Topic Videos

Monopoly Power and Economic Welfare

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 1 Apr 2018

Here is a revision video and presentation on how welfare loss might result from monopoly power.

Monopoly Power and Economic Welfare

Key notes:

A monopoly supplier such a regional water utility has significant market power and can therefore set prices above the level we expect to see in a competitive market. 

This means that, at the profit-maximising level of output where MR=MC, the monopoly price is above marginal cost. This then leads to a loss of allocative efficiency meaning that scarce resources are not allocated optimally.

High monopoly prices lead to a deadweight loss of consumer welfare because output is lower and price higher than a competitive equilibrium. High prices mean some consumers are priced out of the market because of a fall in effective demand.

The monopolist makes abnormal (supernormal) profit (price > AC) but the loss of consumer surplus is greater than the gain in producer surplus leading to a net loss of welfare measured by community surplus

Evaluating the impact of monopoly on welfare

Challenge the assumptions:

  1. Are average costs the same with both monopoly and competition?
  2. Consider the potential for a monopoly supplier to achieve economies of scale
  3. Is the loss of productive efficiency greater because of possible X-inefficiencies?
  4. Does a monopoly necessarily charge a single profit-maximising price? Consider the impact on welfare of price discrimination on different groups of consumers
  5. Not every monopoly charges a price! Consider Google and Facebook – but is it free?

What do we mean by a welfare loss?

  • Narrow definition focuses on consumer welfare / consumer surplus
  • Wider interpretation considers social welfare – i.e. community surplus which includes producer welfare and also effects on the distribution of income

How are monopoly profits used?

  • Research and development spending – possible gains in dynamic efficiency
  • Share buy-backs and short term capital gain for shareholders?
  • Do businesses with monopoly power pay an equitable amount of corporation tax?

Evaluating monopoly power

  1. Natural monopoly – falling long run average costs and high MES - more productively efficient to have a monopoly supplier
  2. Competition in the supply chain – possible to introduce competition at different stages of the supply chain e.g. via competitive tendering, franchises
  3. “In theory …. But in practice”: Judge a monopoly on a case by case basis using an evidence-based approach to how a monopoly actually behaves in the market
  4. Contestability – the threat of entry into a market can be a powerful influence on the actual conduct of firms who have monopoly power
  5. Definition of the market – a business might have monopoly power in the domestic market but face significant international competition
Larry Elliott writing recently in the Guardian

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