Elasticity

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IN THIS CHAPTER YOU WILL . . .

Learn the meaning of the elasticity of demand

Examine what determines the elasticity of demand

Learn the meaning of the elasticity of supply

ELASTICITY ITS

AND

A P P L I C AT I O N

Imagine yourself as a Kansas wheat farmer. Because you earn all your income from selling wheat, you devote much effort to making your land as productive as it can be. You monitor weather and soil conditions, check your fields for pests and disease, and study the latest advances in farm technology. You know that the more wheat you grow, the more you will have to sell after the harvest, and the higher will be your income and your standard of living. One day Kansas State University announces a major discovery. Researchers in its agronomy department have devised a new hybrid of wheat that raises the amount farmers can produce from each acre of land by 20 percent. How should you react to this news? Should you use the new hybrid? Does this discovery make you better off or worse off than you were before? In this chapter we will see that these questions can have surprising answers. The surprise will come from 93

Examine what determines the elasticity of supply

Apply the concept of elasticity in three very dif ferent markets

94

PA R T T W O

S U P P LY A N D D E M A N D I : H O W M A R K E T S W O R K

applying the most basic tools of economics—supply and demand—to the market for wheat. The previous chapter introduced supply and demand. In any competitive market, such as the market for wheat, the upward-sloping supply curve represents the behavior of sellers, and the downward-sloping demand curve represents the behavior of buyers. The price of the good adjusts to bring the quantity supplied and quantity demanded of the good into balance. To apply this basic analysis to understand the impact of the agronomists’ discovery, we must first develop one more tool: the concept of elasticity. Elasticity, a measure of how much buyers and sellers respond to changes in market conditions, allows us to analyze supply and demand with greater precision.

THE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND
When we discussed the determinants of demand in Chapter 4, we noted that buyers usually demand more of a good when its price is lower, when their incomes are higher, when the prices of substitutes for the good are higher, or when the prices of complements of the good are lower. Our discussion of demand was qualitative, not quantitative. That is, we discussed the direction in which the quantity demanded moves, but not the size of the change. To measure how much demand responds to changes in its determinants, economists use the concept of elasticity.

elasticity a measure of the responsiveness of quantity demanded or quantity supplied to one of its determinants

THE PRICE ELASTICITY OF DEMAND AND ITS DETERMINANTS
The law of demand states that a fall in the price of a good raises the quantity demanded. The price elasticity of demand measures how much the quantity demanded responds to a change in price. Demand for a good is said to be elastic if the quantity demanded responds substantially to changes in the price. Demand is said to be inelastic if the quantity demanded responds only slightly to changes in the price. What determines whether the demand for a good is elastic or inelastic? Because the demand for any good depends on consumer preferences, the price elasticity of demand depends on the many economic, social, and psychological forces that shape individual desires. Based on experience, however, we can state some general rules about what determines the price elasticity of demand.

price elasticity of demand a measure of how much the quantity demanded of a good responds to a change in the price of that good, computed as the percentage change in quantity demanded divided by the percentage change in price

N e c e s s i t i e s v e r s u s L u x u r i e s Necessities tend to have inelastic demands, whereas luxuries...
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