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Why can only one firm gain economies of scale in a natural monopoly?

Relevant Topics

This question pertains to topics in Microeconomics, such as Market Structures, Economies of Scale, and Natural Monopoly


Economies of Scale: Economies of scale occur when the cost per unit of output decreases as a company increases its production.

Natural Monopoly:
A natural monopoly is a type of monopoly that exists due to the high start-up costs or powerful economies of scale of conducting a business in a specific industry. A company with a natural monopoly might be the only provider or a product or service in an industry or geographic location.

Detailed Explanation:

In a natural monopoly, the initial investment required to build the infrastructure or develop the technology is so high that it is not profitable for more than one firm to enter the market. This situation often arises in industries such as utilities, where the cost of duplicating infrastructure is exceptionally high.

The firm operating in a natural monopoly can achieve significant economies of scale, making it more efficient and cost-effective than potential competitors. As the firm's production level increases, the average cost per unit decreases, creating a barrier to entry for other firms. Any new firm entering the market would start with small quantities and hence higher per-unit costs.


Utility Companies: In the UK, companies like National Grid and Scottish Power operate in what could be considered natural monopolies. The infrastructure needed to deliver gas and electricity to homes across the country is so extensive and expensive that it's not feasible for multiple companies to build duplicate systems. As such, these companies are able to achieve massive economies of scale.

Rail Networks:
Similarly, the rail infrastructure in many countries is often run by a single company, such as Network Rail in the UK. The costs involved in laying track and building stations are so high that it would not be cost-effective for multiple companies to build competing networks.


In a natural monopoly, only one firm can gain economies of scale due to the high start-up costs or powerful economies of scale inherent in the industry. As production increases, the average cost per unit decreases, which effectively creates a barrier to entry for other firms. Real-world examples of natural monopolies include utility companies and rail networks.

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