Exsimple why and also exactly how oligopolies existContrast collusion and competitionInterpret and also analyze the prisoner’s dilemma diagramEvaluate the tradeoffs of imperfect competition

Many kind of purchases that individuals make at the retail level are produced in markets that are neither perfectly competitive, monopolies, nor monopolistically competitive. Rather, they are oligopolies. Oligopoly arises once a small number of big firms have actually all or the majority of of the sales in an industry. Instances of oligopoly abound and incorporate the auto sector, cable tv, and also commercial air travel. Oligopolistic firms are choose cats in a bag. They deserve to either scrape each various other to pieces or cuddle up and also get comfortable through one one more. If oligopolists contend difficult, they may finish up acting very a lot like perfect competitors, driving dvery own costs and also leading to zero revenues for all. If oligopolists collude via each various other, they may successfully act prefer a syndicate and also succeed in pushing up prices and earning repeatedly high levels of profit. Oligopolies are frequently characterized by mutual interdependence where assorted decisions such as output, price, declaring, and so on, depend on the decisions of the various other firm(s). Evaluating the choices of oligopolistic firms about pricing and also quantity developed entails considering the pros and cons of competition versus collusion at a provided point in time.

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Why Do Oligopolies Exist?

A combination of the barriers to entry that produce monopolies and the product differentiation that characterizes monopolistic competition have the right to develop the establishing for an oligopoly. For instance, once a federal government grants a patent for an development to one firm, it may create a monopoly. When the federal government grants patents to, for example, 3 various pharmaceutical carriers that each has actually its own drug for reducing high blood press, those three firms may come to be an oligopoly.

Similarly, a herbal monopoly will arise as soon as the amount demanded in a industry is just big sufficient for a solitary firm to operate at the minimum of the long-run average price curve. In such a setup, the sector has actually room for only one firm, bereason no smaller firm deserve to operate at a low enough average cost to complete, and no larger firm might offer what it produced given the amount demanded in the market.

Quantity demanded in the sector may likewise be two or 3 times the quantity necessary to create at the minimum of the average price curve—which implies that the industry would certainly have room for just 2 or three oligopoly firms (and also they require not produce identified products). Aacquire, smaller firms would have actually greater average prices and also be unable to contend, while added huge firms would certainly create such a high amount that they would not have the ability to market it at a lucrative price. This combination of economies of range and also industry demand creates the obstacle to entry, which led to the Boeing-Airbus oligopoly for huge passenger aircraft.

The product differentiation at the heart of monopolistic competition have the right to additionally play a function in producing oligopoly. For example, firms may need to reach a particular minimum dimension before they are able to spfinish sufficient on declaring and also marketing to produce a recognizable brand also name. The problem in completing through, say, Coca-Cola or Pepsi is not that producing fizzy drinks is technologically challenging, however quite that creating a brand also name and marketing effort to equal Coke or Pepsi is an enormous task.

Collusion or Competition?

When oligopoly firms in a particular sector decide what amount to create and what price to charge, they challenge a temptation to act as if they were a monopoly. By acting together, oligopolistic firms can host down industry output, charge a higher price, and also divide up the profit among themselves. When firms act together in this way to reduce output and also store prices high, it is referred to as collusion. A group of firms that have actually a formal agreement to collude to develop the monopoly output and also market at the monopoly price is referred to as a cartel. See the complying with Clear It Up function for a much more detailed evaluation of the distinction in between the two.

Collusion versus cartels: How have the right to I tell which is which?

In the United States, and also many kind of other nations, it is illegal for firms to collude considering that collusion is anti-competitive habits, which is a violation of antitrust law. Both the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and also the Federal Trade Commission have obligations for staying clear of collusion in the United States.

The problem of enforcement is finding hard proof of collusion. Cartels are formal agreements to collude. Because cartel agreements provide proof of collusion, they are rare in the USA. Instead, most collusion is tacit, wbelow firms implicitly reach an expertise that competition is bad for revenues.

The desire of businesses to stop competing so that they can instead raise the prices that they charge and earn better earnings has been well taken by economists. Adam Smith composed in Wealth of Nations in 1776: “People of the very same trade seldom accomplish together, even for merriment and divariation, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy versus the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Even when oligopolists recognize that they would benefit as a team by acting like a monopoly, each individual oligopoly deals with a private temptation to create just a slightly higher quantity and also earn slightly better profit—while still counting on the various other oligopolists to hold dvery own their production and save prices high. If at leastern some oligopolists offer in to this temptation and start developing more, then the sector price will certainly autumn. Certainly, a small handful of oligopoly firms may end up competing so fiercely that they all end up earning zero economic profits—as if they were perfect competitors.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Due to the fact that of the intricacy of oligopoly, which is the result of common interdependence among firms, tright here is no single, generally-accepted concept of exactly how oligopolies behave, in the exact same means that we have actually theories for all the other sector structures. Instead, financial experts use game theory, a branch of math that analyzes situations in which players need to make decisions and then get payoffs based upon what other players decide to carry out. Game concept has actually discovered widespcheck out applications in the social sciences, and also in organization, legislation, and also army strategy.

The prisoner’s dilemma is a scenario in which the gains from cooperation are larger than the rewards from pursuing self-interemainder. It uses well to oligopoly. The story behind the prisoner’s dilemma goes choose this:

Two co-conspiratorial criminals are arrested. When they are taken to the police terminal, they refusage to say anything and are put in separate interrogation rooms. Ultimately, a police officer enters the room wbelow Prisoner A is being hosted and also says: “You recognize what? Your partner in the other room is confessing. So your companion is going to acquire a light prison sentence of simply one year, and also bereason you’re staying silent, the judge is going to stick you through eight years in priboy. Why don’t you acquire smart? If you confess, as well, we’ll reduced your jail time down to five years, and your partner will gain 5 years, likewise.” Over in the next room, another police officer is giving precisely the very same speech to Prisoner B. What the police officers do not say is that if both prisoners remain silent, the proof against them is not particularly solid, and the prisoners will certainly finish up with only 2 years in jail each.

The game theory case dealing with the two prisoners is shown in Table 3. To understand the dilemma, first take into consideration the choices from Prisoner A’s suggest of watch. If A believes that B will confess, then A should confess, as well, so as to not acquire stuck to the eight years in prison. But if A believes that B will not confess, then A will be tempted to act selfishly and confess, so as to serve only one year. The key allude is that A has an catalyst to confess regardmuch less of what choice B makes! B encounters the same set of options, and hence will certainly have actually an motivation to confess regardmuch less of what choice A makes. Confess is considered the dominant strategy or the strategy an individual (or firm) will pursue regardless of the various other individual’s (or firm’s) decision. The outcome is that if prisoners pursue their own self-interest, both are likely to confess, and also finish up doing a total of 10 years of jail time in between them.

Prisoner B
Reprimary Silent (cooperate through various other prisoner)Confess (perform not corun via other prisoner)
Prisoner ARemain Silent (corun through other prisoner)A gets 2 years, B gets 2 yearsA gets 8 years, B gets 1 year
Confess (perform not corun via various other prisoner)A gets 1 year, B gets 8 yearsA gets 5 years B gets 5 years
Table 3. The Prisoner’s Dilemma Problem

The game is referred to as a dilemma because if the two detainees had cooperated by both staying silent, they would only have actually had to serve a full of 4 years of jail time in between them. If the two prisoners deserve to work out some method of cooperating so that neither one will confess, they will both be better off than if they each follow their own individual self-interemainder, which in this instance leads straight right into longer jail terms.

The Oligopoly Version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma

The members of an oligopoly can face a prisoner’s dilemma, likewise. If each of the oligopolists cooperates in holding down output, then high monopoly earnings are possible. Each oligopolist, however, need to issue that while it is holding down output, other firms are taking advantage of the high price by raising output and also earning higher profits. Table 4 mirrors the prisoner’s dilemma for a two-firm oligopoly—well-known as a duopoly. If Firms A and also B both agree to organize down output, they are acting together as a syndicate and also will each earn $1,000 in earnings. However, both firms’ leading strategy is to boost output, in which instance each will certainly earn $400 in revenues.

Firm B
Hold Dvery own Output (cooperate through other firm)Increase Output (execute not cooperate with other firm)
Firm AHold Dvery own Output (corun through various other firm)A gets $1,000, B gets $1,000A gets $200, B gets $1,500
Increase Output (execute not corun via other firm)A gets $1,500, B gets $200A gets $400, B gets $400
Table 4. A Prisoner’s Situation for Oligopolists

Can the 2 firms trust each other? Consider the case of Firm A:

If A thinks that B will cooperate by holding dvery own output, then A might seize the opportunity to earn higher earnings by increasing output. After all, if B is going to host dvery own output, then A deserve to earn $1,500 in revenues by expanding output (the bottom left-hand also alternative in the table) compared through just $1,000 by holding down output too (the upper left-hand choice in the table).

Hence, firm A will factor that it makes sense to expand output if B holds dvery own output and also that it likewise provides feeling to expand also output if B raises output. Aget, B faces a parallel collection of decisions.

The result of this prisoner’s dilemma is regularly that even though A and B could make the greatest linked revenues by cooperating in producing a reduced level of output and also acting choose a monopolist, the 2 firms might well finish up in a case wright here they each rise output and earn just $400 each in profits. The following Clear It Up attribute discusses one cartel scandal in specific.

What is the Lysine cartel?

Lysine, a $600 million-a-year sector, is an amino acid used by farmers as a feed additive to ensure the proper expansion of swine and also poultry. The main U.S. producer of lysine is Archer Daniels Midland also (ADM), yet a number of various other big European and also Japanese firms are likewise in this market. For a time in the initially fifty percent of the 1990s, the world’s significant lysine producers met together in hotel conference rooms and also made a decision specifically exactly how much each firm would offer and also what it would certainly charge. The UNITED STATE Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), however, had actually learned of the cartel and placed wire taps on a variety of their phone calls and also meetings.

From FBI surveillance tapes, following is a comment that Terry Wilson, president of the corn handling department at ADM, made to the various other lysine producers at a 1994 meeting in Mona, Hawaii:

I wanna go ago and I wanna say something extremely basic. If we’re going to trust each various other, okay, and if I’m assured that I’m gonna gain 67,000 lots by the year’s end, we’re gonna market it at the prices we agreed to . . . The just point we need to talk about tright here because we are gonna gain manipulated by these buyers—they can be smarter than us if we let them be smarter. . . . They are not your friend. They are not my friend. And we gotta have ‘em, yet they are not my friends. You are my friend. I wanna be closer to you than I am to any customer. Causage you have the right to make us … money. … And all I wanna tell you again is let’s—let’s put the prices on the board. Let’s all agree that’s what we’re gonna execute and then walk out of here and also perform it.

The price of lysine doubled while the cartel remained in result. Confronted by the FBI tapes, Archer Daniels Midland also pled guilty in 1996 and also passist a fine of $100 million. A variety of top executives, both at ADM and various other firms, later on passist fines of as much as $350,000 and were sentenced to 24–30 months in prison.

In another among the FBI recordings, the president of Archer Daniels Midland told an executive from another competing firm that ADM had a slogan that, in his words, had actually “penetrated the totality company.” The agency president declared the slogan this way: “Our rivals are our friends. Our customers are the opponent.” That slogan could stand also as the motto of cartels anywhere.

How to Enforce Cooperation

How have the right to parties that find themselves in a prisoner’s dilemma situation protect against the unwanted outcome and cooperate with each other? The means out of a prisoner’s dilemma is to find a means to penalize those who perform not corun.

Perhaps the most basic strategy for colluding oligopolists, as you can imagine, would certainly be to sign a contract with each other that they will certainly hold output low and also save prices high. If a group of U.S. providers signed such a contract, yet, it would certainly be illegal. Certain global organizations, choose the nations that are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), have signed worldwide agreements to act like a monopoly, organize dvery own output, and save prices high so that every one of the nations have the right to make high revenues from oil exports. Such agreements, yet, bereason they fall in a gray location of international law, are not legally enforceable. If Nigeria, for example, decides to begin cutting prices and selling more oil, Saudi Arabia cannot sue Nigeria in court and also force it to soptimal.

Visit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries webwebsite and learn more about its history and also just how it defines itself.


Because oligopolists cannot sign a legally enforceable contract to act favor a syndicate, the firms may rather save cshed tabs on what other firms are developing and also charging. Alternatively, oligopolists may choose to act in a way that geneprices pressure on each firm to stick to its agreed amount of output.

One example of the push these firms deserve to exert on one an additional is the kinked demand curve, in which completing oligopoly firms commit to match price cuts, however not price increases. This instance is displayed in Figure 1. Say that an oligopoly airline has actually agreed with the remainder of a cartel to carry out a quantity of 10,000 seats on the New York to Los Angeles path, at a price of $500. This alternative specifies the kink in the firm’s viewed demand curve. The factor that the firm faces a kink in its demand also curve is bereason of how the various other oligopolists react to transforms in the firm’s price. If the oligopoly decides to develop more and cut its price, the other members of the cartel will certainly immediately complement any type of price cuts—and also therefore, a reduced price brings exceptionally bit boost in quantity marketed.

If one firm cuts its price to $300, it will have the ability to sell just 11,000 seats. However before, if the airline seeks to raise prices, the various other oligopolists will not raise their prices, and also so the firm that elevated prices will shed a considerable share of sales. For example, if the firm raises its price to $550, its sales drop to 5,000 seats sold. Therefore, if oligopolists constantly match price cuts by various other firms in the cartel, however carry out not enhance price increases, then namong the oligopolists will have a solid inspiration to readjust prices, because the potential gains are minimal. This strategy can occupational prefer a silent form of cooperation, in which the cartel properly maneras to host dvery own output, increase price, and also share a monopoly level of profits also without any kind of legally enforceable agreement.

Figure 1. A Kinked Demand Curve. Consider a member firm in an oligopoly cartel that is supposed to create a quantity of 10,000 and offer at a price of $500. The various other members of the cartel can encourage this firm to honor its commitments by acting so that the firm deals with a kinked demand also curve. If the oligopolist attempts to expand output and also mitigate price slightly, other firms likewise reduced prices immediately—so if the firm broadens output to 11,000, the price per unit drops substantially, to $300. On the other side, if the oligopoly attempts to raise its price, other firms will certainly not carry out so, so if the firm raises its price to $550, its sales decrease sharply to 5,000. Hence, the members of a cartel deserve to discipline each various other to stick to the pre-agreed levels of quantity and price through a strategy of matching all price cuts however not corresponding any type of price boosts.

Many type of real-people oligopolies, prodded by financial changes, legal and political pressures, and also the egos of their peak executives, go via episodes of participation and also competition. If oligopolies could sustain participation via each other on output and pricing, they might earn profits as if they were a single monopoly. However before, each firm in an oligopoly has actually an impetus to develop even more and also grab a bigger share of the all at once market; when firms begin behaving actually in this means, the market outcome in terms of prices and quantity deserve to be equivalent to that of a highly competitive market.

Tradeoffs of Imperfect Competition

Monopolistic competition is more than likely the single a lot of prevalent industry framework in the UNITED STATE economy. It gives effective incentives for invention, as firms look for to earn revenues in the short run, while enattempt assures that firms carry out not earn economic profits in the lengthy run. However, monopolistically competitive firms do not develop at the lowest point on their average cost curves. In enhancement, the endless search to impress consumers with product differentiation might cause excessive social costs on declaring and marketing.

Oligopoly is more than likely the second many prevalent sector structure. When oligopolies outcome from patented developments or from taking benefit of economies of scale to produce at low average price, they might administer significant advantage to consumers. Oligopolies are often buffeted by significant obstacles to enattempt, which enable the oligopolists to earn sustained earnings over long durations of time. Oligopolists additionally perform not frequently create at the minimum of their average expense curves. When they lack vibrant competition, they might absence incentives to carry out innovative assets and also high-high quality business.

The job of public plan through regard to competition is to sort via these multiple realities, attempting to encourage habits that is advantageous to the bigger society and also to discourage actions that just adds to the earnings of a few large carriers, with no equivalent advantage to consumers. Monopoly and Antitrust Policy discusses the delicate judgments that go right into this job.

The Temptation to Defy the Law

Oligopolistic firms have actually been called “cats in a bag,” as this chapter mentioned. The French detergent equipments decided to “cozy up” with each other. The result? An unsimple and tenuous connection. When the Wall surface Street Journal reported on the issue, it wrote: “According to a statement a Henkel manager made to the commission, the detergent equipments wanted ‘to limit the intensity of the competition between them and also clean up the market.’ Nonetheless, by the at an early stage 1990s, a price battle had actually damaged out among them.” During the soap executives’ meetings, which occasionally lasted more than four hours, facility pricing frameworks were establimelted. “One executive recalled ‘chaotic’ meetings as each side tried to work-related out exactly how the various other had actually bent the rules.” Like many cartels, the soap cartel broke down due to the exceptionally strong temptation for each member to maximize its very own individual earnings.

How did this soap opera end? After an examination, French antitrust authorities fined Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, and Proctor & Gamble a complete of €361 million ($484 million). A similar fate bedropped the iceequipments. Bagged ice is a commodity, a perfect substitute, mainly sold in 7- or 22-pound bags. No one cares what label is on the bag. By agreeing to carve up the ice sector, control broad geographical swaths of area, and set prices, the iceequipments relocated from perfect competition to a syndicate model. After the agreements, each firm was the sole supplier of bagged ice to a region; tright here were revenues in both the lengthy run and also the brief run. According to the courts: “These suppliers illegally conspired to manipulate the marketlocation.” Fines totaled about $600,000—a steep fine considering a bag of ice sells for under $3 in a lot of components of the United States.

Even though it is illegal in many kind of parts of the people for firms to set prices and also carve up a sector, the temptation to earn better profits provides it incredibly tempting to defy the regulation.

Key Concepts and also Summary

An oligopoly is a case where a few firms offer a lot of or all of the goods in a sector. Oligopolists earn their greatest revenues if they can band together as a cartel and also act like a monopolist by reducing output and increasing price. Since each member of the oligopoly deserve to benefit individually from widening output, such collusion often breaks down—specifically because explicit collusion is illegal.

The prisoner’s dilemma is an instance of game concept. It shows exactly how, in certain instances, all sides can advantage from cooperative habits rather than self-interested behavior. However, the challenge for the parties is to uncover means to encourage participating habits.

Self-Check Questions

Consider the curve presented in Figure 2, which shows the market demand also, marginal expense, and marginal revenue curve for firms in an oligopolistic market. In this instance, we assume firms have actually zero resolved prices.
Figure 2.Suppose the firms collude to develop a cartel. What price will the cartel charge? What amount will the cartel supply? How much profit will the cartel earn?Suppose now that the cartel breaks up and also the oligopolistic firms complete as vigorously as feasible by cutting the price and also boosting sales. What will the market quantity and also price be? What will the cumulative revenues be of all firms in the industry?Compare the equilibrium price, quantity, and also profit for the cartel and cutthroat competition outcomes.

Resee Questions

Will the firms in an oligopoly act even more like a monopoly or even more like competitors? Briefly define.Does each individual in a prisoner’s dilemma advantage even more from teamwork or from pursuing self-interest? Exordinary briefly.What stops oligopolists from acting together as a monopolist and earning the highest feasible level of profits?

Critical Thinking Questions

Would you mean the kinked demand also curve to be even more too much (choose a right angle) or much less extreme (prefer a normal demand also curve) if each firm in the cartel produces a near-the same product prefer OPEC and petroleum? What if each firm produces a rather various product? Explain your thinking.When OPEC elevated the price of oil drastically in the mid-1970s, specialists said it was unlikely that the cartel could stay together over the lengthy term—that the incentives for individual members to cwarmth would end up being too strong. More than forty years later on, OPEC still exists. Why carry out you think OPEC has been able to beat the odds and also continue to collude? Hint: You might wish to consider non-financial factors.

The USA Department of Justice. “Antitrust Division.” Accessed October 17, 2013. http://www.justice.gov/atr/.

eMarketer.com. 2014. “Total US Ad Spending to See Largest Increase Due to the fact that 2004: Mobile advertising leads growth; will certainly surpass radio, magazines and also newsrecords this year. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Total-US-Ad-Spending-See-Largest-Increase-Since-2004/1010982.

Federal Trade Commission. “About the Federal Trade Commission.” Accessed October 17, 2013. http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/around.shtm.


cartela group of firms that collude to develop the monopoly output and market at the monopoly pricecollusiononce firms act together to reduce output and also keep prices highduopolyan oligopoly via just two firmsgame theorya branch of mathematics regularly offered by economic experts that analyzes instances in which players have to make decisions and also then obtain payoffs based on what decisions the other players makekinked demand also curvea viewed demand also curve that arises once contending oligopoly firms commit to match price cuts, however not price increasesprisoner’s dilemmaa game in which the gains from collaboration are larger than the rewards from pursuing self-interest


Answers to Self-Check Questions

If the firms create a cartel, they will certainly act like a syndicate, choosing the amount of output where MR = MC. Drawing a line from the monopoly quantity up to the demand also curve shows the monopoly price. Assuming that resolved costs are zero, and also through an knowledge of price and profit, we can infer that when the marginal expense curve is horizontal, average cost is the same as marginal cost. Thus, the cartel will certainly earn positive financial revenues equal to the area of the rectangle, via a base equal to the monopoly amount and also a height equal to the difference between price (on the demand over the monopoly quantity) and also average expense, as displayed in the complying with number.
Figure 3.The firms will expand output and reduced price as lengthy as there are earnings continuing to be. The long-run equilibrium will take place at the point wright here average price equates to demand. As a result, the oligopoly will earn zero financial revenues due to “cutthroat competition,” as displayed in the next number.
Figure 4.

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Pc > Pcc. Qc Firm B reasons that if it cheats and also Firm A does not alert, it will double its money. Because Firm A’s profits will decrease considerably, however, it is likely that Firm A will alert and if so, Firm A will certainly cheat also, via the result that Firm B will certainly lose 90% of what it gained by cheating. Firm A will factor that Firm B is unmost likely to hazard cheating. If neither firm cheats, Firm A earns $1000. If Firm A cheats, assuming Firm B does not cwarm, A deserve to increase its revenues only a tiny, given that Firm B is so tiny. If both firms cwarmth, then Firm A loses at least 50% of what it might have actually earned. The opportunity of a tiny acquire ($50) is more than likely not enough to induce Firm A to cheat, so in this situation it is likely that both firms will collude.