Monday, October 3, 2016

A Simple Observation

by Levi Russell

I don't claim to be the first to make this observation and it might very well be something that is discussed often in undergrad micro (though I can't find it mentioned in the 20 or so lecture notes I found online on the subject. Nevertheless, I thought I'd discuss the following briefly:
From the perspective of the consumer, price discrimination and cross subsidization are the same thing.
Here are the simple definitions Google gives when you search "price discrimination" and "cross subsidization"
price dis·crim·i·na·tion
the action of selling the same product at different prices to different buyers, in order to maximize sales and profits
Cross subsidization is the practice of charging higher prices to one group of consumers to subsidize lower prices for another group.
In cases like afternoon matinees at a movie theater or senior citizen discounts at the grocery store, we can certainly see the positive side of firms charging different prices for different people. While it's true that this increases producer surplus, presumably, some of the people who receive the good at the lower price wouldn't be able to get it if the other group weren't paying a higher price.

The problem is that we use two terms to describe the same concept. The first one has a clearly negative connotation (discrimination) but the second sounds more sterile and scientific. There are certainly cases in which we might view price discrimination/cross subsidization as a bad thing. For instance, when an online retailer charges a higher price for someone who shops online a lot. Still, I can't help but think "cross subsidization" is a better term for the phenomenon since it isn't loaded with a negative connotation that might diminish students' focus on its effects, both positive and negative.

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