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You are on page 1of 69

Daniel S. Christiansen

ALBION COLLEGE

christiansen@albion.edu

August 14, 2002

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• Table of Contents

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Copyright

c 1999–2002 Daniel S. Christiansen

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 4

3.1 The Mathematics of a Derivative . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

3.2 The Geometry of a Derivative . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

3.3 The Economics of a Derivative . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

3.4 Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

4.1 Power Functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

4.2 Exponential and Logarithmic Functions . . . . . . . . 27

4.3 Section Quiz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29

5 Rules of Differentiation 31

5.1 Sums, Differences, and Constants . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

5.2 Product Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Table of Contents (cont.) 3

5.4 Chain Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

5.5 Inverses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

5.6 Section Quiz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

6 Optimization 44

6.1 Maximization and Minimization . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

6.2 Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

8 Chapter Quiz 56

Answers to Quizzes 60

Solutions to Exercises 61

References 68

Section 1: Introduction 4

1 Introduction

The idea of this project is to present an intermediate-level course

in microeconomic theory with the help of some simple notions from

calculus. There are two distinguishing features. The first is that each

chapter comes in two versions — one designed for the printed page

(the paper version) and one intended to be read on the computer

screen (the web version). The paper version comes in the form of a

traditional textbook. The web version presents the same material but

has interactive features, for example quizzes that can be corrected on

the spot. Furthermore, all of the material is hyperlinked, so reading

does not have to be done in a linear manner from beginning to end.

This is useful in leaving and then returning to figures, equations,

solutions to exercises, and other points of reference. It is also useful

in linking to other documents or web sites.

The other distinguishing feature is the way calculus is used to de-

velop microeconomic theory. We presume a minimal background in

calculus — just one course. You will surely benefit from having taken

more than one calculus course, and we eventually use some concepts

Section 1: Introduction 5

develop what we need with the assumption that you have not seen it

before. What is truly unique about this approach is the order in which

the economics is presented. Since you already know about calculus

with one variable, we first present that portion of microeconomic the-

ory that can be handled with this set of mathematical tools. It turns

out that we can get a lot of mileage out of one-variable calculus and

that we can cover almost all of the basic topics from principles of mi-

croeconomics. At a later point we introduce partial derivatives and

constrained optimization and take up the topic of consumer theory.

It is with consumer theory that almost every other intermediate mi-

croeconomics textbook begins. But this is not a good place to start

using calculus with the background we have assumed.

Thus the prerequisites for following this text are one course in

principles of microeconomics and one course in calculus.

If you should require further background in microeconomics at the

principles level, almost any principles of economics textbook should

provide what you need. The book by Mankiw [4], for example, is

a popular current textbook that provides a good grounding in basic

Section 1: Introduction 6

economics.1

The best background in mathematics is the most rigorous calculus

course you can find — the kind a serious mathematician would like to

offer you. If you are looking to make up deficiencies in your training

or simply looking for review, this advice is not likely to be timely. In

this case any calculus textbook should be able to serve as reference

material for the mathematics used here. One possibility is the book

by Hughes-Hallett [2]. Another good source of help is Donald P.

Story’s e-calculus web site [6], an interactive tutorial for a first course

in calculus.2 Still another possibility is the old but classic Calculus

Made Simple [7] written by Silvanus P. Thompson in 1910.3

1 In particular, see Mankiw’s Supply and Demand I: How Markets Work, Supply

and Demand II: Markets and Welfare, and Firm Behavior and the Organization

of Industry.

2 The e-calculus web site inspired this project, and Story’s exerquiz and web

packages, together with the mathematical typesetting system LATEX, made it pos-

sible.

3 Thompson’s book has the long and suggestive subtitle, Being a Very Simplest

by the Terrifying Names of the Differential Calculus and the Integral Calculus.

Section 2: Using Calculus to Learn Economics 7

intermediate level, among them those by Landsburg [3] and Varian [9].

Neither of these employs calculus except in the appendices. Two

books that use calculus are Binger and Hoffman [1] and Nicholson [5].

You need to be aware that in each of these textbooks the material is

presented in an order different from that of this book.

In this chapter we review the concepts from calculus that are

needed to read the chapters that make up the first part of this project,

Decisions and Markets: Economics with One Variable.

It is a premise of this book that a calculus approach to the study

of microeconomics pays large dividends. There are several related

reasons why this is so.

First, the use of mathematics helps develop problem-solving skills.

It imposes a rigor that mandates keeping track of costs and benefits,

and it provides a framework for determining which variables and pa-

Section 2: Using Calculus to Learn Economics 8

a wide variety of problems. Our view is that you can’t learn economics

without solving problems.

Second, the calculus approach helps in learning to think clearly.

You will be forced to translate weak verbal arguments into precise,

consistent statements. Making a statement formal clarifies what is

being said. When you are called upon to verify what you think is

obvious, you may discover that it is not obvious or perhaps not even

true.

Third, the use of calculus unifies the material by focusing on the

common economic structure of problems. When we strip the specific

details away, many problems look surprisingly alike and have com-

mon solutions. More generally, this is an argument for the power of

abstraction. Calculus makes it easier, not harder, to learn economics.

There are, in fact, only a small number of basic ideas in intermediate

microeconomics; much of what we do is working out the details for

particular situations.

Fourth, calculus helps in becoming literate in the language of mod-

ern economics. For better or worse, mathematics is the language of

Section 2: Using Calculus to Learn Economics 9

advanced degree in economics, you will have to deal with the mathe-

matics. The best business schools demand mathematical maturity of

their students; and if you want to undertake a serious study of finance,

for example, you will find that calculus is only the beginning.

Fifth, this approach provides the opportunity to apply mathemat-

ics to social science problems. Whereas many of the examples in a

first course in calculus come from physics, there are also examples

from economics that illustrate most of the same points. This shows

the power of calculus and aids in its understanding.

Sixth, this approach allows us to take the subject to a more ad-

vanced point and thus gives a better appreciation of the power of eco-

nomic theory. Economics is ultimately a policy science, and theory

plays an essential role. Hal Varian [8] has some enlightening answers

to the question, “What use is economic theory?” Among other things,

he suggests that theory is useful as a substitute for data that we need

but do not have; and he explains how theory can generate useful in-

sights in explaining economic phenomena, even when the theory is

only approximately true. We will see examples of these insights as we

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 10

proceed.

The concept of a derivative plays a central role in this book. We

review this notion from the perspective of mathematics, geometry,

and economics.

Consider an independent variable x and a dependent variable y, so

that y is a function of x. We choose to write this relationship as

y = y(x). We have to be a bit careful because we are using the

letter y in two different ways; it stands both for the value that y takes

and for the function itself.

We discuss what is meant by the derivative of the function y at a

particular point x1 . For another point x2 close to x1 , let ∆x = x2 −x1

be the change in x and let ∆y = y(x2 ) − y(x1 ) be the corresponding

change in y. Then the derivative of y with respect to x at the

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 11

the change in x, i.e.,

y(x1 + ∆x) − y(x1 )

lim .

∆x→0 ∆x

If y is a linear function, y = a + bx, then the ratio of the change

in y to the corresponding change in x is always the same and is equal

to b. This is true regardless of the size of the change in x or the

beginning point x1 . Thus the derivative of the function y = a + bx is

the constant b.

In principle, the limiting operation above could be used to calcu-

late the derivative of an arbitrary function.4 For our purposes this is

not necessary; instead we presume that this has been done to gener-

ate the derivatives of a few simple functions as given in Section 4 and

some rules of differentiation as given in Section 5. It is important to

observe that the derivative is typically not a constant (as is the case

4 There are some technical issues related to whether or not the limit, and hence

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 12

calculating it.

We need notation for the derivative of y with respect to x. The

two most common ways of writing it are either as dy/dx or as y 0 . We

often want to indicate where the derivative is being evaluated. The

derivative of the function y at the point x1 may be denoted either as

dy

or y 0 (x1 ).

dx x=x1

We use both the dy/dx and y 0 (x) notation, freely switching from one

to the other.

Since the derivative of y with respect to x is a function of x, we can

also work with its derivative, the second derivative of y with respect

to x. This is written as d2 y/dx2 or as y 00 . As the second derivative is

also a function of x, we can write its value at the point x1 in either of

the following ways:

d2 y

or y 00 (x1 ).

dx2 x=x1

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 13

We have seen that, for a linear function y = a + bx, the derivative is

equal to the slope b. If both a and b are positive, then Figure 1 shows

the function y on the left and the derivative y 0 or dy/dx on the right.

The first thing to note is that to do this right, two separate graphs

are required. This is because the units of the function and the units

of the derivative are not the same. This is evidenced by the most

common example used in calculus courses: distance y, measured in

feet, depends on time x, measured in seconds. The derivative, velocity,

is measured in feet per second.5 In general the units of dy/dx are those

of y/x (and not those of y). Since the derivative is everywhere equal

to b, a positive constant, its graph appears on the right as a horizontal

line. The second derivative (not shown) is constant at zero.

5 One could, of course, plot distance and time on the same axis, placing 30 feet

at the same point as 30 feet per second. But this leads to nonsensical comparisons

between distance and velocity: is 20 feet per second more or less than 30 feet?

To complicate the matter, the answer changes when we consider speed in feet per

minute.

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 14

0

y y

y

b y0

a

x x

Figure 1: (Left) A linear function y = a + bx. (Right) The derivative dy/dx

or y 0 of the same function, which is the constant b.

of a function with its slope. If the function is linear, it is clear what we

mean by its slope. But what is meant by the slope of any arbitrary

function or curve? Given a point on its graph and another point

nearby, we can take the ratio of the change in y to the change in x.

If we let the two points become closer and closer together, then in

the limit we obtain the slope at the point. Geometrically, this is the

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 15

y 0

y

y y0

x x

Figure 2: (Left) A function y(x) with positive and increasing derivative.

(Right) The derivative y 0 (x) of the same function.

in finding the derivative mathematically.

For various shapes of the function y = y(x), we plot both the

function and its derivative. This has already been done for a linear

function in Figure 1.

Students often confuse the words “positive” and “increasing.” The

linear function y on the left of Figure 1 is positive (i.e., it lies above

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 16

the x axis) and increasing (i.e., it slopes up). Its slope, the derivative,

is plotted on the right. The slope is positive, but it is not increasing.

(The slope as a function of x is constant!)

Consider next the function y(x) shown on the left of Figure 2. As x

increases the slope gets larger. Thus y 0 , plotted on the right, must

increase as x increases. Here we can say that the function y is positive

and increasing. The derivative is also positive and increasing. If the

derivative is linear, as we have drawn it, then the second derivative

(not shown) is a positive constant.

Now examine the function y(x) shown on the left of Figure 3.

As x increases the slope gets smaller. The slope, plotted on the right,

must thus decrease as x increases. Again the function y is positive

and increasing. But its derivative is positive and decreasing. If the

derivative is linear, as we have drawn it, then the second derivative

(not shown) is a negative constant.

Finally look at the function y(x) shown on the left of Figure 4.

For the values of x shown, the function is always positive. But it

first increases and then decreases. Thus the derivative, shown on

the right, is positive at first but after a point becomes negative. It is

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 17

y 0

y

y

y0

x x

Figure 3: (Left) A function y(x) with positive but decreasing derivative.

(Right) The derivative y 0 (x) of the same function.

must be a negative constant.

The graph on the left of Figure 2 is an example of a convex function

(one for which d2 y/dx2 is positive or zero) and those on the left of

Figures 3 and 4 are concave functions (ones for which d2 y/dx2 is

negative or zero).

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 18

y y 0

0

x

y y0

x

Figure 4: (Left) A function y(x) with derivative first positive and then negative.

(Right) The derivative y 0 (x) of the same function.

In economics a derivative typically represents a marginal concept. If

benefits (B) and costs (C) depend on the level of an activity (x), as

in Chapter 2, then the derivative of B with respect to x represents

marginal benefit and the derivative of C with respect to x represents

marginal cost. If revenue depends on the quantity of a good sold, then

the derivative of revenue with respect to quantity represents marginal

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 19

of production with respect to labor input represents the marginal

product of labor. If resource cost depends on labor input, then the

derivative of resource cost with respect to labor input represents the

marginal resource cost of labor. We will see many such examples

throughout the book.

We examine one of these concepts, marginal cost (MC), more

carefully. In a first course in economics, such an expression is usually

defined as MC = ∆C/∆x and represents the cost of producing one

more (or the last) unit. In the formula it is understood that x takes on

only the discrete values 1, 2, 3, etc. This is precisely the point of view

that must be taken, at least in principle, when a good is indivisible.

Supertankers and dams, for example, come only in whole units.

Seeing the formula for marginal cost in the previous paragraph,

students sometime wonder why they must divide by the change in x.

The reason is to obtain the extra cost per unit of x. If $10 of extra

cost is incurred in producing two more bushels of output, then the

marginal cost is $5 per bushel.

We will assume that the variable x is continuous, i.e., that it can

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 20

take on any real value (or at least any nonnegative value) and not just

1, 2, 3, etc. This is appropriate when we want to measure, in pounds,

the amount of cheese produced in a day. Although commercial scales

may not be capable of measuring cheese to the one-millionth of a

pound, we are not misled by presuming that we could do so. Even

when we deal with goods such as automobiles that are less homoge-

neous than cheese, we can still make sense of requiring a production

of 61.5 automobiles per day if we interpret that to mean 123 automo-

biles over a two day production run. The advantage of working with

a continuous variable is that it greatly simplifies the mathematics.

For a continuous variable x the appropriate definition of marginal

cost is as the derivative of the cost function: MC = dC/dx or MC =

C 0 (x). An advantage of using the C 0 (x) notation is that it emphasizes

that marginal cost is itself a function of x.

In a continuous setting we often speak loosely of marginal cost

representing the extra cost incurred by increasing x by one unit or

the cost saved by decreasing it by one unit. We should remember

that, strictly speaking, the kinds of increments we are dealing with

are infinitesimal ones. But the units are still those of rates: dollars

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 21

We reexamine the graphs in Figures 1-4 from a total cost and

marginal cost perspective. We consider whether the figure on the left

might represent a cost function. For concreteness, let us suppose that

we are examining the cost of producing cereal. Then x is measured

in boxes of cereal per month and y is measured in dollars per month.

Marginal cost, pictured on the right, is then measured in dollars per

box of cereal.

The graph on the left of Figure 1 represents a linear cost function

where the cost goes up by the same amount for each extra box of

cereal produced. This is another way of saying that marginal cost

is constant. In these examples there is some fixed cost as well. The

graph on the left of Figure 2 represents a cost function where the

marginal cost gets larger as more boxes are produced. The graph on

the left of Figure 3 shows a situation where marginal cost falls as more

boxes are produced.

The graph on the left of Figure 4 is not a good candidate for a

cost function. The problem is that, after a point, cost goes down as

more is produced. While it might be appropriate for the marginal

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 22

to think that total cost would go down as more boxes of cereal are

produced. This would mean that marginal cost, the cost of producing

an extra box of cereal, is negative.

3.4 Exercises

how would you use calculus notation to describe the marginal tax rate?

If taxes and income are both measured in dollars per year, what are

the units of the marginal tax rate?

a graph to show the derivative y 0 (x). Which of the words “increas-

ing,” “decreasing,” “positive,” and “negative” apply to the function y?

Which of these terms apply to the derivative y 0 ? Which of these terms

apply to the second derivative y 00 ?

Section 3: The Notion of a Derivative 23

y

y

x

Figure 5: See Exercises 3.2 and 3.3.

what can you say about the shape of marginal cost?

Exercise 3.4. If the derivative y 0 of a function y is a straight line,

can you be sure that the function y is also a straight line? Explain.

Exercise 3.5. Geometrically, the first derivative of a function at a

point measures its slope. What does the second derivative measure?

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 24

We can accomplish most of our goals by working with derivatives of

only a few functions. The process of taking a derivative is called

differentiation. There are three kinds of functions that we need

to be able to differentiate: power functions such as x2 , exponential

functions such as ex , and logarithmic functions such as ln x.

A power function is a variable raised to a constant power: y = xa

where a is a constant. From the definition of a derivative, it can be

shown that the derivative of a power function is given by

dxa

= axa−1 . (1)

dx

The formula given in equation (1) covers more functions than you

might initially think. First, the formula works when a is a positive

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 25

integer. Thus

dx2 dx3 dx10

= 2x, = 3x2 , and = 10x9 .

dx dx dx

For the special case a = 1, the derivative of x is the constant 1

(since x0 = 1).

The formula is also valid when a is a negative integer. You should

make sure you understand what is meant by a variable x raised to

a negative power: it is the same as one divided by x raised to the

corresponding positive power. Thus

1 1 1

x−2 = 2 x−3 = 3 and x−10 = 10 .

x x x

If we apply the formula from equation (1) to the three functions above

we find that

dx−2 dx−3 dx−10

= −2x−3 , = −3x−4 , and = −10x−11 .

dx dx dx

Given the meaning of negative exponents, we can write these as

d 1/x2 2 d 1/x3 3 d 1/x10 10

= − 3, = − 4, and = − 11 .

dx x dx x dx x

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 26

dx−1

= −x−2 .

dx

This is the same as writing

d (1/x) 1

= − 2.

dx x

The same formula works, in fact, for any real number a. For

example, it works for a = 21 , a = 13 , and a = − 12 . The meaning of

xm/n , when m √and n are integers, is the√ nth root of xm . Thus x1/2

is √

the same as x, x 1/3

is the same as 3 x, and x−1/2 is the same as

1/ x.

Once again we can use equation (1) to calculate derivatives:

√

dx1/2 1 d x 1

= x−1/2 or = √

dx 2 dx 2 x

and √

dx1/3 1 d3x 1

= x−2/3 or = √

3

.

dx 3 dx 3 x2

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 27

Similarly,

√

dx−1/2 1 d (1/ x) 1

= − x−3/2 or =− √

2

.

dx 2 dx 2 x3

In a first course in calculus, you discussed the constant e = 2.718 . . ..

Two functions are built from from this fundamental mathematical

constant. The first is the exponential function y = ex . Generalizations

of this simple function are important in economics because they allow

for constant proportional rates of growth. Thus they appear naturally

when dealing with interest rates and other growth rates over time.

The derivative of ex is especially easy to remember as it is a func-

tion whose derivative is the function you start with:

dex

= ex . (2)

dx

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 28

y

y = ex

y = ln x

x

Figure 6: The exponential function y = ex and the logarithmic function y =

ln x. The two functions are inverses of one another. (As such each is the

reflection of the other around the 45◦ line, the dotted line in the graph.)

written as y = ln x. The derivative of the logarithmic function y = ln x

is

d ln x 1

= . (3)

dx x

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 29

related as they are inverses of one another. This means, for example,

that if y = ln x, then x = ey . Geometrically it means that one function

is transformed into the other by rotating about the 45 degree line.

Note that ex is equal to one when x = 0 and is well-defined for

negative values of x, where it is less than one but greater than zero.

The function ln x is zero when x = 1 and is negative when x is between

zero and one. For zero and negative real numbers, however, ln x is

not defined. Note also that the exponential function is convex while

the logarithmic function is concave.

Click on the “Begin Quiz” button to begin, choose your answers, click

on the “End Quiz” button to see how many questions you answered

correctly, and click on the “Correct” button to see the correct answers.

Section 4: Derivatives of a Few Simple Functions 30

2. If y = x−4 then dy/dx is equal to

−4x−3 −4x−4 −4x−5 −4x

3/2

3. If y = x then dy/dx is equal to

3 1/2 3 −1/2 3 2/3 3 −2/3

2x 2x 2x 2x

x

4. If y = e then dy/dx is equal to

x e ex ln x

5. If y = ln x then dy/dx is equal to

√

ex x 1/x x

−6

6. If y = x then dy/dx is equal to

−7

−6x −6x−5 −x−7 −x−5

√

7. If y = x then dy/dx is equal to

√ √ √ √

x x/2 2 x 1/ (2 x)

8. If y = x.8 then dy/dx is equal to

.8x.2 .8x−.2 .8x−.8 .2x.8

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 31

1.6x−2.6 1.6x−.6 −1.6x−2.6 −1.6x−.6

10. If y = 1/x then dy/dx is equal to

1/x 1/x2 −1/x −1/x2

5 Rules of Differentiation

New functions can be made out of the simple functions introduced in

Section 4 by combining them in obvious ways. For example, we might

add or multiply two functions together. We need to discuss how to

differentiate these new functions.

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 32

Suppose we have two functions, y1 (x) and y2 (x). We can construct

new functions by adding the two together and by subtracting one from

the other. The derivative of the sum of the two functions is the sum of

the derivatives. Thus the derivative of y1 (x) + y2 (x) is y10 (x) + y20 (x).

For example, the derivative of x2 + x3 is 2x + 3x2 . Likewise, the

derivative of the difference of the two functions is the difference of the

derivatives. Thus the derivative of y1 (x) − y2 (x) is y10 (x) − y20 (x). For

example, the derivative of x2 − x3 is 2x − 3x2 .

Constant functions are particularly easy to work with. The deriva-

tive of a constant is zero. But the derivative of a constant times a

function is the constant times the derivative of the function. Thus

if we have a function y = y(x) and a constant c, the function c has

derivative zero but the function cy(x) has derivative cy 0 (x). From the

rule for sums given above, the derivative of y(x)+c is just y 0 (x). Thus

the derivative of the function 5 is zero, the derivative of 5x2 is 10x,

and the derivative of 5x2 + 5 is 10x.

Example 5.1. We calculate the first and second derivatives of the

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 33

3x2 + 6x − 6. The second derivative is the derivative of the first

derivative. Thus y 00 (x) = 6x + 6.

Example 5.2. We calculate the first and second derivatives of the

function y(x) = x−1 +ln x. The first derivative is y 0 (x) = −x−2 +x−1 ,

and the second derivative is y 00 (x) = 2x−3 − x−2 .

As economists we are interested in functions such as those we have

constructed here. For example, we care about sums because we add

the actions of various participants together to get the market result.

We work with differences when we construct profit as revenue minus

cost. We face constant functions when we deal with fixed or overhead

cost. And we see a constant times a variable when we construct

revenue as a price times quantity in cases where price is given.

The product rule applies to calculating the derivative of a function

obtained by multiplying two functions together when neither one is

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 34

of two functions is the first times the derivative of the second plus the

second times the derivative of the first. Thus if we have two functions

y1 (x) and y2 (x), we calculate the derivative of the product function,

y(x) = y1 (x) · y2 (x), as follows:

y 0 (x) = y1 (x) · y20 (x) + y2 (x) · y10 (x)

or, using the dy/dx notation,

dy dy2 dy1

= y1 · + y2 · .

dx dx dx

A legendary calculus teacher teaches this as the hi-ho rule because

“the derivative of hi-ho equals hi-dee-ho plus ho-dee-hi.” (Here

hi is the function y1 (x), ho is the function y2 (x), and dee refers to

taking the derivative.)

Example 5.3. We calculate the derivative of the function y(x) = xex .

The product rule is appropriate because the two functions x and ex are

multiplied together. Since the derivative of ex is ex and the derivative

of x is 1, we have that y 0 (x) = xex + ex .

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 35

y(x) = x2 · x3 . Using the product rule, y 0 (x) = x2 · 3x2 + x3 · 2x = 5x4 .

(Note that y(x) = x5 and, from our results in Section 4.1, its derivative

must be 5x4 .)

diture is the product of price and quantity; and, in some situations,

price is not constant.

The quotient rule applies when one function is divided by another.

Suppose we have two functions y1 (x) and y2 (x). We consider the

“quotient” function y(x) = y1 (x)/y2 (x). (We presume that we are

not dividing by zero.) The derivative of the quotient is given by

y2 (x) · y10 (x) − y1 (x) · y20 (x)

y 0 (x) = 2 .

[y2 (x)]

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 36

quotient function y(x) = (ln x)/x. Then

x · (1/x) − ln x 1 − ln x

y 0 (x) = = .

x2 x2

Example 5.6. We calculate the derivative of the function y(x) =

x3 /x2 (which is equal to x and should have derivative 1):

x2 · 3x2 − x3 · 2x

y 0 (x) = = 1.

x4

Average cost, which is total cost divided by quantity, is a quotient.

We will want to differentiate this function early in Chapter 3.

The chain rule applies when we have two functions with a connection:

the independent variable of the first function is the dependent variable

of the second.

Suppose we have two functions y = y(w) and w = w(x). Since y

depends on w and w depends on x, ultimately y depends on x. We

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 37

y(x) = y(w(x)). (4)

We start with x, first apply the function w, and then apply the func-

tion y to the result. We have to be a bit careful here because we

are using the same letter y to denote the first function of w and the

composite function of x. It should be clear that when we differentiate

with respect to w we are referring to the former function and when

we differentiate with respect to x we are referring to the latter. Do

not confuse the composite function with a product function.

The chain rule says that the derivative of the function in equa-

tion (4) is equal to the product of the derivative of y with respect to w

and the derivative of w with respect to x. We can write this using our

dy/dx notation as

dy dy dw

= · (5)

dx dw dx

0

and using our y (x) notation as

y 0 (x) = y 0 (w(x)) · w0 (x). (6)

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 38

as if the dw terms cancel out. Equation (6) makes it very clear where

each function is being evaluated.

written as y = w10 with w = 1 + x2 . Thus

dy dw10 d(1 + x2 )

= · = 10w9 · 2x = 20x(1 + x2 )9 .

dx dw dx

It is much easier to solve the problem this way than to expand the

original function and then differentiate. Notice that we must substi-

tute for w so that the answer is in terms of x alone.

2

Example 5.8. Consider the function ex . This can be written as

y = ew with w = x2 . Thus

dy dew dx2 2

= · = ew · 2x = 2xex .

dx dw dx

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 39

w = ln x. Then

dy d(1/w) d ln x 1 1 1

= · =− 2 · =− .

dx dw dx w x x ln2 x

Applied to Example 5.7 the chain rule says that the derivative of

something to the 10th power is 10 times the something to the 9th

power times the derivative of the something. Applied to Example 5.8

it says that the derivative of e raised to the something is e raised

to the something times the derivative of the something. Applied to

Example 5.9 it says that the derivative of something to the minus

one is minus something to the minus two times the derivative of the

something. The most common mistake students make with the chain

rule is forgetting to multiply by “the derivative of the something.”

We are interested in composite functions in economics so that we

can attribute revenues and costs to their ultimate sources. If, for

example, revenue depends on output and output depends on labor

input, then revenue ultimately depends on labor input. We will need

to be able to differentiate such functions.

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 40

5.5 Inverses

The function y = y(x) is a rule that leads from any value of inde-

pendent variable x to a unique value for the dependent variable y.

The inverse function x = x(y) is a rule that goes the other direc-

tion: for a given value of y it provides the unique value of x such that

y = y(x). We will restrict ourselves to working with cases where the

inverse function is well-defined.6

The inverse function is quite different from the reciprocal of the

function y(x), which is 1/y(x).7

As long as we avoid dividing by zero, the derivative of the inverse

function is one divided by the derivative of the original function:

dx 1 1

= or x0 (y) = 0 . (7)

dy dy/dx y (x(y))

6 We have to be careful because there may be more than one value of x associ-

√

ated with each value of y. If y = x2 , for example, then x = ± y; i.e., there are

two values of x associated with a given y. Thus x = x(y) is not well defined over

all real numbers. If we look only at positive values of x, then there is no problem.

7 Note that x(y(x)) = x; this involves composition of two function. Alterna-

tively, y(x) times 1/y(x) equals one; this involves the product of two functions.

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 41

Again the first set of notation is the most suggestive: it appears that

the dx and dy symbols can be manipulated as algebraic quantities.

The second set of notation is much more precise about where deriva-

tives are evaluated.

Differentiating the inverse function directly, we find that dx/dy =

− 21 . Alternatively, using equation (7) and dy/dx = −2, we find that

dx/dy = − 21 .

Example 5.11. If we consider only positive values of x and y, then

√

the function y(x) = x2 has inverse x(y) = y. Using equation (7)

dx 1 1 1

= = = √ .

dy dy/dx 2x 2 y

Notice that we substituted for x so that our answer was left in terms

of y, the variable on which dx/dy depends.

Example 5.12. Recall from Section 4.2 that the logarithmic and

exponential functions are inverses of one another so that if y = ln x

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 42

then x = ey . Hence

dx 1 1

= = = x = ey .

dy dy/dx (1/x)

This is the same result we gave for the derivative of the exponential

function in Section 4.2.

In economics we frequently need to invert demand functions: in-

stead of the quantity that can be sold at various prices, we will often

be interested in the price at which various quantities can be sold.

Click on the “Begin Quiz” button to begin, choose your answers, click

on the “End Quiz” button to see how many questions you answered

correctly, and click on the “Correct” button to see the correct answers.

1−x 1 − 2x 2−x 2 − 2x

Section 5: Rules of Differentiation 43

1 1

1 + ln x x + ln x x+ 1+

x x

3. If y = ex /x then dy/dx is equal to

xex − ex ex − xex ex − xex xex − ex

2x

e√ e2x x2 x2

4. If y = x/x then dy/dx is equal to

− 32 x−3/2 − 12 x−1/2 − 32 x−1/2 − 12 x−3/2

5. If y = ln x2 then dy/dx is equal to

2/x2 2/x 1/x2 1/x

5

6. If y = (1 + 2x) then dy/dx is equal to

5(1 + x)4 5(1 + 2x)4 10(1 + 2x)4 10(1 + x)4

√

7. If y = 10 + x2 then dy/dx is equal to

x 2 2x x

√ √ √ √

10 + x2 10 + x2 10 + x2 2 10 + x2

−3/2

8. What is the second derivative of x ?

Section 6: Optimization 44

3 15 3 3

− 5/2 7/2 5/2

5x 4x x 4x1/2

2

9. If y = w and w = 3x + 4, the chain rule can be used to calculate

the derivative of

9x2 + 4 x2 (3x + 4) 3x2 + 4 (3x + 4)2

10. If y = 3x + 5, calculate dx/dy.

1/3 3 3x 3y

6 Optimization

Optimization is one of the basic analytical techniques employed in

microeconomics. We will get lots of mileage out of the idea that the

decisions of economic agents (households, firms, social planners, etc.)

are the result of these parties trying to do the best they can subject

to the constraints they face.

Section 6: Optimization 45

In this chapter we limit ourselves to a discussion of how to maximize or

minimize a function y(x) of one variable when there are no constraints,

i.e., when x may be chosen freely.8 Except for a few complications,

the idea is to find values of x for which the derivative of y with respect

to x is zero.

Suppose that we wish to find a value x∗ , if such a value exists,

that maximizes y(x). It cannot be the case that y 0 (x∗ ) > 0; if so

the function would be increasing, and a value of x higher than x∗

would give a higher value of y. Likewise, it cannot be the case that

y 0 (x∗ ) < 0; if so the function would be decreasing, and a value of x

lower than x∗ would give a higher value of y. This means that if x∗

maximizes y(x), then y 0 (x∗ ) must equal zero.

Similar reasoning suggests that if x∗ minimizes y(x), then y 0 (x∗ )

must also equal zero.

8 In many economic contexts it does not make sense for the variable x to be

Section 6: Optimization 46

y y

x∗ x x∗ x

∗ ∗

Figure 7: The point x gives a maximum of y(x) on the left; x gives a

minimum of y(x) on the right.

A necessary condition that x∗ provide a maximum (or a minimum) is

that x∗ be a stationary point.9 We call this the first-order condition

for a maximum or a minimum. The points labeled x∗ in the two

graphs of Figure 7 are stationary points. The function on the left is

9 This might not be the case if x∗ is a boundary point.

Section 6: Optimization 47

y

x∗ x

Figure 8: The function y(x) has an inflection point at x∗ ; y(x) is neither a

maximum nor minimum at this point.

From a operational point of view, stationary points provide can-

didates for points that optimize the given function.10 Unless we have

more information, we cannot be sure that a particular stationary point

is the one that solves our problem. For example, if our interest is in

10 The only other conceivable candidates are points at which the function is not

Section 6: Optimization 48

could be associated with a maximum as in the graph on the left of

Figure 7. But it could also be associated with a minimum as in the

graph on the right of Figure 7 or an inflection point as in Figure 8.

It is also possible that a stationary point x∗ provides only a local

maximum (a maximization of y(x) only over points very close to x∗ )

but not a global maximum (a maximization over all values of x).

We note that there may not be a unique x that maximizes y(x), or

there may be no solution at all.11

There is a way of using calculus to help determine whether a sta-

tionary point is a local maximum, a local minimum, or neither. This

condition involves second derivatives as well as first derivatives and

is called the second-order condition. There are three possibilities:

(a) If y 0 (x∗ ) = 0 and y 00 (x∗ ) < 0, then x∗ gives a local maximum.

(b) If y 0 (x∗ ) = 0 and y 00 (x∗ ) > 0, then x∗ gives a local minimum.

(c) If y 0 (x∗ ) = 0 and y 00 (x∗ ) = 0, then x∗ may provide a local maxi-

mum, a local minimum, or neither. You should be able to tell from

11 For example, there is no value of x that maximizes the function y = x.

Section 6: Optimization 49

the graph on the left of Figure 7 that the second derivative is negative

at x∗ . The second-order condition thus says that the function is max-

imized there. This illustrates possibility (a). At x∗ in the graph on

the right of Figure 7 the second derivative is positive and the function

is minimized there. This illustrates possibility (b). At x∗ in Figure 8

the second derivative is zero, and we have neither a maximum nor a

minimum. This is one illustration of possibility (c). Another is the

function y = x4 which does have a minimum at x = 0 but whose first

and second derivatives are zero there.

We should be very careful to distinguish between necessary and

sufficient conditions for a maximum. If x∗ maximizes y(x), then

y 0 (x∗ ) = 0 and y 00 (x∗ ) ≤ 0. This is a necessary condition for a maxi-

mum. If y 0 (x∗ ) = 0 and y 00 (x∗ ) < 0, then x∗ gives a local maximum.

This is a sufficient condition.12

We should say a few words about how to use these conditions to

find the maximum value when a specific function is given. We need to

12 Similar conditions apply for a minimum if we replace ≤ and < with ≥ and >,

respectively.

Section 6: Optimization 50

first find the stationary points, i.e., points where the first derivative is

zero. This involves solving one equation y 0 (x) = 0 in one unknown (x).

If this is a linear or quadratic equation, then a solution can be easily

obtained. For example, in determining stationary points we may have

to solve the quadratic equation

ax2 + bx + c = 0.

One way to find such values of x is to use the quadratic formula,

given by √

−b ± b2 − 4ac

x= . (8)

2a

Note that there are two solutions, one associated with the plus sign

and one with the minus sign. We need to apply the second-order

condition to each of these values to distinguish which might be the

maximum and which the minimum.

Example 6.1. We find the value of x that maximizes the function

y(x) = 10 − x2 . Since the first derivative is given by y 0 (x) = −2x,

we find the stationary point by solving −2x = 0 or x∗ = 0. The

Section 6: Optimization 51

the function.

Example 6.2. We determine a local maximum and a local minimum

for the function y(x) = x3 −12x2 +36x. The first derivative is y 0 (x) =

3x2 − 24x + 36, so the stationary points are solutions to the equation

3x2 − 24x + 36 = 0 or, after simplifying, x2 − 8x + 12 = 0. This is a

quadratic equation with solution given by Equation (8):

√

8 ± 64 − 48 8±4

x= = = 4 ± 2.

2 2

Thus there are two stationary points, x = 2 and x = 6. To determine

whether each corresponds to a maximum or minimum, we need to look

at the second derivative y 00 (x) = 6x − 24. Evaluating this expression

at x = 2 and x = 6, we find that y 00 (2) = −12 < 0 and y 00 (6) = 12 > 0.

Thus x = 2 is a local maximum and x = 6 is a local minimum.

6.2 Exercises

Exercise 6.1. Find the value of x that maximizes y(x) = 2x−x2 −2.

Section 7: A Few Words about Integration 52

the function y(x) = 13 x3 − 2x2 + 3x.

We do not presume that you have studied the integral or integration

techniques. Occasionally we find it convenient to employ integral

notation and to use one basic fact about integration.

One way we use integral notation is to represent the area under a

curve. If we have a positive function y = y(x), as in Figure 9, then

Z b

y(x) dx (9)

a

gives the area below y(x) and above the horizontal axis from x = a

to x = b. Just as the derivative is defined as a limit, the integral is a

limit of sums of the areas of rectangles as the base becomes arbitrarily

small.13

13 If you read the integral sign as an S for “sum,” then the notation suggests that

the integral is a limit of sums of terms like y(x) multiplied by small changes in x.

Section 7: A Few Words about Integration 53

y

y

Z b

y(x) dx

a

a b x

Figure 9: The integral of a positive function is just the area beneath it.

grals. We will use nothing more than simple geometry, restricting our

attention to calculating areas of rectangles and triangles.

Finding an integral involves the reverse process of finding a deriva-

tive. In physics we differentiate distance to get velocity but then in-

tegrate (or “sum up”) velocity to get distance traveled. In economics

These products are the areas of rectangles which, added together, approximate

the area under the curve.

Section 7: A Few Words about Integration 54

0

y

y0

y(x) − y(0)

x x

Figure 10: The integral of the derivative y 0 is the original function y(x) except

for a constant.

marginal cost to get back to total cost. We could say that distance

is an antiderivative of velocity and total cost is an antiderivative of

marginal cost.

Section 7: A Few Words about Integration 55

(or area under) its derivative. We write

Z x

y(x) = y 0 (s) ds + y(0). (10)

0

in Figure 10 and which represents one version of the Fundamental

Theorem of Calculus. First, we have to be careful about the notation.

In equation (9) the value of the integral is a number and not a function

of x. In equation (10), however, the integral does not depend on s

but does depend on x.

Second, we are restricting our attention to nonnegative values of

the two variables. Thus we find the area under the positive curve y 0

between zero and some prescribed positive value of x.

Third, since the derivative of a constant is zero, adding a con-

stant to the total function y produces the same marginal function y 0 .

Thus we cannot hope to find the constant in the total function from

Section 8: Chapter Quiz 56

equation (10) provides the appropriate constant.

Example 7.1. Consider the function y 0 (x) = b as represented in the

graph on the right of Figure 1. The area under this curve from 0 to x

is bx (the base x times the height b). Using equation (10) and the fact

that y(0) = a, we get y(x) = a + bx. This is the total function in the

graph on the left of Figure 1.

Example 7.2. Consider the function y 0 (x) = a + bx as represented in

the graph on the right of Figure 2. Consider an arbitrary value of x.

The area under this function from 0 to x is the sum of a rectangle

with base x and height a and a triangle with base x and height bx.

Thus the area is ax + (1/2)bx2 . This is the function y(x) as shown on

the right of Figure 2; when differentiated it gives y 0 (x).

8 Chapter Quiz

Click on the “Begin Quiz” button to begin, choose your answers, click

on the “End Quiz” button to see how many questions you answered

Section 8: Chapter Quiz 57

correctly, and click on the “Correct” button to see the correct answers.

decreasing with decreasing slope

decreasing with increasing slope

increasing with decreasing slope

increasing with increasing slope

2. If Revenue R depends on quantity sold Q, how might we write

marginal revenue?

dQ dx

R0 (Q) Q0 (R)

dx dQ

3. If y(x) = −mx−n , what is y 0 (x)?

mnx−n+1 mnx−n−1 −mnx−n+1 −mnx−n+1

√

4. If y(x) = 3x, what is dy/dx?

Section 8: Chapter Quiz 58

3 2 3 1

√ √ √ √

2 3x 3 3x 3x 2 3x

5. If y(x) = (2 + x3 )5 , then y 0 (x) is

5(x3 )4 5(2 + x3 )4 (2 + 3x2 )

5(2 + x3 )4 5(2 + x3 )4 (3x2 )

6. Another way to write x−.75 is as

1 1

x3/4 x4/3

x3/4 x4/3

7. What is the derivative of ln x?

1 1

ln x − ln x −

x x

8. If y(x) = u(x) · v(x), then y 0 (x) is

du dv dv du dv du dv du

· · u −v u +v

dv dx du dx dx dx dx dx

dx

9. If y = a − bx, then equals

dy

1 1

−b − a

b b

Section 8: Chapter Quiz 59

of

.5 1 2 5

Answers to Quizzes 60

Answers to Quizzes

Answers to Section Quiz 4.3

1. b 2. c 3. a 4. c 5. c 6. a 7. d 8. b 9. c 10. d

√

1. b 2. a 3. d 4. d (The easiest way to differentiate y = x/x is

to recognize it as y = x1/2 /x1 = x−1/2 so that y 0 (x) = − 12 x−3/2 .) 5.

b 6. c 7. a 8. b 9. d 10. a

1. c 2. c 3. b 4. a (chain rule) 5. d (chain rule) 6. c 7. c

8. d (product rule) 9. b (derivative of an inverse function) 10. a

(stationary point)

Solutions to Exercises 61

Solutions to Exercises

Exercise 3.1.

The marginal tax rate is written as dT /dx or T 0 (x). The units of

the marginal tax rate are the units of T (dollars per year) divided by

the units of x (dollars per year). Thus everything cancels out, and

there are no units! The marginal tax rate is a pure number, such as

30%. Return to Exercise 3.1

Solutions to Exercises 62

0

y

y0

x

Figure 11: The graph of y 0 (x) for Exercise 3.2.

Exercise 3.2.

The graph of the derivative y 0 is shown in Figure 11. The func-

tion y is always positive (it lies above the horizontal axis) and increas-

ing (it slopes up). The function y 0 is positive but it decreases at first

and then increases. The second derivative y 00 (not shown) is negative

at first and then becomes positive. It is always increasing.

Return to Exercise 3.2

Solutions to Exercises 63

Exercise 3.3.

Marginal cost first decreases and then increases. (Marginal cost

is always positive as well. If this were not true, the function y would

not be a reasonable cost function.) Return to Exercise 3.3

Solutions to Exercises 64

Exercise 3.4.

No. See Figures 2 and 3 for cases where this is clearly false. The

function y will be a straight line only for the case (as in Figure 1)

where the derivative is a horizontal line. Return to Exercise 3.4

Solutions to Exercises 65

Exercise 3.5.

The second derivative measures the slope of the slope, i.e., it mea-

sures the curvature of the function at the particular point. If the

second derivative is positive, then the function looks like a convex

function near the point (as in the diagram on the left of Figure 2). If

the second derivative is negative, then the function looks like a con-

cave function near the point (as in the diagram on the left of Figure 3).

Return to Exercise 3.5

Solutions to Exercises 66

Exercise 6.1.

First note that y 0 (x) = 2−2x, so stationary points satisfy 2−2x =

0 or x∗ = 1. The second derivative, y 0 (x) = −2 < 0 everywhere, so

the function is maximized at x∗ = 1. Return to Exercise 6.1

Solutions to Exercises 67

Exercise 6.2.

The first derivative is y 0 (x) = x2 − 4x + 3, so the stationary points

are solutions to the equation x2 − 4x + 3 = 0. This is a quadratic

equation with solution given by

√

4 ± 16 − 12 4±2

x= = = 2 ± 1.

2 2

Thus there are two stationary points, x = 1 and x = 3. To determine

whether each corresponds to a maximum or minimum, we need to look

at the second derivative y 00 (x) = 2x − 4. Evaluating this expression

at x = 1 and x = 3, we find that y 00 (1) = −2 < 0 and y 00 (3) = 2 > 0.

Thus x = 1 is a local maximum and x = 3 is a local minimum.

Return to Exercise 6.2

References 68

References

[1] Binger, Brian R. and E. Hoffman, Microeconomics with Calculus,

2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1998. 7

[2] Hughes-Hallett, Deborah, et. al., Calculus, 2nd ed., John Wiley &

Sons, New York, 1998. 6

[3] Landsburg, Steven E., Price Theory and Applications, 5th ed.,

South-Western, Cincinnati, 2002. 7

[4] Mankiw, N. Gregory, Principles of Economics, 2nd ed., The Dry-

den Press, Fort Worth, 2001. 5

[5] Nicholson, Walter, Microeconomic Theory: Basic Principles and

Extensions, 7th ed., The Dryden Press, Fort Worth, 1998. 7

[6] Story, Donald P., e-calculus, April 3, 2000, http://www.math.

uakron.edu/~dpstory/e-calculus.html. Available: February

20, 2002. 6

References 69

1910. 6

[8] Varian, Hal R., What Use is Economic Theory? August,

1989, http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/~hal/Papers/theory.

pdf. Available: February 20, 2002. 9

[9] Varian, Hal R., Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Ap-

proach, 5th ed., W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1999. 7

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