Price fixing is an agreement between participants on the same side in a market to buy or sell a product, service, or commodity only at a fixed price, or maintain the market conditions such that the price is maintained at a given level by controlling supply and demand. The group of market makers involved in price fixing is sometimes referred to as a cartel.
The intent of price fixing may be to push the price of a product as high as possible, leading to profits for all sellers, but it may also have the goal to fix, peg, discount, or stabilize prices. The defining characteristic of price fixing is any agreement regarding price, whether expressed or implied.
Price fixing requires a conspiracy between sellers or buyers; the purpose is to coordinate pricing for mutual benefit of the traders. Sellers might agree to sell at a common target price; set a common minimum price; buy the product from a supplier at a specified maximum price; adhere to a price book or list price; engage in cooperative price advertising; standardize financial credit terms offered to purchasers; use uniform trade-in allowances; limit discounts; discontinue a free service or fix the price of one component of an overall service; adhere uniformly to previously-announced prices and terms of sale; establish uniform costs and markups; impose mandatory surcharges; purposefully reduce output or sales in order to charge higher prices; or purposefully share or pool markets, territories, or customers.
Price fixing is permitted in some markets but not others; where allowed it is often known as resale price maintenance or retail price maintenance.
In neo-classical economics, price fixing is inefficient. The anti-competitive agreement by producers to fix prices above the market price transfers some of the consumer surplus to those producers and also results in a deadweight loss.
Criticism on legislation
Economic libertarians claim that price fixing is inherently unstable and that regulation does more harm than good. A company can sometimes cheat on the cartel by secretly lowering its price and expand in the market. If there are low barriers to entry new firms may enter the market. Also, libertarians say that price-fixing legislation limits innovation because it discourages the creating of competing companies.
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