Microeconomics 02 Choice in a World of Scarcity


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Economics is greatly impacted by how well information travels through society. Today, social media giants Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are major forces on the information super highway. (Credit: Johan Larsson/Flickr)

Decisions ... decisions in the social media age

To post or not to post? Every day we are faced with a myriad of decisions, from what to have for breakfast, to which route to take to class, to the more complex—“Should I double major and add possibly another semester of study to my education?” Our response to these choices depends on the information we have available at any given moment; information economists call “imperfect” because we rarely have all the data we need to make perfect decisions. Despite the lack of perfect information, we still make hundreds of decisions a day.

And now, we have another avenue in which to gather information—social media. Outlets like Facebook and Twitter are altering the process by which we make choices, how we spend our time, which movies we see, which products we buy, and more. How many of you chose a university without checking out its Facebook page or Twitter stream first for information and feedback?

As you will see in this course, what happens in economics is affected by how well and how fast information is disseminated through a society, such as how quickly information travels through Facebook. “Economists love nothing better than when deep and liquid markets operate under conditions of perfect information,” says Jessica Irvine, National Economics Editor for News Corp Australia.

This leads us to the topic of this chapter, an introduction to the world of making decisions, processing information, and understanding behavior in markets —the world of economics. Each chapter in this book will start with a discussion about current (or sometimes past) events and revisit it at chapter’s end—to “bring home” the concepts in play.


In this chapter, you will learn about:

  • What Is Economics, and Why Is It Important?
  • Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
  • How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
  • How Economies Can Be Organized: An Overview of Economic Systems

What is economics and why should you spend your time learning it? After all, there are other disciplines you could be studying, and other ways you could be spending your time. As the Bring it Home feature just mentioned, making choices is at the heart of what economists study, and your decision to take this course is as much as economic decision as anything else.

Economics is probably not what you think. It is not primarily about money or finance. It is not primarily about business. It is not mathematics. What is it then? It is both a subject area and a way of viewing the world.

Chapter2: Choice in a World of Scarcity Essay objective questions quiz / Critical thinking questions

2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint

2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices

2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach

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Microeconomics 02 Choice in a World of Scarcity
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Sample Questions from the Microeconomics 02 Choice in a World of Scarcity Flashcards

Question: Individuals may not act in the rational, calculating way described by the economic model of decision making, measuring utility and costs at the margin, but can you make a case that they behave approximately that way?


When individuals compare cost per unit in the grocery store, or characteristics of one product versus another, they are behaving approximately like the model describes.

Question: Suppose Alphonso's town raised the price of bus tickets to $1 per trip (while the price of burgers stayed at $2 and his budget remained $10 per week.) Draw Alphonso's new budget constraint. What happens to the opportunity cost of bus tickets?


The opportunity cost of bus tickets is the number of burgers that must be given up to obtain one more bus ticket. Originally, when the price of bus tickets was 50 cents per trip, this opportunity cost was 0.50/2 = .25 burgers. The reason for this is that at the original prices, one burger ($2) costs the same as four bus tickets ($0.50), so the opportunity cost of a burger is four bus tickets, and the opportunity cost of a bus ticket is .25 (the inverse of the opportunity cost of a burger). With the new, higher price of bus tickets, the opportunity cost rises to $1/$2 or 0.50. You can see this graphically since the slope of the new budget constraint is flatter than the original one. If Alphonso spends all of his budget on burgers, the higher price of bus tickets has no impact so the horizontal intercept of the budget constraint is the same. If he spends all of his budget on bus tickets, he can now afford only half as many, so the vertical intercept is half as much. In short, the budget constraint rotates clockwise around the horizontal intercept, flattening as it goes and the opportunity cost of bus tickets increases.

Question: What are the similarities between a consumer's budget constraint and society's production possibilities frontier, not just graphically but analytically?


Both the budget constraint and the PPF show the constraint that each operates under. Both show a tradeoff between having more of one good but less of the other. Both show the opportunity cost graphically as the slope of the constraint (budget or PPF).

Question: Would an op-ed piece in a newspaper urging the adoption of a particular economic policy be considered a positive or normative statement?


Since an op-ed makes a case for what should be, it is considered normative.

Question: Return to the example in Figure 2.4. Suppose there is an improvement in medical technology that enables more healthcare to be provided with the same amount of resources. How would this affect the production possibilities curve and, in particular, how would it affect the opportunity cost of education?


Because of the improvement in technology, the vertical intercept of the PPF would be at a higher level of healthcare. In other words, the PPF would rotate clockwise around the horizontal intercept. This would make the PPF steeper, corresponding to an increase in the opportunity cost of education, since resources devoted to education would now mean forgoing a greater quantity of healthcare.

Question: Could a nation be producing in a way that is allocatively efficient, but productively inefficient?


No. Allocative efficiency requires productive efficiency, because it pertains to choices along the production possibilities frontier.

Question: Would a research study on the effects of soft drink consumption on children's cognitive development be considered a positive or normative statement?


Assuming that the study is not taking an explicit position about whether soft drink consumption is good or bad, but just reporting the science, it would be considered positive.

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Source:  Microeconomics, OpenStax-CNX Web site. Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11613/latest
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