Imperfect Information -Equilibrium Price and Quantity?
How does Imperfect Information Affect Equilibrium Price and Quantity?
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How does Imperfect Information Affect Equilibrium Price and Quantity?
The presence of imperfect information can discourage both buyers and sellers from participating in the market. Buyers may become reluctant to participate because they cannot determine the product's quality. Sellers of high-quality or medium-quality goods may be reluctant to participate, because it is difficult to demonstrate the quality of their goods to buyers—and since buyers cannot determine which goods have higher quality, they are likely to be unwilling to pay a higher price for such goods.
Economists sometimes refer to a market with few buyers and few sellers as a thin market. By contrast, they call a market with many buyers and sellers a thick market. When imperfect information is severe and buyers and sellers are discouraged from participating, markets may become extremely thin as a relatively small number of buyer and sellers attempt to communicate enough information that they can agree on a price.
Perception of Price and Quality Can Result from Imperfect Information
A buyer confronted with imperfect information will often believe that the price reveals something about the product's quality.
When buyers use the market price to draw inferences about the products' quality, then markets may have trouble reaching an equilibrium price and quantity. Imagine a situation where a used car dealer has a lot full of used cars that do not seem to be selling, and so the dealer decides to cut the car prices to sell a greater quantity.
In a market with imperfect information, many buyers may assume that the lower price implies low-quality cars. As a result, the lower price may not attract more customers. Conversely, a dealer who raises prices may find that customers assume that the higher price means that cars are of higher quality. As a result of raising prices, the dealer might sell more cars.
The idea that higher prices might cause a greater quantity demanded and that lower prices might cause a lower quantity demanded runs exactly counter to the basic model of demand and supply (as we outlined in the Demand and Supply chapter). These contrary effects, however, will reach natural limits. At some point, if the price is high enough, the quantity demanded will decline. Conversely, when the price declines far enough, buyers will increasingly find value even if the quality is lower. In addition, information eventually becomes more widely known. An overpriced restaurant that charges more than the quality of its food is worth to many buyers will not last forever.
Mechanisms to Reduce the Risk of Imperfect Information
Buyers and sellers in the goods market rely on reputation as well as guarantees, warrantees, and service contracts to assure product quality.
The labor market uses occupational licenses and certifications to assure competency, while the financial capital market uses cosigners and collateral as insurance against unforeseen, detrimental events.
In the goods market, the seller might offer a money-back guarantee, an agreement that functions as a promise of quality. This strategy may be especially important for a company that sells goods through mail-order catalogs or over the web, whose customers cannot see the actual products, because it encourages people to buy something even if they are not certain they want to keep it.
Sellers may offer a warranty, which is a promise to fix or replace the good, at least for a certain time period. The seller may also offer a buyer a chance to buy a service contract, where the buyer pays an extra amount and the seller agrees to fix anything that goes wrong for a set time period. Service contracts are often an option for buyers of large purchases such as cars, appliances and even houses.
Guarantees, warranties, and service contracts are examples of explicit reassurance that sellers provide. In many cases, firms also offer unstated guarantees. For example, some movie theaters might refund the ticket cost to a customer who walks out complaining about the show.
Likewise, while restaurants do not generally advertise a money-back guarantee or exchange policies, many restaurants allow customers to exchange one dish for another or reduce the price of the bill if the customer is not satisfied.
The rationale for these policies is that firms want repeat customers, who in turn will recommend the business to others. As such, establishing a good reputation is of paramount importance. When buyers know that a firm is concerned about its reputation, they are less likely to worry about receiving a poor-quality product. For example, a well-established grocery store with a good reputation can often charge a higher price than a temporary stand at a local farmer’s market, where the buyer may never see the seller again.
Sellers of labor provide information through resumes, recommendations, school transcripts, and examples of their work. The labor market also uses occupational licenses to establish quality in the labor market. Occupational licenses, which government agencies typically issue, show that a worker has completed a certain type of education or passed a certain test. Some of the professionals who must hold a license are doctors, teachers, nurses, engineers, accountants, and lawyers. In addition, most states require a license to work as a barber, an embalmer, a dietitian, a massage therapist, a hearing aid dealer, a counselor, an insurance agent, and a real estate broker. Some other jobs require a license in only one state.
Occupational licenses have their downside as well, as they represent a barrier to entry to certain industries. This makes it more difficult for new entrants to compete with incumbents, which can lead to higher prices and less consumer choice. In occupations that require licenses, the government has decided that the additional information provided by licenses outweighs the negative effect on competition.
On the buyer’s side of the labor market, a standard precaution against hiring a “lemon” of an employee is to specify that the first few months of employment are officially a trial or probationary period, and that the employer can dismiss the worker for any reason or no reason after that time. Sometimes workers also receive lower pay during this trial period.
In the financial capital market, before a bank makes a loan, it requires a prospective borrower to fill out forms regarding incomes sources. In addition, the bank conducts a credit check on the individual’s past borrowing. Another approach is to require a cosigner on a loan; that is, another person or firm who legally pledges to repay some or all of the money if the original borrower does not do so. Another approach is to require collateral, often property or equipment that the bank would have a right to seize and sell if borrower does not repay the loan.
Buyers of goods and services cannot possibly become experts in evaluating the quality of gemstones, used cars, lawyers, and everything else they buy. Employers and lenders cannot be perfectly omniscient about whether possible workers will turn out well or potential borrowers will repay loans on time. However, the mechanisms that we mentioned above can reduce the risks associated with imperfect information so that the buyer and seller are willing to proceed.