Key Concepts and Summary
8.1 Perfect Competition and Why It Matters
A perfectly competitive firm is a price taker, which means that it must accept the equilibrium price at which it sells goods. If a perfectly competitive firm attempts to charge even a tiny amount more than the market price, it will be unable to make any sales. In a perfectly competitive market there are thousands of sellers, easy entry, and identical products. A short-run production period is when firms are producing with some fixed inputs. Long-run equilibrium in a perfectly competitive industry occurs after all firms have entered and exited the industry and seller profits are driven to zero.
Perfect competition means that there are many sellers, there is easy entry and exiting of firms, products are identical from one seller to another, and sellers are price takers.
8.2 How Perfectly Competitive Firms Make Output Decisions
As a perfectly competitive firm produces a greater quantity of output, its total revenue steadily increases at a constant rate determined by the given market price. Profits will be highest, or losses will be smallest, at the quantity of output where total revenues exceed total costs by the greatest amount, or where total revenues fall short of total costs by the smallest amount. Alternatively, profits will be highest where marginal revenue—which is price for a perfectly competitive firm—is equal to marginal cost. If the market price faced by a perfectly competitive firm is above average cost at the profit-maximizing quantity of output, then the firm is making profits. If the market price is below average cost at the profit-maximizing quantity of output, then the firm is making losses.
If the market price is equal to average cost at the profit-maximizing level of output, then the firm is making zero profits. The point where the marginal cost curve crosses the average cost curve, at the minimum of the average cost curve, is called the zero profit point. If the market price faced by a perfectly competitive firm is below average variable cost at the profit-maximizing quantity of output, then the firm should shut down operations immediately. If the market price faced by a perfectly competitive firm is above average variable cost, but below average cost, then the firm should continue producing in the short run, but exit in the long run. The point where the marginal cost curve crosses the average variable cost curve is called the shutdown point.
8.3 Entry and Exit Decisions in the Long Run
In the long run, firms will respond to profits through a process of entry, where existing firms expand output and new firms enter the market. Conversely, firms will react to losses in the long run through a process of exit, in which existing firms reduce output or cease production altogether. Through the process of entry in response to profits and exit in response to losses, the price level in a perfectly competitive market will move toward the zero-profit point, where the marginal cost curve crosses the average cost curve, at the minimum of the average cost curve.
The long-run supply curve shows the long-run output supplied by firms in three different types of industries: constant cost, increasing cost, and decreasing cost.
8.4 Efficiency in Perfectly Competitive Markets
Long-run equilibrium in perfectly competitive markets meets two important conditions: allocative efficiency and productive efficiency. These two conditions have important implications. First, resources are allocated to their best alternative use. Second, they provide the maximum satisfaction attainable by society.