Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Welfare-Enhancing Hard Core Cartels

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Iwan Bos (Maastricht - School of Business) and Erik Pot (Maastricht - School of Business) write on Welfare-Enhancing Hard Core Cartels.

ABSTRACT: The conventional wisdom is that cartels are bad. In particular, cartels that merely lead to lower production levels and higher prices are thought to be exclusively detrimental to social welfare. This is reflected in the fact that most capitalist societies have declared such so-called hard core cartel arrangements illegal per se. In this paper, we question this rather rigid approach to hard core cartels. In a simple but fairly general setting, we provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of a hard core cartel that is beneficial for firms and society at large. We consider both strong (with side payments) and weak (without side payments) hard core cartel contracts and find that (i) both strong and weak welfare-enhancing cartels exist when at least one firm makes a loss on part of its sales in competition, (ii) a welfare-enhancing strong cartel exists whenever there is a difference in unit costs at competitive production levels, and (iii ) a welfare-enhancing weak cartel exists when this difference is sufficiently large.

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