Perfect competition

Market structure in which firms are price takers for a homogenous product

Imperfect competition was a theory created to explain the more realistic kind of market interaction that lies in between perfect competition and a monopoly. A crucial figure in this theory is a man named Edward Chamberlain wrote a book titled "Monopolistic Competition" in 1933 as "a challenge to the traditional viewpoint that competition and monopolies are alternatives and that individual prices are to be explained in either terms of one or the other" (Dewey,88.) In this book, and for much of his career, he "analyzed firms that do not produce identical goods, but goods that are close substitutes for one another" (Sandmo,300.) Another key player in understanding imperfect competition is Joan Robinson, who published her book "The Economics of Perfect Competition" the same year Chamberlain published his. While Chamberlain focused much of his work on product development, Robinson focused heavily on price formation and discrimination (Sandmo,303.) The act of price discrimination under imperfect competition implies that the seller would sell their goods at different prices depending on the characteristic of the buyer to increase revenue (Robinson,204.) Joan Robinson and Edward Chamberlain came to many of the same conclusions regarding imperfect competition while still adding a bit of their twist to the theory. Despite their similarities or disagreements about who discovered the idea, both were extremely helpful in allowing firms to understand better how to center their goods around the wants of the consumer to achieve the highest amount of revenue possible.

Only in the short run can a firm in a perfectly competitive market make an economic profit.

Profit can, however, occur in competitive and contestable markets in the short run, as firms jostle for market position. Once risk is accounted for, long-lasting economic profit in a competitive market is thus viewed as the result of constant cost-cutting and performance improvement ahead of industry competitors, allowing costs to be below the market-set price.

However, some economists, for instance Steve Keen, a professor at the University of Western Sydney, argue that even an infinitesimal amount of market power can allow a firm to produce a profit and that the absence of economic profit in an industry, or even merely that some production occurs at a loss, in and of itself constitutes a barrier to entry.

In a single-goods case, a positive economic profit happens when the firm's average cost is less than the price of the product or service at the profit-maximizing output. The economic profit is equal to the quantity of output multiplied by the difference between the average cost and the price.

As mentioned above, the perfect competition model, if interpreted as applying also to short-period or very-short-period behaviour, is approximated only by markets of homogeneous products produced and purchased by very many sellers and buyers, usually organized markets for agricultural products or raw materials. In real-world markets, assumptions such as perfect information cannot be verified and are only approximated in organized double-auction markets where most agents wait and observe the behaviour of prices before deciding to exchange (but in the long-period interpretation perfect information is not necessary, the analysis only aims at determining the average around which market prices gravitate, and for gravitation to operate one does not need perfect information).

In the absence of externalities and public goods, perfectly competitive equilibria are Pareto-efficient, i.e. no improvement in the utility of a consumer is possible without a worsening of the utility of some other consumer. This is called the First Theorem of Welfare Economics. The basic reason is that no productive factor with a non-zero marginal product is left unutilized, and the units of each factor are so allocated as to yield the same indirect marginal utility in all uses, a basic efficiency condition (if this indirect marginal utility were higher in one use than in other ones, a Pareto improvement could be achieved by transferring a small amount of the factor to the use where it yields a higher marginal utility).

Monopoly violates this optimal allocation condition, because in a monopolized industry market price is above marginal cost, and this means that factors are underutilized in the monopolized industry, they have a higher indirect marginal utility than in their uses in competitive industries. Of course, this theorem is considered irrelevant by economists who do not believe that general equilibrium theory correctly predicts the functioning of market economies; but it is given great importance by neoclassical economists and it is the theoretical reason given by them for combating monopolies and for antitrust legislation.