Acercándose a la política de defensa de la competencia (Parte 1)

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.

Gustavo Onto

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Comments

  • joseossandon  On June 7, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Muy interesante tu estudio Gustavo. Por mientras esperamos por el lado etnográfico te dejo un par de preguntas.
    Parece muy importante este encuentro entre economistas y otros profesionales, en particular abogados que se “economizan” (probablemente ya has visto lo de un amigo de londres w.davies acá: http://bit.ly/jKi2u7 ). Sin embargo, pareciera que hay diferentes opciones y escuelas, ¿no? (más continental, más chicago, etc.). ¿Como se construyó la regulación en brasil? ¿donde se dio esta discusión? ¿fue una controversia académica?
    Lo otro es que a diferencia de otros casos que hemos discutido acá, donde los economistas “crean” un mercado donde no existía (educación, salud, etc.), lo que tu muestras es un intento por “economizar” mercados existentes. Lo que además de interesante abre la pregunta sobre el éxito de estas políticas “domesticando” mercados. Me he acordado del caso de las aerolíneas en brasil que presentó acá mismo (http://bit.ly/ifzK7p) Cristiano Fonseca. De hecho justo por estos días la famosa fusión LAN-TAM esta en el tribunal de competencia chileno! (no hay problema si respondes en inglés)

  • gustavoonto  On June 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Precisamente, Jose. Voy a escribir en portugués, creo que todos comprenden.
    1) O encontro entre economistas e advogados certamente é um eixo central, de um ponto de vista sociológico e antropológico, da política antitruste. O caso do Brasil é muito interessante, pois a politica de concorrência (competencia) não era bem vista durante boa parte do século XX por economistas, tanto liberais quanto desenvolvimentistas (desarollistas). O campo de economistas e advogados em torno do antitruste foi se desenvolvendo lentamente em meados da década de 1980, principalmente devido à ida de economistas aos Estados Unidos para fazer seus Phds sobre Organização Industrial. Quanto aos advogados, o movimento de defesa dos consumidores foi essencial para estabelecer um consenso em torno de uma lei de concorrência. Apesar disso, foi basicamente o problema da inflação que possibilitou a criação de uma nova lei e de uma política da concorrência. Acredito que a ênfase na inflação levou diferentes vertentes de economistas à um acordo sobre os fundamentos da lei e da política. O campo era muito pequeno e a controvérsia se deu apenas durante as discussões congressuais. A lei/política acabou tendo características tanto da escola de Chicago quanto da escola de Harvard.
    2) Você tem toda razão em apontar a questão da “economicização” dos mercados. A política antitruste não “cria” um mercado onde antes não havia. O que existe é uma tentativa de ajustar a realidade com a teoria econômica. Segundo os economistas, os mercados existem “na realidade”, eles só precisariam agir de modo mais competitivo. Acredito que essa questão sobre o êxito das políticas e das práticas seja uma questão permanente, não somente para economistas, como também para nós sociólogos e antropólogos. Os economistas certamente acreditam que estão criando economias mais competitivas. E mostram como fazem isso por meio de tabelas e gráficos. As taxas de crescimento da economia brasileira atuais são prova, segundo os economistas, das bem sucedidas políticas, entre elas a antitruste. Acredito que essa questão, entre a realidade e a representação da economia, é que precisa ser sempre problematizada nos nossos estudos.
    Gracias por los comentarios!

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