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The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

Edited by Claude Ménard and Elodie Bertrand

Ronald H. Coase was one of the most innovative and provocative economists of the twentieth century. Besides his best known papers on ‘The Nature of the Firm’ and ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, he had a major role in the development of the field of law and economics, and made numerous influential contributions to topics including public utilities, regulation and the functioning of markets. In this comprehensive Companion, 31 leading economists, social scientists and legal scholars assess the impact of his work with particular reference to the research programs initiated, the influence on policymakers, and the challenge to conventional perspectives.

Chapter 16: What do we really know about durable goods monopolies? The Coase conjecture in economics and its relevance for the safety razor industry

John V.C. Nye

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, industrial organisation, institutional economics, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics


There is now a very extensive and well-developed theoretical literature on the difficulties faced by durable goods monopolists in pricing their products. Surprisingly, the seminal article in this field did not come from a formal economic theorist but from Ronald Coase. Coase wanted to show that there are situations under which a pure monopolist might not be able to charge a monopoly price for durable products. The literature has since expanded to consider all manner of theoretical and formal conditions under which this hypothesis might or might not hold. And scholars have claimed that this body of work provides insights into everything from strategic leases to planned obsolescence and the problem of new model introductions. But how well has this literature really served to illuminate the problems facing actual business firms? While the safety razor industry has often been invoked as an example of durable goods pricing there has only been limited investigation into the actual behavior of the dominant firm in this industry – Gillette. We consider here the major ideas that have developed as an offshoot of the original Coase paper and the extent to which a case study of Gillette confirms or confounds this analysis.

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