Monopoly Regulation

Monopoly is usually considered to lead to economic inefficiency. Excessive monopoly profits are commonly regarded as unfair to consumers. Policies for dealing with monopoly range from laissez faire or toleration at one extreme to “trust-busting” at the other. Another possibility is to put monopolistic enterprises under government ownership, as is commonly done in Europe for railroads and telephone service. Regulation of the monopoly’s price and quantity or quality of service by a government agency is important. In the US regulation is standard practice for privately owned ‘public utilities’ providing goods and services such as electric power, water and gas, telephone, and transportation—usually thought to be natural monopolies.

The standard philosophy of regulation aims at limiting the monopolist to a ‘normal profit.’ Normal profit is supposed to be just adequate to attract needed capital and other resources into the business, but not so high as to represent exploitation of consumers. Normal profit in the accounting sense corresponds to zero economic profit. Zero economic profit characterizes long-run equilibrium in perfect competition. In a sense regulation achieves the result that may occur if competition is possible.

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