Collusion is an agreement between two or more parties, sometimes illegal and therefore secretive, to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair market advantage. It is an agreement among firms or individuals to divide a market, set prices, limit production or limit opportunities. It can involve "wage fixing, kickbacks, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between the colluding parties". In legal terms, all acts effected by collusion are considered void.
In the study of economics and market competition, collusion takes place within an industry when rival companies cooperate for their mutual benefit. Collusion most often takes place within the market structure of oligopoly, where the decision of a few firms to collude can significantly impact the market as a whole. Cartels are a special case of explicit collusion. Collusion which is overt, on the other hand, is known as tacit collusion, and is legal.
According to neoclassical price-determination theory and game theory, the independence of suppliers forces prices to their minimum, increasing efficiency and decreasing the price determining ability of each individual firm. However, if firms collude to all increase prices, loss of sales is minimized, as consumers lack alternative choices at lower prices. This benefits the colluding firms at the cost of efficiency to society.
One variation of this traditional theory is the theory of kinked demand. Firms face a kinked demand curve if, when one firm decreases its price, other firms will follow suit in order to maintain sales, and when one firm increases its price, its rivals are unlikely to follow, as they would lose the sales' gains that they would otherwise get by holding prices at the previous level. Kinked demand potentially fosters supra-competitive prices because any one firm would receive a reduced benefit from cutting price, as opposed to the benefits accruing under neoclassical theory and certain game theoretic models such as Bertrand competition.
Practices that suggest possible collusion include:
Collusion is largely illegal in the United States, Canada and most of the EU due to competition/antitrust law, but implicit collusion in the form of price leadership and tacit understandings still takes place. Several examples of collusion in the United States include:
There are many ways that implicit collusion tends to develop:
There can be significant barriers to collusion. In any given industry, these may include: