State monopoly

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In economics, a government monopoly or public monopoly is a form of coercive monopoly in which a government agency or government corporation is the sole provider of a particular good or service and competition is prohibited by law. It is a monopoly created, owned, and operated by the government. It is usually distinguished from a government-granted monopoly, where the government grants a monopoly to a private individual or company.

A government monopoly may be run by any level of government — national, regional, local; for levels below the national, it is a local monopoly. The term state monopoly usually means a government monopoly run by the national government.

Characteristics of state monopoliesEdit

A state monopoly can be characterized by its commercial behavior not being effectively limited by the competitive pressures of private organisations.[1][2] This occurs when its business activities exert an extensive influence within the market, can act autonomously of any competitors, and potential competitors are unable to successfully compete with it.[3][4]

These activities have a major influence on the operational environment, when its trading activities are not subject to competitive forces inherent within free trading markets.[5]  Therefore, this results in using its market dominance and influence to its advantage, in affecting how the market evolves over a long period of time.[6] This is especially the case if the state monopoly controls access to vital inputs essential to operating within the market.[7] 

The high degree of autonomy and ability to act independently in the market, has been demonstrated by the ability to alter relationships with its customers to its advantage, without negatively impacting its dominant market share.[4] [8] A state monopoly’s ability to increase the price or quantity of goods and services provided, without a relational change in its own operating costs (coupled with maintaining this price or quantity at above a market clearing rate), demonstrates its ability to disregard any competitive forces within the market.[9]  A state monopoly also retains the ability to reduce service value, or impose restrictive terms and conditions, without experiencing a loss in market share.[10]  

Market powerEdit

A state monopoly’s market power and dominance can arise from its superior innovative capacity or greater performance.[11] However, any of the three following factors more broadly explain a state monopoly’s existence:

  • A natural monopoly endures within the market, whereby the most efficient form of meeting demand is through the creation of a single government entity.[12]
  • The state monopoly is legislated for, with legislative instruments precluding competitive activities regarding the provision of goods or services.[12]
  • A poorly contestable market exists, with competition previously operating inefficiently despite the lack of legal restrictions.[12][13]

Evidence of exercising market powerEdit

The primary determinations of demonstrating the market power of state monopolies are:

  • The monopoly’s economic income within the market is characterized by disproportionate returns on its existing asset base.[14]  This income would be excessive, if it were not a result of its inefficient operations.[14][15]
  • There is a substantial difference between best practice benchmarks within private organisations, and the state monopoly’s own productive efficiency.[16]  For example, a monopoly’s lack of productive efficiency could be resultant of gold plating of assets.[17]
  • The monopoly cross-subsidies incomes between loss-making activities and profitable activities.[16]  If the aforementioned occurs through production or pricing behaviors, this suggests usual competitive forces characteristic of competitive markets are not being applied to the state monopoly.[15]  A firm engaging in this practice under normal market conditions, would not survive in the long run.[17][15]


The most prominent example of the monopoly is law and the legitimate use of physical force.[18] In many countries, the postal system is run by the government with competition forbidden by law in some or all services. Also, government monopolies on public utilities, telecommunications and railroads have historically been common, though recent decades have seen a strong privatization trend throughout the industrialized world.

In Nordic countries, some goods deemed harmful are distributed through a government monopoly. For example, in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, government-owned companies have monopolies for selling alcoholic beverages. Casinos and other institutions for gambling might also be monopolized. In Finland, the government has a monopoly to operate slot machines (see Veikkaus). Similar regimes for alcohol exist in the United States, where certain alcoholic beverage control states (ABC states), e.g. Pennsylvania and Virginia, maintain state-owned-and-operated monopolies on the sale of certain kinds of alcohol (typically distilled spirits and sometimes wine or beer). In these monopolies over harmful goods or services, the monopoly is designed to reduce consumption of the product by deliberately decreasing the efficiency of the market.

Governments often create or allow monopolies to exist and grant them patents. This limits entry and allow the patent-holding firm to earn a monopoly profit from an invention.

Health care systems where the government controls the industry and specifically prohibits competition, such as in Canada, are government monopolies.[19]

In spite of privatization a monopoly may still arise

Reforms to enhance competitionEdit

Although state monopolies are sustained through legislative instruments, many major economies have seen efforts to reform the disproportionate market powers they sustain, to therefore enhance competition.[20][21] This has been enacted through regulatory reforms (removing statutory restrictions to market competition) and structural reforms (including separating contestable elements of a state monopoly, and creating third party rights of access to natural monopolies).[22][23]

Across all levels of governmental jurisdiction, both structural and regulatory reforms have been preferred, as it forces all market participants (both state monopolies and private industry) to respond to competitive pressures, as opposed to legislated regulatory structures.[24][25] This has been observed to result in more optimal outcomes for an economy, as resource allocation is no longer directed by legislative instruments or regulatory authorities.[26]     

Despite these reform efforts to promote competitive markets, regulatory and structural reforms struggle to overcome the entrenched market dominance of state monopolies.[27]  This is resultant of advantages enjoyed by state monopolies, including first mover advantages.[20]   


The following advantages, may happen or not:[28]

  • Government monopolies tend to comply with law (tax compliance, environmental law, safety regulations)
  • Prices of a good or service might be stabler, or at a set price.
  • No economical dead-weight in advertising
  • Greater and stabler government income, than with a state owned company in a free market
  • No pressure to drive down costs (race to the bottom), which can be seen as posing bases for more ethical business
  • Can take over a private monopoly judged harmful.


Government monopolies have traditional risks of usual monopolies:

  • High prices can arise
  • Abuse of market dominance

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Regulation of the State in Competitive Markets in the EU. Hart Publishing. 2007. doi:10.5040/ ISBN 978-1-84113-497-0.
  2. ^ Gordon, Richard L. (1994), "Problems of Environmental Impacts and Regulating Business Practices", Regulation and Economic Analysis, Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 129–147, doi:10.1007/978-1-4615-2620-9_10, ISBN 978-1-4613-6123-7, retrieved 2022-05-02
  3. ^ Berg, Sanford V.; Tschirhart, John (1989-01-27). Natural Monopoly Regulation. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511572067. ISBN 978-0-521-33039-8.
  4. ^ a b Weber Waller, Spencer (2006-09-01). "Book Review: Economics of Regulation and Antitrust, W. Kip Viscusi, Joseph E. Harrington, Jr., and John M. Vernon (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England, 4th Edn, 2005)". World Competition. 29 (3): 504. doi:10.54648/woco2006035. ISSN 1011-4548. S2CID 248274219.
  5. ^ Li, Shuai; Cai, Jiannan; Feng, Zhuo; Xu, Yifang; Cai, Hubo (February 2019). "Government contracting with monopoly in infrastructure provision: Regulation or deregulation?". Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review. 122: 506–523. doi:10.1016/j.tre.2019.01.002. S2CID 159127679.
  6. ^ Allen, G. C. (2013-11-05). Monopoly and Restrictive Practices (0 ed.). Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315016597. ISBN 978-1-136-51086-1.
  7. ^ Sibley, David S.; Doane, Michael J.; Williams, Michael A.; Tsai, Shu-Yi (October 2004). "Pricing Access to a Monopoly Input". Journal of Public Economic Theory. 6 (4): 541–555. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9779.2004.00179.x. ISSN 1097-3923.
  8. ^ Grunichev, A.S.; Mierin, L.A.; Yagudin, R.Kh.; Fakhrutdinov, R.M. (2015-02-01). "Institutional Features of Interaction of the State and of Natural Monopolies". Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences. doi:10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n1s3p73.
  9. ^ Peck, James; Rampal, Jeevant (October 2019). "Non-optimality of state by state monopoly pricing with demand uncertainty: An example". Economics Letters. 183: 108561. doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2019.108561. ISSN 0165-1765. S2CID 200077285.
  10. ^ Gordon. (1994). Regulation and economic analysis : a critique over two centuries (1st ed. 1994.). Springer-Science+Business Media, B.V.
  11. ^ Zhao, Bo (May 2012). "Monopoly, economic efficiency and unemployment". Economic Modelling. 29 (3): 586–600. doi:10.1016/j.econmod.2012.01.001. S2CID 154754431.
  12. ^ a b c W., Sharkey, William (1982). The Theory of Natural Monopoly. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-57181-7. OCLC 1127513607.
  13. ^ Davis, Colin; Hashimoto, Ken-ichi (February 2016). "Economic Integration, Monopoly Power and Productivity Growth without Scale Effects: Economic Integration and Productivity Growth". Review of Development Economics. 20 (1): 152–163. doi:10.1111/rode.12200. S2CID 59503533.
  14. ^ a b von Blanckenburg, Korbinian; Neubert, Milena (2015-04-19). "Monopoly Profit Maximization: Success and Economic Principles". Economics Research International. 2015: 1–10. doi:10.1155/2015/875301. ISSN 2090-2123.
  15. ^ a b c Toole, Andrew A. (September 2010). "G. G. Djolov, The Economics of Competition: The Race to Monopoly. London: The Haworth Press, 2006, 322 pp., ISBN 0789027895 (SC), $47.50". Agribusiness. 26 (1): 174–175. doi:10.1002/agr.20232. ISSN 0742-4477.
  16. ^ a b Brown, John Howard (June 2009). "Henry W. de Jong and William G. Shepherd, eds., Pioneers of Industrial Organization: How the Economics of Competition and Monopoly Took Shape (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2007)". Journal of the History of Economic Thought. 31 (2): 243–244. doi:10.1017/s1053837209090245. ISSN 1053-8372. S2CID 154765535.
  17. ^ a b "Eyring, Carl F. Essentials of physics. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1948. 422 p. $3.75". Science Education. 33 (1): 85–86. February 1949. Bibcode:1949SciEd..33S..85.. doi:10.1002/sce.3730330167. ISSN 0036-8326.
  18. ^ K. Grechenig, M. Kolmar, The State's Enforcement Monopoly and the Private Protection of Property, Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE) 2014, vol. 170 (1), 5-23.
  19. ^ Gratzer, David (Summer 2007). "The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care". City Journal. Manhattan Institute. Retrieved 29 December 2008.
  20. ^ a b Buehler, Stefan; Gärtner, Dennis; Halbheer, Daniel (July 2006). "Deregulating Network Industries: Dealing with Price-quality Tradeoffs". Journal of Regulatory Economics. 30 (1): 99–115. doi:10.1007/s11149-006-0011-8. ISSN 0922-680X.
  21. ^ Butler, Graham (2021-09-01). "State Monopolies and the Free Movement of Goods in EU Law: Getting Beyond Obscure Clarity". Legal Issues of Economic Integration. 48 (3): 285–308. doi:10.54648/leie2021020. ISSN 1566-6573. S2CID 247829825.
  22. ^ Estache, A. (2001-05-01). "Privatization and Regulation of Transport Infrastructure in the 1990s". The World Bank Research Observer. 16 (1): 85–107. doi:10.1093/wbro/16.1.85. hdl:10986/17127.
  23. ^ Naughton, Barry (January 1992). "Implications of the State Monopoly Over Industry and Its Relaxation". Modern China. 18 (1): 14–41. doi:10.1177/009770049201800102. ISSN 0097-7004. S2CID 154538716.
  24. ^ Haber, Hanan (2018-03-04). "Liberalizing markets, liberalizing welfare? Economic reform and social regulation in the EU's electricity regime". Journal of European Public Policy. 25 (3): 307–326. doi:10.1080/13501763.2016.1249012. ISSN 1350-1763. S2CID 157115433.
  25. ^ Asquer, Alberto (2018). Regulation of Infrastructure and Utilities : Public Policy and Management Issues. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-319-67735-4. OCLC 1015849922.
  26. ^ Doing Business 2020: Comparing Business Regulation in 190 Economies. 2019-09-24. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1440-2. ISBN 978-1-4648-1440-2. S2CID 243030172.
  27. ^ Doing Business 2020: Comparing Business Regulation in 190 Economies. 2019-09-24. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1440-2. ISBN 978-1-4648-1440-2. S2CID 243030172.
  28. ^ Cabral, Carrie (2020-07-02). "Are Monopolies Good? Surprisingly, Yes—Peter Thiel Explains". Shortform Books. Retrieved 2023-02-03.