployed in the country in order to deal with a recent liberalized economy.
Antitrust policy has a lot to do with this new governmentality. Neo-liberalism suggests a form of government in which power is exercised “at a distance”, creating certain “forms and spaces of self-government, self-regulation and self-responsibility”. Antitrust policy acts precisely in this way. It cannot separate large conglomerates, it cannot lower prices or increase economic production and economic efficiencies directly, but it can create “incentives” and mechanisms that can lead to these objectives. It defines a range of possible actions that can be followed by entities being governed – firms in this case. Antitrust is therefore understood here as a set of ways of acting on the conduct of business activity, not only normatively but also ethically, if we consider by this not an abstract set of principles but a practical and heterogeneous set of techniques directed towards a specific set of issues, as Andrew Barry suggests.
More precisely, antitrust policy in Brazil was mainly deployed in the beginning as a technology to deal with prices, or inflation. By ensuring market competition or uncompetitive behavior of firms, antitrust would indirectly control inflationary pressures. What is interesting is the fact that antitrust was now being adopted in a country where neither “markets” nor “competition” were ever that important or were even absent. Brazil used to have an economic policy which privileged the formation of large industrial conglomerates in concentrated market structures. Consequently, antitrust regulation would not only aim at controlling competition, but also at creating it. My previous research addressed the emergence (or problematization) of market competition as a new object of economic regulation in the 1990s.
The historical study draws on a range of primary and secondary sources, such as interviews, antitrust agency documents – including its composition, decisions, reports, resolutions and guidelines –, antitrust legislation, congressional hearings, and academic papers, which allow the investigation of the constitution of a “competition culture” in the economic sector. It is shown that this “ethics of competition” was abstractly (discursively) as well as practically (materially) deployed through the work of experts (economists), through the performativity of economic theory and through the disciplinary capabilities of antitrust procedures and inscriptions.
The Antitrust Resolutions defined by the Brazilian antitrust authority is one of these ethical inscription devices. They were specific norms supposed to be followed by the counselors doing the economic analysis and by firms requesting the approval of the agency in some form of merging activity. The most important aspect of these Resolutions is that they defined most of the economic concepts used by the agency, and also created norms defining the specific information the agency needed to produce in its analysis and decisions. The firms that dealt with the governmental body had to provide specific economic information. The Resolution 5, for example, defined the specific kind of information the agency required from firms in order to proceed with its investigations. The agency requested information on the relevant market, on the barriers of entry of the market, as well as on the expected efficiencies the firm was willing to achieve with the operation.
The learning of the “language” of Antitrust Economics was a prerequisite for firms to defend their competitive practices or mergers. Moreover, lawyers, economic consultants and even the media had to learn these specific economic concepts used in antitrust policy: from “relevant market” and “barriers to entry”, to “predatory pricing”, “price discrimination”, and cartels. The use of economic concepts by the main regulatory body on competition in Brazil made possible the construction of a world in which competition is seen as something to be pursued. The introduction of a new type of economic regulation brought together a new constitution to the economy and to its markets. The economy has to be formatted or assembled in a different way. The ethical conduct of markets (and firms) became objects of governmental action through the use of economic science and its “inscription devices”, which objectified subjective conducts in the markets. Antitrust thus became a powerful performative tool in Brazilian economy.