Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tacit collusion (a.k.a. uncommunicative cartel)

I was reading up on the concept of Tacit collusion (when firms agree to play a certain strategy without explicitly saying so), when watched the TED presentation of Steven Strogatz on sync. The metronome test (starting around 12:20) struck me as a profound mechanical analogy of the type of hidden communication which facilitates tacit collusion.

The Wikipedia article focuses on pure and obvious price cycles. The Strogatz's demo makes one wonder, if there are deeper underlying mechanisms, like supply chain cycles, talent and inventors contributions to an industry, legal events, and alike, which make companies to stay on the same wave without realizing it?

As far as I understand, the capitalism society works best, when companies have the minimal possible price synchronization horizontally in their industry - that is when the competition is at it's best. The multi-trillion question is: does an industry innovation and the capitalism society are better off when those underlying mechanisms from the above go out of sync? Which mechanisms may encourage such beneficial de-synchronizations?

Here is the Strogatz's demo: