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Oligopoly refers to a situation with a few rms on the market and the central assumption

that diers from the competitive model is that the rms understand that their actions aect

the market price. There is an industry of dierent models, but most of these are in some

way or another variations on the two really central models of oligopoly. These are:

1. The Cournot model, where the strategic variable is a quantity choice.

2. The Bertrand model, where the strategic variable is the price charged.

Besides being important in themselves, these models also illustrates well how the tools

from game theory is used in economics. We will try to keep things as simple as possible, so

we will typically only consider duopoly versions of the models (two rms).

16.1 The Cournot Model

We assume that:

There are two rms, 1 and 2 (will consider n rms later)

Constant marginal cost equal to c

The rms produce a homogenous good with inverse demand

p(y) = a by

Now, we want to cast the model as a game, so we need to describe:

1. Who the players are. This is no problem-weve already said that the rms are rm 1

and rm 2.

2. What the available strategies are for each player. With quantity competition that is

just

1

A quantity y

1

0 for rm 1

A quantity y

2

0 for rm 2

Note that we are assuming that quantities are chosen simultaneously since otherwise

we would specify the strategy of one rm to be a contingent plan ( a quantity for each

quantity chosen by the other rm)

3. Finally we need to complete the model and describe the payo functions, that is how

the payos of the players depend on the strategies chosen by the players. Here we have

some work remaining.

We will assume that rms care about their prots exactly as in the competitive model

and the monopoly model, that is rm 1 cares about

1

= py

1

cy

1

However, with only two rms we want to think about rms who understand how the price is

aected by quantities on the market. Now, with a homogenous good the equilibrium price

depends on the sum of quantities chosen by the rms, that is the price given quantities y

1

and y

2

is

p(y

1

+ y

2

) = a b(y

1

+ y

2

);

So, we can write rm 1s prot as a function of the strategies ( that is quantities) as

1

(y

1

; y

2

) = p(y

1

+ y

2

) cy

1

=

= (a b(y

1

+ y

2

) c) y

1

Note that the prot is now described fully in terms of the strategies (and parameters), so

we have described a game between rm 1 and rm 2. Since there is an innite number of

possible quantity combinations we can not write it as a payo matrix, but we have described

a more elaborate version of a game exactly like the prisoners dilemma or the battle of the

sexes.

2

16.2 Nash Equilibrium in the Cournot Model

Recall that a Nash equilibrium is a situation where each player does the best he/she can given

what the other player(s) are doing. Hence a pair of quantities (y

1

; y

2

) is a Nash equilibrium

in the Cournot model if

1

(y

1

; y

2

)

1

(y

1

; y

2

) for all y

1

0 and

2

(y

1

; y

2

)

2

(y

1

; y

2

) for all y

2

0 .

But, that is just saying that

y

1

solves max

y

1

0

1

(y

1

; y

2

) and

y

2

solves max

y

2

0

2

(y

1

; y

2

)

What this means is that we can just take rst order conditions as usual (for a xed quantity

by the other rm) and then solve the 2 rst order conditions out for the Nash equilibrium.

Firm 1 solves the problem

max

y

1

0

1

(y

1

; y

2

) = max

y

1

0

(a b(y

1

+ y

2

) c) y

1

and the rst order condition is

a b(y

1

+ y

2

) c by

1

= 0

Solving for y

1

we get the best response, the optimal choice of y

1

given any y

2

y

1

(y

2

) =

a c by

2

2b

Symmetrically, we get a best response for rm 2

y

2

(y

1

) =

a c by

1

2b

A Nash equilibrium is a situation where each rm is doing the best they can given what the

other rms is doing, so y

1

= y

1

(y

2

) and y

2

= y

2

(y

1

); so a Nash equilibrium is a solution to

the system

y

1

=

a c by

2

2b

y

2

=

a c by

1

2b

3

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

ac

b

ac

2b

ac

2b

ac

b

y

2

y

1

Firm 1s

Best Response

Firm 2s

Best response

ac

3b

ac

3b

t

Nash

Equilibrium

Figure 1: Best Responses and Nash Equilibrium in Cournot Model

The best responses are drawn in Figure 1 where you should observe a few things:

1. Evaluating the best response for a rm when the other rm picks an output=0 we have

y

1

(0) = y

2

(0) =

ac

2b

: If you recall the monopoly analysis this is exactly the same as the

solution to the monopoly problem (verify), which should make perfect sense since a rm

who believes that the other rm will produce nothing should behave as a monopolist.

2. Moreover, if, say, rm 2 would produce enough output so that p(y

2

) = c;which would

be the competitive (break-even price) then it is rather intuitive that additional output

from rm 1 would mean that the price would get below the marginal cost)loss for the

rm. But q

1

=

ac

b

is exactly that price since

p(

a c

b

) = a b

a c

b

= c;

so the intercepts where the best response is zero has exactly the interpretation as the

points where the competitor produces an output that yields the competitive price.

Solving the system for a Nash equilibrium we can actually cheat a little bit since the

equations are symmetric and therefore ought to have a symmetric solution y

1

= y

2

: Then we

4

have only a single equation to solve, namely

y

1

=

a c by

1

2b

=

a c

2b

y

1

2

,

3

2

y

1

=

a c

2b

,y

1

= y

2

=

a c

3b

You may also nd it obvious from the picture that

ac

3b

by observing that the intercepts of

the best responses are at

ac

b

and

1

2

ac

b

respectively on both axis.

16.3 Comparison with Monopoly Model

Suppose that the rms instead of acting independently would get together and think about

if they could improve on the situation in the Cournot equilibrium. They would then simply

set y = y

1

+ y

2

to maximize the monopoly prot, that is solve

max

y

(a by c) y

Weve already solved this problem and the solution is (check!)

y

m

=

a c

2b

:

Plugging this into the prots and comparing with the prots under oligopoly you can check

that the monopoly prot is more than twice the per rm prot in the Cournot equilibrium

so it is possible for both rms to gain by forming a cartel. To see this more clearly in the

graph we note that if we plot isoprots (combinations of y

1

and y

2

such that prots are

constant) for rm 1 then anyone of these solves

1

= (a b(y

1

+ y

2

) c) y

1

for some

1

: Now, since the best response is the prot maximizing choice given the

particular y

2

these must have a zero slope when intersecting the best response. Moreover,

prots are increasing the less the other rm produces so we can depict these isoprots for

rm 1 as in Figure 2. Doing the same thing for rm 2 and combining with the line consisting

of points where y

1

+y

2

equals the monopoly output we get a very instructive picture, which

5

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

ac

b

ac

2b

ac

2b

ac

b

y

2

y

1

Firm 1s

Best Response

Firm 2s

Best response

ac

3b

ac

3b

t

`

`

``

Higher

prots

Figure 2: Isoprots in Cournot Model

is the one in Figure 3. In the picture the line between

ac

2b

; 0

and

0;

ac

2b

where industry output equals the monopoly output (rms acting as a cartel). In the gure

we have also drawn in the isoprots going through the Nash equilibrium of the Cournot

model and everything in the shaded area consists of points where both rms are better o

than in the Cournot equilibrium. Finally, the point on the intersection between the cartel

line and the 45

0

line is the point where the rms agree to split the monopoly output in two.

This picture illustrates nicely both the temptation and the problem with a cartel agree-

ment. The reason the rms want to cooperate is that by reducing output relative the

equilibrium they both can gain. The problem is that if they try to do this, there is always

a temptation to defect since the rms are not playing best responses.

16.4 The Stackelberg Model

A natural variation on the Cournot model is to ask what would happen if one rm would

make its decision before the other rm. Then the players are still (in the duopoly version)

rms 1 and 2 and their prot functions are the same, but:

6

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

ac

b

ac

2b

ac

2b

ac

b

y

2

y

1

Firm 1s

Best Response

Firm 2s

Best response

ac

3b

ac

3b

t

Nash

Equilibrium

t

Figure 3: Cartel would be Better for Firms than Cournot Competition

A strategy for rm 1 is some y

1

0

A strategy for rm 2 is a contingent plan that species the output as a function of y

1

:

We write r(y

1

); where r is for response.

Exactly as in the example with the Battle of the sexes with rst mover advantage

there will be lots of Nash equilibria in this game. However, the most interesting equilibrium

is the equilibrium where rm 2 behaves optimally after any history of play, that is the

equilibrium where rm 2 would chose an optimal quantity no matter which quantity rm 1

picks. This is the credible Nash equilibrium which we refer to as the backwards induction

equilibrium.

16.4.1 The Followers Problem

In the backwards induction equilibrium the follower (rm 2) should maximize prots given

any choice of y

1

; that is rm 2 solves

max

y

2

(a b(y

1

+ y

2

) c) y

2

7

But this is just like the Cournot problem that determines the best responses which we already

solved when analyzing the Cournot model. Without any further calculation we then know

that the (dynamic) response of rm 2 must be

r(y

1

) =

a c by

1

2b

in a backwards induction equilibrium.

16.4.2 The Leaders Problem

Now, exactly as Bruce would foresee that if he moved rst and went to the game rather than

the opera, the leader rm in the Stackelberg model can gure out what the follower will do

given any quantity choice by the leader. The leaders problem thus takes into account that

y

2

= r(y

1

) so the leader solves

max

y

1

(a b (y

1

+ r (y

1

)) c) y

1

or, after substituting the response of rm 2

max

y

1

a b

y

1

+

a c by

1

2b

y

1

= max

y

1

a by

1

a c by

1

2

y

1

= max

y

1

1

2

(a c by

1

) y

1

It turns out that this is the monopoly problem, so the solution is to set (check if necessary!)

y

1

=

a c

2b

This coincidence with the monopoly output is not a general feature of the Stack-

elberg Model but has to do with the geometry on the linear demand and cost

functions, but the obvious consequence is that when the leader takes the optimal responses

by the follower into consideration, it increases its output relative to the Cournot model. The

equilibrium is

y

1

=

a c

2b

y

2

= r (y

1

) =

a c by

1

2b

=

a c

2b

1

2

a c

2b

=

a c

4b

8

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

`

ac

b

ac

2b

ac

2b

ac

b

y

2

y

1

Firm 1s

Best Response

Firm 2s

Best response

ac

3b

ac

3b

t

t

ac

4b

Nash equilibrium

In Cournot Game

Backwards Induction Equilibrium

in Stackelberg Game

/

/

/-

.

Figure 4: Equilibrium in Stackelberg Model

The most useful thing to understand this is from Figure 4. The key insight is that

when the leader takes the response function rather than a given (conjectured) output into

consideration, then the rm will pick the best point on the followers best response. But the

best point is just a tangency between the isoprot and the best response and since the slope

of the isoprot going through the Nash equilibrium in the Cournot game is zero it should be

clear from the picture that this means that the leader-rm will increase the output relative

the simultaneous model, which in turn implies that the follower will reduce its output. Since

the leader ends up on a higher prot level (isoprot closer to the monopoly output) there is

a rst mover advantage in the model.

16.5 Bertrand Competition

In the Bertrand model everything is as in the Cournot model except that rms choose prices

instead of quantities. Note that

If p

1

< p

2

then all consumers go to rm 1 that will then sell q(p

1

) units while rm 2

sells nothing.

9

If p

1

> p

2

then all consumers go to rm 2 that will then sell q(p

2

) units while rm 1

sells nothing.

If p

1

= p

2

then the rms split the consumers, getting half of them each.

Let

q(p) = A Bp

be the (direct) demand. Now note that:

1. Neither rm could set a price below c in equilibrium since the lowest price rm would

then would make a loss.

If rm 2 would set a price p

2

> c; then the prot of rm one would be

0 if p

1

> p

2

(p

2

c)

(A Bp

2

)

2

>

0 if p

1

= p

2

(p

1

c) (A Bp

1

) if p

1

< p

2

Hence no rm could charge a price above c in equilibrium either since by undercutting the

other rm by a small amount (a penny) the rm with the price a penny lower would get the

whole market rather than just half of it. Hence the equilibrium is for both rms to charge a

price equal to marginal cost, so with price competition two rms are sucient to generate

the competitive outcome.

While it may seem counter-intuitive that the rms dont have any market power the sit-

uation is very much like an auction where two agents value an object equally high. Thinking

of it that way it is not that surprising that the equilibrium bids have to be the value of the

object since if the agents would bid below their values, one of them could win for sure and

still get some surplus out of the outcome while the other would get nothing.

10

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