I WONDER WHAT form of competition Shanghai mayor Han Zheng has in mind when he speaks of healthy and orderly competition with Hong Kong, as he did this week when signing one of those blah-blah agreements with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. You can just picture the two of them bowing and scraping to each other as a deal comes up for which both cities want to compete. 'After you, sir.' 'No, you first.' 'Absolutely not, I insist.' 'Please, please, really you must.' Very orderly it would be indeed and in character for two people who have never encountered much in the way of competition. Mr Han, as a party bureaucrat, certainly has not. The extent of the commercial experience listed in his bio is a stint as party secretary and deputy director of the Shanghai No6 Rubber Shoes Factory. Then it was on to secretary of the Communist Youth League of China Shanghai Committee and a succession of political posts all the way to mayoralty. Mr Tung has admittedly experienced more competition but did not come off the better for it. He inherited the family shipping company from his father and then presided over its near collapse. It is no wonder that he favours the term 'win-win' for his big ideas. He has had too much of the 'lose-lose'. There is nothing orderly about competition. It is a jungle-like feature of life that has people scratching and clawing at each other's enterprises for every advantage they can get. Order may emerge from it but the process is chaotic. Of course you may say that 'orderly' refers to competition practised within the bounds of law and this is probably what Mr Han had in mind. If so, one must really ask how much room there ever was in Shanghai for competition within the bounds of the law as opposed to outside those bounds where, as a steady stream of news reports from the city attests, much of its commercial enterprise seems to take place. One might also ask what laws relating to competition actually exist in Shanghai other than the normal ones of crimes against property. We do not even have competition laws in Hong Kong. Do not tell me they are already fully in place and enforced in Shanghai. But the big count I have against 'orderly' competition is that the people who commonly appeal for it commonly have something quite different in mind from what you or I may mean by the term. What they mean by it is official approval for monopolies, price-rigging cartels and other measures to stop competition from taking place. It is understandable. They like living by the law of the jungle no more than you and I. It is a stressful existence. Therefore let us have measures to make the jungle a safer place where great anxiety need no longer afflict us. The trouble, however, is that this does not mean the wolf defanged and detained but the shepherd told to find another job and the sheep told to stop running away. The invariable result is high prices, restricted choice, substandard workmanship and unreliable supply for the consumer. It is very orderly. The industrialists who benefit from these arrangements routinely pronounce themselves well satisfied. We already have a good measure of it in Hong Kong. Shanghai has even more. The inescapable conundrum for you, Mr Han, is that 'orderly' and 'healthy' do not go well together in matters of competition. Herds of deer are healthy in the wild because the wolves pick out the old and sick. If the wolves must be orderly about this by filing applications for a tightly restricted supply of deer licences before they prey on the deer, then the health of the herds will suffer. Disorderly competition is what a healthy economy really requires, disorderly in all the unpredictable exuberance of life. It is this kind of competition that has always proved to be the recipe for economic progress and, surprising though it may seem, has always produced the most well ordered and efficient commercial arrangements. The simple fact of the matter, sir, is that you are not equipped to pronounce on matters of competition in commerce. Your career has given you no competitive experience and you do not know what you are talking about. If you want that 15-year-old boy to whom you liken Shanghai to grow up, there is no better way of doing it than introducing him to the real world of competitive enterprise, which means that you must stay out of it.