Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rights and Reason: The Myth of Predatory Pricing

Walter Williams demolishes it at Capitalism Magazine:

A couple of weeks ago, heading down to George Mason University, I pulled into my favorite Wawa gasoline station just off the Bel Air, Md., exit on I-95 South. At each of the 20 gasoline pumps, there was a sign posted that Wawa would no longer dispense free coffee to its gasoline customers. Why? The station was warned that dispensing free coffee put it in violation of Maryland’s gasoline minimum-price law.

Here’s my no-brainer question to you: Do you suppose that Maryland enacted its gasoline minimum-price law because irate customers complained to the state legislature that gasoline prices were too low? Even if you had just 1 ounce of brains, you’d correctly answer no. Then, the next question is just whose interest is served by, and just who lobbied for, Maryland’s gasoline minimum-price law? If you answered that it was probably Maryland’s independent gas-station owners, go to the head of the class. . .

. . . Lobbyists such as WMDA Service Station & Automotive Repair Association, the Gasoline Retailers Association and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America are able to sell legislators on the fairy tale that if high-marketing gasoline outlets such as Wawa, Sheetz, Wal-Mart and others are allowed to charge prices that are too low, they’ll drive all other gasoline stations out of business. Having done so, these high-marketing outlets could charge any price they pleased and make huge profits.

In economics, we call this strategy predatory pricing. It’s an argument that has a ring of plausibility, but there’s little evidence anywhere anytime that a predatory pricing scheme produced results even remotely close to what would-be predators envisioned. Questioning this fairy tale and asking for evidence would never cross the mind of a legislator.
Or an antitrust regulator.

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