<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

To understand this point, think back to the step-by-step process of finding the choice with highest total utility by comparing the marginal utility that is gained and lost from different choices along the budget constraint. As José compares each choice along his budget constraint to the previous choice, what matters is not the specific numbers that he places on his utility—or whether he uses any numbers at all—but only that he personally can identify which choices he prefers.

In this way, the step-by-step process of choosing the highest level of utility resembles rather closely how many people make consumption decisions. We think about what will make us the happiest; we think about what things cost; we think about buying a little more of one item and giving up a little of something else; we choose what provides us with the greatest level of satisfaction. The vocabulary of comparing the points along a budget constraint and total and marginal utility is just a set of tools for discussing this everyday process in a clear and specific manner. It is welcome news that specific utility numbers are not central to the argument, since a good utilimometer is hard to find. Do not worry—while we cannot measure utils, by the end of the next module, we will have transformed our analysis into something we can measure—demand.

Key concepts and summary

Economic analysis of household behavior is based on the assumption that people seek the highest level of utility or satisfaction. Individuals are the only judge of their own utility. In general, greater consumption of a good brings higher total utility. However, the additional utility received from each unit of greater consumption tends to decline in a pattern of diminishing marginal utility.

The utility-maximizing choice on a consumption budget constraint can be found in several ways. You can add up total utility of each choice on the budget line and choose the highest total. You can choose a starting point at random and compare the marginal utility gains and losses of moving to neighboring points—and thus eventually seek out the preferred choice. Alternatively, you can compare the ratio of the marginal utility to price of good 1 with the marginal utility to price of good 2 and apply the rule that at the optimal choice, the two ratios should be equal:

MU 1 P 1 = MU 2 P 2


Praxilla, who lived in ancient Greece, derives utility from reading poems and from eating cucumbers. Praxilla gets 30 units of marginal utility from her first poem, 27 units of marginal utility from her second poem, 24 units of marginal utility from her third poem, and so on, with marginal utility declining by three units for each additional poem. Praxilla gets six units of marginal utility for each of her first three cucumbers consumed, five units of marginal utility for each of her next three cucumbers consumed, four units of marginal utility for each of the following three cucumbers consumed, and so on, with marginal utility declining by one for every three cucumbers consumed. A poem costs three bronze coins but a cucumber costs only one bronze coin. Praxilla has 18 bronze coins. Sketch Praxilla’s budget set between poems and cucumbers, placing poems on the vertical axis and cucumbers on the horizontal axis. Start off with the choice of zero poems and 18 cucumbers, and calculate the changes in marginal utility of moving along the budget line to the next choice of one poem and 15 cucumbers. Using this step-by-step process based on marginal utility, create a table and identify Praxilla’s utility-maximizing choice. Compare the marginal utility of the two goods and the relative prices at the optimal choice to see if the expected relationship holds. Hint : Label the table columns: 1) Choice, 2) Marginal Gain from More Poems, 3) Marginal Loss from Fewer Cucumbers, 4) Overall Gain or Loss, 5) Is the previous choice optimal? Label the table rows: 1) 0 Poems and 18 Cucumbers, 2) 1 Poem and 15 Cucumbers, 3) 2 Poems and 12 Cucumbers, 4) 3 Poems and 9 Cucumbers, 5) 4 Poems and 6 Cucumbers, 6) 5 Poems and 3 Cucumbers, 7) 6 Poems and 0 Cucumbers.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. “Consumer Expenditures in 2013.” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.bls.gov/cex/csxann13.pdf.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. “Employer Costs for Employee Compensation—December 2014.” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat22.htm.

Questions & Answers

what's economic
kamal Reply
Management of money such as saving.
study of how society manage it's scare resources
Please help me how to compute national income. what are those included on national income like for an example in W= WAGE what included in wage ?
love Reply
what is competitive market?
Shantal Reply
a compataive market is when there are many producers competating to provide consumers with a goods and services needed
in a compitative market no single producer or consumer can dictate the market
where many buyer and many seller interact for particular good or service, all buyers and sellers have negligible affect on market price.
types of demand elasticity
Farouq Reply
What is price elasticity of demand and its degrees. also explain factors determing price elasticity of demand?
Yutansh Reply
Price elasticity of demand (PED) is use to measure the degree of responsiveness of Quantity demanded for a given change on price of the good itself, certis paribus. The formula for PED = percentage change in quantity demanded/ percentage change in price of good A
its is necessarily negative due to the inverse relationship between price and Quantity demanded. since PED carries a negative sign most of the time, we will usually the absolute value of PED by dropping the negative sign.
PED > 1 means that the demand of the good is price elasticity and for a given increase in price there will be a more then proportionate decrease in quantity demanded.
PED < 1 means that the demand of the good is price inelasticity and for a given increase in price there will be a less then proportionate decrease in quantity demanded.
The factors that affects PES are: Avaliablilty of close substitutes, proportion of income spent on the good, Degree of necessity, Addiction and Time.
Calculate price elasticity of demand and comment on the shape of the demand curve of a good ,when its price rises by 20 percentage, quantity demanded falls from 150 units to 120 units.
Helen Reply
5 %fall in price of good x leads to a 10 % rise in its quantity demanded. A 20 % rise in price of good y leads to do a 10 % fall in its quantity demanded. calculate price elasticity of demand of good x and good y. Out of the two goods which one is more elastic.
what is labor
Grace Reply
labor is any physical or mental effort that helps in the production of goods and services
what is profit maximizing level of out put for above hypothetical firm TC = Q3 - 21Q2 + 600 + 1800 P = 600 MC = 3Q2 - 42Q + 600
Sosna Reply
consider two goods X and Y. When the price of Y changes from 10 to 20. The quantity demanded of X changes from 40 to 35. Calculate cross elasticity of demand for X.
sorry it the mistake answer it is question
consider two goods X and Y. When the price of Y changes from 10 to 20. The quantity demanded of X changes from 40 to 35. Calculate cross elasticity of demand for X.
The formula for calculation income elasticity of demand is the percent change in quantity demanded divided by the percent change in income.
what is labor productivity
Lizzy Reply
if the demand function is q=25-4p+p² 1.find elasticity of demand at the point p=5?
Puja Reply
what are some of the difference between monopoly and perfect competition market
Obeng Reply
n a perfectly competitive market, price equals marginal cost and firms earn an economic profit of zero. In a monopoly, the price is set above marginal cost and the firm earns a positive economic profit. Perfect competition produces an equilibrium in which the price and quantity of a good is economic
what are some characteristics of monopoly market
Obeng Reply
explicit cost is seen as a total experiences in the business or the salary (wages) that a firm pay to employee.
Idagu Reply
what is price elasticity
it is the degree of responsiveness to a percentage change in the price of the commodity
economics is known to be the field
John Reply
what is monopoly
Peter Reply
what is taxation
is the compulsory transfer of wealth from the private sector to the public sector

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?