Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Market Structure

Monopolies, Oligopolies and Perfect Competition

A monopoly is a market structure in which there is only one producer/seller for a product. In other words, the single business is the industry. Entry into such a market is restricted due to high costs or other impediments, which may be economic, social or political. For instance, a government can create a monopoly over an industry that it wants to control, such as electricity. Another reason for the barriers against entry into a monopolistic industry is that oftentimes, one entity has the exclusive rights to a natural resource. For example, in Saudi Arabia the government has sole control over the oil industry. A monopoly may also form when a company has a copyright or patent that prevents others from entering the market. Pfizer, for instance, had a patent on Viagra.

In an oligopoly, there are only a few firms that make up an industry. This select group of firms has control over the price and, like a monopoly, an oligopoly has high barriers to entry. The products that the oligopolistic firms produce are often nearly identical and, therefore, the companies, which are competing for market share, are interdependent as a result of market forces. Assume, for example, that an economy needs only 100 widgets. Company X produces 50 widgets and its competitor, Company Y, produces the other 50. The prices of the two brands will be interdependent and, therefore, similar. So, if Company X starts selling the widgets at a lower price, it will get a greater market share, thereby forcing Company Y to lower its prices as well.

There are two extreme forms of market structure: monopoly and, its opposite, perfect competition. Perfect competition is characterized by many buyers and sellers, many products that are similar in nature and, as a result, many substitutes. Perfect competition means there are few, if any, barriers to entry for new companies, and prices are determined by supply and demand. Thus, producers in a perfectly competitive market are subject to the prices determined by the market and do not have any leverage. For example, in a perfectly competitive market, should a single firm decide to increase its selling price of a good, the consumers can just turn to the nearest competitor for a better price, causing any firm that increases its prices to lose market share and profits.


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