<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Sunk costs

In the budget constraint framework, all decisions involve what will happen next: that is, what quantities of goods will you consume, how many hours will you work, or how much will you save. These decisions do not look back to past choices. Thus, the budget constraint framework assumes that sunk costs    , which are costs that were incurred in the past and cannot be recovered, should not affect the current decision.

Consider the case of Selena, who pays $8 to see a movie, but after watching the film for 30 minutes, she knows that it is truly terrible. Should she stay and watch the rest of the movie because she paid for the ticket, or should she leave? The money she spent is a sunk cost, and unless the theater manager is feeling kindly, Selena will not get a refund. But staying in the movie still means paying an opportunity cost in time. Her choice is whether to spend the next 90 minutes suffering through a cinematic disaster or to do something—anything—else. The lesson of sunk costs is to forget about the money and time that is irretrievably gone and instead to focus on the marginal costs and benefits of current and future options.

For people and firms alike, dealing with sunk costs can be frustrating. It often means admitting an earlier error in judgment. Many firms, for example, find it hard to give up on a new product that is doing poorly because they spent so much money in creating and launching the product. But the lesson of sunk costs is to ignore them and make decisions based on what will happen in the future.

From a model with two goods to one of many goods

The budget constraint diagram containing just two goods, like most models used in this book, is not realistic. After all, in a modern economy people choose from thousands of goods. However, thinking about a model with many goods is a straightforward extension of what we discussed here. Instead of drawing just one budget constraint, showing the tradeoff between two goods, you can draw multiple budget constraints, showing the possible tradeoffs between many different pairs of goods. Or in more advanced classes in economics, you would use mathematical equations that include many possible goods and services that can be purchased, together with their quantities and prices, and show how the total spending on all goods and services is limited to the overall budget available. The graph with two goods that was presented here clearly illustrates that every choice has an opportunity cost, which is the point that does carry over to the real world.

Key concepts and summary

Economists see the real world as one of scarcity: that is, a world in which people’s desires exceed what is possible. As a result, economic behavior involves tradeoffs in which individuals, firms, and society must give up something that they desire to obtain things that they desire more. Individuals face the tradeoff of what quantities of goods and services to consume. The budget constraint, which is the frontier of the opportunity set, illustrates the range of choices available. The slope of the budget constraint is determined by the relative price of the choices. Choices beyond the budget constraint are not affordable.

Opportunity cost measures cost by what is given up in exchange. Sometimes opportunity cost can be measured in money, but it is often useful to consider time as well, or to measure it in terms of the actual resources that must be given up.

Most economic decisions and tradeoffs are not all-or-nothing. Instead, they involve marginal analysis, which means they are about decisions on the margin, involving a little more or a little less. The law of diminishing marginal utility points out that as a person receives more of something—whether it is a specific good or another resource—the additional marginal gains tend to become smaller. Because sunk costs occurred in the past and cannot be recovered, they should be disregarded in making current decisions.

Problems

Use this information to answer the following 4 questions: Marie has a weekly budget of $24, which she likes to spend on magazines and pies.

If the price of a magazine is $4 each, what is the maximum number of magazines she could buy in a week?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

If the price of a pie is $12, what is the maximum number of pies she could buy in a week?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Draw Marie’s budget constraint with pies on the horizontal axis and magazines on the vertical axis. What is the slope of the budget constraint?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

What is Marie’s opportunity cost of purchasing a pie?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

References

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. 2015. “Median Weekly Earnings by Educational Attainment in 2014.” Accessed March 27, 2015. http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/median-weekly-earnings-by-education-gender-race-and-ethnicity-in-2014.htm.

Robbins, Lionel. An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science . London: Macmillan. 1932.

United States Department of Transportation. “Total Passengers on U.S Airlines and Foreign Airlines U.S. Flights Increased 1.3% in 2012 from 2011.” Accessed October 2013. http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/press_releases/bts016_13

Questions & Answers

what is economic
Charles Reply
what are the type of economic
Charles
macroeconomics,microeconomics,positive economics and negative economics
Gladys
what are the factors of production
Gladys
process of production
Mutia
Basically factors of production are four (4) namely: 1. Entrepreneur 2. Capital 3. Labour and; 4. Land but there has been a new argument to include an addition one to the the numbers to 5 which is "Technology"
Elisha
what is land as a factor of production
Gladys
what is Economic
Abu
economics is how individuals bussiness and governments make the best decisions to get what they want and how these choices interact in the market
Nandisha
Economics as a social science, which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses.
Yhaar
how will a country's population be equal to it's labour force
Hope Reply
what is the meaning of ppf
Obeng Reply
What is Economic
Governor Reply
economic
Nwosu
Economics is the social science that deals with the unlimited human wants in the face of scarce (limited in supply) resources.
Azka
what is market
Gift Reply
marker is the interaction of buying and selling
David
market refers to the interaction of the processes of buying and selling of commodities between the buyer and the seller.
stephen
market is a place where two parties gather to facilitate exchange of goods and services.
Yhaar
what are some good sources of information to find trends in various Industries
James
how do on know that marketing is going on
Mutia
what is consumption
Raj
Using revenue
Prince
What is stock market
Prince
What are the marmet function
Odirile Reply
price elasticity of demand is the degree of responsiveness of a quantity demanded to the change in price of the commodity in question.
Gladys Reply
What does elasticity mean
Prince
Elasticity means change in demand with the change in price. It is elastic if the demand changes with the price change whereas it is inelastic if the demand is not affected due to change in price
Devesh
Okay
Olatunde
meaning
KP
okay
Binta
I have a question
Binta
what is the importance of learning economics?
Thelma Reply
it helps to make the correct choice
Gladys
it helps firm to produce products that will bring more profit
Gladys
the difference between needs and wants
londiwe Reply
needs are things that we basically can't live without wants are just luxury things
Thelma
needs are things without them we can't live but want are things without we can live
KP
what is education
KP
it's a process in which we give or receiving methodical instructions
Thelma
what is mixed economy
Amex
what is a deadweight loss? how monopoly creates a deadweight loss?
Ashraf Reply
who are u?
Lamine
haha
Cleaford
scarm
nura
what it this
Cleaford
hi y'all
Dope
how does group chat help y'all 🤔
Dope
hi y'all
Dope
how does group chat help y'all 🤔
Dope
how does group chat help y'all 🤔
Dope
to learn from one another
Lamine
oh okay
Dope
😟
Creative
Yes
Lamine
what is type of economic
taiwo Reply
how to understand basics of economics
Aarif Reply
what is demand schedle
Princess Reply
When you make a Scedule of the demand you made
Rodeen
this is helpful for rbi grade b
Prema Reply
What is macroeconomics
Kauna Reply
It's one of the two branches of Economics that deal with the aggregate economy.
Mayen
it's about inflation, occupation, gdp and so on
alberto
What is differences between Microeconomics and Macroeconomic?
Bethrand
microeconomics focuses on the action of individual agents in the economy such as businesses, workers and household. while macroeconomics looks at the economy as a whole. it focuses on broad issues in the economy such as government deficit, economy growth, levels of exports and imports, and
Thelma
inflationary increase in prices
Thelma

Get the best Principles of economics course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Principles of economics' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask