March 17, 2018 

AmosWEB means Economics with a Touch of Whimsy!

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AGGREGATE SUPPLY: The total (or aggregate) real production of final goods and services available in the domestic economy at a range of price levels, during a given time period. Aggregate supply (AS) is one half of the aggregate market analysis; the other half is aggregate demand. Aggregate supply, relates the economy's price level, measured by the GDP price deflator, and aggregate domestic production, measured by real gross domestic product. The aggregate supply relation is generally separated into long-run aggregate supply, in which all prices and wages and flexible and all markets are in equilibrium, and short-run aggregate supply, in which some prices and wage are NOT flexible and some markets are NOT in equilibrium.

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A perfectly competitive firm is presumed to produce the quantity of output that minimizes economic losses, if price is greater than average variable cost but less than average total cost. This is one of three short-run production alternatives facing a firm. The other two are profit maximization (if price exceeds average total cost) and shutdown (if price is less than average variable cost).
A perfectly competitive firm guided by the pursuit of profit is inclined to produce the quantity of output that equates marginal revenue and marginal cost in the short run, even if it is incurring an economic loss. The key to this loss minimization production decision is a comparison of the loss incurred from producing with the loss incurred from not producing. If price exceeds average variable cost, then the firm incurs a smaller loss by producing than by not producing.

One of Three Alternatives

Production Alternatives
Price and CostResult
P > ATCProfit Maximization
ATC > P > AVCLoss Minimization
P < AVCShutdown
Loss minimization is one of three short-run production alternatives facing a perfectly competitive firm. All three are displayed in the table to the right. The other two are profit maximization and shutdown.
  • With profit maximization, price exceeds average total cost at the quantity that equates marginal revenue and marginal cost. In this case, the firm generates an economic profit.

  • With shutdown, price is less than average variable cost at the quantity that equates marginal revenue and marginal cost. In this case, the firm incurs a smaller loss by producing no output and incurring a loss equal to total fixed cost.

Zucchini Production

The marginal approach to analyzing a perfectly competitive firm's short-run production decision can be used to identify the economic loss alternative. The exhibit displayed here illustrates the short-run production decision by Phil the perfectly competitive zucchini grower.

Incurring a Loss
Incurring a Loss
The three U-shaped cost curves used in this analysis provide all of the information needed on the cost side of the firm's decision. The demand curve facing the firm (which is also the firm's average revenue and marginal revenue curves) provides all of he information needed on the revenue side.

For the time being, Phil faces a $4 price for his zucchinis. As such he produces 7 pounds of zucchinis, which equates the $4 marginal revenue with marginal cost. However, should this price decline, say to $2.60 per pound, then maximizing a positive profit is not his primary concern. His decision turns to minimizing losses. Click the [$2.60] button to illustrate the situation facing Phil with a lower price.

The key to this lower price is that it intersects the marginal cost curve between the average total cost curve and the average variable cost curve. This is crucial. It means that Phil does not generate enough revenue per pound of zucchinis sold (average revenue = $2.60) to cover the cost of producing each pound of zucchinis (average total cost = $3).

Phil clearly incurs an economic loss on each pound of zucchinis produced and sold. In fact, if Phil produces 6.25 pounds of zucchinis (the quantity that equates marginal revenue and marginal cost), then his total cost is $18.75, but his total revenue is only $16.25. He incurs an economic loss of $2.50, a loss of $0.40 per pound produced.

The Short-Run Choice

Perhaps Phil should stop producing. Perhaps he would be better off by NOT selling zucchinis. Unfortunately, Phil is faced with short-run fixed cost. Phil incurs a total fixed cost of $3 whether or not he engages in any short-run production. Even if he shuts down production, he still must pay this $3 of fixed cost.

As such, Phil is faced with a comparison between the loss incurred from producing with the loss incurred from not producing. Those are his two short-run choices. If he produces, he incurs a loss of $2.50. If he does not produce, he incurs a loss of $3.

The choice seems relatively obvious: Phil is better to produce 6.25 pounds of zucchinis, incurring an economic loss of $2.50, and hoping for an increase in the price.

Phil continues to produce in the short run because he generates enough revenue to pay ALL of his variable cost, plus a portion of his fixed cost. By producing 6.25 pounds of zucchinis, he generates $16.25 of total revenue. While this revenue falls short of covering the $18.75 of total cost entirely, it is enough to pay the $15.75 of total variable cost, with an extra $0.50 left over to pay a portion of the $3 total fixed cost. This is why the economic loss from production is less than total fixed cost.

Because Phil has no market control, he is subject to the whims of the market price. This $2.60 zucchini price generates sufficient total revenue for Phil to pay ALL variable cost and some fixed cost. However, should this market price drop, then Phil would have to reevaluate his production decision. If the price declines enough, Phil will be forced to shut down production in the short run.


Recommended Citation:

PERFECT COMPETITION, LOSS MINIMIZATION, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: March 17, 2018].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | perfect competition, profit maximization | perfect competition, shutdown | perfect competition, short-run supply curve | short-run production alternatives | breakeven output |

Or For A Little Background...

     | loss minimization rule | shutdown rule | profit maximization | average total cost curve | average revenue curve | profit | economic profit | perfect competition | perfect competition, characteristics | U-shaped cost curves | profit maximization |

And For Further Study...

     | perfect competition, demand | perfect competition, short-run production analysis | perfect competition, long-run production analysis | perfect competition, efficiency | perfect competition, total analysis | perfect competition, marginal analysis | perfect competition, profit analysis | long run industry supply curve |

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