Measuring Monopoly Power in an Industry
What are some Other Approaches to Measuring Monopoly Power in an Industry?
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What are Some Other Approaches to Measuring Monopoly Power in an Industry?
Both the four-firm concentration ratio and the Herfindahl-Hirschman index share some weaknesses. First, they begin from the assumption that the “market” under discussion is well-defined, and the only question is measuring how sales are divided in that market.
Second, they are based on an implicit assumption that competitive conditions across industries are similar enough that a broad measure of concentration in the market is enough to make a decision about the effects of a merger.
These assumptions, however, are not always correct. In response to these two problems, the antitrust regulators have been changing their approach in the last decade or two.
Defining a market is often controversial. A narrowly defined market will tend to make concentration appear higher, while a broadly defined market will tend to make it appear smaller.
In recent decades, there have been two especially important shifts affecting how we define markets: one centers on technology and the other centers on globalization. In addition, these two shifts are interconnected. With the vast improvement in communications technologies, including the development of the internet, a consumer can order books or pet supplies from all over the country or the world.
As a result, the degree of competition many local retail businesses face has increased. The same effect may operate even more strongly in markets for business supplies, where so-called “business-to-business” websites can allow buyers and suppliers from anywhere in the world to find each other.
Globalization has changed the market boundaries. As recently as the 1970s, it was common for measurements of concentration ratios and HHIs to stop at national borders. Now, many industries find that their competition comes from the global market. When analysts calculate HHIs with a global perspective, concentration in most major industries is lower than in a purely domestic context.
Because attempting to define a particular market can be difficult and controversial, the Federal Trade Commission has begun to look less at market share and more at the data on actual competition between businesses.
This new approach to antitrust regulation involves detailed analysis of specific markets and companies, instead of defining a market and counting up total sales.
A common starting point is for antitrust regulators to use statistical tools and real-world evidence to estimate the demand curves and supply curves the firms proposing a merger face. A second step is to specify how competition occurs in this specific industry. Some possibilities include competing to cut prices, to raise output, to build a brand name through advertising, and to build a reputation for good service or high quality. With these pieces of the puzzle in place, it is then possible to build a statistical model that estimates the likely outcome for consumers if the two firms are allowed to merge. These models do require some degree of subjective judgment, and so they can become the subject of legal disputes between the antitrust authorities and the companies that wish to merge.