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The relationship between the quantity at the minimum of the long-run average cost curve and the quantity demanded in the market at that price will predict how much competition is likely to exist in the market. If the quantity demanded in the market far exceeds the quantity at the minimum of the LRAC, then many firms will compete. If the quantity demanded in the market is only slightly higher than the quantity at the minimum of the LRAC, a few firms will compete. If the quantity demanded in the market is less than the quantity at the minimum of the LRAC, a single-producer monopoly is a likely outcome.

Shifting patterns of long-run average cost

New developments in production technology can shift the long-run average cost curve in ways that can alter the size distribution of firms in an industry.

For much of the twentieth century, the most common change has been to see alterations in technology, like the assembly line or the large department store, where large-scale producers seemed to gain an advantage over smaller ones. In the long-run average cost curve, the downward-sloping economies of scale portion of the curve stretched over a larger quantity of output.

However, new production technologies do not inevitably lead to a greater average size for firms. For example, in recent years some new technologies for generating electricity on a smaller scale have appeared. The traditional coal-burning electricity plants needed to produce 300 to 600 megawatts of power to exploit economies of scale fully. However, high-efficiency turbines to produce electricity from burning natural gas can produce electricity at a competitive price while producing a smaller quantity of 100 megawatts or less. These new technologies create the possibility for smaller companies or plants to generate electricity as efficiently as large ones. Another example of a technology-driven shift to smaller plants may be taking place in the tire industry. A traditional mid-size tire plant produces about six million tires per year. However, in 2000, the Italian company Pirelli introduced a new tire factory that uses many robots. The Pirelli tire plant produced only about one million tires per year, but did so at a lower average cost than a traditional mid-sized tire plant.

Controversy has simmered in recent years over whether the new information and communications technologies will lead to a larger or smaller size for firms. On one side, the new technology may make it easier for small firms to reach out beyond their local geographic area and find customers across a state, or the nation, or even across international boundaries. This factor might seem to predict a future with a larger number of small competitors. On the other side, perhaps the new information and communications technology will create “winner-take-all” markets where one large company will tend to command a large share of total sales, as Microsoft has done in the production of software for personal computers or Amazon has done in online bookselling. Moreover, improved information and communication technologies might make it easier to manage many different plants and operations across the country or around the world, and thus encourage larger firms. This ongoing battle between the forces of smallness and largeness will be of great interest to economists, businesspeople, and policymakers.


Traditionally, bookstores have operated in retail locations with inventories held either on the shelves or in the back of the store. These retail locations were very pricey in terms of rent. Amazon has no retail locations; it sells online and delivers by mail. Amazon offers almost any book in print, convenient purchasing, and prompt delivery by mail. Amazon holds its inventories in huge warehouses in low-rent locations around the world. The warehouses are highly computerized using robots and relatively low-skilled workers, making for low average costs per sale. Amazon demonstrates the significant advantages economies of scale can offer to a firm that exploits those economies.

Key concepts and summary

A production technology refers to a specific combination of labor, physical capital, and technology that makes up a particular method of production.

In the long run, firms can choose their production technology, and so all costs become variable costs. In making this choice, firms will try to substitute relatively inexpensive inputs for relatively expensive inputs where possible, so as to produce at the lowest possible long-run average cost.

Economies of scale refers to a situation where as the level of output increases, the average cost decreases. Constant returns to scale refers to a situation where average cost does not change as output increases. Diseconomies of scale refers to a situation where as output increases, average costs increase also.

The long-run average cost curve shows the lowest possible average cost of production, allowing all the inputs to production to vary so that the firm is choosing its production technology. A downward-sloping LRAC shows economies of scale; a flat LRAC shows constant returns to scale; an upward-sloping LRAC shows diseconomies of scale. If the long-run average cost curve has only one quantity produced that results in the lowest possible average cost, then all of the firms competing in an industry should be the same size. However, if the LRAC has a flat segment at the bottom, so that a range of different quantities can be produced at the lowest average cost, the firms competing in the industry will display a range of sizes. The market demand in conjunction with the long-run average cost curve determines how many firms will exist in a given industry.

If the quantity demanded in the market of a certain product is much greater than the quantity found at the bottom of the long-run average cost curve, where the cost of production is lowest, the market will have many firms competing. If the quantity demanded in the market is less than the quantity at the bottom of the LRAC, there will likely be only one firm.


A small company that shovels sidewalks and driveways has 100 homes signed up for its services this winter. It can use various combinations of capital and labor: lots of labor with hand shovels, less labor with snow blowers, and still less labor with a pickup truck that has a snowplow on front. To summarize, the method choices are:

Method 1: 50 units of labor, 10 units of capital

Method 2: 20 units of labor, 40 units of capital

Method 3: 10 units of labor, 70 units of capital

If hiring labor for the winter costs $100/unit and a unit of capital costs $400, what production method should be chosen? What method should be chosen if the cost of labor rises to $200/unit?

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Questions & Answers

what's the difference between elasticity and demand
Rich Reply
if country had a potential full employment income of Rs 1000 and following consumption and investment function C=0.75 y=50,I=150.find the level of government expenditure necessary to maintain full employment
Vijay Reply
what is China's economy
the meaning of elasticity
Yawe Reply
when equilibrium is égal to 1
The tendency to change consumption habits with change in price
The type of elasticity if demand
Okonkwo Reply
aren't leaving too about bathrooms
I don't understand
Price elasticity of demand cross elasticity of demand income elasticity of demand
what is money
Lawal Reply
what is supply
the total number of goods present at a particular area at a particular time
the meaning of elasticity
Affum Reply
how to knw the break even point in business
Edmore Reply
Good evening
when TOTAL COST & TOTAL REVENUE equal each other that's break even point
How is everyone doing
Good evening
how are you feeling
what's up?
what are the importance of economics
sani Reply
am new here
hello I'm new here
your welcome
where are you from?
Hello I'm new here
ohh hi
what is development?
juwel Reply
it shows how many products customers are willing to purchase as the price of those product increase or decrease
Asha Reply
economics as a science
skima Reply
What is utility
Jimoh Reply
utility is a total satisfaction derives from a consumer.
what is ranking reveal choices?
wants satisfying power of a commodity is known as utility........
What is elasity
Differentiate between scarcity and choice and explain how they effect perfectly elasiticity of demand and give relevant example with type of goods affected
Utility is ability if of available goods to satisfy human wants
any idea about equilibrium?
equilibrium where price and quantity demanded equals
Equilibrium is when quantity demanded of goods and services is equal to supply to the market.
how about the profit....anybody can explain
how about equilibrium of consumer?
bappy,john thank you the answers.
Utility Simply means the satisfaction a consumer derives from consuming a good or service
Pls can someone explain Elasticity of demand in a short terms
it's a degree of responsiveness to demand due to changes in prices
what is scarcity? pls help
Mikateko Reply
scarity is when there is a huge demand for certain goods and services but there's limited resources to actually produce those things
thank you
what is development?
what is distribution
umar Reply
1.what is distribution? 2.what are factors affecting distribution? 3.releat what you are writing in the contest of economics and Nigeria situation
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things that are needed or wanted

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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