Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium

The Determination of Price and Quantity

Heads Up!

You are likely to be given problems in which you will have to shift a demand or supply curve.

Suppose you are told that an invasion of pod-crunching insects has gobbled up half the crop of fresh peas, and you are asked to use demand and supply analysis to predict what will happen to the price and quantity of peas demanded and supplied. Here are some suggestions.

Put the quantity of the good you are asked to analyze on the horizontal axis and its price on the vertical axis. Draw a downward-sloping line for demand and an upward-sloping line for supply. The initial equilibrium price is determined by the intersection of the two curves. Label the equilibrium solution. You may find it helpful to use a number for the equilibrium price instead of the letter "P". Pick a price that seems plausible, say, 79¢ per pound. Do not worry about the precise positions of the demand and supply curves; you cannot be expected to know what they are.

Step 2 can be the most difficult step; the problem is to decide which curve to shift. The key is to remember the difference between a change in demand or supply and a change in quantity demanded or supplied. At each price, ask yourself whether the given event would change the quantity demanded. Would the fact that a bug has attacked the pea crop change the quantity demanded at a price of, say, 79¢ per pound? Clearly not; none of the demand shifters have changed. The event would, however, reduce the quantity supplied at this price, and the supply curve would shift to the left. There is a change in supply and a reduction in the quantity demanded. There is no change in demand.

Next check to see whether the result you have obtained makes sense. The graph in Step 2 makes sense; it shows price rising and quantity demanded falling.

It is easy to make a mistake such as the one shown in the third figure of this Heads Up! One might, for example, reason that when fewer peas are available, fewer will be demanded, and therefore the demand curve will shift to the left. This suggests the price of peas will fall – but that does not make sense. If only half as many fresh peas were available, their price would surely rise. The error here lies in confusing a change in quantity demanded with a change in demand. Yes, buyers will end up buying fewer peas. But no, they will not demand fewer peas at each price than before; the demand curve does not shift.