e-book On Competition in Economic Theory

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In comparison, the technology industry functions with relatively less oversight as compared to its pharma counterpart. Thus, entrepreneurs in this industry can start firms with less to zero capital, making it easy for individuals to start a company in the industry.

Perfect Competition Definition

Such controls do not exist in a perfectly competitive market. The entry and exit of firms in such a market are unregulated, and this frees them up to spend on labor and capital assets without restrictions and adjust their output in relation to market demands. Cheap and efficient transportation is another characteristic of perfect competition. In this type of market, companies do not incur significant costs to transport goods. As mentioned earlier, perfect competition is a theoretical construct and does not exist in reality.

As such, it is difficult to find real-life examples of perfect competition but there are variants present in everyday society. The provenance of the produce does not matter unless they are classified as organic in such cases and there is very little difference in the packaging or branding of products. Thus, even if one of the farms producing goods for the market goes out of business, it will not make a difference to average prices. The situation may also be relatively similar in the case of two competing supermarkets, which stock their aisles from the same set of companies. Again, there is little to distinguish products from one another between both supermarkets and their pricing remains almost the same.

Another example of perfect competition is the market for unbranded products, which features cheaper versions of well-known products. Product knockoffs are generally priced similarly and there is little to differentiate them from one another. If one of the firms manufacturing such a product goes out of business, it is replaced by another one.

The development of new markets in the technology industry also resembles perfect competition to a certain degree. For example, there was a proliferation of sites offering similar services during the early days of social media networks. Some examples of such sites are Sixdegrees.

None of them had a dominant market share and the sites were mostly free. They constituted sellers in the market while consumers of such sites, who were mainly young people, were the buyers. The startup costs for companies in this space were minimal, meaning that startups and companies can freely enter and exit these markets.

Technologies, such as PHP and Java, were largely open-source and available to anyone. Capital costs, in the form of real estate and infrastructure, were not necessary.


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Facebook's [ FB ] Mark Zuckerberg started the company from his college dorm. Perfect competition establishes an idealized framework for establishing a market. But that market is flawed and has a couple of disadvantages. The first one is the absence of innovation. The prospect of greater market share and setting themselves apart from the competition is an incentive for firms to innovate and make better products. But no firm possesses a dominant market share in perfect competition. Profit margins are also fixed by demand and supply.

Firms cannot thus set themselves apart by charging a premium for their product and services. For example, it would be impossible for a company like Apple Inc. AAPL to exist in a perfectly competitive market because its phones are pricier as compared to competitors. The second disadvantage of perfect competition is the absence of economies of scale. Limited to zero profit margins means that companies will have less cash to invest in expanding their production capabilities.

An expansion of production capabilities could potentially bring down costs for consumers and increase profit margins for the firm. But the presence of several small firms cannibalizing the market for the same product prevents such an occurrence and ensures that the average firm size engaged in the market remains small. The short answer to that question is no. Profits may be possible for brief periods in perfectly competitive markets.

Because there is no information asymmetry in the market, other firms will quickly ramp up their production or reduce their manufacturing costs to achieve parity with the firm which made profits. In the long run, an adjustment of supply and demand ensures all profits or losses in such markets tend towards zero. Real-world competition differs from this ideal primarily because of differentiation in production, marketing, and selling.

For example, in agriculture, the owner of a small organic products shop can talk extensively about the grain fed to the cows that made the manure that fertilized the non-GMO soybeans—that's differentiation.

Market structures

Thus, the first two criteria—homogeneous products and price takers—are far from realistic. Yet, for the second two criteria—information and mobility—the global tech and trade transformation is improving information and resource flexibility. While the reality is far from this theoretical model, the model is still helpful because of its ability to explain many real-life behaviors. And although consumer awareness has increased with the information age, there are still few industries where the buyer remains aware of all available products and prices.

As you can see, there are significant obstacles preventing perfect competition from appearing in today's economy. The agricultural industry probably comes closest to exhibiting perfect competition because it is characterized by many small producers with virtually no ability to alter the selling price of their products. The commercial buyers of agricultural commodities are generally very well-informed and, although agricultural production involves some barriers to entry, it is not particularly difficult to enter the marketplace as a producer.

Investopedia uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By using Investopedia, you accept our. Your Money. Do the assumptions at the heart of the theory of perfect competition enable us to better understand competition in reality? You decide. This theory assumes that. Except, perhaps, for the last of these assumptions, to use this set of assumptions is to assume away the very phenomenon that the theory of perfection competition ostensibly is meant to explain: competition.

Heroes or Villains?

In real-world markets, for a firm to compete means for that firm to strive in any peaceful manner it likes to entice consumers to purchase more of its outputs. One way of so enticing consumers, of course, is to cut prices. Even better is to introduce an entirely new product.

The most casual survey of reality reveals these means of competing to be just as important to consumers as are cuts in prices. Yet in the theory of perfect competition, these non-price means of competing are assumed away. Also assumed away are advertising and other marketing efforts by sellers to better inform consumers about available product offerings.

After all, consumers who by assumption are fully informed can learn nothing worthwhile from advertising or other means of marketing.

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And to assume the existence of a multitude of producers each selling outputs identical to those of other producers in their industry is to assume that entrepreneurs have already learned not only that it is profitable to operate in whatever perfectly competitive industries they now operate, but just how to operate profitably in those industries. According to this theory, firms enter industries mechanically and instantaneously whenever the prevailing market prices are sufficiently high to allow entrants to operate profitably.

If the above disquisition reads too much like inside baseball or inside academic economics , it is warranted by the recent rise in the number of calls for more active antitrust enforcement. Very many such calls refer, explicitly or implicitly, to the theory of perfect competition. These calls treat this theory as if it supplies an unquestioned, and unquestionably sound, standard against which to judge real-world markets.

But in fact the theory of perfect competition should be utterly rejected, both as a theory of competition which it is not and as offering an appropriate standard against which to judge real-world markets which it does not. Sign up here to be notified of new articles from Donald J. Boudreaux and AIER. Donald J. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux Tuesday, November 27, Economic Education.

Not All Simplifying Assumptions Are Created Equal Although economists have long recognized that the assumptions on which the theory of perfect competition rests never actually describe reality, this theory nevertheless sets the standard against which economists continue to assess the competitiveness of real-world markets. The Theory of Perfect Competition Is Wholly Misleading as a Guide to Real-World Competition If the above disquisition reads too much like inside baseball or inside academic economics , it is warranted by the recent rise in the number of calls for more active antitrust enforcement.

Boudreaux Donald J.