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Price Discrimination Limits in Relation to the Death Spiral

J. Stephen Henderson

Year: 1986
Volume: Volume 7
Number: Number 3
DOI: 10.5547/ISSN0195-6574-EJ-Vol7-No3-3
View Abstract

It is well known that a public utility commission may be able to improve overall social welfare by allowing decreasing-cost industries (such as local public utilities) to price discriminate. For this course of action to be practical, the following conditions must prevail: (1) marginal-cost prices do not cover costs and (2) external subsidies are not feasible. Consequently, the need to raise prices above marginal costs means that some social welfare, measured as the sum of consumer's and producer's surplus, for example, must be sacrificed to allow the utility to break even. To minimize this sacrifice, the proportional deviation of price from marginal cost for each service should be correspondingly larger for markets with inelastic demands than for those in which demand is elastic.' This type of inverse elasticity rule seldom is used in practice and is cited here only to illustrate that pure value-of-service pricing may improve overall social welfare.

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