Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Predatory Pricing in Minnesota

Minnesota has passed a law that says big nasty corporate gasoline stations are not allowed to make consumers better off by charging low prices for gasoline. The reason? They'll drive the small guys out of business and then jack up the prices when they have the market all to themselves. Phil Miller at Market Power has a terrific post debunking such nonsense.

Here is a quote from the article that shows the predatory pricing argument is at work here:
But Cornish said the survival of small stations is at stake if major corporate sellers offer gas at below cost. "It will be a way of closing down these stations - the little ones," Cornish said. That could be devastating for smaller towns where there might be just a single option for purchasing gas, Cornish said. And if most competitors are eliminated, the big sellers would ultimately be able to sell at a higher price than they could if nearby rivals still existed.

First, if consumers in the small town have an option to buy low-price gasoline at a "corporate" gas station, why should the government restrict their options and how would this be devastating to the community? It would have just the opposite effect. Sure, the owner of the gas station would feel a negative effect, but the consumers of gas in the small town would gain. Not only could they get gas cheaper, but they can put the savings towards the purchase of other things.

Second, those who use the predatory pricing argument say they fear monopolization. Never mind that the evidence suggests that predatory pricing exists in models but not in practice. If there really is only one gas station in a small town, doesn't that station have market power which it can use to jack up its prices? Won't legislation designed to keep competitors out enhance its market power and allow it to maintain its high prices? The answer to both questions is yes.

Third, do we really think that the small town gas station would actually go out of business? What if the nearest "corporate" gas station is 30 miles away? How often are residents of the little town going to drive 60 miles (30 miles there and back) just to get a full tank of gas?

Despite such cogent pieces as this, it seems our work is never done.

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