Review of Industrial Organization

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 43–67 | Cite as

Flawed Competition Policies: Designing ‘Markets’ with Biased Costs and Efficiency Benchmarks



Rather than the endogenous, tournament-type regulation based on mean costs proposed by Shleifer almost twenty years ago, regulators have opted for market designs based on exogenously determined efficiency comparisons reflected in fixed productivity adjustments. These productivity assessments are based only on estimates of technical efficiency improvements derived from estimated production frontiers. Utilities’ prices and potential profits are driven by this externally determined market. This paper examines the impacts on utility efficiency rankings from variations in peer group frontier regulation in Europe and Australia as well as in its use in the U.S. Despite the potential for distortions caused by long periods with non-market prices, these regulatory applications measure only technical efficiency, leaving moot the assessment of optimal input selection. We examine both technical and allocative efficiency variations among firms from the different cost specifications employed by regulators involving output, factor inputs, and costs. How are rankings impacted when only subsets of total costs (e.g., O&M, not capital or system losses) are used to gauge efficiency? Does the use of partial measures of capital relying on physical specifications impact efficiency rankings? Are rankings affected when comparisons are made independently one input at a time? Is the efficiency frontier stable? Finally, we compare alternative yardstick measures to a simple ranking on relative (total) cost per unit.


Efficiency Electric distribution utilities Utility regulation Yardstick competition 

JEL Classification

D24 -Production Capital and Total Factor Productivity L51 - Economics of Regulation L94 - Industry Studies: Electric Utilities 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ActonUSA
  2. 2.TorontoCanada

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