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# Oligopoly

An oligopoly is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small number of large sellers (oligopolists). Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Oligopolies have their own market structure.[1]

With few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. According to game theory, the decisions of one firm therefore influence and are influenced by decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists needs to take into account the likely responses of the other market. Entry barriers include high investment requirements, strong consumer loyalty for existing brands and economies of scale. In developed economies oligopolies dominate the economy as the perfectly competitive model is of negligible importance for consumers. Oligopolies differ from price takers in that they do not have a supply curve. Instead, they search for the best price-output combination. [2]

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#### Transcription

Jacob: Welcome to Crash Course Economics, I’m Jacob Clifford Adriene: and I’m Adriene Hill, and today we’re talking about competition and game theory. Jacob: Games? Like board games or video games? I can beat my seven year old at Call of Duty. Adriene: No, not quite like that. In this kind of game, if you lose, you’re bankrupt. [Theme Music] Jacob: So when we talk about markets, there are basically four different types, or market structures. They vary based on things like number of producers, control over prices, and barriers to entry -- how hard it is for new businesses to jump in the market. Most agricultural products, like strawberries, are in a type of market called perfect competition. There are thousands of farmers all growing identical strawberries and it's pretty easy to get in the market. You just plant strawberries. Individual businesses don't have control over prices. One farmer can’t convince you to pay $10, if you can it buy from other farmers for$4. A monopoly is on the other end of the spectrum. There is one large company that produces a product with few substitutes. And because high barriers prevent competition, a monopoly has a lot of control over price. There are two types of markets in between these extremes. Monopolistic competition is a market with many producers and relatively low barriers; their products are very similar but not identical. This could be something like furniture stores or fast food. McDonald's and Burger King do have noticeably different products. One might be able to charge a slightly higher price if, for whatever reason, consumers prefer that type of burger. But, if either tried to increase their prices a lot, everyone would just go to their competitor. And, if McDonalds and Burger King both tried to raise prices at the same time, some other company would enter the market since the barriers are relatively low. Taco Bell would start selling hamburguesas. The last type are Oligopolies and that's what we're gonna focus on today. Oligopolies are markets that have high barriers to entry and are controlled by a few large companies. Oligopolies are all over the place. In fact their products are likely in front of you right now. The laptop computer market is dominated by companies like HP, Dell, and Apple. And the majority of mobile phones are produced by Apple, Samsung, and LG. You also see this type of thing in markets for cars, air travel, movies, candy, and game consoles. Adriene: Like monopolistic competition, oligopolies often sell products that are similar but not identical and this gives them some control over their prices. But how much? You might love your iPhone, but if Apple raised the price of a phone to $3,000 you might switch to Android. But the price of an iPhone is pretty close to the price of a high-end Android. So how do they compete? The answer is non-price competition and, as you might guess, it's competing without changing the price. This happens in a lot of industries. Companies focus on things like style, quality, location, or service. The goal is to distinguish their product from their competitors. Like, the jeans that one company sells might be virtually identical to everyone else’s in terms of quality, but if they can convince consumers that having a designer label on their butt is cool, buyers might pay much much more. The same logic holds true if a company has better customer service or has more convenient locations. The most recognizable form of non-price competition is advertising. Companies spend billions of dollars each year introducing new products or services and differentiating themselves from their competitors. And despite all that spending, most of the time, advertising just kind of fades into the background. Can you remember the ad that ran before this video? No? Me neither. Don Draper might tell you, “half the money spent on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, you don't know which half.” It’s clear that not every advertisement sticks, but advertising can work to help a brand stand out. Jacob: So, those ads that run before YouTube videos? Some are for products sold in monopolistically competitive markets, but the majority are probably from oligopolies. I mean, think of car companies -- they advertise A LOT. Generally, monopolies don’t bother advertising because they have no competition, and firms in perfectly competitive markets don’t run ads because their products are identical. Advertising just increases their costs and drives up the prices, which means customers go to their competitors. So oligopolies sound like they operate pretty much like monopolistic competition but the big difference between the two is that oligopolies are made up of a few large companies. This means that each company makes decisions with the actions of their competitors in mind. They use game theory -- the study of strategic decision making. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Adriene: Let’s start with a classic of game theory, something called the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Suppose Stan and I are arrested for scrawling in wet cement outside the YouTube studios. We’re being interviewed separately. If we both confess, we’ll both have to pay a$10,000 fine. If neither of us confesses, we’ll get off scot free. And If I take a deal and confess, but Stan doesn’t -- I’ll walk away and Stan will owe $20,000. And vice versa. So what do we do? Because we can’t discuss it, we both confess, and both end up owing$10,000. This is Game Theory: even if people or companies rationally follow their own self-interest, the best outcome is hard to reach when they can’t or don’t cooperate. Game theory helps explain why you get drug stores and coffee shops next to each other. Let’s say that Craig and Phil both start selling tchotchkes on the Coney Island Boardwalk. At first they start on opposite sides of the strip -- sharing customers equally. Phil realizes that if he gets closer to Craig, he’ll retain all of his old customers...and snag some of Craig’s. But Craig’s no dummy; he moves his cart closer to Phil’s. This continues until they both wind up right in the middle of the boardwalk, sharing customers equally--and unable to improve their position. This also plays out with pricing. If Craig lowers his price on Crash Course nesting dolls, Phil will likely compete by dropping his prices as well. In the end they’re gonna continue to share customers equally, and earn less money. If Craig understands game theory, he knows there’s no reason to change his price. Instead he focuses on providing knick-knacks that differentiate his kiosk from Phil’s. This can help explain why prices in oligopolies tend to get stuck and why companies focus so much on non-price competition. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, What if Craig and Phil don’t compete at all? What if instead, they agree to charge the same high price, conspiring to form what economists call a cartel? Again they split the customers 50/50, but now they make even more profit -- benefiting at the expense of consumers. This is called COLLUSION, and it’s illegal in the US. There are strict antitrust laws designed to prevent it. But that doesn’t mean companies don’t figure out other ways to raise prices. Price leadership is when one company changes its prices, and its competitors have to decide if they’re going to follow suit. Since they're not actively colluding, it’s technically legal. But it can be hard to tell the difference. Look at airline baggage fees. When some airlines started charging fees for checked bags, other airlines quickly joined them. And when one big airline changes their baggage fee, the others tend move to the same price point. Are they colluding, or is this a case of price leadership? Well, the Justice Department’s looking into it. Other countries’ laws differ, and cartels do exist. The best example is OPEC -- The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It’s an international cartel made up of 12 oil-producing countries that manipulate oil supplies to control prices. They control 80% of the world’s known oil reserves and nearly half of the world’s crude oil production. Jacob: Economists like to explain oligopolies and game theory by creating something called a payoff matrix. Let’s say Stan and Brandon have competing companies. Each can set prices high or low. The numbers in the boxes represent the amount of profit each company will earn in different situations. The profit on the left in each cell is for Stan and the numbers on the right are for Brandon. So if Stan has a low price and Brandon has a high price, Stan earns $300 and Brandon earns$50. Now, payoff scenarios for companies are never this transparent, but the matrix says a lot about oligopolies. The optimal outcome is for each business to charge high prices so they both get $200. Stan knows this, but he also recognizes that there could be even more profit by charging a lower price. Brandon comes to the same conclusion, so they both price low and they end up in the worst combined outcome with each only making$80 profit. Even if they collude and agree to price high, they both have an incentive to cheat on that agreement. So collusion and cartels are often unstable. They can only last if the agreement is monitored and strictly enforced. A lot of times, it's possible to predict the final outcome based on the information in the payoff matrix. The best outcome for Stan, when Brandon makes a move, is called Stan’s best response. So, if Brandon prices high, Stan’s best response is to price low and if Brandon prices low than Stan’s best response is, again, to price low. That’s called having a dominant strategy: it always gives the best available outcome, no matter what the other guy does. For Brandon, pricing low is his dominant strategy too: regardless of what Stan does, pricing low always results in a better outcome. Adriene: Game theory helps companies make decisions, but, potential payoffs are never easy to predict and there are many situations where there's no clear dominant strategy. Sometimes, the best response changes depending on what competitors do. Those that don’t keep up or are slow to adapt are pushed aside. It’s called Game Theory, but to former industry leaders like Pan American Airways, Atari, and Research In Motion -- that made Blackberry phones, the end of the game was not that fun. In any game, there are winners and losers, unless it’s some lame co-op thing. But at its best, healthy competition promotes innovation which, in the end, makes us all better off. Jacob: And ideally we get cheaper air fares, constantly improving cell phones, and amazing video game consoles. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next week. Thanks for watching Crash Course Economics, which is made with the help of all these awesome people. You can help keep Crash Course free, for everyone, forever, by supporting the show at Patreon. Patreon is a voluntary subscription service where you can help support the show by giving a monthly contribution.

## Description

Oligopoly is a common market form where a number of firms are in competition. As a quantitative description of oligopoly, the four-firm concentration ratio is often utilized. This measure expresses, as a percentage, the market share of the four largest firms in any particular industry. For example, as of fourth quarter 2008, if we combine total market share of Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, we see that these firms, together, control 97% of the U.S. cellular telephone market.[citation needed]

Oligopolistic competition can give rise to both wide-ranging and diverse outcomes. In some situations, particular companies may employ restrictive trade practices (collusion, market sharing etc.) in order to inflate prices and restrict production in much the same way that a monopoly does. Whenever there is a formal agreement for such collusion, between companies that usually compete with one another, this practice is known as a cartel. A prime example of such a cartel is OPEC, which has a profound influence on the international price of oil.

Firms often collude in an attempt to stabilize unstable markets, so as to reduce the risks inherent in these markets for investment and product development.[citation needed] There are legal restrictions on such collusion in most countries. There does not have to be a formal agreement for collusion to take place (although for the act to be illegal there must be actual communication between companies)–for example, in some industries there may be an acknowledged market leader which informally sets prices to which other producers respond, known as price leadership.

In other situations, competition between sellers in an oligopoly can be fierce, with relatively low prices and high production. This could lead to an efficient outcome approaching perfect competition. The competition in an oligopoly can be greater when there are more firms in an industry than if, for example, the firms were only regionally based and did not compete directly with each other.

Thus the welfare analysis of oligopolies is sensitive to the parameter values used to define the market's structure. In particular, the level of dead weight loss is hard to measure. The study of product differentiation indicates that oligopolies might also create excessive levels of differentiation in order to stifle competition.

Oligopoly theory makes heavy use of game theory to model the behavior of oligopolies:

## Characteristics

Profit maximization conditions
An oligopoly maximizes profits.
Ability to set price
Oligopolies are price setters rather than price takers.[3]
Entry and exit
Barriers to entry are high.[4] The most important barriers are government licenses, economies of scale, patents, access to expensive and complex technology, and strategic actions by incumbent firms designed to discourage or destroy nascent firms. Additional sources of barriers to entry often result from government regulation favoring existing firms making it difficult for new firms to enter the market.[5]
Number of firms
"Few" – a "handful" of sellers.[4] There are so few firms that the actions of one firm can influence the actions of the other firms.[6]
Long run profits
Oligopolies can retain long run abnormal profits. High barriers of entry prevent sideline firms from entering market to capture excess profits.
Product differentiation
Product may be homogeneous (steel) or differentiated (automobiles).[5]
Perfect knowledge
Assumptions about perfect knowledge vary but the knowledge of various economic factors can be generally described as selective. Oligopolies have perfect knowledge of their own cost and demand functions but their inter-firm information may be incomplete. Buyers have only imperfect knowledge as to price,[4] cost and product quality.
Interdependence
The distinctive feature of an oligopoly is interdependence.[7] Oligopolies are typically composed of a few large firms. Each firm is so large that its actions affect market conditions. Therefore, the competing firms will be aware of a firm's market actions and will respond appropriately. This means that in contemplating a market action, a firm must take into consideration the possible reactions of all competing firms and the firms' countermoves.[8] It is very much like a game of chess, in which a player must anticipate a whole sequence of moves and countermoves in order to determine how to achieve his or her objectives; this is known as game theory. For example, an oligopoly considering a price reduction may wish to estimate the likelihood that competing firms would also lower their prices and possibly trigger a ruinous price war. Or if the firm is considering a price increase, it may want to know whether other firms will also increase prices or hold existing prices constant. This anticipation leads to price rigidity, as firms will only be willing to adjust their prices and quantity of output in accordance with a "price leader" in the market. This high degree of interdependence and need to be aware of what other firms are doing or might do stands in contrast with the lack of interdependence in other market structures. In a perfectly competitive (PC) market there is zero interdependence because no firm is large enough to affect market price. All firms in a PC market are price takers, as current market selling price can be followed predictably to maximize short-term profits. In a monopoly, there are no competitors to be concerned about. In a monopolistically-competitive market, each firm's effects on market conditions is so negligible as to be safely ignored by competitors.
Non-Price Competition
Oligopolies tend to compete on terms other than price. Loyalty schemes, advertisement, and product differentiation are all examples of non-price competition.

## Oligopolies in countries with competition laws

Oligopolies become "mature" when they realise they can profit maximise through joint profit maximising. As a result of operating in countries with enforced competition laws, the Oligopolists will operate under tacit collusion, which is collusion through an understanding that if all the competitors in the market raise their prices, then collectively all the competitors can achieve economic profits close to a monopolist, without evidence of breaching government market regulations. Hence, the kinked demand curve for a joint profit maximising Oligopoly industry can model the behaviours of oligopolists pricing decisions other than that of the price leader (the price leader being the firm that all other firms follow in terms of pricing decisions). This is because if a firm unilaterally raises the prices of their good/service, and other competitors do not follow then, the firm that raised their price will then lose a significant market as they face the elastic upper segment of the demand curve. As the joint profit maximising achieves greater economic profits for all the firms, there is an incentive for an individual firm to "cheat" by expanding output to gain greater market share and profit. In Oligopolist cheating, and the incumbent firm discovering this breach in collusion, the other firms in the market will retaliate by matching or dropping prices lower than the original drop. Hence, the market share that the firm that dropped the price gained, will have that gain minimised or eliminated. This is why on the kinked demand curve model the lower segment of the demand curve is inelastic. As a result, price rigidity prevails in such markets.

## Modeling

There is no single model describing the operation of an oligopolistic market.[8] The variety and complexity of the models exist because you can have two to 10 firms competing on the basis of price, quantity, technological innovations, marketing, and reputation. However, there are a series of simplified models that attempt to describe market behavior by considering certain circumstances. Some of the better-known models are the dominant firm model, the Cournot–Nash model, the Bertrand model and the kinked demand model.

### Cournot–Nash model

The CournotNash model is the simplest oligopoly model. The model assumes that there are two "equally positioned firms"; the firms compete on the basis of quantity rather than price and each firm makes an "output of decision assuming that the other firm's behavior is fixed."[9] The market demand curve is assumed to be linear and marginal costs are constant. To find the Cournot–Nash equilibrium one determines how each firm reacts to a change in the output of the other firm. The path to equilibrium is a series of actions and reactions. The pattern continues until a point is reached where neither firm desires "to change what it is doing, given how it believes the other firm will react to any change."[10] The equilibrium is the intersection of the two firm's reaction functions. The reaction function shows how one firm reacts to the quantity choice of the other firm.[11] For example, assume that the firm 1's demand function is P = (MQ2) − Q1 where Q2 is the quantity produced by the other firm and Q1 is the amount produced by firm 1,[12] and M=60 is the market. Assume that marginal cost is CM=12. Firm 1 wants to know its maximizing quantity and price. Firm 1 begins the process by following the profit maximization rule of equating marginal revenue to marginal costs. Firm 1's total revenue function is RT = Q1 P = Q1(MQ2Q1) = MQ1Q1 Q2Q12. The marginal revenue function is ${\displaystyle R_{M}={\frac {\partial R_{T}}{\partial Q_{1}}}=M-Q_{2}-2Q_{1}}$.[note 1]

RM = CM
M − Q2 − 2Q1 = CM
2Q1 = (M − CM) − Q2
Q1 = (M − CM)/2 − Q2/2 = 24 − 0.5 Q2 [1.1]
Q2 = 2(M − CM) − 2Q1 = 96 − 2 Q1 [1.2]

Equation 1.1 is the reaction function for firm 1. Equation 1.2 is the reaction function for firm 2.

To determine the Cournot–Nash equilibrium you can solve the equations simultaneously. The equilibrium quantities can also be determined graphically. The equilibrium solution would be at the intersection of the two reaction functions. Note that if you graph the functions the axes represent quantities.[13] The reaction functions are not necessarily symmetric.[14] The firms may face differing cost functions in which case the reaction functions would not be identical nor would the equilibrium quantities.

### Bertrand model

The Bertrand model is essentially the Cournot–Nash model except the strategic variable is price rather than quantity.[15]

The model assumptions are:

• There are two firms in the market
• They produce a homogeneous product
• They produce at a constant marginal cost
• Firms choose prices PA and PB simultaneously
• Firms outputs are perfect substitutes
• Sales are split evenly if PA = PB[16]

The only Nash equilibrium is PA = PB = MC.

Neither firm has any reason to change strategy. If the firm raises prices it will lose all its customers. If the firm lowers price P < MC then it will be losing money on every unit sold.[17]

The Bertrand equilibrium is the same as the competitive result.[18] Each firm will produce where P = marginal costs and there will be zero profits.[15] A generalization of the Bertrand model is the Bertrand–Edgeworth model that allows for capacity constraints and more general cost functions.

### Oligopolistic market: Kinked demand curve model

According to this model, each firm faces a demand curve kinked at the existing price.[19] The conjectural assumptions of the model are; if the firm raises its price above the current existing price, competitors will not follow and the acting firm will lose market share and second if a firm lowers prices below the existing price then their competitors will follow to retain their market share and the firm's output will increase only marginally.[20]

If the assumptions hold then:

• The firm's marginal revenue curve is discontinuous (or rather, not differentiable), and has a gap at the kink[19]
• For prices above the prevailing price the curve is relatively elastic[21]
• For prices below the point the curve is relatively inelastic[21]

The gap in the marginal revenue curve means that marginal costs can fluctuate without changing equilibrium price and quantity.[19] Thus prices tend to be rigid.

## Examples

In industrialized economies, barriers to entry have resulted in oligopolies forming in many sectors, with unprecedented levels of competition fueled by increasing globalization. Market shares in an oligopoly are typically determined by product development and advertising. For example, there are now only a small number of manufacturers of civil passenger aircraft, though Brazil (Embraer) and Canada (Bombardier) have participated in the small passenger aircraft market sector. Oligopolies have also arisen in heavily-regulated markets such as wireless communications: in some areas only two or three providers are licensed to operate.

### European Union

• The VHF Data Link market as air-ground part of aeronautical communications is controlled by ARINC and SITA, commonly known as the organisations providing communication services for the exchange of data between air-ground applications in the Commission Regulation (EC) No 29/2009.

## Demand curve

Above the kink, demand is relatively elastic because all other firms' prices remain unchanged. Below the kink, demand is relatively inelastic because all other firms will introduce a similar price cut, eventually leading to a price war. Therefore, the best option for the oligopolist is to produce at point E which is the equilibrium point and the kink point. This is a theoretical model proposed in 1947, which has failed to receive conclusive evidence for support.[citation needed]

In an oligopoly, firms operate under imperfect competition. With the fierce price competitiveness created by this sticky-upward demand curve, firms use non-price competition in order to accrue greater revenue and market share.

"Kinked" demand curves are similar to traditional demand curves, as they are downward-sloping. They are distinguished by a hypothesized convex bend with a discontinuity at the bend–"kink". Thus the first derivative at that point is undefined and leads to a jump discontinuity in the marginal revenue curve.

Classical economic theory assumes that a profit-maximizing producer with some market power (either due to oligopoly or monopolistic competition) will set marginal costs equal to marginal revenue. This idea can be envisioned graphically by the intersection of an upward-sloping marginal cost curve and a downward-sloping marginal revenue curve (because the more one sells, the lower the price must be, so the less a producer earns per unit). In classical theory, any change in the marginal cost structure (how much it costs to make each additional unit) or the marginal revenue structure (how much people will pay for each additional unit) will be immediately reflected in a new price and/or quantity sold of the item. This result does not occur if a "kink" exists. Because of this jump discontinuity in the marginal revenue curve, marginal costs could change without necessarily changing the price or quantity.

The motivation behind this kink is the idea that in an oligopolistic or monopolistically competitive market, firms will not raise their prices because even a small price increase will lose many customers. This is because competitors will generally ignore price increases, with the hope of gaining a larger market share as a result of now having comparatively lower prices. However, even a large price decrease will gain only a few customers because such an action will begin a price war with other firms. The curve is therefore more price-elastic for price increases and less so for price decreases. Theory predicts that firms will enter the industry in the long run.

## Notes

1. ^ RM = M − Q2 − 2Q1. can be restated as RM = (M − Q2) − 2Q1.

## References

1. ^ "Competition Counts". 11 June 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
2. ^ Foundations of Real-World Economics. page 103. Routledge 2019.
3. ^ Perloff, J. Microeconomics Theory & Applications with Calculus. page 445. Pearson 2008.
4. ^ a b c Hirschey, M. Managerial Economics. Rev. Ed, page 451. Dryden 2000.
5. ^ a b Negbennebor, A: Microeconomics, The Freedom to Choose CAT 2001[page needed]
6. ^ Negbennebor, A: Microeconomics, The Freedom to Choose page 291. CAT 2001
7. ^ Melvin & Boyes, Microeconomics 5th ed. page 267. Houghton Mifflin 2002
8. ^ a b Colander, David C. Microeconomics 7th ed. Page 288 McGraw-Hill 2008.
9. ^ This statement is the Cournot conjectures. Kreps, D.: A Course in Microeconomic Theory page 326. Princeton 1990.
10. ^ Kreps, D. A Course in Microeconomic Theory. page 326. Princeton 1990.
11. ^ Kreps, D. A Course in Microeconomic Theory. Princeton 1990.[page needed]
12. ^ Samuelson, W & Marks, S. Managerial Economics. 4th ed. Wiley 2003[page needed]
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15. ^ a b Samuelson, W. & Marks, S. Managerial Economics. 4th ed. page 415 Wiley 2003.
16. ^ There is nothing to guarantee an even split. Kreps, D.: A Course in Microeconomic Theory page 331. Princeton 1990.
17. ^ This assumes that there are no capacity restriction. Binger, B & Hoffman, E, 284–85. Microeconomics with Calculus, 2nd ed. Addison-Wesley, 1998.
18. ^ Pindyck, R & Rubinfeld, D: Microeconomics 5th ed.page 438 Prentice-Hall 2001.
19. ^ a b c Pindyck, R. & Rubinfeld, D. Microeconomics 5th ed. page 446. Prentice-Hall 2001.
20. ^ Simply stated the rule is that competitors will ignore price increases and follow price decreases. Negbennebor, A: Microeconomics, The Freedom to Choose page 299. CAT 2001
21. ^ a b Negbennebor, A. Microeconomics: The Freedom to Choose. page 299. CAT 2001
22. ^ Airlines Industry Profile: United States, Datamonitor, November 2008, pp. 13–14
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