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Minimum Quality Standards, Fixed Costs, and Competition

Uri Ronnen
The RAND Journal of Economics
Vol. 22, No. 4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 490-504
Published by: Wiley on behalf of RAND Corporation
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600984
Page Count: 15
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Minimum Quality Standards, Fixed Costs, and Competition
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Abstract

I investigate the consequences of imposing a minimum quality standard on an industry in which firms face quality-dependent fixed costs and compete in quality and price. Even though the high-quality sellers would satisfy the standard in the absence of regulation, imposing a standard leads these sellers to raise qualities. They do so in an effort to alleviate the price competition, which intensifies as a result of the low-quality sellers' having raised their qualities to meet the imposed standard. However, by its very nature, a minimum quality standard limits the range in which producers can differentiate qualities. Hence, in the end, price competition intensifies, and prices--"corrected for quality change"--fall. Due to the better qualities and lower hedonic prices, and compared to the unregulated equilibrium, all consumers are better off, more consumers participate in the market, and ail participating consumers--including those who would consume qualities in excess of the standard in the absence of regulation--select higher qualities. When the consumption of high-quality products generates positive externalities--as in the case of safety products--these results favor minimum quality standards. I also show that even in the absence of externalities an appropriately chosen standard improves social welfare.

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