Who Bears the Welfare Costs of Monopoly? The Case of the Credit Card Industry

58 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2020

See all articles by Kyle Herkenhoff

Kyle Herkenhoff

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

Gajendran Raveendranathan

McMaster University

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2020


How are the welfare costs from monopoly distributed across U.S. households? We answer this question for the U.S. credit card industry, which is highly concentrated, charges interest rates that are 3.4 to 8.8 percentage points above perfectly competitive pricing, and has repeatedly lost antitrust lawsuits. We depart from existing competitive models by integrating oligopolistic lenders into a heterogeneous agent, defaultable debt framework. Our model accounts for 20 to 50 percent of the spreads observed in the data. Welfare gains from competitive reforms in the 1970s are equivalent to a one-time transfer worth between 0.24 and 1.66 percent of GDP. Along the transition path, 93 percent of individuals are better off. Poor households benefit from increased consumption smoothing, while rich households benefit from higher general equilibrium interest rates on savings. Transitioning from 1970 to 2016 levels of competition yields welfare gains equivalent to a one-time transfer worth between 1.87 and 3.20 percent of GDP. Lastly, homogeneous interest rate caps in 2016 deliver limited welfare gains.

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Suggested Citation

Herkenhoff, Kyle and Raveendranathan, Gajendran, Who Bears the Welfare Costs of Monopoly? The Case of the Credit Card Industry (January 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w26604. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3514342

Kyle Herkenhoff (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis ( email )

110 Wulling Hall, 86 Pleasant St, S.E.
308 Harvard Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Gajendran Raveendranathan

McMaster University ( email )

1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4M4

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/gajendranraveendranathan/home

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