In microeconomics, the law of demand is a fundamental principle which states that there is an inverse relationship between price and quantity demanded. In other words, "conditional on all else being equal, as the price of a good increases (↑), quantity demanded will decrease (↓); conversely, as the price of a good decreases (↓), quantity demanded will increase (↑)". Alfred Marshall worded this as: "When then we say that a person's demand for anything increases, we mean that he will buy more of it than he would before at the same price, and that he will buy as much of it as before at a higher price". The law of demand, however, only makes a qualitative statement in the sense that it describes the direction of change in the amount of quantity demanded but not the magnitude of change.
The law of demand is represented by a graph called the demand curve, with quantity demanded on the x-axis and price on the y-axis. Demand curves are downward sloping by definition of the law of demand. The law of demand also works together with the law of supply where it provides to us the efficient allocation of resources in an economy or in other words - the equilibrium price and quantity.
It is important to note that the relationship between price and quantity demanded holds true so long as "all else remain equal". If all else are not held equal, the law of demand may not necessarily hold. In the real world, there are many determinants of demand other than price, such as the prices of other goods, the consumer's income, preferences etc. There are also exceptions to the law of demand such as Giffen goods and Veblen goods.
Economist Alfred Marshall provided the graphical illustration of the law of demand. This graphical illustration is still used today to define and explain a variety of other concepts and theories in economics. A simple explanation of the law of demand is that all else equal, at a higher price, consumer will demand less quantity of a good and vice versa. The law of demand applies to a variety of organisational and business situations. Price determination, government policy formation etc are examples. Together with the law of supply, the law of demand provides to us the equilibrium price and quantity. Moreover, the law of demand and supply explains why goods are priced at the level that they are. They also help us identify opportunities to buy what are perceived to be underpriced (or sell overpriced) goods or assets.An important concept to apprehend from the law of demand is the difference between demand and quantity demanded. Demand refers to the demand curve. A change in demand is indicated by a shift in the demand curve. Quantity demanded, on the other hand refers to a specific point on the demand curve which corresponds to a specific price. A change in quantity demanded therefore refers to a movement along the existing demand curve. However, there are some exceptions to the law of demand. For instance, if the price of cigarettes goes up, its demand does not decrease. The exceptions to the law of demand typically suit the Giffen commodities and Veblen goods which is further explained below.
The famous law of demand was first stated by Charles Davenant (1656-1714) in his essay, "Probable Methods of Making People Gainers in the Balance of Trade (1699)". However, there were instances of its understanding and use much earlier when George King (1648-1712) made a demonstration of the law of demand. He represented a relationship between the price of wheat and the harvest where the results suggested that if the harvest falls by 50%, the price would rise by 500%. This demonstration illustrated the law of demand as well as its elasticity.
Skipping forward to 1890, economist Alfred Marshall documented the graphical illustration of the law of demand. In Principles of Economics (1890), Alfred Marshall reconciled the demand and supply into a single analytical framework. The formulation of the demand curve was provided by the utility theory while supply curve was determined by the cost. This idea of demand and supply curve is what we still use today to develop the market equilibrium and to support a variety of other economic theories and concepts. Due to general agreement with the observation, economists have come to accept the validity of the law under most situations. Economist also see Alfred Marshall as the pioneer of the standard demand and supply diagrams and their use in economic analysis including welfare applications and consumer surplus.
Consider the function , where is the quantity demanded of good , is the demand function, is the price of the good and is the list of parameters other than the price.
The above equation, when plotted with quantity demanded () on the -axis and price () on the -axis, gives the demand curve, which is also known as the demand schedule. The demand curve is downward sloping illustrating the inverse relationship between quantity demanded and price. Therefore, a downward sloping demand curve embeds the law of demand.
Terminology: Demand vs Quantity Demanded
It is very important to apprehend the difference between demand and quantity demanded as they are used to mean different things in the economic jargon.
On the one hand, demand refers to the demand curve. Changes in demand are depicted graphically by a shift in the demand curve to the left or right. Changes in the demand curve are usually caused by 5 major factors, namely: number of buyers, consumer income, tastes or preferences, price of related goods and future expectations.
On the other hand, quantity demanded refers to a specific point located on the demand curve which corresponds to a specific price. Therefore, quantity demanded represents the exact quantity of a good or service demanded by a consumer at a particular price, conditional on the other determinants. A change in quantity demanded can be indicated by a movement along the existing demand curve that is caused only by a change in price.
For instance, let's take the example of a housing market. An increase or decrease in price of housing will not shift the demand curve rather it will cause a movement along the demand curve for housing i.e. change in quantity demanded. But if we look at mortgage rates (a factor other than price), even if housing prices remain unchanged, an increased mortgage rate leads to a lower willingness to buy at all prices, shifting the demand curve to the left. Consumers will buy less, even though the price is the same. On the other hand, lower mortgage rate leads to a higher willingness to buy at all prices, and eventually shifting the demand curve to the right.Consumers will now buy more, even though the price has not changed at all.
Exceptions to the Law of Demand
Generally, the amount demanded of a good increases with a decrease in price of the good and vice versa. In some cases this may not be true. There are certain goods which do not follow the law of demand. These include Giffen goods, Veblen goods, basic or necessary goods and expectations of future price changes. Further exception and details are given in the sections below:
Initially proposed by Sir Robert Giffen, economists disagree on the existence of Giffen goods in the market. A Giffen good describes an inferior good that, as the price increases, demand for the product increases. As an example, during the Great Famine of Ireland of the 19th century, potatoes were considered a Giffen good. Potatoes were the largest staple in the Irish diet, so as the price rose it had a large impact on income. People responded by cutting out on luxury goods such as meat and vegetables, and instead bought more potatoes. Therefore, as the price of potatoes increased, so did the quantity demanded.This results in an upward sloping demand curve contrary to the fundamental law of demand.
Unlike Giffen goods, which is are inferior items, Veblen goods are generally high quality goods. The demand for Veblen goods increases with the increase in price. Examples of Veblen goods are mostly luxurious items such as diamond, gold, precious stones, world-famous paintings, antiques etc. Veblen goods go against the law of demand because of their exclusivity appeal, in the sense that if a price of a luxurious and expensive product is increased, it may attract the status-conscious group more, since it will be further out of reach for an average consumer. Thorstein Veblen referred to this sort of consumption as the purchase of goods that do not exhibit additional utility or functionality but offer status and reveal socioeconomic position. In simple words, these goods are not bought for their satisfaction but for their "snob appeal" or "ostentation". Accordingly, all these factors also lead to an upward sloping demand curve for Veblen goods.
Expectation of change in the price of commodity
If an increase in the price of a commodity causes households to expect the price of a commodity to increase further, they may start purchasing a greater amount of the commodity even at the presently increased price. Similarly, if the household expects the price of the commodity to decrease, it may postpone its purchases. Thus, some argue that the law of demand is violated in such cases. In this case, the demand curve does not slope down from left to right; instead, it presents a backward slope from the top right to down left. This curve is known as an exceptional demand curve.
Basic or necessary goods
The goods which people need no matter how high the price is are basic or necessary goods. Medicines covered by insurance are a good example. An increase or decrease in the price of such a good does not affect its quantity demanded.
Certain scenarios in stock trading
Stock buyers acting in accord with the hot-hand fallacy will increase buying when stock prices are trending upward. Other rationales for buying a high-priced stock are that previous buyers who bid up the price are proof of the issue's quality, or conversely, that an issue's low price may be evidence of viability problems. Likewise, demand among short traders during a short squeeze can increase as price increases.
- Revealed preference
- Aggregation problem
- Representative agent
- Methodological individualism
- Demand (economics)
- Second law of demand (price elasticity over time)
- Third Law of Demand Alchian–Allen effect
- Supply and demand
- Law of supply
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