Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost

Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost for a Monopolist In the real world, a monopolist often does not have enough information to analyze its entire total revenues or total costs curves; after all, the firm does not know exactly what would happen if it were to alter production dramatically. But a monopolist often has fairly reliable information about how changing output by small or moderate amounts will affect its marginal revenues and marginal costs, because it has had experience with such changes over time and because modest changes are easier to extrapolate from current experience. A monopolist can use information on marginal revenue and marginal cost to seek out the profit-maximizing combination of quantity and price.

The first four columns of Table 9.3 use the numbers on total cost from the HealthPill example in the previous exhibit and calculate marginal cost and average cost. This monopoly faces a typical upward-sloping marginal cost curve, as shown in Figure 9.5. The second four columns of Table 9.3 use the total revenue information from the previous exhibit and calculate marginal revenue.

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Notice that marginal revenue is zero at a quantity of 7, and turns negative at quantities higher than 7. It may seem counterintuitive that marginal revenue could ever be zero or negative: after all, does an increase in quantity sold not always mean more revenue? For a perfect competitor, each additional unit sold brought a positive marginal revenue, because marginal revenue was equal to the given market price. But a monopolist can sell a larger quantity and see a decline in total revenue. When a monopolist increases sales by one unit, it gains some marginal revenue from selling that extra unit, but also loses some marginal revenue because every other unit must now be sold at a lower price. As the quantity sold becomes higher, the drop in price affects a greater quantity of sales, eventually causing a situation where more sales cause marginal revenue to be negative.

Figure 9.5 Marginal Revenue and Marginal Cost for the HealthPill Monopoly For a monopoly like HealthPill, marginal revenue decreases as additional units are sold. The marginal cost curve is upward-sloping. The profit- maximizing choice for the monopoly will be to produce at the quantity where marginal revenue is equal to marginal cost: that is, MR = MC. If the monopoly produces a lower quantity, then MR > MC at those levels of output, and the firm can make higher profits by expanding output. If the firm produces at a greater quantity, then MC > MR, and the firm can make higher profits by reducing its quantity of output.

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Cost Information Revenue Information

Quantity Total Cost

Marginal Cost

Average Cost

Quantity Price Total Revenue

Total Revenue

1 1,500 1,500 1,500 1 1,200 1,200 1,200

2 1,800 300 900 2 1,100 2,200 1,000

3 2,200 400 733 3 1,000 3,000 800

4 2,800 600 700 4 900 3,600 600

5 3,500 700 700 5 800 4,000 400

6 4,400 900 733 6 700 4,200 200

7 5,600 1,200 800 7 600 4,200 0

8 7,400 1,800 925 8 500 4,000 –200

Table 9.3 Costs and Revenues of HealthPill

A monopolist can determine its profit-maximizing price and quantity by analyzing the marginal revenue and marginal costs of producing an extra unit. If the marginal revenue exceeds the marginal cost, then the firm should produce the extra unit.

For example, at an output of 3 in Figure 9.5, marginal revenue is 800 and marginal cost is 400, so producing this unit will clearly add to overall profits. At an output of 4, marginal revenue is 600 and marginal cost is 600, so producing this unit still means overall profits are unchanged. However, expanding output from 4 to 5 would involve a marginal revenue of 400 and a marginal cost of 700, so that fifth unit would actually reduce profits. Thus, the monopoly can tell from the marginal revenue and marginal cost that of the choices given in the table, the profit-maximizing level of output is 4.

Indeed, the monopoly could seek out the profit-maximizing level of output by increasing quantity by a small amount, calculating marginal revenue and marginal cost, and then either increasing output as long as marginal revenue exceeds marginal cost or reducing output if marginal cost exceeds marginal revenue. This process works without any need to calculate total revenue and total cost. Thus, a profit-maximizing monopoly should follow the rule of producing up to the quantity where marginal revenue is equal to marginal cost—that is, MR = MC.

Maximizing Profits If you find it counterintuitive that producing where marginal revenue equals marginal cost will maximize profits, working through the numbers will help.

Step 1. Remember that marginal cost is defined as the change in total cost from producing a small amount of additional output.

MC = change in total costchange in quantity produced

Step 2. Note that in Table 9.3, as output increases from 1 to 2 units, total cost increases from $1500 to $1800. As a result, the marginal cost of the second unit will be:

MC = $1800 – $15001 = $300

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Step 3. Remember that, similarly, marginal revenue is the change in total revenue from selling a small amount of additional output.

MR = change in total revenuechange in quantity sold

Step 4. Note that in Table 9.3, as output increases from 1 to 2 units, total revenue increases from $1200 to $2200. As a result, the marginal revenue of the second unit will be:

MR = $2200 – $12001 = $1000

Quantity Marginal Revenue Marginal Cost Marginal Profit Total Profit

1 1,200 1,500 –300 –300

2 1,000 300 700 400

3 800 400 400 800

4 600 600 0 800

5 400 700 –300 500

6 200 900 –700 –200

7 0 1,200 –1,200 –1,400

Table 9.4 Marginal Revenue, Marginal Cost, Marginal and Total Profit

Table 9.4 repeats the marginal cost and marginal revenue data from Table 9.3, and adds two more columns: Marginal profit is the profitability of each additional unit sold. It is defined as marginal revenue minus marginal cost. Finally, total profit is the sum of marginal profits. As long as marginal profit is positive, producing more output will increase total profits. When marginal profit turns negative, producing more output will decrease total profits. Total profit is maximized where marginal revenue equals marginal cost. In this example, maximum profit occurs at 4 units of output.

A perfectly competitive firm will also find its profit-maximizing level of output where MR = MC. The key difference with a perfectly competitive firm is that in the case of perfect competition, marginal revenue is equal to price (MR = P), while for a monopolist, marginal revenue is not equal to the price, because changes in quantity of output affect the price.

Illustrating Monopoly Profits It is straightforward to calculate profits of given numbers for total revenue and total cost. However, the size of monopoly profits can also be illustrated graphically with Figure 9.6, which takes the marginal cost and marginal revenue curves from the previous exhibit and adds an average cost curve and the monopolist’s perceived demand curve.

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Figure 9.6 Illustrating Profits at the HealthPill Monopoly This figure begins with the same marginal revenue and marginal cost curves from the HealthPill monopoly presented in Figure 9.5. It then adds an average cost curve and the demand curve faced by the monopolist. The HealthPill firm first chooses the quantity where MR = MC; in this example, the quantity is 4. The monopolist then decides what price to charge by looking at the demand curve it faces. The large box, with quantity on the horizontal axis and marginal revenue on the vertical axis, shows total revenue for the firm. Total costs for the firm are shown by the lighter-shaded box, which is quantity on the horizontal axis and marginal cost of production on the vertical axis. The large total revenue box minus the smaller total cost box leaves the darkly shaded box that shows total profits. Since the price charged is above average cost, the firm is earning positive profits.

Figure 9.7 illustrates the three-step process where a monopolist: selects the profit-maximizing quantity to produce; decides what price to charge; determines total revenue, total cost, and profit.

Step 1: The Monopolist Determines Its Profit-Maximizing Level of Output

The firm can use the points on the demand curve D to calculate total revenue, and then, based on total revenue, calculate its marginal revenue curve. The profit-maximizing quantity will occur where MR = MC—or at the last possible point before marginal costs start exceeding marginal revenue. On Figure 9.6, MR = MC occurs at an output of 4.

Step 2: The Monopolist Decides What Price to Charge

The monopolist will charge what the market is willing to pay. A dotted line drawn straight up from the profit- maximizing quantity to the demand curve shows the profit-maximizing price. This price is above the average cost curve, which shows that the firm is earning profits.

Step 3: Calculate Total Revenue, Total Cost, and Profit

Total revenue is the overall shaded box, where the width of the box is the quantity being sold and the height is the price. In Figure 9.6, the bottom part of the shaded box, which is shaded more lightly, shows total costs; that is, quantity on the horizontal axis multiplied by average cost on the vertical axis. The larger box of total revenues minus the smaller box of total costs will equal profits, which is shown by the darkly shaded box. In a perfectly competitive market, the forces of entry would erode this profit in the long run. But a monopolist is protected by barriers to entry. In fact, one telltale sign of a possible monopoly is when a firm earns profits year after year, while doing more or less the same thing, without ever seeing those profits eroded by increased competition.

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Figure 9.7 How a Profit-Maximizing Monopoly Decides Price In Step 1, the monopoly chooses the profit- maximizing level of output Q1, by choosing the quantity where MR = MC. In Step 2, the monopoly decides how much to charge for output level Q1 by drawing a line straight up from Q1 to point R on its perceived demand curve. Thus, the monopoly will charge a price (P1). In Step 3, the monopoly identifies its profit. Total revenue will be Q1 multiplied by P1. Total cost will be Q1 multiplied by the average cost of producing Q1, which is shown by point S on the average cost curve to be P2. Profits will be the total revenue rectangle minus the total cost rectangle, shown by the shaded zone in the figure.

Why is a monopolist’s marginal revenue always less than the price? The marginal revenue curve for a monopolist always lies beneath the market demand curve. To understand why, think about increasing the quantity along the demand curve by one unit, so that you take one step down the demand curve to a slightly higher quantity but a slightly lower price. A demand curve is not sequential: It is not that first we sell Q1 at a higher price, and then we sell Q2 at a lower price. Rather, a demand curve is conditional: If we charge the higher price, we would sell Q1. If, instead, we charge a lower price (on all the units that we sell), we would sell Q2.

So when we think about increasing the quantity sold by one unit, marginal revenue is affected in two ways. First, we sell one additional unit at the new market price. Second, all the previous units, which could have been sold at the higher price, now sell for less. Because of the lower price on all units sold, the marginal revenue of selling a unit is less than the price of that unit—and the marginal revenue curve is below the demand curve. Tip: For a straight-line demand curve, MR and demand have the same vertical intercept. As output increases, marginal revenue decreases twice as fast as demand, so that the horizontal intercept of MR is halfway to the horizontal intercept of demand. You can see this in the Figure 9.8.

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Figure 9.8 The Monopolist’s Marginal Revenue Curve versus Demand Curve Because the market demand curve is conditional, the marginal revenue curve for a monopolist lies beneath the demand curve.

The Inefficiency of Monopoly Most people criticize monopolies because they charge too high a price, but what economists object to is that monopolies do not supply enough output to be allocatively efficient. To understand why a monopoly is inefficient, it is useful to compare it with the benchmark model of perfect competition.

Allocative efficiency is a social concept. It refers to producing the optimal quantity of some output, the quantity where the marginal benefit to society of one more unit just equals the marginal cost. The rule of profit maximization in a world of perfect competition was for each firm to produce the quantity of output where P = MC, where the price (P) is a measure of how much buyers value the good and the marginal cost (MC) is a measure of what marginal units cost society to produce. Following this rule assures allocative efficiency. If P > MC, then the marginal benefit to society (as measured by P) is greater than the marginal cost to society of producing additional units, and a greater quantity should be produced. But in the case of monopoly, price is always greater than marginal cost at the profit-maximizing level of output, as can be seen by looking back at Figure 9.6. Thus, consumers will suffer from a monopoly because a lower quantity will be sold in the market, at a higher price, than would have been the case in a perfectly competitive market.

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