Economics » Cost and Industry Structure » The Structure of Costs in the Long Run

Key Concepts and Summary

Key Concepts and Summary

A production technology refers to a specific combination of labor, physical capital, and technology that makes up a particular method of production.

In the long run, firms can choose their production technology, and so all costs become variable costs. In making this choice, firms will try to substitute relatively inexpensive inputs for relatively expensive inputs where possible, so as to produce at the lowest possible long-run average cost.

Economies of scale refers to a situation where as the level of output increases, the average cost decreases. Constant returns to scale refers to a situation where average cost does not change as output increases. Diseconomies of scale refers to a situation where as output increases, average costs increase also.

The long-run average cost curve shows the lowest possible average cost of production, allowing all the inputs to production to vary so that the firm is choosing its production technology. A downward-sloping LRAC shows economies of scale; a flat LRAC shows constant returns to scale; an upward-sloping LRAC shows diseconomies of scale. If the long-run average cost curve has only one quantity produced that results in the lowest possible average cost, then all of the firms competing in an industry should be the same size. However, if the LRAC has a flat segment at the bottom, so that a range of different quantities can be produced at the lowest average cost, the firms competing in the industry will display a range of sizes. The market demand in conjunction with the long-run average cost curve determines how many firms will exist in a given industry.

If the quantity demanded in the market of a certain product is much greater than the quantity found at the bottom of the long-run average cost curve, where the cost of production is lowest, the market will have many firms competing. If the quantity demanded in the market is less than the quantity at the bottom of the LRAC, there will likely be only one firm.

Glossary

constant returns to scale

expanding all inputs proportionately does not change the average cost of production

diseconomies of scale

the long-run average cost of producing each individual unit increases as total output increases

long-run average cost (LRAC) curve

shows the lowest possible average cost of production, allowing all the inputs to production to vary so that the firm is choosing its production technology

production technologies

alternative methods of combining inputs to produce output

short-run average cost (SRAC) curve

the average total cost curve in the short term; shows the total of the average fixed costs and the average variable costs

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