[2168] Of no to the policy of One Price

Prices of the same tradable items in different places tend to converge in a perfectly efficient market. Theoretically, motivated by profits, individuals and entities act as arbitrageurs. They will continue to arbitrage until there are no more profits to be made. That is when prices equalized and that is the essence of the law of one price.

Prices may not actually converge to one price due to several factors however because market can be inefficient. Limited access to information crucial for the purpose of arbitrage may prevent convergence. Transportation cost as well as government intervention in terms of taxation and subsidization are two of several other important frictions. Instead of prices equalizing, a price spread exists to reflect those frictions even as market participants exhaust arbitrage opportunity.

This is essentially the reason why there is noticeable price differential for the same tradable goods sold in eastern and western part of Malaysia. With the South China Sea separating Malaysia into two parts, it is only natural for prices to differ between the two regions. Even under the price and supply control mechanism that exists in Malaysia, a kilogram of sugar for example, is sold 10 sen cheaper in Peninsular Malaysia than in Sabah and Sarawak. Transportation cost is a considerable barrier preventing actual convergence.

This is a source of discontent for some. Member of Parliament for Kalabakan, Abdul Ghapur Salleh of UMNO said in November 2009 said, “We’re talking about 1Malaysia, but we don’t even have one price” while alleging that the price differential is more insidious in nature — discrimination against Sabah and Sarawak — rather than simple economic friction.

It is unclear how exactly he wants effort at standardization to proceed but the approach by the federal government is clear. In the same month, Minister Koh Tsu Koon supported the idea of standardized prices across Malaysia and proposed that transportation cost be shared by all; in other words, introduce subsidy. Nearly a year earlier, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry wanted to do the same: subsidize transportation cost. In Sarawak itself, perhaps a harbinger preceding a possibly wider similar nationwide policy, the same ministry plans to subsidize transportation cost with the intention of standardizing prices of essential items sold in urban and rural areas under its “One Sarawak, One Price” campaign.

They are turning the law of one price on its head. Rather than letting market forces find its equilibrium where a particular price fits a particular landscape through a narrow band, the government intends to impose unnatural standardized prices for all situations everywhere to force convergence. The government intends to introduce more inefficiency to standardize prices.

The discontent over price differential is overrated. Two economists — Lee Chin and Muzafar Shah Habibullah of Universiti Putra Malaysia — published a paper in 2008 showing that prices of tradable goods between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are converging. Furthermore, the recent liberalization of cabotage policy — a protectionist policy that contributed to persistent price differential between eastern and western part of Malaysia — will likely further strengthen the natural convergence trend.

Convergence aside, to iterate the idea of how the difference is natural, the price differential has nothing to do with discrimination between the two parts of Malaysia. It is a reality that there is a large body of water separating the two parts of Malaysia. It is likely that if the transportation cost is brought down either through liberalization or improvement in technology, prices are likely to equalize, all else being equal.

The price differential due to transportation cost or distance has nothing to do with the idea of unity as much as it has something to do with the idea of discrimination. In the United States for instance, gas prices in Michigan and in California are very different. Even in the same state, prices of gas in one town can be different from another town a mile away. That does not make the person who pays higher price as less American than the other person who pays lower price for gas.

This idea can be expanded to Peninsular Malaysia. The government should not standardize prices within Malaysia. This is not to say just prices between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, but within those regions as well. What a free Malaysia needs is not a Price Control Act, but a Competition Act or antitrust law to fight collusion among businesses in order to encourage competition — the most effective method at encouraging convergence and low prices — without suffocating entrepreneurial spirit.

On top of that, maybe, just maybe, the move of having manufacturers based in Sabah or Sarawak is a cheaper and a more profitable option compared to the option of transporting goods from Peninsular Malaysia or from abroad even after accounting for various other effects like clusterization.

If the subsidization program goes through, it removes that incentive and hence, the possibility of developing industries in eastern Malaysia. If a business owner could transport his or her goods free from western to eastern Malaysia, why would the business owner locate his or her factory in eastern Malaysia? There are better ports, roads, financial services — practically everything that matters in business — in Peninsular Malaysia than in Sabah and Sarawak. The subsidization program would continue to industrialize the Peninsula while leaving Sabah and Sarawak farther behind in terms of development.

Besides, the Prime Minister recently said that private initiates and market forces have to be given freer rein while subsidies be phased out. The standardization of prices across Malaysia through subsidization of transportation cost by the government clearly contradicts that. Is this a proof that there is no coordination within the government? Or does words mean nothing to the government?

For the answer to be no on both accounts, the policy of “One Price” must be rejected.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

A version of this article was first published in The Malaysian Insider on February 22 2010.

5 replies on “[2168] Of no to the policy of One Price”

I don’t claim to be an economist. And I am unsure how you could claim that I don’t believe in the right to bear arms.

Further, free trade and fair trade are not mutually exclusive. But i figure, fairness is a subjective term that you and i are likely to disagree.

Anyway, you’re funny too. After all this while and the insult you’ve thrown at me, I’d assume that you hated me. Yet, you’re still reading me. You must really like me for some reason. i’m flattered.

hehehehe… you are a funny guy!!!
Being a fake economist is sure a fun job!

hey Hafiz, Does free trade override fair trade?

It just like the founding father have said, “Democracy is just two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

or Claiming to be a libertarian but doesn’t believe in freedom to arm?

Remember when you all good boys give away your gun only the criminal will deem to own one!

Let us here a real opinion from a real economist view.. that the free market press with no inherent bias will never promote!

Markets Fail When Humans Are Unregulated

By Paul Craig Roberts

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan answered that he had placed his trust in a flawed theory when he was called before Congress to explain why he, Goldman Sachs Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, prevented Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation, a government regulatory agency, from doing her job of regulating over-the-counter derivatives.

The efficient markets theory is that unregulated markets are efficient and rational. According to this theory in which Greenspan placed his trust, unregulated markets produce the best possible result. Any regulatory interference worsens the outcome.

Greenspan blamed his own bad judgment on a theory. The theory, or Greenspan’s understanding of it, nevertheless still holds sway as Congress has proved impotent to re-regulate the gambling casino that is Wall Street. Clearly, the theory serves powerful interests.

But what is the truth?

The truth is that markets are a social institution. Their efficiency depends on the rules that govern the behavior of people in markets. When free market economists talk about markets deciding this or that, they are reifying a social institution and ascribing to it decision-making power. Socialists make the same mistake when they blame markets for the results of human action. But, of course, markets do not act or make decisions. People act and make decisions, and markets reflect the decisions and actions of people.

The entire debate over regulation is misconstrued. It is not the market, an efficient social institution, which is regulated. What is regulated is the behavior of people in markets. If you want good results from markets, good regulation of human behavior is a requirement.

The market is like a computer. Garbage in, garbage out.

If people who use markets are not regulated, they issue fraudulent financial instruments. They leverage assets with absurd amounts of debt. They market their instruments with fraudulent investment grade ratings. They deal themselves aces.

Did Greenspan not know this? Was he a victim of a theory or an enabler of greed unleashed by the absence of regulation?

The way to bring socialists and capitalists together is to recognize that markets are efficient and that self-interested human behavior requires social regulation.

The failure to regulate financial markets has produced enormous losses to all Americans except the super-rich. But the U.S. government is guilty of an even greater failure. Washington has not only permitted but also encouraged the unemployment of its citizens by enabling greed-driven corporations to send American jobs abroad in order to maximize profits for CEOs’ bonuses, shareholders, and Wall Street.

As Ralph Gomory has made clear, economic theory has been shattered because there is no longer any connection between the profits of American companies and the welfare of Americans. The profits of American companies are derived from the cheap labor in offshored locations and are at the expense of the American work force.

This dispossession of American labor has been heralded by offshoring’s pimps in the major universities as “the New Economy.”

The “New Economy” is a hoax like most everything else the bought-and-paid-for-media feeds to Americans. There is no new economy. There is an unemployed economy. The headlined unemployment rate is just over 10 percent. The real unemployment rate, as measured by the current methodology is 17 percent. The unemployment rate as measured by the methodology of 1980 is 22 percent.

If jobs offshoring is a benefit to America, as the hired pimps of the transnational corporations claim, why is more than one-fifth of the U.S. work force unemployed? Why does the U.S. have the largest trade deficits in world history? Why is the U.S. dollar losing value over time to other tradable currencies?

Greed, and elected representatives who are toadies to special interests, are decimating the American economy.

Consider President Obama’s budgets for 2010 and 2011. The combined red ink is $2.9 trillion. No one anywhere in the world has this kind of money to lend to Washington. How will these massive deficits, never before experienced on earth, be financed? They can only be financed by the Federal Reserve destroying its own balance sheet by its purchase of toxic financial instruments from the banks thereby providing the banks with cash with which to buy the Treasury’s bonds, or by the Federal Reserve itself purchasing the Treasury’s bonds by creating new money, or by another collapse in equity values that sends investors fleeing into “safe” Treasury bonds.

American power is on the precipice, about to fall. Perhaps it is a good thing. The world will be rid of bullying, of invasions of innocent countries based on blatant lies, of torture and murder of woman and children, of redistribution of income from the poor to the rich.

The criminal record accumulated by the United States makes it the least indispensable country on earth.

I heard rumor on higher prices in East Malaysia are due to contena ships are required to pass through certain ports in peninsular instead of sailing straight to Borneo. So peninsular ports are artificially floated by having more ships passing through unnecessarily.

“What a free Malaysia needs is not a Price Control Act, but a Competition Act or antitrust law to fight collusion among businesses in order to encourage competition — the most effective method at encouraging convergence and low prices — without suffocating entrepreneurial spirit.”

They’re getting started: 0012&sec=nation

…although, not quite in the spirit of what you have in mind. I don’t like the way they’re describing the intentions of the new Act and enforcement is always a question mark, but better than nothing.

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