The Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in Florida. Photo by the AP via the Wall Street Journal.
Elasticity is near the top of the list of topics that students struggle with in the principles course. Some students struggle with the arithmetic of calculating elasticities, while others have difficulty understanding the basic concept. The importance and difficulty of elasticity led us to devote an entire chapter to it: Chapter 6 in both Microeconomics and Economics. (We include a briefer discussion in Chapter 7, Sections 7.5 and 7.6 in Essentials of Economics.)
When the Walt Disney Company released its 2023 second quarter earnings report on May 10, it turned out that Disney CEO Bob Iger is also a little shaky on the concept of price elasticity. During Iger’s previous time as Disney CEO he had started the Disney+ subscription streaming service. Like some other streaming services during the past year, Disney+ has struggled to earn a profit. Disney’s announcement in November 2022 that Disney+ had lost $1.47 billion during the previous quarter contributed to Bob Chapek, Iger’s predecessor as CEO, being fired by Disney’s board of directors.
For this quarter, Iger was able to announce that losses at Disney+ had been reduced to $659 million, although skepticism among investors about whether the service would turn a profit by next year as Iger indicated contributed to a sharp decline in Disney’s stock price. The smaller loss at Disney+ was largely the result of Disney having raised the price of the service in December 2022 from $7.99 per month to $10.99 per month. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Iger noted that the price increase had caused only a very small decline in subscribers. Iger was quoted as concluding: “That leads us to believe that we, in fact, have pricing elasticity” with respect to Disney+.
Taken literally, Iger has the concept of elasticity backwards. If “having pricing elasticity” means having price elastic demand, then Disney would have experienced a large loss of Disney+ subscribers after the price increase, not a small loss. To use the concept correctly, Iger should have said something like “we have price inelastic demand.” If we give Iger the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows the definitions of price elastic and price inelastic, then we can interpret what he said as meaning “we have favorable price elasticity.” Favorable in this case would mean demand is price inelastic.
In any case, this episode is a good example of why many students–and CEOs!–can struggle with the concept of price elasticity.
Join authors Glenn Hubbard & Tony O’Brien as they discuss the state of the landing the economy will achieve – hard vs. soft – or “no landing”. Also, they address the debt ceiling and the barriers it might present to a recovery. We also delve into the Chips Act and what economics has to say about the subsidy of a particular industry. Gain insights into today’s economy through our final podcast of the 2022-2023 academic year! Our discussion covers these points but you can also check for updates on our blog post that can be found HERE .
Supports: Microeconomics, Chapter 11, Section 11.5; Economics, Chapter 11, Section 11.5; and Essentials of Economics, Chapter 8, Section 8.5
Photo from the Wall Street Journal.
Imani owns a firm that sells payroll services to companies in the Atlanta area. Her largest cost is for labor. She employs workers who use software to prepare payroll reports and to handle texts and calls from client firms. She decides to begin using a generative AI program, like ChatGPT, which is capable of quickly composing thorough answers to many questions and write computer code. She will use the program to write the additional computer code needed to adapt the payroll software to individual client’s needs and to respond to clients seeking advice on payroll questions. Once the AI program is in place, she will need only half as many workers. The number of additional workers she needs to hire for every 20 additional firms that buy her service will fall from 5 to 1. She will have to pay a flat monthly licensing fee for the AI program; the fee will not change with the number of firms she sells her services to. Imani determines that making these changes will reduce her total cost of providing services to her current 2,000 clients from $2,000,000 per month to $1,600,000 per month
In answering the following questions, assume that, apart from the number of workers, none of the other inputs—such as the size of her firm’s office, the number of computers, or other software—change as a result of her leasing the AI program.
a. Briefly explain whether each of the following statements about the cost situation at Imani’s firm after she begins using the AI program is correct or incorrect.
Her firm’s average total cost, average variable cost, and average fixed cost curves will shift down, while her firm’s marginal cost curve will shift up.
Her firm’s average total cost, average variable cost, average fixed cost and marginal cost curves will all shift up.
Her firm’s average total cost, average variable cost, and marginal cost curves will shift down, while her average fixed cost curve will shift up.
Her firm’s average total cost, average variable cost, average fixed cost, and marginal cost curves will all shift down.
Her firm’s average fixed cost curve will shift up, but her other cost curves will be unchanged.
b. Draw a graph illustrating your answer to part a. Be sure to show the original average total cost, average variable cost, average fixed cost, and marginal cost curves. Also show the shifts—if any—in the curves after Imani begins using the AI program.
Solving the Problem
Step 1: Review the chapter material. This problem requires you to understand definitions of costs, so you may want to review the sections “The Difference between Fixed Costs and Variable Costs,” “Marginal Costs,” and “Graphing Cost Curves”
Step 2: Answer part (a) by explaining whether each of the five listed statements is correct or incorrect. The cost of the AI program is fixed because it doesn’t change with the quantity of her services that Imani sells. Her firm will have greater fixed costs after licensing the AI program but she will have lower variable costs because she is able to produce the same level of output with fewer workers. Her marginal cost will also decline because she needs to hire fewer workers as the quantity of services she sells increases. We know that the average total cost per month of providing her service to 2,000 clients has decreased because we are given the information that it changed from ($2,000,000/2,000) = $1,000 to ($1,600,000/2,000) = $800.
This statement is incorrect because her average fixed cost curve will shift up as a result of her total fixed cost having increased by the amount of the AI program license and because her marginal cost curve will shift down, not up.
This statement is incorrect because all of her cost curves, except for average fixed cost, will shift down, not up.
This statement is correct because it describes the actual shifts in her cost curves.
This statement is incorrect because her average fixed cost curve will shift up, not down.
This statement is incorrect because her rather than being unaffected, her average total cost, average variable cost, and marginal cost curves will shift down.
Step 3: Answer part (b) by drawing the cost curves for Imani’s firm before and after she begins using the AI program. Your graph should look like the following, where the curves representing the firm’s costs before Imani begins leasing the AI program are in blue and the costs after leasing the program are in red.
In October 2021, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did something unusual–he changed the name of the company from Facebook, Inc. to Meta Platforms, Inc. According to Zuckerberg, he did so because he said, “Over time I hope our company will be seen as a metaverse company.” What is the metaverse? Definitions differ, but it typically refers to software programs that allow people to access either augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) images and information.
In both AR and VR, people wear headsets, goggles, or glasses to see images and information displayed. In VR, you wear goggles and have to remain stationary because your whole field of vision is a digital projection, so if you walk around you run the risk of tripping over furniture or other obstacles. With AR, you can walk through the physical world because your goggles display only limited amounts of information.
For example, Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap describes the device her firm sells this way: “You wear it over your eyes. You can actually think of it as a computer on your eyes. And you still see your physical world around you, but we place digital content very smartly in that physical world.” Among other uses, Magic Leap’s device can help to train a worker to use a new piece of equipment by overlaying a virtual version of the equipment over the actual piece of equipment. The virtual version would place instructions in the worker’s field of view. That worker would be in the metaverse.
While Meta has been selling Oculus AR headsets, Zuckerberg has focused more on VR than on AR. An article in the Wall Street Journal described the VR metaverse that Zuckerberg is hoping to help build: “Eventually, the idea is that people will be able to do almost anything in the metaverse: go shopping, attend school, participate in work meetings.” They would do these things while sitting at their desk or armchair. Meta’s first significant VR product was Horizon Worlds. On Horizon, after choosing an avatar, or virtual figure that represents you, you can shop, play games, or hang out with other people. You enter Horizon by using Meta’s Quest VR headset, which has a price of $400 to $700, depending on the headset’s configuration. Meta set a goal of having 500,000 monthly users of Horizon by the end of 2022 but ended the year with only around 200,000 active users.
Horizon’s main problem seems to have been that the app was subject to large network externalities. As we discuss in Chapter 10, Section 10.3 of Economics and Microeconomics, network externalities describe the situation in which the usefulness of a product increases with the number of consumers who use it. The Horizon app is enjoyable to use only if many other people are using it. But because few people regularly use the app, many new users don’t find it enjoyable and soon stop using it. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, in late 2022, “Most visitors to Horizon generally don’t return to the app after the first month … there are rarely any girls in the Hot Girl Summer Rooftop Pool Party, and in Murder Village there is often no one to kill. Even the company’s showcase worlds… are mostly barren of users.” Reality Labs, the division of Meta in charge of Horizon, the Quest headset, and other metaverse projects, had total losses of $27 billion by the end of 2022. The losses were partly the result of Meta selling Quest headsets for a price below the cost of producing them in an attempt to get more people to use Horizon.
Zuckerberg peisists in believing that the firm’s future lies with the metaverse and continues to spend billions on metaverse projects. Investors aren’t convinced that this strategy will work because, as an article on economist.com put it in early 2023: “Few people are burning to migrate to the metaverse.” As investors’ became more skeptical of Zuckerberg’s strategy, Meta’s stock price declined by more than half between the fall of 2021 and early 2023. To be successful in its metaverse strategy, Meta will eventually have to attract enough buyers of its Quest headsets and users of its Horizon app to begin taking advantage of network externalities.
Source: Dylan Croll, “Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson on the AR revolution,” news.yahoo. com, January 4, 2023; “Things Are Looking Up for Meta,” economist.com, February 3, 2023; “How Much Trouble Is Mark Zuckerberg In?” economist.com, October 16, 2022; Jeff Horwitz, Salvador Rodriguez, and Meghan Bobrowsky, “Company Documents Show Meta’s Flagship Metaverse Falling Short,” Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2022; Sarah E. Needleman, “Facebook Changes Company Name to Meta in Focus on Metaverse,” Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2021; Meghan Bobrowsky and Sarah E. Needleman, “What is the Metaverse? The Future Vision for the Internet,” Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2022.
you can bid for Paul Samuelson’s Nobel Prize Medal here. Note that at the time of posting the minimum bid required was $495,000.
You can read a brief biography of Samuelson on the Nobel site here. You can read the lecture Samuelson delivered on the occasion of being awarded the price here. (Note that the lecture contains technical material.)
In the Apply the Concept “Trying to Use the Apple Approach to Save J.C. Penney” in Chapter 10, Section 10.4 in both Microeconomics and Economics, we discussed how Ron Johnson had been successful as head of Apple’s retail stores but failed when he was hired as CEO of J. C. Penney. Insights from behavioral economics indicate that Johnson made a mistake in eliminating Penney’s previous strategy of keeping prices high but running frequent sales. Although Penney’s “every day prices” under Johnson were lower than they had been under the previous management, many consumers failed to recognize that fact and began shopping elsewhere.
Johnson’s experience may indicate the dangers of changing a firm’s long-standing business model. Customers at brick-and-mortar retail stores fall into several categories: Some people shop in a number of stores, depending on which store has the lowest price on the particular product they’re looking for; some shop only for products such as televisions or appliances that they hesitate to buy from Amazon or other online sites; while others shop primarily in the store that typically meets their needs with respect to location, selection of products, and pricing. It’s the last category of customer that was most likely to stop shopping at Penney because of Johnson’s new pricing policy because they were accustomed to primarily buying products that were on sale.
Bed Bath & Beyond was founded in 1971 by Warren Eisenberg and Leonard Feinstein. As the name indicates, it has focused on selling household goods—sometimes called “home goods”—such as small appliances, towels, and sheets. It was perhaps best known for mailing massive numbers of 20 percent off coupons, printed on thin blue cardboard and nicknamed Big Blue, to households nationwide. Although by 2019, the firm was operating more than 1,500 stores in the United States, some investors were concerned that Bed Bath & Beyond could be run more profitably. In March 2019, the firm’s board of directors replaced the current CEO with Mark Tritton who had helped make Target stores very profitable.
In an approach similar to the one Ron Johnson had used at J.C. Penney, Tritton cut back on the number of coupons sent out, reorganized the stores to reduce the number of different products available for sale, and replaced some name brand goods with so-called private-label brands produced by Bed Bath & Beyond. Unfortunately, Tritton’s strategy was a failure and the firm, which had been profitable in 2018, suffered losses each year between 2019 and 2022. The losses totaled almost $1.5 billion. In June 2022, the firm’s board of directors replaced Tritton with Sue Grove who had been serving on the board.
Why did Tritton’s strategy fail? Partly because in March 2020, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of many Bed Bath & Beyond stores. Unlike some other chains, Bed Bath & Beyond’s web site struggled to fulfill online orders. The firm also never developed a system that would have made it easy for customers to order goods online and pick them up at the curb of their retail stores. That approach helped many competitors maintain sales during the pandemic. Covid-19 also disrupted the supply chains that Tritton was depending on to produce the private-label brands he was hoping to sell in large quantities.
But the larger problems with Tritton’s strategy would likely have hurt Bed Bath & Beyond even if there had been no pandemic. Tritton thought the stores were too cluttered, particularly in comparison with Target stores, so he reduced the number of products for sale. It turned out, though, that many of Bed Bath & Beyond’s most loyal customers liked searching through the piles of goods on the shelves. One customer was quoted as saying, “I used to find so many things that I didn’t need, that I’d end up buying anyway, like July 4th-themed corn holders.” Customers who preferred to shop in less cluttered stores were likely to already be shopping elsewhere. And it turned out that many Bed Bath & Beyond customers preferred national brands and switched to shopping elsewhere when Tritton replaced those brands with private-label brands. Finally, many customers were accustomed to shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond shortly after receiving a Big Blue 20 percent off coupon. Sending out fewer coupons meant fewer trips to Bed Bath & Beyond by those customers.
In a manner similar to what happened to Johnson in his overhaul of the Penney department stores, Tritton’s changes to Bed Bath & Beyond’s business model caused many existing customer to shop elsewhere while attracting relatively few new customers. An article in the Wall Street Journal quoted an industry analyst as concluding: “Mark Tritton entered the business and ripped up its playbook. But the strategy he replaced it with was not tested and nowhere near sharp enough to compensate for the loss of traditional customers.”
Sources: Jeanette Neumann, “Bed Bath & Beyond Traced an Erratic Path to Its Current Crisis,” bloomberg.com, September 29, 2022; Kelly Tyko, “What to expect at Bed Bath & Beyond closing store sales,” axios.com September 22, 2022; Inti Pacheco and Jodi Xu Klein, “Bed Bath & Beyond to Close 150 Stores, Cut Staff, Sell Shares to Raise Cash,” Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2022; Suzanne Kapner and Dean Seal, “Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton Exits as Sales Plunge,” Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2022; Suzanne Kapner, “Bed Bath & Beyond Followed a Winning Playbook—and Lost,” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2022; and Ron Lieber, “An Oral History of the World’s Biggest Coupon,” New York Times, November 3, 2021.
As we discuss in Microeconomics and Economics, Chapter 5, Section 5.3, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions contribute to climate change, including the increases in temperatures that have been experienced worldwide. We’ve found that students are interested in seeing U.S. CO2 emissions in a global context.
The first of the following figures shows for the years 1960 to 2020, the total amount of CO2 emissions by the United States, China, India, the 28 countries in the European Union, lower-middle-income countries (including India, Nigeria, and Vietnam), and upper-middle-income countries (including China, Brazil, and Argentina). The second of the figures shows the percentage of total world CO2 accounted for by each of the three individual countries and by the indicated groups of countries. in the United States and in the countries of the European Union both total emissions and the percentage of total world emissions have been declining over the past 15 years. Emissions have been increasing in China, India, and in middle-income countries. The figures are from the Our World in Data website (ourworldindata.org). (Note that the reductions in emissions during 2020 largely reflect the effects of the slowdown in economic activity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than long-term trends in emissions.)
Governments in many countries have attempted to slow the pace of climate change by enacting policies to reduce CO2emissions. (According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CO2 accounts for about 76 percent of all emissions worldwide of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Methane and nitrous oxide, mainly from agricultural activity, make up most of the rest of greenhouse gas emissions.) In August 2022, Congress and President Biden enacted additional measures aimed at slowing climate change. Included among these measures were government subsidies to firms and households to use renewable energy such as rooftop solar panels, tax rebates for some buyers of certain electric vehicles, and funds for utilities to develop power sources such as wind and solar that don’t emit CO2. The measures have been estimated to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by somewhere between 6 percent and 15 percent. Because the United States is responsible for only about 14 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, the measures would likely reduce global emissions by only about 2 percent.
The figures shown above make this result unsurprising. Because the United States is the source of only a relatively small percentage of global greenhouse emissions, reductions in U.S. emissions can result in only small reductions in global emissions. Although many policymakers and economists believe that the marginal benefit from these reductions in U.S. emissions exceed their marginal cost, the reductions can’t by themselves do more than slow the rate of climate change. A key reason that India, China, and other middle income countries have accounted for increasing quantities of greenhouse gases is that they rely much more heavily on burning coal than do the United States, the countries in the European Union, and other high-income countries. Utilities switching to generating electricity by burning coal rather than by burning natural gas has been a key source of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The two figures above measure a country’s contribution to CO2 emissions by looking at the quantity of emissions generated by production within the country. But suppose instead that we look at the quantity of CO2 emitted during the production of the goods consumed within the country? In that case, we would allocate to the United States CO2 emitted during the product of a good, such as a television or a shirt, that was produced in China or another foreign country but consumed in the United States.
For the United States, as the following figure shows it makes only a small difference whether we measure CO2emissions on the basis of production of goods and services or on the basis of consumption of goods and services. U.S. emissions of CO2 are about 7 percent higher when measured on a consumption basis rather than on a production basis. By both measures, U.S. emissions of CO2 have been generally declining since about 2007. (1990 is the first year that these two measures are available.)
Sources: Hannah Ritchie, Max Roser and Pablo Rosado, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” OurWorldInData.org, https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions; Greg Ip, “Inflation Reduction Act’s Real Climate Impact Is a Decade Away,” Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2022; Lisa Friedman, “Democrats Designed the Climate Law to Be a Game Changer. Here’s How,” New York Times, August 22, 2022; Hannah Ritchie, “How Do CO2 Emissions Compare When We Adjust for Trade?” ourworldindata.org, October 7, 2019; and United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data,” epa.gov, February 22, 2022.
In Chapter 1, Section 1.1, one of our three key economic ideas is that people respond to economic incentives. Government policy can change the economic incentives that people face. Sometimes a government policy can have unintended consequences because it changes economic incentives in a way that policymakers didn’t anticipate. Some economists argue that this was the case with the Biden administration’s decision to change the federal student loan program.
In recent years, college students and their parents have rapidly increased their loan debt. The following figure shows the total value of outstanding student loans beginning in 2000. Student loan debt increased from about $52 billion in 2000 to about $1.6 trillion in 2022. Or, put another way, for every dollar of loan debt students and their parents owed in 2000, they owed more than 27 dollars of debt in 2022. In 2022, the average borrower owed about $37,000.
During the Covid–19 pandemic, the Trump and Biden administrations allowed people with student loans to suspend making payments on them. The payment moratorium began March 31, 2020 and is scheduled to end on December 31, 2022. Student loan payments are often the largest item in the budgets of recent college graduates. Some economists argue that the need to make student loan payments has made it harder for young adults to accumulate the down payments necessary to buy homes. As a result, young adults are likely to delay forming families, thereby reducing their need to move from an apartment to a house. In 1967, about 83 percent of people aged 25 to 34 lived with a spouse or partner, while in 2021 only about 54 percent did.
Some economists doubt that student loan debt explains the delay in young adults forming families and buying houses. But many policymakers have seen reducing the burden of student loan debt on young adults as an important issue. In August 2022, President Joe Biden announced a plan under which individuals earning less than $125,000 per year would have up to $10,000 in student loan debt cancelled. Borrowers with Pell grants would have up to another $10,000 cancelled. A second part of the plan involved changes to the federal government’s income-driven repayment (IDR) program. As a result of these changes, lower and middle-income student loan borrowers will be able to more easily have their loan balances canceled. With some exceptions, borrowers who have loans of $12,000 or less will have their loans canceled after making payments for 10 years, rather than the current 20 years. The annual payments for most borrowers using the IDR program will be lowered to 5 percent of their income above about $33,000 per year, rather than the previous 10 percent.
Some policymakers objected to President Biden’s plan, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it was the result of a presidential executive order rather than the result of Congressional legislation. Many economists focused on a different potential problem with the plan: the economic incentives that might result from the changes to the IDR program. The intention of these changes was to reduce the burden on people who currently have student loans, but the changes also affected the economic incentives facing students applying for loans and colleges in deciding the level of tuition to charge.
In an article on the Brookings Institution website, Adam Looney, a professor of finance at the University of Utah, argued that because of the changes to the IDR program, the typical college student could expect to pay back only about 50 percent of the amount borrowed. Before the changes, the Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the typical student would end up paying more than 100 percent of the amount borrowed because the student would have to pay interest on the loan amount. Looney argues that students and their parents will have an incentive to borrow more because they will expect to pay back only half of the amount borrowed. In particular, he notes:
“A large share of student debt is not used to pay tuition, but is given to students in cash for rent, food, and other expenses…. While students certainly need to pay rent and buy food while in school, under the administration proposal a student can borrow significant amounts for ‘living expenses,’ deposit the check in a bank account, and not pay it all back…. Some people will use loans like an ATM, which will be costly for taxpayers and is certainly not the intended use of the loans.”
Sylvain Catherine, a professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, makes a similar argument: “How can we not anticipate the distortionary effects of such a policy? Student will be encouraged to take more debt since they will not have to repay the marginal dollar, and colleges will have an incentive to further increase tuition.” An article in the New York Times noted that taxpayers will be responsible for the value of student loans that aren’t paid back: “By offering more-generous educational subsidies, the government may be creating a perverse incentive for both schools and borrowers, who could begin to pay even less attention to the actual price tag of their education—and taxpayers could be left footing more of the bill.”
It’s too early to judge the extent to which students, their families, and colleges will react to the changed incentives in President Biden’s student debt relief plan. But because the plan changes economic incentives, it may result in consequences not intended by President Biden and his advisers. (Note that the lawsuits challenging the plan’s constitutionality have also not yet been resolved.)
Sources: Adam Looney, “Biden’s Income-Driven Repayment Plan Would Turn Student Loans into Untargeted Grants,” brookings.edu, September 15, 2022; Gabriel T. Rubin and Amara Omeokwe, “Biden’s Student-Debt-Forgiveness Plan May Cost Up to $1 Trillion, Challenging Deficit Goals,” Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2022; Stacey Cowley, “Student Loan Subsidies Could Have Dangerous, Unintended Side Effects,” New York Times, September 19, 2022; Ron Lieber, “Why Aren’t Student Loans Simple? Because This Is America,” New York Times, September 3, 2022; Congressional Budget Office, “Federal Student Loan Programs, Baseline Projections,” May 2022; U.S. Census Bureau, “Historical Living Arrangements of Adults,” Table AD-3, November 2021; and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis FRED data set.
Supports: Microeconomics, Chapter 6, Section 6.3 and Chapter 10, Section 10.3, Economics Chapter 6, Section 6.3 and Chapter 10, Section 10.3, and Essentials of Economics, Chapter 7, Section 7.4 and Section 7.7.
In August 2022, an article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the Disney Company increasing the prices it charges for admission to its Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks. As a result of the price increases, “For the quarter that ended July 2 , the business unit that includes the theme parks … posted record revenue of $5.42 billion and record operating income of $1.65 billion.” The increase in revenue occurred even though “attendance at Disney’s U.S. parks fell by 17% compared with the previous year….”
The article also contains the following observations about Disney’s ticket price increases:
“Disney’s theme-park pricing is determined by ‘pure supply and demand,’ said a company spokeswoman.”
“[T]he changes driving the increases in revenue and profit have drawn the ire of what Disney calls ‘legacy fans,’ or longtime parks loyalists.”
Briefly explain what must be true of the demand for tickets to Disney’s theme parks if its revenue from ticket sales increased even though 17 percent fewer tickets were sold. [For the sake of simplicity, ignore any other sources of revenue Disney earns from its theme parks apart from ticket sales.]
In Chapter 10, Section 10.3 the textbook discusses social influences on decision making, in particular, the business implications of fairness. Briefly discuss whether the analysis in that section is relevant as Disney determines the prices for tickets to its theme parks.
Solving the Problem
Step 1: Review the chapter material. This problem is about the effects of price increases on firms’ revenues and on whether firms should pay attention the possibility that consumers might be concerned about fairness when making their consumption decisions, so you may want to review Chapter 6, Section 6.3, “The Relationship between Price Elasticity of Demand and Total Revenue” and Chapter 10, Section 10.3, “Social Influences on Decision Making,” particularly the topic “Business Implications of Fairness.”
Step 2: Answer part a. by explaining what must be true of the demand for tickets to Disney’s theme parks if revenue from ticket sales increased even though Disney sold fewer tickets. Assuming that the demand curve for tickets to Disney’s theme parks is unchanged, a decline in the quantity of tickets sold will result in a move up along the demand curve for tickets, raising the price of tickets. Only if the demand curve for theme park tickets is price inelastic will the revenue Disney receives from ticket sales increase when the price of tickets increases. Revenue increases in this situation because with an inelastic demand curve, the percentage increase in price is greater than the percentage decrease in quantity demanded.
Step 3: Answer part b. by explaining whether the textbook’s discussion of the business implications of fairness is relevant as Disney as determines ticket prices. Section 10.3 may be relevant to Disney’s decisions because the section discusses that firms sometimes take consumer perceptions of fairness into account when deciding what prices to charge. Note that ordinarily economists assume that the utility consumers receive from a good or service depends only on the attributes of the good or service and is not affected by the price of the good or service. Of course, in making decisions on which goods and services to buy with their available income, consumers take price into account. But consumers take price into account by comparing the marginal utilities of products realtive to their prices, with the marginal utilities assumed not to be affected by the prices.
In other words, a consumer considering buying a ticket to Disney World will compare the marginal utility of visiting Disney World relative to the price of the ticket to the marginal utility of other goods and services relative to their prices. The consumer’s marginal utility from spending a day in Disney World will not be affected by whether he or she considers the price of the ticket to be unfairly high.
The textbook gives examples, though, of cases where a business may fail to charge the price that would maximize short-run profit because the business believes consumers would see the price as unfair, which might cause them to be unwilling to buy the product in the future. For instance, restaurants frequently don’t increase their prices during a particularly busy night, even though doing so would increase the profit they earn on that night. They are afraid that if they do so, some customers will consider the restaurants to have acted unfairly and will stop eating in the restaurants. Similarly, the National Football League doesn’t charge a price that would cause the quantity of Super Bowl tickets demanded to be equal to the fixed supply of seats available at the game because it believes that football fans would consider it unfair to do so.
The Wall Street Journal article quotes a Disney spokeswomen as saying that the company sets the price of tickets according to demand and supply. That statement seems to indicate that Disney is charging the price that will maximize the short-run profit the company earns from selling theme park tickets. But the article also indicates that many of Disney’s long-time ticket buyers are apparently upset at the higher prices Disney has been charging. If these buyers consider Disney’s prices to be unfair, they may in the future stop buying tickets.
In other words, it’s possible that Disney might find itself in a situation in which it has increased its profit in the short run at the expense of its profit in the long run. The managers at Disney might consider sacrificing some profit in the long run to increase profit in the short run an acceptable trade-off, particularly because it’s difficult for the company to know whether in fact many of its customers will in the future stop buying admission tickets because they believe current ticket prices to be unfairly high.
Sources: Robbie Whelan and Jacob Passy, “Disney’s New Pricing Magic: More Profit From Fewer Park Visitors,” Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2022.