Thomas More on Collusion

Thomas More’s Utopia has many references to all sorts of industrial economics concepts. The law of supply and demand is explained by the example of sheep farming. Buyer power and predatory behaviour are discussed through the example of keeping other types of cattle. Most fascinatingly though there is a discussion of an oligopolistic (sheep) market, which is conducive to collusion and subsequently to higher prices:

But suppose the sheep should increase ever so much, their price is not like to fall; since though they cannot be called a monopoly, because they are not engrossed by one person, yet they are in so few hands, and these are so rich, that as they are not pressed to sell them sooner than they have a mind to it, so they never do it till they have raised the price as high as possible.

Very interesting, worth reading, most of the economics seems to be in book one.

Update:

Since I posted this I found out that the quote above was from Henry Morley’s translation in 1901. Paul Turner’s translation (1965) is somewhat different and actually uses the word oligopoly:

Not that prices would fall, however many sheep there were, for the sheep market has become, if not strictly a monopoly – for that implies only one seller – then at least an oligopoly. I mean it’s almost entirely under the control of a few rich men, who don’t need to sell unless they feel like it, and never do feel like it until they can get the price they want.

So I resorted to the original text to find that it also uses the word oligopoly – I do wonder why it didn’t make it to the 1901 translation:

quod si maxime increscat ouium numerus, pretio nihil decrescit tamen. quod earum, si monopolium appellari non potest quod non unus uendit, certe oligopolium est. reciderunt enim fere in manus paucorum, eorundemque diuitum, quos nulla necessitas urget ante uendendi quam libet, nec ante libet quam liceat quanti libet.

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