What is a Natural Monopoly?
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What is a Natural Monopoly?
Economies of scale can combine with the size of the market to limit competition.
This arises when the market has room for only one producer. If a second firm attempts to enter the market at a smaller size then its average costs will be higher than those of the existing firm, and it will be unable to compete.
If the second firm attempts to enter the market at a larger size then it could produce at a lower average cost—but it could not sell all products that it produced because of insufficient demand in the market.
A natural monopoly occurs when the quantity demanded is less than the minimum quantity it takes to be at the bottom of the long-run average cost curve.
Economists call this situation, when economies of scale are large relative to the quantity demanded in the market, a natural monopoly.
Natural monopolies often arise in industries where the marginal cost of adding an additional customer is very low, once the fixed costs of the overall system are in place. This results in situations where there are substantial economies of scale.
Natural monopolies often occur in industries where the following exists:
- Difficulty to Transport and Natural Monopolies
- Control of a Physical Resource and Natural Monopoly
Approaches to Regulating a Natural Monopoly?
The first possibility is to leave the natural monopoly alone. In this case, the monopoly will follow its normal approach to maximizing profits. It determines the quantity where MR = MC. The firm then looks to point A on the demand curve to find that it can charge a given price for that profit-maximizing quantity. Since the price is above the average cost curve, the natural monopoly would earn economic profits.
A second outcome arises if antitrust authorities decide to divide the company, so that the new firms can compete. As a simple example, imagine that the company is cut in half. Thus, instead of one large firm producing a quantity of 4, two half-size firms each produce a quantity of 2. Because of the declining average cost curve (AC), the average cost of production for each of the half-size companies each producing 2, as point B shows, would be 9.75, while the average cost of production for a larger firm producing 4 would only be 7.75. Thus, the economy would become less productively efficient, since the good is produced at a higher average cost. In a situation with a downward-sloping average cost curve, two smaller firms will always have higher average costs of production than one larger firm for any quantity of total output. In addition, the antitrust authorities must worry that splitting the natural monopoly into pieces may be only the start of their problems. If one of the two firms grows larger than the other, it will have lower average costs and may be able to drive its competitor out of the market. Alternatively, two firms in a market may discover subtle ways of coordinating their behavior and keeping prices high. Either way, the result will not be the greater competition that was desired.
A third alternative is that regulators may decide to set prices and quantities produced for this industry. The regulators will try to choose a point along the market demand curve that benefits both consumers and the broader social interest. Point C illustrates one tempting choice: the regulator requires that the firm produce the quantity of output where marginal cost crosses the demand curve at an output of 8, and charge the price of 3.5, which is equal to marginal cost at that point. This rule is appealing because it requires price to be set equal to marginal cost, which is what would occur in a perfectly competitive market, and it would assure consumers a higher quantity and lower price than at the monopoly choice A. In fact, efficient allocation of resources would occur at point C, since the value to the consumers of the last unit bought and sold in this market is equal to the marginal cost of producing it.
Attempting to bring about point C through force of regulation, however, runs into a severe difficulty. At point C, with an output of 8, a price of 3.5 is below the average cost of production, which is 5.7, so if the firm charges a price of 3.5, it will be suffering losses. Unless the regulators or the government offer the firm an ongoing public subsidy (and there are numerous political problems with that option), the firm will lose money and go out of business.
Perhaps the most plausible option for the regulator is point F; that is, to set the price where AC crosses the demand curve at an output of 6 and a price of 6.5. This plan makes some sense at an intuitive level: let the natural monopoly charge enough to cover its average costs and earn a normal rate of profit, so that it can continue operating, but prevent the firm from raising prices and earning abnormally high monopoly profits, as it would at the monopoly choice A. Determining this level of output and price with the political pressures, time constraints, and limited information of the real world is much harder than identifying the point on a graph.
- Market Structure
- Perfect Competition
- Bidding War
- Complements & Substitutes
- Substitution Effect
- Imperfect Competition
- Market Power
- Price Takers
- Price Makers
- Perfect Competition and Decision Making
- Captive Market
- Contestable Market Theory
- Highest Profit Point in a Perfectly Competitive Market
- Marginal Revenue
- Using Marginal Revenue and Marginal Costs to Maximize Profit
- Marginal Revenue Curve
- Profit Margin and Average Total Cost
- Break Even Point - Cost Curve
- Shutdown Point - Cost Curve
- Short-Run Decisions Based Upon Costs in a Perfectly Competitive Market
- Marginal Costs and the Supply Curve for a Perfectively Competitive Firm
- Long-Run Average Supply (LRAS)
- Decisions to Enter or Exit a Market in the Long Run
- Long-Run Equilibrium in a Perfectly Competitive Market
- Constant, Increasing, and Decreasing Cost Industries
- Productive and Allocative Efficiency in Perfectly Competitive Markets
- Market Efficiency
- Market Inefficiency
- Pareto Efficiency
- Market Failure
- Search Theory
- Natural Monopoly
- Legal Monopoly
- Bilateral Monopoly
- Promoting Innovation through Intellectual Property
- Predatory Pricing
- How Monopolists Set Price with the Demand Curve
- Total Cost and Total Revenue for a Monopolist
- Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost for a Monopolist
- Inefficiency of Monopoly
- Perfectly Competitive Market
- Monopolistic Competition
- Differentiated Products
- Perceived Demand for a Monopolistic Competitor
- Monopolistic Competitors Choose Price and Quantity
- Monopolistic Competitors and Entry
- Monopolistic Competition and Efficiency
- Cartel (Economics)
- Game Theory
- Traveler's Dilemma
- Prisoner's Dilemma
- Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma
- Nash Equilibrium
- Diner's Dilemma
- Trembling Hand Perfect Equilibrium
- Gambler's Fallacy
- Arrows Impossibility Theorem
- Backward Induction
- Tournament Theory
- Oligopoly and the Prisoner’s Dilemma
- Forcing Cooperation in a Prisoner’s Dilemma
- Cooperation and the Kinked Demand Curve
- Corporate Merger or Acquisition
- Antitrust Laws
- Herfindahl-Hirschman Index
- Concentration Ratio
- Other Approaches to Measuring Monopoly Power in an Industry
- Restrictive Practices under Antitrust Law
- Natural Monopoly
- Cost-Plus Regulation
- Price Cap Regulation
- Regulatory Capture