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Market Power or Just Scale Economies?

 |  December 17, 2018

Posted by Pro Market

Market Power or Just Scale Economies?

By Jonathan B. Baker

Market power has been growing in the US for decades. I surveyed the evidence, much of it available only recently, in a policy brief and updated the references in my FTC hearings testimony. Jason Furman gave a complementary presentation at the same FTC session.

In this post, which is based on my FTC testimony, I explain why growing market power provides a better explanation for higher price-cost margins and rising concentration in many industries, declining economic dynamism, and other contemporary US trends, than the most plausible benign alternative: increased scale economies and temporary returns to the first firms to adopt new information technologies (IT) in competitive markets.

The benign alternative has an initial plausibility because the efficient size of firms has likely grown over time in many industries. That is the natural consequence of the high fixed costs of investments in information technology, the growing importance of network effects, and an increased scope of geographic markets. Under such circumstances, firms could grow larger, concentration could rise, and price-cost margins could increase even if markets are competitive. In addition, the first firms to invest in new information technologies may earn substantial rents. The rents should be temporary if those investments don’t confer market power and rivals follow suit with investments of their own.

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