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Whatever the firm’s quantity of production, total revenue must exceed total costs if it is to earn a profit. As explored in the chapter Choice in a World of Scarcity , fixed costs are often sunk costs    that cannot be recouped. In thinking about what to do next, sunk costs should typically be ignored, since this spending has already been made and cannot be changed. However, variable costs can be changed, so they convey information about the firm’s ability to cut costs in the present and the extent to which costs will increase if production rises.

Why are total cost and average cost not on the same graph?

Total cost, fixed cost, and variable cost each reflect different aspects of the cost of production over the entire quantity of output being produced. These costs are measured in dollars. In contrast, marginal cost, average cost, and average variable cost are costs per unit. In the previous example, they are measured as cost per haircut. Thus, it would not make sense to put all of these numbers on the same graph, since they are measured in different units ($ versus $ per unit of output).

It would be as if the vertical axis measured two different things. In addition, as a practical matter, if they were on the same graph, the lines for marginal cost, average cost, and average variable cost would appear almost flat against the horizontal axis, compared to the values for total cost, fixed cost, and variable cost. Using the figures from the previous example, the total cost of producing 40 haircuts is $320. But the average cost is $320/40, or $8. If you graphed both total and average cost on the same axes, the average cost would hardly show.

Average cost tells a firm whether it can earn profits given the current price in the market. If we divide profit by the quantity of output produced we get average profit    , also known as the firm’s profit margin . Expanding the equation for profit gives:

average profit = profit quantity produced = total revenue – total cost quantity produced = total revenue quantity produced total cost quantity produced = average revenue – average cost

But note that:

average revenue = price × quantity produced quantity produced = price

Thus:

average profit = price – average cost

This is the firm’s profit margin . This definition implies that if the market price is above average cost, average profit, and thus total profit, will be positive; if price is below average cost, then profits will be negative.

The marginal cost of producing an additional unit can be compared with the marginal revenue gained by selling that additional unit to reveal whether the additional unit is adding to total profit—or not. Thus, marginal cost helps producers understand how profits would be affected by increasing or decreasing production.

A variety of cost patterns

The pattern of costs varies among industries and even among firms in the same industry. Some businesses have high fixed costs, but low marginal costs. Consider, for example, an Internet company that provides medical advice to customers. Such a company might be paid by consumers directly, or perhaps hospitals or healthcare practices might subscribe on behalf of their patients. Setting up the website, collecting the information, writing the content, and buying or leasing the computer space to handle the web traffic are all fixed costs that must be undertaken before the site can work. However, when the website is up and running, it can provide a high quantity of service with relatively low variable costs, like the cost of monitoring the system and updating the information. In this case, the total cost curve might start at a high level, because of the high fixed costs, but then might appear close to flat, up to a large quantity of output, reflecting the low variable costs of operation. If the website is popular, however, a large rise in the number of visitors will overwhelm the website, and increasing output further could require a purchase of additional computer space.

For other firms, fixed costs may be relatively low. For example, consider firms that rake leaves in the fall or shovel snow off sidewalks and driveways in the winter. For fixed costs, such firms may need little more than a car to transport workers to homes of customers and some rakes and shovels. Still other firms may find that diminishing marginal returns set in quite sharply. If a manufacturing plant tried to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, little time remains for routine maintenance of the equipment, and marginal costs can increase dramatically as the firm struggles to repair and replace overworked equipment.

Every firm can gain insight into its task of earning profits by dividing its total costs into fixed and variable costs, and then using these calculations as a basis for average total cost, average variable cost, and marginal cost. However, making a final decision about the profit-maximizing quantity to produce and the price to charge will require combining these perspectives on cost with an analysis of sales and revenue, which in turn requires looking at the market structure in which the firm finds itself. Before we turn to the analysis of market structure in other chapters, we will analyze the firm’s cost structure from a long-run perspective.

Key concepts and summary

In a short-run perspective, a firm’s total costs can be divided into fixed costs, which a firm must incur before producing any output, and variable costs, which the firm incurs in the act of producing. Fixed costs are sunk costs; that is, because they are in the past and cannot be altered, they should play no role in economic decisions about future production or pricing. Variable costs typically show diminishing marginal returns, so that the marginal cost of producing higher levels of output rises.

Marginal cost is calculated by taking the change in total cost (or the change in variable cost, which will be the same thing) and dividing it by the change in output, for each possible change in output. Marginal costs are typically rising. A firm can compare marginal cost to the additional revenue it gains from selling another unit to find out whether its marginal unit is adding to profit.

Average total cost is calculated by taking total cost and dividing by total output at each different level of output. Average costs are typically U-shaped on a graph. If a firm’s average cost of production is lower than the market price, a firm will be earning profits.

Average variable cost is calculated by taking variable cost and dividing by the total output at each level of output. Average variable costs are typically U-shaped. If a firm’s average variable cost of production is lower than the market price, then the firm would be earning profits if fixed costs are left out of the picture.

Problems

Return to [link] . What is the marginal gain in output from increasing the number of barbers from 4 to 5 and from 5 to 6? Does it continue the pattern of diminishing marginal returns?

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Compute the average total cost, average variable cost, and marginal cost of producing 60 and 72 haircuts. Draw the graph of the three curves between 60 and 72 haircuts.

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Questions & Answers

how environment affect demand and supply of commodity ?
Amos Reply
Wht at the criteria for market ?
Amos
what is difference between monitory policy and fiscal policy?
Malik Reply
monetary policy is a policy thrust by National Govt(CBN) to influence government spending, purchase &taxes
Frank
necessity of economics
Pamela Reply
I will say want,choice,opportunity cost,scarcity,scale of preference
Alao
what is monopoly market.How price output are determined under monopoly market
bisham
b) Monopoly market is an impecfect market where s single firm having the innovation to produce a particular commodity.Prices are determined through output since there are no other competitive.
Frank
Monopoly market:firm has market power & does not respond to market price
Frank
Explain the process of price determination under perfect competition market with suitable diagram
bisham Reply
Price determination under perfect competition via this process :firms have no market power to influence price rather firms respond to market price.
Frank
price is different from demand- demand is amount of commodity
Effah Reply
demand is amount /quantity of commodity a potential buyer is willing to buy at a given price at market
Frank
demand is a desire of customer on commodity with the ability to pay it and willing to buy it at given price of commodity
Harika
demand is price of what
Faith Reply
show that shortrun average cost
Baby Reply
what is economics
Mbah Reply
what is money
Mbah
what is money
Mbah
Difine macro economics
agaba
money is a medium of exchange between goods and services,maybe inform of currency.
Wesonga
Economics is study of how human beings strive to satisfy numerous wants using limited available resources.
Wesonga
how do you find the maximum number of workers the firms should employ order to produce where there are increasing returns
Jane
what are implications of computing national income?.
agaba
pl
MUDASIRU
what is the formulae for calculating national income
MUDASIRU
it calculated by value added method
Praveen
classify the production units like agriculture, banking, transport etc
Praveen
money is anything that is generally acceptetable for human
Ogbaji
Estimate the net value added(NVA) at fixed cost by each industrial structure
Praveen
definition of unemployment
Adam Reply
what are the causes of unemployment?
Mbubi Reply
The main causes of unemployment are listed below. 1. Frictional unemployment 2. Cyclical unemployment 3. Structural unemployment
assani
We can also categorize the causes on a broader sense as: 1. Political and 2. Social cause As unemployeement root causes are embaded in this two.
Yonathan
would opportunity cost exist if there was no scarcity?
assani
yes just because the opportunity cost arose when there is Alternative to choose among the alternatives.
BADAMASIU
I am thinking that, if our resources were unlimited, then there wouldn't be any need to forgo some wants. Hence the inexistence if opportunity cost
assani
Politics
Job
politics has done what?
assani
consider time assani
Mary
I'm Emmanuel,...I taught the main cause is the change in gov't.
Emmanuel
...Lack of capital to set up a firm respectively
Emmanuel
🙈
Emmanuel
I would like to bring in Educational levels can also be the cause the cause of the problem respectively
Emmanuel
I think the main causes of unemployment is lack of INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT OVER POPULATION OVER DEPENDENT ON GOVERNMENT LACK OF SELF EMPOWERMENT...
ananti
lack of skills among the new generation is the serious issue.
Vishal
Where I come from , I don't see why education or personal aspects seem to do with unimployment, technically the motivation and eigerness in all works of live is there , dispite the cultural influence and physical bearriors;the thing we lacking is Government Support and open market ethics.
Joe
sorry about that-(repation). We have a over powering ethical political system that's displacing the marketing asspects of economy and causing large scale unemployment right across the board...
Joe
can someone Explain Expansionary Monetary Policy and Contractionary Monetary Policy Using one of the instrument of Monetary Policy? Please am kinda lost here?. ta
Emmanuel Reply
using a graph show the case of substitute and compliment goods
Ade Reply
can anyone give me a simple explanation to Five Sector Macroeconomics?
Emmanuel
Can someone please define what economics is
jason Reply
economics simply is a social science subject that study human behavior.
dajan
economics is a social science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means that has alternative uses
Alao
Can someone please tell me how to calculate GDP
Emmanuel
emmanual kapal to calculate GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has three method in calculating it (1)income approach (2) expenditure approach (3) value added method
Alao
thanks Alae
Emmanuel
u are welcome
Alao
in basic terms economics is revered to as battery system, it date back to when Men sees the need to exchange sapless goods and produce to gain , either wealth , basic necessities or to establish trading ties for personal benefit or social asspects in terms of coexistence and continuity, future .
Joe
what is the law of demand
Berlinda Reply
keep other thing constant, when the price increases demand decrease when the price decreases demand increases of the commodity.
sj
all things being equal,quantity demanded decrease as price increase and increase as price decrease
Seth
there's practial joke to it ..." the higher the demand ; scarcity, increase in production and drop in quality"... quite the controversy - for example China vs Europe, United States and we are all boxed up in between somewhere...
Joe
Other thing remain constant the low price of commodity the high quantity of commodity and vice versa is true
Baraka
Explain Effective demand
Anita Reply
What is effective demand
Anita
like Modi is in demand...best example of effective demand
Pranav
Don't get you
Anita
Anita you mean you don't get me or who?
Onyeking
level of demand that represents a real intention to purchase by people with the means to pay
Pranav

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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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