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Microeconomics, Arnold C. Harberger
6 paragraphs found.

The strength of microeconomics comes from the simplicity of its underlying structure and its close touch with the real world. In a nutshell, microeconomics has to do with supply and demand, and with the way they interact in various markets. Microeconomic analysis moves easily and painlessly from one topic to another and lies at the center of most of the recognized subfields of economics. Labor economics, for example, is built largely on the analysis of the supply and demand for labor of different types. The field of industrial organization deals with the different mechanisms (monopoly, cartels, different types of competitive behavior) by which goods and services are sold. International economics worries about the demand and supply of individual traded commodities, as well as of a country’s exports and imports taken as a whole, and the consequent demand for and supply of foreign exchange. Agricultural economics deals with the demand and supply of agricultural products and of farmland, farm labor, and the other factors of production involved in agriculture.


At the root of everything is supply and demand. It is not at all farfetched to think of these as basically human characteristics. If human beings are not going to be totally self-sufficient, they will end up producing certain things that they trade in order to fulfill their demands for other things. The specialization of production and the institutions of trade, commerce, and markets long antedated the science of economics. Indeed, one can fairly say that from the very outset the science of economics entailed the study of the market forms that arose quite naturally (and without any help from economists) out of human behavior. People specialize in what they think they can do best—or more existentially, in what heredity, environment, fate, and their own volition have brought them to do. They trade their services and/or the products of their specialization for those produced by others. Markets evolve to organize this sort of trading, and money evolves to act as a generalized unit of account and to make barter unnecessary.


In this market process, people try to get the most from what they have to sell, and to satisfy their desires as much as possible. In microeconomics this is translated into the notion of people maximizing their personal “utility,” or welfare. This process helps them to decide what they will supply and what they will demand.


The economics of supply and demand has a sort of moral or normative overtone, at least when it comes to dealing with a wide range of market distortions. In an undistorted market, buyers pay the market price up to the point where they judge further units not to be worth that price, while competitive sellers supply added units as long as they can make money on each increment. At the point where supply just equals demand in an undistorted market, the price measures both the worth of the product to buyers and the worth of the product to sellers.


Other situations of rent seeking occur when artificially high urban wages attract migrants from rural areas. If the wage does not adjust downward to equate supply and demand, the rate of urban unemployment will rise until further migration is deterred. Still other examples are in banking and drugs. When the “margin” in banking is set too high, new banks enter and/or branches of old ones proliferate until further entry is deterred. Artificially maintained drug prices led, in several Latin American countries (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay before their major liberalizations of recent decades), to a pharmacy on almost every block.


The great unifying principles of microeconomics are, ever and always, supply and demand. The normative overtone of microeconomics comes from the fact that competitive supply price represents value as seen by suppliers, and competitive demand price represents value as seen by demanders. The motivating force is that of human beings, always gravitating toward choices and arrangements that reflect their tastes. The miracle of it all is that on the basis of such simple and straightforward underpinnings, a rich tapestry of analysis, insights, and understanding can be woven. This brief article can only give its readers a glimpse—hopefully a tempting one—of the richness, beauty, and promise of that tapestry.