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Part Four: Catallactics or Economics of the... > Chapter XVI. Prices

8. Monopoly of Demand

Monopoly prices can emerge only from a monopoly of supply. A monopoly of demand does not bring about a market situation different from that under not monopolized demand. The monopolist buyer--whether he is an individual or a group of individuals acting in concert--cannot reap a specific gain corresponding to the monopoly gains of monopolistic sellers. If he restricts demand, he will buy at a lower price. But then the quantity bought will drop too.

In the same way in which governments restrict competition in order to improve the position of privileged sellers, they can also restrict competition for the benefit of privileged buyers. Again and again governments have put an embargo on the export of certain commodities. Thus by excluding foreign buyers they have aimed at lowering the domestic price. But such a lower price is not a counterpart of monopoly prices.

What is commonly dealt with as monopoly of demand are certain phenomena of the determination of prices for specific complementary factors of production.

The production of one unit of the commodity m requires, besides the employment of various nonspecific factors, the employment of one unit of each of the two absolutely specific factors a and b. Neither a nor b can be replaced by any other factor; on the other hand a is of no use when not combined with b and vice versa. The available supply of a by far exceeds the available supply of b. It is therefore not possible for the owners of a to attain any price for a. The demand for a is always lags behind the supply; a is not an economic good. If a is a mineral deposit the extraction of which requires the use of capital and labor, the ownership of the deposits does not yield a royalty. There is no mining rent. [p. 384]

But if the owners of a form a cartel, they can turn the tables. They can restrict the supply of a offered for sale to such a fraction that the supply of b exceeds the supply of a. Now a becomes an economic good for which prices are paid while the price of b dwindles to zero. If then the owners of b react by forming a cartel too, a price struggle develops between the two monopolistic combines about the outcome of which catallactics can make no statements. As has already been pointed out, the pricing process does not bring about a uniquely determined result in cases in which more than one of the factors of production required is of an absolutely specific character.

It does not matter whether or not the market situation is such that the factors a and b together could be sold at monopoly prices. It does not make any difference whether the price for a lot including one unit of both a and b is a monopoly price or a competitive price.

Thus what is sometimes viewed as a monopoly of demand turns out to be a monopoly of supply formed under particular conditions. The sellers of a and b are intent upon selling at monopoly prices without regard to the question whether or not the price of m can be come a monopoly price. What alone matters for them is to obtain as great a share as possible of the joint price which the buyers are ready to pay for a and b together. The case does not indicate any feature which would make it permissible to apply to it the term monopoly of demand. This mode of expression becomes understandable, however, if one takes into account the accidental features marking the contest between the two groups. If the owners of a (or b) are at the same time the entrepreneurs conduction the processing of m, their cartel takes on the outward appearance of a monopoly of demand. But this personal union combining two separate catallactic functions does not alter the essential issue; what is at stake is the settlement of affairs between two groups of monopolistic sellers.

Our example fits, mutatis mutandis, the case in which a and b can also be employed for purposes other than the production of m, provided these other employments only yield smaller returns.