Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adam Smith Explains Supply And Demand


If he had just taken out the parts I’ve italicized, it would have be perfect. Why? The passage itself makes clear enough that there is no such thing as a “natural price,” for all commodities brought to market could be said to be subject to the same bargaining between the effectual demanders and the suppliers, those who bring the commodity to market. There may be an expected price, a price that the suppliers hope to receive at market and that guides their production decisions, but there is no force other than an appeal to "fairness" that makes this price more likely to be the price of equilibrium than any other. (Of course, Schiller & Akerof rightly point out that the appeal to "fairness" can be quite strong and should not be ignored-- but I don't think that it's strong enough to put in the definition)
"The market price of every particular commodity is regulated by the proportion between the quantity which is actually brought to market, and the demand of those who are willing to pay the natural price of the commodity, or the whole value of the rent, labour, and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither. Such people may be called the effectual demanders, and their demand the effectual demand; since it maybe sufficient to effectuate the bringing of the commodity to market. It is different from the absolute demand. A very poor man may be said, in some sense, to have a demand for a coach and six; he might like to have it; but his demand is not an effectual demand, as the commodity can never be brought to market in order to satisfy it.
When the quantity of any commodity which is brought to market falls short of the effectual demand, all those who are willing to pay the whole value of the rent, wages, and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither, cannot be supplied with the quantity which they want. Rather than want it altogether, some of them will be willing to give more. A competition will immediately begin among them, and the market price will rise more or less above the natural price, according as either the greatness of the deficiency, or the wealth and wanton luxury of the competitors, happen to animate more or less the eagerness of the competition. Among competitors of equal wealth and luxury, the same deficiency will generally occasion a more or less eager competition, according as the acquisition of the commodity happens to be of more or less importance to them. Hence the exorbitant price of the necessaries of life during the blockade of a town, or in a famine. 
When the quantity brought to market exceeds the effectual demand, it cannot be all sold to those who are willing to pay the whole value of the rent, wages, and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither. Some part must be sold to those who are willing to pay less, and the low price which they give for it must reduce the price of the whole. The market price will sink more or less below the natural price, according as the greatness of the excess increases more or less the competition of the sellers, or according as it happens to be more or less important to them to get immediately rid of the commodity. The same excess in the importation of perishable, will occasion a much greater competition than in that of durable commodities; in the importation of oranges, for example, than in that of old iron. 
When the quantity brought to market is just sufficient to supply the effectual demand, and no more, the market price naturally comes to be either exactly, or as nearly as can be judged of, the same with the natural price. The whole quantity upon hand can be disposed of for this price, and can not be disposed of for more. The competition of the different dealers obliges them all to accept of this price, but does not oblige them to accept of less."

-The Wealth of Nations, Chapter VII, of the Natural and Market Price

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