It's a hot summer clay. You've been out walking all morning and you're getting thirsty. It's also about lunchtime, and you're feeling pretty hungry too. What luck! Here's a kiosk selling snacks. You've got six euros to spend. You can buy bars of chocolate or bottles of water or a combination of both. Now you've got another problem: consumer choice.
If you're a neoclassical economist, however, there's nothing to worry about. Neoclassical economists believe that consumers make rational choices. Before a consumer buys something, they think about the cost and the amount of satisfaction the purchase will give them. They then compare the price and satisfaction of possible alternative purchases. In the end, they buy what gives them maximum satisfaction at the lowest cost.
So, what will you buy from the kiosk? An important deciding factor is the amount you have to spend. Economists call this your budget constraint. Your total budget is six euros. Bottles of water are two euros each, chocolate bars ar eone euro each. You could buy three bottles of water, or you could buy six chocolate bars. Or, you could buy any combination that adds up to your total budget. We can put all of this information on a budget line, like the one in figure 1. The budget line shows what combinations of goods are possible. Economists call these combinations of goods bundles. But which is the best bundle? This depends on something called utility. Utility is the economists' word for the satisfaction we get from a purchase. Each good has its own utility value for the consumer. The utility of a bundle depends on two things; the utility of the goods in the bundle, and how much of each good is in the bundle. Figure 2 on page 25 shows the bundles of chocolate and water that give the same level of utility. This kind of chart is called an indifference curve. Any point on the curve has the same utility value as any other point. For example, two bottles of water and two chocolate bars has the same utility as one bottle of water and four chocolate bars.
In figure 2, we assume that chocolate and water have the same utility value for the consumer. But if water had a higher utility value than chocolate, the curve would be a different shape. Many things can affect the utility of a good. These include the cost of the good, the consumer's income and something called marginal utility.
To understand marginal utility, just think about chocolate bars. Every time you consume a bar of chocolate, the satisfaction you get from the next bar will be less. In other words, you get less utility every time you eat another bar. This decrease in utility is called the marginal utility. The marginal utility is the one of an additional item.
Costs and supply Companies have to spend money in order to make money. The money they spend to manufacture their goods or provide their services are called costs. Costs are important. Any company that doesn't keep track of costs will soon be in trouble. And there are many different kinds of costs to keep track of such US fixed costs and variable costs.
Why are costs important? Well, for two reasons: Firstly, there is a relationship between costs and profit. Profit is overall revenue minus costs. Secondly, there is a relationship between costs and supply. To understand this relationship, we need to look at some types of cost. One type is fixed costs. Fixed costs are costs that don't change. They are costs that the company has to pay each month, for example, or each year. The value of fixed costs will not rise or fall in the short time. Examples include the rent the company pays, the interest they have to pay each month on any loans and the salaries they have to pay for permanent employees. The good news about fixed costs is that they don't change with increases in production. For example, imagine a company produces 1,000 pens in January and 2,000 pens in February. The rent for the factory remains the same for both months. Variable costs, however, change (vary) with the size of production. The more pens the company produces, the more these costs increase. Examples of variable costs are the raw materials needed for production, the cost of electricity and the cost of maintaining machines that are working more. Also, the company may need to get more part-time employees. Their hourly pay is another variable cost. In unit 1 we said that the price of a product or service increases as supply increases. Variable costs are the reason why.