Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Myth of Natural Monopoly

It is a myth that natural monopoly theory was developed first by economists, and then used by legislators to "justify" franchise monopolies. The truth is that the monopolies were created decades before the theory was formalized by intervention-minded economists, who then used the theory as an ex post rationale for government intervention. At the time when the first government franchise monopolies were being granted, the large majority of economists understood that large-scale, capital intensive production did not lead to monopoly, but was an absolutely desirable aspect of the competitive process.

The theory of natural monopoly is also a-historical. There is no evidence of the "natural monopoly" story ever having been carried out-of one producer achieving lower long-run average total costs than everyone else in the industry and thereby establishing a permanent monopoly. As discussed below, in many of the so-called public utility industries of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there were often literally dozens of competitors.

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