Long Before the Microsoft Case, Some Commonsense Ideas about Competition and Monopoly
The fears of most economists concerning the evils of "monopoly" have been unwarranted and certainly excessive. In the first place, it is very difficult to frame a satisfactory definition of economic monopoly. If there is only a single drug store, barber shop, or grocery in a small isolated town (and this is a typical situation), this store may be said to be enjoying a monopoly in that town. Again, everybody may be said to enjoy a monopoly of his own particular qualities or talents….
On the other hand, nearly all economic monopolies are limited by the possibility of substitution. If copper piping is priced too high, consumers can substitute iron or plastics; if beef is too high, consumers can substitute lamb; if the original girl of your dreams rejects you, you can always marry somebody else. Thus, nearly every person, producer, or seller may enjoy a quasimonopoly within certain inner limits, but very few sellers are able to exploit that monopoly beyond certain outer limits. There has been a growing literature in recent years deploring the absence of perfect competition; there could have been an equal emphasis on the absence of perfect monopoly. In real life competition is never perfect, but neither is monopoly….
The real problem is not whether or not there is "monopoly" in a market, but whether there is monopolistic pricing….
The theory that there can be such a thing as a monopoly price, higher than a competitive price would have been, is certainly valid. The real question is, how useful is this theory either to the supposed monopolist in deciding his price policies or to the legislator, prosecutor, or court in framing antimonopoly policies? The monopolist, to be able to exploit his position, must know what the "demand curve" is for his product. He does not know; he can only guess; he must try to find out by trial and error. And it is not merely the unemotional price response of the consumers that the monopolist must keep in mind; it is what the effect of his pricing policies will probably be in gaining the good will or arousing the resentment of the consumer. More importantly, the monopolist must consider the effect of his pricing policies in either encouraging or discouraging the entrance of competitors into the field. He may actually decide that his wisest policy in the long run would be to fix a price no higher than he thinks pure competition would set.
In any case, in the absence of competition, no one knows what the "competitive" price would be if it existed. Therefore, no one knows exactly how much higher an existing "monopoly" price is than a "competitive" price would be, and no one can be sure whether it is higher at all!
Yet antitrust policy, in the United States at least, assumes that the courts can know how much an alleged monopoly or "conspiracy" price is above the competitive price that might have been….