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Study Notes

Market structures and innovation

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Which market conditions are optimal for effective and sustained innovation to occur? This is a question that has vexed economists and business academics for many years.

High levels of research and development spending are frequently observed in oligopolistic markets, although this does not always translate itself into a fast pace of innovation.

The recent work of William Baumol (2002) provides support for oligopoly as market structure best suited for innovative behaviour. Innovation is perceived as being "mandatory" for businesses that need to establish a cost-advantage or a significant lead in product quality over their rivals.

"As soon as quality competition and sales effort are admitted into the sacred precincts of theory, the price variable is ousted from its dominant position…But in capitalist reality as distinguished from its textbook picture, it is not that kind of competition which counts but the competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives. This kind of competition is as much more effective than the other as a bombardment is in comparison with forcing a door"

Supernormal profits persist in the long run in an oligopoly and these can be used to finance research and development.

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