Price Fixing

Have you ever thought about how monopolies fix prices? Here, in Woodrow Wilson’s The New Freedom, he explains how a monopoly (which he calls a “trust”) shuts out competition.

“Did you ever look into the way a trust was made? It is very natural, in one sense, in the same sense in which human greed is natural. If I haven’t efficiency enough to beat my rivals, then the thing I am inclined to do is to get together with my rivals and say: ‘Don’t let’s cut each other’s throats; let’s combine and determine prices for ourselves; determine the output, and thereby determine the prices: and dominate and control the market.’ That is very natural. That has been done ever since freebooting was established. That has been done ever since power was used to establish control. The reason that the masters of combination have sought to shut out competition is that the basis of control under competition is brains and efficiency. I admit that any large corporation built up by the legitimate processes of business, by economy, by efficiency, is natural; and I am not afraid of it, no matter how big it grows. It can stay big only by doing its work more thoroughly than anybody else. And there is a point of bigness,—as every business man in this country knows, though some of them will not admit it,—where you pass the limit of efficiency and get into the region of clumsiness and unwieldiness. You can make your combine so extensive that you can’t digest it into a single system; you can get so many parts that you can’t assemble them as you would an effective piece of machinery. The point of efficiency is overstepped in the natural process of development oftentimes, and it has been overstepped many times in the artificial and deliberate formation of trusts.

“A trust is formed in this way: a few gentlemen ‘promote’ it—that is to say, they get it up, being given enormous fees for their kindness, which fees are loaded on to the undertaking in the form of securities of one kind or another. The argument of the promoters is, not that every one who comes into the combination can carry on his business more efficiently than he did before; the argument is: we will assign to you as your share in the pool twice, three times, four times, or five times what you could have sold your business for to an individual competitor who would have to run it on an economic and competitive basis. We can afford to buy it at such a figure because we are shutting out competition. We can afford to make the stock of the combination half a dozen times what it naturally would be and pay dividends on it, because there will be nobody to dispute the prices we shall fix.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 8/Monopoly or Opportunity?” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 166-167. Print.

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