Principles and Preferences
Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Principles of decision-making Consumer preferences Substitution between goods Utility Recommended Reading: Applications 4.1, 4.2; Example 4.3
Building Blocks of Consumer Theory
Preferences tell us about a consumer’s likes and dislikes A consumer is indifferent between two alternatives if she likes (or dislikes) them equally The Ranking Principle: A consumer can rank, in order of preference, all potentially available alternatives The Choice Principle: Among available alternatives, the consumer chooses the one that he ranks the highest
The Consumer’s Problem
Consumer’s economic problems is to allocated limited funds to competing needs and desires over some time period Chooses a consumption bundle Should reflect preferences over various bundles. not just feelings about any one good in isolation Decision to consume more of one good is a decision to consume less of another
all potentially available alternatives The Choice Principle: Among available alternatives. in order of preference.Principles of Consumer DecisionMaking
The Ranking Principle: A consumer can rank. the consumer chooses the one that he ranks the highest The More-is-better Principle: When one consumption bundle contains more of every good than a second bundle. a consumer prefers the first bundle to the second
an indifference curve shows all the other alternatives a consumer likes equally well
Use when goods are (or assumed to be) available in any fraction of a unit Represent alternatives graphically or mathematically rather than in a table Starting with any alternative.
Figure 4.1: Identifying Alternatives and Indifference Curves
Properties of Indifference Curves
Thin Do not slope upward Separates bundles that are better from bundles that are worse than those that are on the indifference curve
Figure 4.2: Indifference Curves Ruled Out by the More-is-better Principle
Families of Indifference Curves
Collection of indifference curves that represent the preferences of an individual Do not cross Comparing two bundles. the consumer prefers the one on the indifference curve further from the origin
3: A Family of Indifference Curves
Figure 4.4: Indifference Curves Do Not Cross
Formulas for Indifference Curves
More complete and precise to describe preferences mathematically For example. can write a formula for a consumer’s indifference curves Formula describes an entire family of indifference curves Each indifference curve represents a particular level of well-being Higher levels of well-being are on indifference curves further from the origin
Figure 4.6: Plotting Indifference Curves
Formula for indifference curves is B = U/S U is well-being. then plot the relationship between B and S
. or “utility” To find a particular curve. plug in a value for U.
Substitution Between Goods
Economic decisions involve trade-offs To determine whether a consumer has made the best choice. we need to know the rate at which she is willing to make trade-offs between different goods Indifference curves provide that information
Rates of Substitution
Consider moving along an indifference curve. from one bundle to another This is the same as subtracting units of one good and compensating the consumer for the loss by adding units of another good Slope of the indifference curve shows how much of the second good is needed to make up for the decrease in the first good
8: Rates of Substitution
Look at move from bundle A to C Consumer gains 1 soup.Figure 4. gains 2 bread Willing to substitute for soup with bread at 2 ounces per pint
Marginal Rate of Substitution
The marginal rate of substitution for X with Y. from a given starting point
MRS XY Y X
Tells us how much Y a consumer needs to compensate for losing a little bit of X Tells us how much Y to take away to compensate for gaining a little bit of X
. is the rate at which a consumer must adjust Y to maintain the same level of well-being when X changes by a tiny amount. MRSXY.
Figure 4.9: Marginal Rate of Substitution
the amount of Y required to compensate for a given change in X decreases
.What Determines Rates of Substitution?
Differences in tastes
Preferences for one good over another affect the slope of an indifference curve Implications for MRS
Starting point on the indifference curve
People like variety so most indifference curves get flatter as we move from top left to bottom right Link between slope and MRS implies that MRS declines.
Figure 4.10: Indifference Curves and Consumer Tastes
11: MRS along an Indifference Curve
given the amounts consumed Every indifference curve formula has an MRS formula that describes the same preferences Indifference curves: B=U/S.Formulas for MRS
MRS formula tells us the rate at which a consumer will exchange one good for another. MRSSB=B/S
a consumer is willing to swap one for the other at a fixed rate Two products are perfect complements if they are valuable only when used together in fixed proportions Note that the goods do not have to be exchanged one-for-one!
.Perfect Substitutes and Complements
Some special cases of preferences represent opposites ends of the substitutability spectrum Two products are perfect substitutes if their functions are identical.
Figure 4.12: Perfect Substitutes
13: Perfect Complements
Summarizes everything that is known about a consumer’s preferences Utility is a numeric value indicating the consumer’s relative well-being Recall that the consumer’s goal is to benefit from the goods and services she uses Can describe the value a consumer gets from consumption bundles mathematically through a utility function
U S . B 2S 5S B
Utility Functions and Indifference Curves
Utility functions must assign the same value to all bundles on the same indifference curve Must also give higher utility values to indifference curves further from the origin Can start with information about preferences and derive a utility function Or can begin with a utility function and construct indifference curves Can also think of indifference curves as “contour lines” for different levels of utility
Figure 4.14: Representing Preferences with a Utility Function
Deriving Indifference Curves from a Utility Function
For each bundle. the utility correspond to the height of the utility “hill” The indifference curve through A consists of all bundles for which the height of the curve is the same
changing scale does not change the underlying preferences
.Ordinal vs. “How much worse or better?” Utility functions are intended to summarize ordinal information Scale of utility functions is arbitrary. Cardinal Utility
Information about preferences can be ordinal or cardinal Ordinal information allows us to determine only whether one alternative is better than another Cardinal information reveals the intensity of preferences.
need a new concept Marginal utility is the change in a consumer’s utility resulting from the addition of a very small amount of some good. divided by the amount added
MU X U X
To make a link between MRS and utility.
U MU X X
. marginal utility of X in the change in U when X changes by a very small amount.
Y. then –Y/X =MUX/MUY
. causes utility to change by MUYY If we stay on same indifference curve.Utility Functions and MRS
MRSXY MU X MUY
Small change in X. causes utility to change by MUXX Small change in Y. X.