March 20, 2018 

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SHORT-RUN PRODUCTION: An analysis of the production decision made by a firm in the short run, with the ultimate goal of explaining the law of supply and the upward-sloping supply curve. The central feature of this short-run analysis is the law of diminishing marginal returns, which results in the short run when larger amounts of a variable input, like labor, are added to a fixed input, like capital. This analysis of short-run production is but the first step in a brisk walk toward a better understanding of supply. Further steps include the cost of short-run production, especially marginal cost, and the market structure in which a firm operates, such as perfect competition or monopoly.

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A curve that graphically represents the relation between average variable cost incurred by a firm in the short-run product of a good or service and the quantity produced. This curve is constructed to capture the relation between average variable cost and the level of output, holding other variables, like technology and resource prices, constant. The average variable cost curve is one of three average curves. The other two are average total cost curve and average fixed cost curve. A related curve is the marginal cost curve.
The average variable cost curve is U-shaped. Average variable cost is relatively high at small quantities of output, then as production increases, it declines, reaches a minimum value, then rises. This shape of the average variable cost curve is indirectly attributable to increasing, then decreasing marginal returns (and the law of diminishing marginal returns).

Average Variable Cost Curve
Average Variable Cost Curve
This graph is the average variable cost curve for the short-run production of Wacky Willy Stuffed Amigos (those cute and cuddly armadillos and tarantulas). The quantity of Stuffed Amigos production, measured on the horizontal axis, ranges from 0 to 10 and the average variable cost incurred in the production of Stuffed Amigos, measured on the vertical axis, ranges from a high of $5 to a low of $2.50, before rising again.

As noted above, the average variable cost curve is U-shaped. For the first 6 Stuffed Amigos, average variable cost declines from over $5 to a low of $2.50. However, for the production of 7 (or more) Stuffed Amigos, average variable cost increases.

The average variable cost curve is most important to the analysis of a firm's decision to shut down production in the short run. If price is greater than average variable cost, then a firm may or may not be receiving an economic profit, but it is better off producing in the short run than shutting down production. Shutting down production entails a loss equal to total fixed cost. However, with price greater than average variable cost, sufficient revenue is generated to pay ALL variable cost and some fixed cost, making the operating loss less than fixed cost.

If price is less than average variable cost, then a firm incurs a loss greater than total fixed cost by producing. Its operating loss includes both fixed cost, plus part of the variable cost not covered by the price. As such, the firm is better off shutting down production and awaiting better times.


Recommended Citation:

AVERAGE VARIABLE COST CURVE, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: March 20, 2018].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | average cost | average variable cost | average total cost curve | average fixed cost curve | average total cost | average fixed cost | total variable cost | total variable cost curve | variable cost | fixed cost | marginal cost curve | U-shaped cost curves |

Or For A Little Background...

     | opportunity cost | production | production cost | business | factors of production | microeconomics | short-run production analysis | law of diminishing marginal returns | marginal returns | marginal analysis | average product |

And For Further Study...

     | total cost | total cost curve | total fixed cost | total fixed cost curve | total variable cost and marginal cost | total variable cost curves | total variable cost and total product | legal business organizations | firm objectives | opportunity cost, production possibilities | profit | economic profit | accounting profit | normal profit | accounting cost | profit maximization | long-run average cost |

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