Chapter 1: Preliminaries
MICROECONOMICS AND MARKETS
The first two chapters reacquaint students with the microeconomics that they learned in their
introductory course: Chapter 1 focuses on the general subject of economics, while Chapter 2 develops
supply and demand analysis. The use of examples in Chapter 1 facilitates students’ complete
understanding of abstract economic concepts. Examples in this chapter discuss markets for
prescription drugs (Section 1.2), introduction of a new automobile (Section 1.4), design of automobile
emission standards (Section 1.4), the minimum wage (Section 1.3), and real and nominal prices of eggs
and education (Section 1.3). Discussing some of these, or another, example is a useful way to review
some important economic concepts such as scarcity, making tradeoffs, building economic models to
explain how consumers and firms make decisions, and the distinction between competitive and non-
competitive markets. Parts I and II of the text assume competitive markets, market power is discussed
in Part III, and some consequences of market power are discussed in Part IV of the text.
Review Question (2) illustrates the difference between positive and normative economics and
provides for a productive class discussion. Other examples for discussion are available in Kearl, Pope,
Whiting, and Wimmer, “A Confusion of Economists,” American Economic Review (May 1979).
The chapter concludes with a discussion of real and nominal prices. Given our reliance on
dollar prices in the chapters that follow, students should understand that we are concerned with prices
relative to a standard, which in this case is dollars for a particular year.
1. It is often said that a good theory is one that can in principle be refuted by an empirical,
data-oriented study. Explain why a theory that cannot be evaluated empirically is not a
There are two steps in evaluating a theory: first, you should examine the reasonability
of the theory’s assumptions; second, you should test the theory’s predictions by
comparing them with facts. If a theory cannot be tested, it cannot be accepted or
rejected. Therefore, it contributes little to our understanding of reality.
2. Which of the following two statements involves positive economic analysis and which
normative? How do the two kinds of analysis differ?
a. Gasoline rationing (allocating each year to each individual an annual maximum
amount of gasoline that can be purchased) is a poor social policy because it
interferes with the workings of the competitive market system.
b. Gasoline rationing is a policy under which more people are made worse off than are
made better off.
Positive economic analysis describes what is. Normative economic analysis describes
what ought to be. We know from economic analysis that a constraint placed on supply
will change the market equilibrium. Statement (a) merges both types of analysis. First,
statement (a) makes a positive statement that gasoline rationing “interferes with the
workings of the competitive market system.” Second, by making the normative statement (i.e., a value judgment) that gasoline rationing is a “poor social policy,”
statement (a) confines itself to a conclusion derived from positive economic analysis of
the policy. Chapter 1: Preliminaries
Statement (b) is positive because it states what the effect of gasoline rationing is
without making a value judgment about the desirability of the rationing policy.
3. Suppose the price of unleaded regular octane gasoline were 20 cents per gallon higher in
New Jersey than in Oklahoma. Do you think there would be an opportunity for arbitrage
(i.e., that firms could buy gas in Oklahoma and then sell it at a profit in New Jersey)? Why
or why not?
Oklahoma and New Jersey represent separate geographic markets for gasoline because
of high transportation costs. If transportation costs were zero, a price increase in New
Jersey would prompt arbitrageurs to buy gasoline in Oklahoma and sell it in New
Jersey. It is unlikely in this case that the 20 cents per gallon difference in costs would
be high enough to create a profitable opportunity for arbitrage, given both transactions
costs and transportation costs.
4. In Example 1.2, what economic forces explain why the real price of eggs has fallen while
the real price of a college education has increased? How have these changes affected
The price and quantity of goods (e.g., eggs) and services (e.g., a college education) are
determined by the interaction of supply and demand. The real price of eggs fell from
1970 to 1985 because of either a reduction in demand (consumers switched to lower-
cholesterol food), a reduction in production costs (improvements in egg production
technology), or both. In response, the price of eggs relative to other foods decreased.
The real price of a college education rose because of either an increase in demand (e.g.,
more people recognized the value of an education), an increase in the cost of education
(e.g., increase in staff salaries), or both.
5. Suppose that the Japanese yen rises against the U.S. dollar; that is, it will take more
dollars to buy any given amount of Japanese yen. Explain why this increase simultaneously
increases the real price of Japanese cars for U.S. consumers and lowers the real price of U.S.
automobiles for Japanese consumers.
As the value of the yen grows relative to the dollar (and if the costs of production for
both Japanese and U.S. automobiles remain unchanged), more dollars exchange for
fewer yen. In response to the change in the exchange rate, the purchase of a Japanese
automobile priced in yen requires more dollars. Similarly, the purchase of a U.S.
automobile priced in dollars requires fewer yen.
1. Decide whether each of the following statements is true or false and explain why.
a. Fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s operate all over the United
States. Therefore the market for fast food is a national market.
This statement is false. People generally buy fast food within their current location and
do not travel large distances across the United States just to buy a cheaper fast food
meal. Given there is little potential for arbitrage between fast food restaurants that are
located some distance from each other, there are likely to be multiple fast food markets
across the country.
b. People generally buy clothing in the city in which they live. Therefore there is a clothing
market in, say, Atlanta that is distinct from the clothing market in Los Angeles.
This statement is true. Given people do generally buy clothing in the city where they
live, they will only interact with sellers who are located in the city where they live, and
will not be influenced by the price of clothing at stores in different cities. In this case, Chapter 1: Preliminaries there is limited potential for arbitrage. Occasionally, there may be a market for a
specific clothing item in a faraway market that results in a great opportunity for
arbitrage, such as the market for blue jeans in the old Soviet Union.
c. Some consumers strongly prefer Pepsi and some strongly prefer Coke. Therefore there is
no single market for colas.
This statement is false. Although some people have strong preferences for a particular
brand of cola, the different brands are similar enough that they constitute one market.
There are consumers who do not have strong preferences for one type of cola, and there
are consumers who may have a preference, but who will also be influenced by price.
Given these possibilities, the price of cola drinks will not tend to differ by very much,
particularly for Coke and Pepsi.
2. Table E.1 shows the average retail price of milk and the Consumer Price Index from 1980
ˇ 1980 1985 1990 1995 1998
CPI 100 130.58 158.62 184.95 197.82
Retail Price of Milk $1.05 $1.13 $1.39 $1.48 $1.61
(fresh, whole, 1//2 gal.)
a. Calculate the real price of milk in 1980 dollars. Has the real price
increased/decreased/stayed the same since 1980?
Real price of milk in year X =
CPI1980*nominal price in year X. CPIyear X
1980 $1.05 1985 $0.86 1990 $0.88 1995 $0.80 1998 $0.81
Since 1980 the real price of milk has decreased. b. What is the percentage change in the real price (1980 dollars) from 1990 to 1995?
Percentage change in real price from 1990 to 1995 = 0.80?0.88. ??0.09??9%0.88c. Convert the CPI into 1990 = 100 and determine the real price of milk in 1990 dollars.
To convert the CPI into 1990=100, divide the CPI for each year by the CPI for 1990.
Use the formula from part a and the new CPI numbers below to find the real price of
New CPI 1980 63 Real price of milk 1980 $1.67
1985 82 1985 $1.38
1990 100 1990 $1.39
1995 117 1995 $1.26
1998 125 1998 $1.29
d. What is the percentage change in the real price (1990 dollars) from 1990 to 1995?
Compare this with your answer in (b). What do you notice? Explain.
1.26?1.39Percentage change in real price from 1990 to 1995 = . ??0.093??9.3%1.39Chapter 1: Preliminaries This answer is almost identical (except for rounding error) to the answer received for
part b. It does not matter which year is chosen as the base year.
3. At the time this book went to print, the minimum wage was $5.15. To find the current
minimum wage, go to http.//www.bls.gov/top20.html
Click on: Consumer Price Index- All Urban Consumers (Current Series)
Select: U.S. All items
This will give you the CPI from 1913 to the present.
a. With these values, calculate the current real minimum wage in 1990 dollars.
real minimum wage 1998 = 130.7CPI1990*5.15?*5.15?$4.13. CPI1631998
b. What is the percentage change in the real minimum wage from 1985 to the present,
stated in real 1990 dollars?
Assume the minimum wage in 1985 was $3.35. Then,
real minimum wage 1985 = CPI130.71990*3.35?*3.35?$4.07. CPI107.61985
The percentage change in the real minimum wage is therefore
4.13?4.07 ?0.0147, or about 1.5%.4.07