Level playing field

In commerce, a level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules.[1]

In a game played on a playing field, such as rugby, one team would have an unfair advantage if the field had a slope. Since some real-life playing fields do in fact have slopes, it is customary for teams to swap ends of the playing field at half time.

A metaphorical playing field is said to be level if no external interference affects the ability of the players to compete fairly.

Some government regulations are intended to provide such fairness, since all participants must abide by the same rules. However, they can have the opposite effect, for example if larger firms find it easier to pay for fixed costs of regulation. It may be added that if the rules affect different participants differently, then they are not actually the same.

Handicapping might be thought of as the opposite concept, of unequal rules designed to make the outcome of play more equal.


Governments, regulators and sports associations may try to create a 'level playing field'.

Examples of such regulation: building codes, material specifications and zoning restrictions, which create a starting point / a minimum standard --- a "level playing field".


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Automobile Industry



The phrase "level playing field" can be misused, for example when a regulation does not change the probability distribution of outcomes. For example, the fact that all companies are required to pay the same rate of corporate income tax might be described as "creating a level playing field", even though it does not in fact level a metaphorical playing field because it affects all companies equally regardless of their sizes.

A regulation requiring all banks to have a banking licence might be described as "creating a level playing field", even though it does not in fact level a metaphorical playing field, because it applies equally to all potential banks. It may even make the "playing field" less equal, because larger banks may be more able to deal with the costs of regulation.


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