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Oligopoly as a Socially Embedded Dilemma. An Experiment

Author

Listed:
  • Christoph Engel

    () (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)

  • Lilia Zhurakhovska

    () (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)

Abstract

From the perspective of competitors, competition may be modeled as a prisoner’s dilemma. Setting the monopoly price is cooperation, undercutting is defection. Jointly, competitors are better off if both are faithful to a cartel. Individually, profit is highest if only the competitor(s) is (are) loyal to the cartel. Yet collusion inflicts harm on the opposite market side and, through the deadweight loss, on society at large. Moreover, almost all legal orders combat cartels. Through the threat with antitrust intervention, gains from cooperation are uncertain. In the field, both qualifications combine. To prevent participants from using their world knowledge about antitrust, we experimentally test them on a neutral matrix game, with either a negative externality on a third participant, uncertainty about gains from cooperation, or both. Uncertainty dampens cooperation, though only slightly. Surprisingly, externalities are immaterial. If we control for beliefs, they even foster cooperation. If we combine both qualifications and do not control for beliefs, we only find an uncertainty effect. If we add beliefs as a control variable, we only find that externalities enhance cooperation, even if gains from collusion are uncertain. Hence the fact that the dilemma of oligopolists is socially embedded matters less than one might have expected.

Suggested Citation

  • Christoph Engel & Lilia Zhurakhovska, 2011. "Oligopoly as a Socially Embedded Dilemma. An Experiment," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2011_01, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
  • Handle: RePEc:mpg:wpaper:2011_01
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Keywords

    Oligopoly; Collusion; experiment; Uncertainty; negative externalities; prisoner’s dilemma;

    JEL classification:

    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection
    • K21 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Antitrust Law
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L41 - Industrial Organization - - Antitrust Issues and Policies - - - Monopolization; Horizontal Anticompetitive Practices
    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • D22 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Empirical Analysis

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