3.3: Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium

Learning Objectives

1. Use demand and supply to explain how equilibrium price and quantity are determined in a market.
2. Understand the concepts of surpluses and shortages and the pressures on price they generate.
3. Explain the impact of a change in demand or supply on equilibrium price and quantity.
4. Explain how the circular flow model provides an overview of demand and supply in product and factor markets and how the model suggests ways in which these markets are linked.

In this section we combine the demand and supply curves we have just studied into a new model. The model of demand and supply uses demand and supply curves to explain the determination of price and quantity in a market.

The Determination of Price and Quantity

The logic of the model of demand and supply is simple. The demand curve shows the quantities of a particular good or service that buyers will be willing and able to purchase at each price during a specified period. The supply curve shows the quantities that sellers will offer for sale at each price during that same period. By putting the two curves together, we should be able to find a price at which the quantity buyers are willing and able to purchase equals the quantity sellers will offer for sale.

Figure 3.7 “The Determination of Equilibrium Price and Quantity” combines the demand and supply data introduced in Figure 3.1 “A Demand Schedule and a Demand Curve” and Figure 3.4 “A Supply Schedule and a Supply Curve”. Notice that the two curves intersect at a price of $6 per pound—at this price the quantities demanded and supplied are equal. Buyers want to purchase, and sellers are willing to offer for sale, 25 million pounds of coffee per month. The market for coffee is in equilibrium. Unless the demand or supply curve shifts, there will be no tendency for price to change. The equilibrium price in any market is the price at which quantity demanded equals quantity supplied. The equilibrium price in the market for coffee is thus$6 per pound. The equilibrium quantity is the quantity demanded and supplied at the equilibrium price. At a price above the equilibrium, there is a natural tendency for the price to fall. At a price below the equilibrium, there is a tendency for the price to rise.

Figure 3.7 The Determination of Equilibrium Price and Quantity When we combine the demand and supply curves for a good in a single graph, the point at which they intersect identifies the equilibrium price and equilibrium quantity. Here, the equilibrium price is $6 per pound. Consumers demand, and suppliers supply, 25 million pounds of coffee per month at this price. With an upward-sloping supply curve and a downward-sloping demand curve, there is only a single price at which the two curves intersect. This means there is only one price at which equilibrium is achieved. It follows that at any price other than the equilibrium price, the market will not be in equilibrium. We next examine what happens at prices other than the equilibrium price. Surpluses Figure 3.8 “A Surplus in the Market for Coffee” shows the same demand and supply curves we have just examined, but this time the initial price is$8 per pound of coffee. Because we no longer have a balance between quantity demanded and quantity supplied, this price is not the equilibrium price. At a price of $8, we read over to the demand curve to determine the quantity of coffee consumers will be willing to buy—15 million pounds per month. The supply curve tells us what sellers will offer for sale—35 million pounds per month. The difference, 20 million pounds of coffee per month, is called a surplus. More generally, a surplus is the amount by which the quantity supplied exceeds the quantity demanded at the current price. There is, of course, no surplus at the equilibrium price; a surplus occurs only if the current price exceeds the equilibrium price. Figure 3.8 A Surplus in the Market for Coffee At a price of$8, the quantity supplied is 35 million pounds of coffee per month and the quantity demanded is 15 million pounds per month; there is a surplus of 20 million pounds of coffee per month. Given a surplus, the price will fall quickly toward the equilibrium level of $6. A surplus in the market for coffee will not last long. With unsold coffee on the market, sellers will begin to reduce their prices to clear out unsold coffee. As the price of coffee begins to fall, the quantity of coffee supplied begins to decline. At the same time, the quantity of coffee demanded begins to rise. Remember that the reduction in quantity supplied is a movement along the supply curve—the curve itself does not shift in response to a reduction in price. Similarly, the increase in quantity demanded is a movement along the demand curve—the demand curve does not shift in response to a reduction in price. Price will continue to fall until it reaches its equilibrium level, at which the demand and supply curves intersect. At that point, there will be no tendency for price to fall further. In general, surpluses in the marketplace are short-lived. The prices of most goods and services adjust quickly, eliminating the surplus. Later on, we will discuss some markets in which adjustment of price to equilibrium may occur only very slowly or not at all. Shortages Just as a price above the equilibrium price will cause a surplus, a price below equilibrium will cause a shortage. A shortage is the amount by which the quantity demanded exceeds the quantity supplied at the current price. Figure 3.9 “A Shortage in the Market for Coffee” shows a shortage in the market for coffee. Suppose the price is$4 per pound. At that price, 15 million pounds of coffee would be supplied per month, and 35 million pounds would be demanded per month. When more coffee is demanded than supplied, there is a shortage.

Figure 3.9 A Shortage in the Market for Coffee At a price of \$4 per pound, the quantity of coffee demanded is 35 million pounds per month and the quantity supplied is 15 million pounds per month. The result is a shortage of 20 million pounds of coffee per month.

In the face of a shortage, sellers are likely to begin to raise their prices. As the price rises, there will be an increase in the quantity supplied (but not a change in supply) and a reduction in the quantity demanded (but not a change in demand) until the equilibrium price is achieved.