In this chapter we used the tools of demand and supply to understand a wide variety of market outcomes. We learned that technological change and the entry of new sellers has caused the supply curve of personal computers to shift markedly to the right, thereby reducing equilibrium price and increasing equilibrium quantity. Market forces have made personal computers a common item in offices and homes.
Crude oil and gasoline prices soared in 2008 and then fell back. We looked at the causes of these increases as well as their impacts. Crude oil prices rose in large part As a result of increased demand, particularly from China. Higher prices for crude oil led to higher prices for gasoline. Those higher prices not only hurt consumers of gasoline, they also put upward pressure on the prices of a wide range of goods and services. Crude oil and gasoline prices then decreased dramatically in the last part of 2008, as world growth declined.
The model of demand and supply also explains the determination of stock prices. The price per share of corporate stock reflects the market’s estimate of the expected profitability of the firm. Any information about the firm that causes potential buyers or current owners of corporate stock to reevaluate how profitable they think the firm is, or will be, will cause the equilibrium price of the stock to change.
We then examined markets in which some form of government price control keeps price permanently above or below equilibrium. A price floor leads to persistent surpluses because it is set above the equilibrium price, whereas a price ceiling, because it is set below the equilibrium price, leads to persistent shortages. We saw that interfering with the market mechanism may solve one problem but often creates other problems at the same time. We discussed what some of these unintended consequences might be. For example, agricultural price floors aimed at boosting farm income have also raised prices for consumers and cost taxpayers dearly, and the bulk of government payments have gone to large farms. Rent controls have lowered rents, but they have also reduced the quantity of rental housing supplied, created shortages, and sometimes led to various forms of “backdoor” payments, which sometimes force the price of rental housing above what would exist in the absence of controls.
Finally, we looked at the market for health care and a special feature behind demand and supply in this market that helps to explain why the share of output of the United States that is devoted to health care has risen. Health care is an example of a market in which there are third-party payers (primarily private insurers and the government). With third-party payers the quantity of health-care services consumed rises, as does health-care spending.