Compliance and Regulation Law Glossary

Asymmetry: asymmetric regulation / asymmetry of information

by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche

Asymmetry is a key concept of regulation. Indeed, a competitive market works well when operators are in symmetrical relationships, ie there is no structural obstacle which prevents an agent from increasing his power solely on his merits (" competition by merits "). If there is an asymmetry, for example because a sector is monopolistic and the legislator has just declared it open to competition, there is a temporary asymmetry between the installed companies, the incumbent operators and the willing companies to enter this new market, the "new entrants". Historical operators, such as in the telecommunications or energy sector, when they were opened to competition by European directives, transposed by national laws (in french Law in 1996 for telecommunications and gas, in 2000 for electricity), benefit (sometimes referred to as grandfather clause), in particular because they have all the clients or all the know-how or all the patents, and that, in fact, the competitors can not enter the market. It is then necessary to establish a regulator also a priori temporary itself  to establish to forceps the competition, by an asymmetrical regulation.
Asymmetric regulation, particularly applied in Great Britain at the time of the liberalization of the aforementioned sectors, means that the regulator will systematically favor new entrants, for example by dispossessing the incumbents for their benefit to make them on the market. Today, in the telecommunications sector, competition, notably on mobiles, is established, but the regulator does not intend to leave its place to disappear and today supports "symmetric regulation" .... Instead, it acts as a specialized competition authority.
Asymmetry may not be temporary but definitive, when inequality between operators, regardless of merit, does not come from a context of liberalization but from a structural failure of the market. For example, there are transport networks, transport of passengers or goods, railways or airstrip for airplanes, data or voice communication networks, pipes where gas or electricity circulate, etc., which belong to a single operator because they constitute economically natural monopolies. Under these conditions, the competitors of the monopoly must nevertheless have fair and effective access to this service and a regulator must necessarily be established for the effectiveness of that right (see Access).
Moreover, the Nobel Prize of Joseph Stiglitz (2001) was justified by his work on the asymmetry of information on certain markets, in particular the financial markets on which companies offer securities. Through the theory of the agency, it appears that the ordinary partners or ordinary investors have less information than the managers, even though the latter have the function of making decisions that bring the most to the former. But information asymmetry offers managers an "information rent" that allows them to offer many benefits and transfer risks to others. Regulators, in particular banking and financial regulators, are needed to combat information asymmetry. Transparency is one of the procedural means to combat this asymmetry. The financial and banking crisis of 2008 showed the extent of this asymmetry and, in fact, the inability of regulators to remedy it, for example, the British government estimated in 2010 that it was the financial regulator itself that was responsible for the crisis for not having sufficiently watched over conflicts of interest. In general, the global financial crisis was often later characterized as a crisis of regulators and regulation.

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