The Theory of the Contestable Market

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The theory of contestable markets, along with the static and dynamic views of competition, are used as theories to analyse how markets perform. The static view focuses on the structure of the market as the determining factor of competition, with the dynamic view focusing on dynamic aspects such as technology and entrepreneurship. The contestable markets theory has a different focus, focusing on the importance of barriers to entry and exit. Nonetheless it does incorporate features from both views. More importantly it shifts the focus and provides new insight into the workings of competition. The two differing views of competition will be examined, followed by an examination of the contestable market theory, concluding with an analysis of the degree to which there is synthesis.

Static view of competition

The static view of competition focuses on the market structure as the key determining factor in the performance and behaviour of firms. It is the neoclassical approach of competition, origination from the work of economist’s Cournot and Edgeworth. This traditional view sees market structure as rigidly determining firm's conduct (its output decisions and pricing behaviour), which yields an industry's overall performance, such as its efficiency and profitability. Firms limit their behaviour to a certain industry model or strategic logic that is built on frequent price cuts, in order to out-compete rivals and deter entry. An industry is considered competitive depending on its market structure. At one extreme is perfect competition, which is considered perfectly competitive. At the other extreme is a monopoly structure, with a sole producer, characterised by low competition. In between the spectrum is an oligopolistic structure, and a monopolistic structure. These structures embody less competition than in perfect competition, but more than in a monopoly situation. The characteristics of competitive markets are thus large number of firms, or in other words a low concentration ratio. The number of firms is determined by the market demand and the output level set at that which minimises average cost. As the number of firms that enter the industry increases, firms become price takers rather than price makers, and they are forced to apply the price that is set in order to survive in the market. They thus receive normal profits, as opposed to abnormal profits when the market structure was more concentrated (please refer to figure 1 below).

Fig 1

Thus the organisation of industries is considered to be generated exogenously. Therefore the market concentration decides the nature of competition within each market. The static view of competition thus concentrates on the structural characteristics of competition, with a ‘structure-conduct-performance’ based paradigm, in which market structure decided conduct of firms, deciding their performance.

The static competition approach excludes non-price competition, such as quality and product differentiation, and strategic behaviour which does occur. This view of competition has been criticised for ignoring the more dynamic methodology of competition, which will now be analysed. Due to the importance of market share in the static view of competition, the resultant policy implication calls for regulation of markets, in order to ensure low marker concentration, in order to move towards perfect competition, and its associated benefits. (Schwartz 1986).

Dynamic view of competition

The dynamic view of competition revolves around the role of the entrepreneur and firms using innovation to compete with their rivals. The neo-Austrian school of thought, in particular, Schumpeter, and those economists influenced by it have been redefining the concept along classical lines, although with a much greater emphasis on the entrepreneurial role, the role of discovery, and rivalrous competition. Performance in industries is argued to be characterized by dynamic competition, expressed through...
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