Section 2 Symposium: Herbert Hovenkamp on Predatory Pricing and Bundled Discounts
The baseline for testing predatory pricing in the Section 2 Report is average avoidable cost (AAC), together with recoupment as a structural test (Report, p. 65). The AAC test or reasonably close variations, such as average variable cost or short-run marginal cost, seems about right. However, differences among them can become very technical and fine. The Report correctly includes in AAC those fixed costs that “were incurred only because of the predatory strategy, for example, as a result of expanding capacity to enable the predatory sales.” (Report, pp. xiv, 64-65) Such a strategy would make some sense for a predator if the fixed costs in question are easily re-deployed once the predation has succeeded – for example, in the case of an airline whose planes can be shifted to a different route. The test virtually guarantees that in industries that require heavy investment in production capacity that cannot be redployed the test will approach strict average variable cost. In cases where fixed costs are relatively high, an investment of this nature that lasted only through the predatory period and became excess capacity thereafter would not be worth it. Further, if fixed costs are low the market is almost certainly not prone to monopoly to begin with. AVC is probably underdeterrent, but it is also probably the best we can do without chilling procompetitive behavior.