Ronald Coase and the preoccupation with monopoly

Ronald Coase

One important result of this preoccupation with the monopoly problem is that if an economist finds something—a business practice of one sort or other—that he does not understand, he looks for a monopoly explanation. And as in this field we are very ignorant, the number of ununderstandable practices tends to be rather large, and the reliance on a monopoly explanation, frequent.

After this foray written in 1971, Coase went further in an appreciation written for George Stigler’s Nobel Prize in 1982:

…for reasons which are not altogether clear to me, it is a field [of industrial organisation] which has come to concentrate on The Monopoly Problem and, more specifically in the United States, on the problems thrown up by the administration of the antitrust laws.

The result has not been a happy one for economics.

By concentrating on the problem of monopoly in dealing with an economic system which is, broadly speaking, competitive, economists have had their attention misdirected and as a consequence they have left unexplained many of the salient features of our economic system or have been content with very defective explanations.

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