Social cost

Last updated

Social cost in neoclassical economics is the sum of the private costs resulting from a transaction and the costs imposed on the consumers as a consequence of being exposed to the transaction for which they are not compensated or charged. [1] In other words, it is the sum of private and external costs. This might be applied to any number of economic problems: for example, social cost of carbon has been explored to better understand the costs of carbon emissions for proposed economic solutions such as a carbon tax.

Contents

Private costs refer to direct costs to the producer for producing the good or service. Social cost includes these private costs and the additional costs (or external costs) associated with the production of the good which are not accounted for by the free market. In short, when the consequences of an action cannot be taken by the initiator, we will have external costs in the society. We will have private costs when initiator can take responsibility for agent's action. [2]

Definitions

Mathematically, social marginal cost is the sum of private marginal cost and the external costs. [3] For example, when selling a glass of lemonade at a lemonade stand, the private costs involved in this transaction are the costs of the lemons and the sugar and the water that are ingredients to the lemonade, the opportunity cost of the labor to combine them into lemonade, as well as any transaction costs, such as walking to the stand. An example of marginal damages associated with social costs of driving includes wear and tear, congestion, and the decreased quality of life due to drunks driving or impatience, and many people displaced from their homes and localities due to construction work. Another social cost of driving includes the pollution driving costs to other people in the society. For both private costs and external costs, the agents involved are assumed to be optimizing. [2]

Alternatives

The alternative to the above neoclassical definition is provided by the heterodox economics theory of social costs by K. William Kapp. Social costs are here defined as the socialized portion of the total costs of production, i.e., the costs which businesses shift to society in their attempts to increase their profits. [4]

Economic theory

According to the International Monetary Fund, "there are differences between private costs and the costs to the society as a whole". [5] In a situation where there are positive social costs, it means that the first of the Fundamental theorems of welfare economics failed in that relying merely on private markets for price and quantity lead to an inefficient outcome. Market failures or situations in which consumption, investment, and production decisions made by individuals or firms result in indirect costs i.e. have an effect on parties external to the transaction are one of the most common reasons for government intervention. In economics, these indirect costs which lead to inefficiencies in the market and result in a difference between the private costs and the social costs are called externalities. Thus, social costs are the costs pertaining to the transaction costs to the society as a whole. Generally, social costs are easier to think about in marginal terms i.e. marginal social cost. Marginal social cost refers to the total costs that the society pays for the production of an extra unit of the good or service in question. Mathematically, this can be represented by Marginal Social Cost (MSC) = Marginal Private Cost (MPC) + Marginal External Costs (MEC).

Social costs can be of two types—Negative Production Externality and Positive Production Externality. Negative Production Externality refers to a situation in which marginal damages are social costs to society that result in Marginal Social Cost being greater than the Marginal Private Cost i.e. MSC > MPC. Intuitively, this refers to a situation in which the production of the firm reduces the well-being of the people in the society who are not compensated for the same. For example, steel production results in a negative externality because of the marginal damages pertaining to pollution and negative environmental effects. Steelmaking results in indirect costs as a result of emission of pollutants, lower air quality, etc. For example, these indirect costs might include the health of a homeowner near the production unit and higher healthcare costs which have not been factored into the free market price and quantity. Given that the producer does not bear the burden of these costs, they are not passed down to the end user thus creating a situation where MSC > MPC.

An illustration in which the marginal social costs exceed marginal private costs by the marginal external costs (or marginal damages). This is known as a negative production externality. Wikipedia illustration.jpg
An illustration in which the marginal social costs exceed marginal private costs by the marginal external costs (or marginal damages). This is known as a negative production externality.

This example can be better elucidated with a diagram. Profit-maximizing organizations in a free market will set output at QMarket where marginal private costs (MPC) is equal to marginal benefit (MB). Intuitively, this is the point on the diagram where the private supply curve (MPC) and consumer demand curve (MB) intersect i.e. where consumer demand meets firm supply. This results in a competitive market equilibrium price of pMarket.

In the presence of a negative production externality, the private marginal cost increases i.e. shifted upwards to the left by marginal damages to yield the marginal social curve. The star in the diagram, or the point where the new supply curve (inclusive of marginal damages to society) and the consumer demand intersect, represents the socially optimum quantity Qoptimum and price. At this social optimum, the price paid by the consumer is p*consumer and the price received by the producers is p*producer.

High positive social costs, in the form of marginal damages, lead to an over-production. In the diagram, there is overproduction at QMarket - Qoptimum with an associated deadweight loss of the shaded triangle. One of the public sector remedies for internalizing externalities is a corrective tax. According to neoclassical economist Arthur Pigou, [6] in order to correct this market failure (or externality) the government should levy a tax which equals to marginal damages per unit. This would effectively increase the firm's private marginal so that SMC = PMC. [3]

The prospect of government intervention in regards to correcting an externality has been hotly debated. Economists like Ronald Coase [7] contend that the market can internalize an externality and provide for an external outcome through bargaining among affected parties. For example, in the above-mentioned case, the homeowners could negotiate with the pollution firm and strike a deal in which they would pay the firm not to pollute or to charge the firm for pollution; the outcome pertaining to who pays is determined by bargaining power. According to Thomas Helbing at the International Monetary Fund, government intervention might be most optimal in situations where one party might have undue bargaining power compared to the other party.

In an alternative scenario, positive production externality occurs when the social costs of production are lower than the marginal private costs of production. For example, the social benefit of research and development not only applies to the profits made by the firm but also helps improve the health of society through better quality of life, lower healthcare costs, etc. In this case, the marginal social cost curve would shift downwards and there would be underproduction. In this case, government intervention would result in a Pigouvian subsidy in order to decrease the firm's private marginal cost so that MPC = SMC.

Issues

Quantification of social costs, for damages or benefits in the future resulting from current production, is a critical problem for the presentation of social costs and when attempting to formulate policy to correct the externality. For example, damages to the environment, socioeconomic or political impacts, and costs or benefits that span long horizons are difficult to predict and quantify. Thus, it is difficult to include in a cost-benefit analysis. [8]

Another example concerning the difficulty surrounding the estimation of social costs is the social cost of carbon. In trying to monetize the social costs arising from carbon, one needs to understand "the effect of a ton of a greenhouse gas on global temperatures, the effect of temperature change on agricultural yields, human health, flood risk, and myriad other harms to the ecosystem". [9] Analysts from Brookings Institution contend that one of the reasons the estimation of the social cost of carbon is incredibly complex is that the external costs imposed on society as a result of the transactions of one firm in China, for example, impact the quality of lives and health of consumers living in the United States. [9]

Social costs are also linked with the analysis of market failure. Take the national dividend, for example; to maximize the national dividend it is required that one set marginal social costs and marginal social benefits equal to each other. Marginal private costs and marginal private benefits also need to be equal to each other to maximize market behaviors. However, the market will not be maximized without both sets of costs and benefits equal to each other. [2]

Applications

Social cost has been applied on a number of different critical social issues. Notably the social cost of carbon and monopolies are common topics of exploration. [10]

Carbon

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is the marginal cost of the impacts caused by emitting one extra tonne of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide equivalent) at any point in time, inclusive of 'non-market' impacts on the environment and human health. [11] The purpose of putting a price on a ton of emitted CO2 is to aid policymakers or other legislators in evaluating whether a policy designed to curb climate change is justified. The social cost of carbon is a calculation focused on taking corrective measures on climate change which can be deemed a form of market failure. [12] Latest studies calculate costs of more than US$300 per ton of CO2 (/tCO2). [13] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that a carbon price from $135 to $5,500/tCO2 in 2030, and from $245 to $13,000 in 2050 (2010 US dollars), would be needed to drive carbon emissions to stay below the 1.5 °C limit. [14]

See also

Notes

  1. "Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco"
  2. 1 2 3 de V. Graaff J. (1987). "Social Cost". In: The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  3. 1 2 Jonathan Gruber, Public Finance and Public Policy, Fourth Edition, 2012 Worth Publishers
  4. Sebastian Berger, The Social Costs of Neoliberalism: Essays on the Economics of K. William Kapp, Spokesman, 2017.
  5. "Externalities: Prices Do Not Capture All Costs", International Monetary Fund, July 29, 2017
  6. Pigou, Arthur C., 1920, The Economics of Welfare (London: Macmillan).
  7. Coase, Ronald, 1960, “The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1–44
  8. Zerbe, R. O. and D.D. Dively. 1994. Benefit-Cost Analysis: In Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
  9. 1 2 "The social costs of carbon", Brookings Institution.
  10. Gumus, Erdal (2006). "The Social Costs of Monopoly: A Survey And An Evaluation". mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de. Retrieved 2021-01-03.
  11. Yohe, G.W.; et al. (2007). "20.6 Global and aggregate impacts; 20.6.1 History and present state of aggregate impact estimates". In M.L. Parry; et al. (eds.). Perspectives on climate change and sustainability. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. Archived from the original on 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  12. "Social Cost of Carbon 101". Resources for the Future. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  13. Kikstra, Jarmo S.; Waidelich, Paul; Rising, James; Yumashev, Dmitry; Hope, Chris; Brierley, Chris M. (2021-09-06). "The social cost of carbon dioxide under climate-economy feedbacks and temperature variability". Environmental Research Letters. 16 (9): 094037. Bibcode:2021ERL....16i4037K. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac1d0b . ISSN   1748-9326.
  14. IPCC SR15 Ch4 2018, p. 374

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Microeconomics Behavior of individuals and firms

Microeconomics is a branch of mainstream economics that studies the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources and the interactions among these individuals and firms. Microeconomics focuses on the study of individual markets, sectors, or industries as opposed to the national economy as whole, which is studied in macroeconomics.

Monopolistic competition Imperfect competition of differentiated products that are not perfect substitutes

Monopolistic competition is a type of imperfect competition such that there are many producers competing against each other, but selling products that are differentiated from one another and hence are not perfect substitutes. In monopolistic competition, a firm takes the prices charged by its rivals as given and ignores the impact of its own prices on the prices of other firms. If this happens in the presence of coercive government, monopolistic competition will fall into government-granted monopoly. Unlike perfect competition, the firm maintains spare capacity. Models of monopolistic competition are often used to model industries. Textbook examples of industries with market structures similar to monopolistic competition include restaurants, cereal, clothing, shoes, and service industries in large cities. The "founding father" of the theory of monopolistic competition is Edward Hastings Chamberlin, who wrote a pioneering book on the subject, Theory of Monopolistic Competition (1933). Joan Robinson published a book The Economics of Imperfect Competition with a comparable theme of distinguishing perfect from imperfect competition. Further work on monopolistic competition was undertaken by Dixit and Stiglitz who created the Dixit-Stiglitz model which has proved applicable used in the sub fields of international trade theory, macroeconomics and economic geography.

Deadweight loss Measure of lost economic efficiency

Deadweight loss, also known as excess burden, is a measure of lost economic efficiency when the socially optimal quantity of a good or a service is not produced. Non-optimal production can be caused by highly concentrated wealth and income, monopoly pricing in the case of artificial scarcity, a positive or negative externality, a tax or subsidy, or a binding price ceiling or price floor such as a minimum wage.

In the social sciences, the free-rider problem is a type of market failure that occurs when those who benefit from resources, public goods, or services of a communal nature do not pay for them or under-pay. Free riders are a problem because while not paying for the good, they may continue to access or use it. Thus, the good may be under-produced, overused or degraded. Additionally, it has been shown that despite evidence that people tend to be cooperative by nature, the presence of free-riders cause this prosocial behaviour to deteriorate, perpetuating the free-rider problem.

Externality In economics, an imposed cost or benefit

In economics, an externality or external cost is an indirect cost or benefit to an uninvolved third party that arises as an effect of another party's activity. Externalities can be considered as unpriced goods involved in either consumer or producer market transactions. Air pollution from motor vehicles is one example. The cost of air pollution to society is not paid by either the producers or users of motorized transport to the rest of society. Water pollution from mills and factories is another example. All consumers are all made worse off by pollution but are not compensated by the market for this damage. A positive externality is when an individual's consumption in a market increases the well-being of others, but the individual does not charge the third party for the benefit. The third party is essentially getting a free product. An example of this might be the apartment above a bakery receiving the benefit of enjoyment from smelling fresh pastries every morning. The people who live in the apartment do not compensate the bakery for this benefit.

Market failure Concept in public goods economics

In neoclassical economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services by a free market is not Pareto efficient, often leading to a net loss of economic value. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals' pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient – that can be improved upon from the societal point of view. The first known use of the term by economists was in 1958, but the concept has been traced back to the Victorian philosopher Henry Sidgwick. Market failures are often associated with public goods, time-inconsistent preferences, information asymmetries, non-competitive markets, principal–agent problems, or externalities.

This aims to be a complete article list of economics topics:

Profit maximization Process to determine the highest profits for a firm

In economics, profit maximization is the short run or long run process by which a firm may determine the price, input and output levels that lead to the highest profit. Neoclassical economics, currently the mainstream approach to microeconomics, usually models the firm as maximizing profit.

Cost Money spent to produce or procure goods or services

In production, research, retail, and accounting, a cost is the value of money that has been used up to produce something or deliver a service, and hence is not available for use anymore. In business, the cost may be one of acquisition, in which case the amount of money expended to acquire it is counted as cost. In this case, money is the input that is gone in order to acquire the thing. This acquisition cost may be the sum of the cost of production as incurred by the original producer, and further costs of transaction as incurred by the acquirer over and above the price paid to the producer. Usually, the price also includes a mark-up for profit over the cost of production.

In economics, the marginal cost is the change in the total cost that arises when the quantity produced is incremented, the cost of producing additional quantity. In some contexts, it refers to an increment of one unit of output, and in others it refers to the rate of change of total cost as output is increased by an infinitesimal amount. As Figure 1 shows, the marginal cost is measured in dollars per unit, whereas total cost is in dollars, and the marginal cost is the slope of the total cost, the rate at which it increases with output. Marginal cost is different from average cost, which is the total cost divided by the number of units produced.

A Pigovian tax is a tax on any market activity that generates negative externalities. The tax is normally set by the government to correct an undesirable or inefficient market outcome, and does so by being set equal to the external marginal cost of the negative externalities. In the presence of negative externalities, social cost includes private cost and external cost caused by negative externalities. This means the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity. In such a case, the market outcome is not efficient and may lead to over-consumption of the product. Often-cited examples of such negative externalities are environmental pollution, and increased public healthcare costs associated with tobacco and sugary drink consumption.

Allocative efficiency is a state of the economy in which production is aligned with consumer preferences; in particular, every good or service is produced up to the point where the last unit provides a marginal benefit to consumers equal to the marginal cost of producing.

Managerial economics is a branch of economics involving the application of economic methods in the managerial decision-making process. Economics is the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Managerial economics involves the use of economic theories and principles to make decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources.

Marginal revenue

Marginal revenue is a central concept in microeconomics that describes the additional total revenue generated by increasing product sales by 1 unit. To derive the value of marginal revenue, it is required to examine the difference between the aggregate benefits a firm received from the quantity of a good and service produced last period and the current period with one extra unit increase in the rate of production. Marginal revenue is a fundamental tool for economic decision making within a firm's setting, together with marginal cost to be considered.

Shadow price

A shadow price is the monetary value assigned to an abstract or intangible commodity which is not traded in the marketplace. This often takes the form of an externality. Shadow prices are also known as the recalculation of known market prices in order to account for the presence of distortionary market instruments. Shadow Prices are the real economic prices given to goods & services after they have been appropriately adjusted by removing distortionary market instruments and incorporating the societal impact of the respective good or service. A shadow price is often calculated based on a group of assumptions and estimates because it lacks reliable data, so it is subjective and somewhat inaccurate.

In neoclassical economics, a market distortion is any event in which a market reaches a market clearing price for an item that is substantially different from the price that a market would achieve while operating under conditions of perfect competition and state enforcement of legal contracts and the ownership of private property. A distortion is "any departure from the ideal of perfect competition that therefore interferes with economic agents maximizing social welfare when they maximize their own". A proportional wage-income tax, for instance, is distortionary, whereas a lump-sum tax is not. In a competitive equilibrium, a proportional wage income tax discourages work.

Profit (economics) Difference between the revenue a commercial entity has received from its outputs and the opportunity costs of its inputs

An economic profit is the difference between the revenue a commercial entity has received from its outputs and the opportunity costs of its inputs. It equals to total revenue minus total cost, including both explicit and implicit costs.

In economics a spillover is an economic event in one context that occurs because of something else in a seemingly unrelated context. For example, externalities of economic activity are non-monetary spillover effects upon non-participants. Odors from a rendering plant are negative spillover effects upon its neighbors; the beauty of a homeowner's flower garden is a positive spillover effect upon neighbors.

Economics of climate change mitigation Part of the economics of climate change related to climate change mitigation

The economics of climate change mitigation is the part of the economics of climate change related to climate change mitigation, that is actions that are designed to limit the amount of long-term climate change. Mitigation may be achieved through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the enhancement of sinks that absorb GHGs, for example forests.

The economics of science aims to understand the impact of science on the advance of technology, to explain the behavior of scientists, and to understand the efficiency or inefficiency of scientific institutions and markets.