June 24, 2024 

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SCARCE RESOURCE: A resource with an available quantity less than its desired use. Scarce resources are also called factors of production. Scarce goods are also termed economic goods. Scarce resources are used to produce scarce goods. Like the more general society-wide condition of scarcity, a given resource is scarce because it has a limited availability in combination with a greater (potentially unlimited) productive use. It's both of these that make it scarce. In other words, even though an item is quite limited it will not be a scarce resource if it has few if any uses (think pocket lint and free good).

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The four key characteristics of monopoly are: (1) a single firm selling all output in a market, (2) a unique product, (3) restrictions on entry into and exit out of the industry, and more often than not (4) specialized information about production techniques unavailable to other potential producers.
These four characteristics mean that a monopoly has extensive (boarding on complete) market control. Monopoly controls the selling side of the market. If anyone seeks to acquire the production sold by the monopoly, then they must buy from the monopoly. This means that the demand curve facing the monopoly is the market demand curve. They are one and the same.

The characteristics of monopoly are in direct contrast to those of perfect competition. A perfectly competitive industry has a large number of relatively small firms, each producing identical products. Firms can freely move into and out of the industry and share the same information about prices and production techniques.

A monopolized industry, however, tends to fall far short of each perfectly competitive characteristic. There is one firm, not a lot of small firms. There is only one firm in the market because there are no close substitutes, let alone identical products produced by other firms. A monopoly often owes its monopoly status to the fact that other potential producers are prevented from entering the market. No freedom of entry here. Neither is there perfect information. A monopoly firm often has specialized information, such as patents or copyrights, that are not available to other potential producers.

Single Supplier

The essence of a monopoly is a market controlled by a single seller. The "mono" part of monopoly means single. This "mono" term is also the source of such words as monarch--a single ruler; monochrome--a single color; monk--a solitary religious figure; monocle--an eyeglass for one eye; and monolith--a single large stone. The "poly" part of monopoly means to sell. So the word itself, monopoly, means a single seller.

The single seller, of course, is a direct contrast to perfect competition, which has a large number of sellers. In fact, perfect competition could be renamed multipoly or manypoly, to contrast it with monopoly. The most important aspect of being a single seller is that the monopoly seller IS the market. The market demand for a good IS the demand for the output produced by the monopoly. This makes monopoly a price maker, rather than a price taker.

A hypothetical example that can be used to illustrate the features of a monopoly is Feet-First Pharmaceutical. This firm owns the patent to Amblathan-Plus, the only cure for the deadly (but hypothetical) foot ailment known as amblathanitis. As the only producer of Amblathan-Plus, Feet-First Pharmaceutical is a monopoly with extensive market control. The market demand for Amblathan-Plus is THE demand for Amblathan-Plus sold by Feet-First Pharmaceutical.

Unique Product

To be the only seller of a product, however, a monopoly must have a unique product. Phil the zucchini grower is the only producer of Phil's zucchinis. The problem for Phil, however, is that gadzillions of other firms sell zucchinis that are indistinguishable from those sold by Phil.

Amblathan-Plus, in contrast, is a unique product. There are no close substitutes. Feet-First Pharmaceutical holds the exclusive patent on Amblathan-Plus. No other firm has the legal authority to produced Amblathan-Plus. And even if they had the legal authority, the secret formula for producing Amblathan-Plus is sealed away in an airtight vault deep inside the fortified Feet-First Pharmaceutical headquarters.

Of course, other medications exist that might alleviate some of the symptoms of amblathanitis. One ointment temporarily reduces the swelling. Another powder relieves the redness. But nothing else exists to cure amblathanitis completely. A few highly imperfect substitutes exists. But there are no close substitutes for Amblathan-Plus. Feet-First Pharmaceutical has a monopoly because it is the ONLY seller of a UNIQUE product.

Barriers to Entry and Exit

A monopoly is generally assured of being the ONLY firm in a market because of assorted barriers to entry. Some of the key barriers to entry are: (1) government license or franchise, (2) resource ownership, (3) patents and copyrights, (4) high start-up cost, and (5) decreasing average total cost.

Feet-First Pharmaceutical has a few these barriers working in its favor. It has, for example, an exclusive patent on Amblathan-Plus. The government has decreed that Feet-First Pharmaceutical, and only Feet-First Pharmaceutical, has the legal authority to produce and sell Amblathan-Plus.

Moreover, the secret ingredient used to produce Amblathan-Plus is obtained from a rare, genetically enhanced, eucalyptus tree grown only on a Brazilian plantation owned by Feet-First Pharmaceutical. Even if another firm knew how to produce Amblathan and had the legal authority to do so, they would lack access to this essential ingredient.

A monopoly might also face barriers to exiting a market. If government deems that the product provided by the monopoly is essential for well-being of the public, then the monopoly might be prevented from leaving the market. Feet-First Pharmaceutical, for example, cannot simply cease the production of Amblathan-Plus. It is essential to the health and welfare of the public.

This barrier to exit is most often applied to public utilities, such as electricity companies, natural gas distribution companies, local telephone companies, and garbage collection companies. These are often deemed essential services that cannot be discontinued without permission from a government regulation authority.

Specialized Information

Monopoly is commonly characterized by control of information or production technology not available to others. This specialized information often comes in the form of legally-established patents, copyrights, or trademarks. While these create legal barriers to entry they also indicate that information is not perfectly shared by all. The AT&T telephone monopoly of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely due to the telephone patent. Pharmaceutical companies, like the hypothetical Feet-First Pharmaceutical, regularly monopolize the market for a specific drug by virtue of a patent.

In addition, a monopoly firm might know something or have a piece of information that is not available to others. This "something" may or may not be patented or copyrighted. It could be a secret recipe or formula. Perhaps it is a unique method of production.

One example of specialized information is the special, secret formula for producing Amblathan-Plus that is sealed away in an airtight vault deep inside the fortified Feet-First Pharmaceutical headquarters. No one else has this information.


Recommended Citation:

MONOPOLY, CHARACTERISTICS, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2024. [Accessed: June 24, 2024].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | monopoly | monopoly, demand | monopoly, efficiency | monopoly, realism | monopoly, problems | monopoly and perfect competition |

Or For A Little Background...

     | total revenue | average revenue | marginal revenue | short-run production analysis | long-run production analysis | profit | profit maximization | market structures | marginal cost | total cost | average cost | supply | efficiency | satisfaction |

And For Further Study...

     | monopoly, short-run production analysis | price discrimination | perfect competition | oligopoly | monopolistic competition | monopoly, marginal revenue and demand elasticity |

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