Ask an Economist
What seemed obvious to me, though, was that charging $2 per pound and selling 2,000 pounds of apples results in a gross earning of $4,000, while if the producer still charged $4 per pound and only produced the 1,000 pounds of apples that he could sell at that price he would still make $4,000. Why then should the producer work twice as hard by producing 2,000 to sell at $2 per pound when only producing 1,000 pounds of apples and selling them at a price of $4 earns the exact same amount of money? Both options are meeting the maximum demand for the apples at their respective price levels and making the same amount of money, so why should the producer strive to reach market equilibrium if that means, in this case, working twice as hard for the same profit? Wouldn't that be horribly inefficient?
Thank you for your time.
Your question relates to what we teach in our Principles of Microeconomics courses: “The Law of Supply.” Indeed, producing 4,000 pounds of apples and charging $4 per pound creates a surplus in this specific market you describe....
The Male Female Wage Gap in Iowa compared to the U.S. by Peter F. Orazem and Levi Soborowicz
The Current Population Survey March Supplement includes questions about the last year’s annua earnings. The survey includes...
The answer is hidden in your question. The company hedges to mitigate risk, to guard against excessive downturns in profit. It “pays” for this risk protection by potentially foregoing some profit. There is of course a risk-return tradeoff....
In religion a hypothesis is presented as being fact without any credible test to validate its accuracy.
In economics, there is no laboratory testing of hypotheses and no mathematical formulas predicting future outcomes. Economics therefore qualifies as a religion. Do you agree?
The question is interesting, provocative, and borderline polemical. Economics is not pure science. In physical science, lab experiments have repeatability and reproducibility. A sincere modern-day scientist can replicate the lab results of an...
My question is this:
If we factor in the size reduction and substitute ingredients, the adjusted retail price of the two pack of candy is significant less than 35 cents in 2022 dollars. How do we then explain the fact that today the price is often over $1.00 per ounce and even when purchased in bulk packages it is commonly 40-50 cents per ounce or more?
(Please feel free to use your own numbers and data if that would help)
Think of a bundle of goods bought at $1 in 1928. This bundle would consist of many goods. The average increase in bundle price would be $17.31 in 2022. The idea is to recognize that the price of some commodities in the bundle would have increased...
We recently had a ruling in Canada that found it illegal for credit card networks (Visa / Mastercard) to prevent merchants from applying a credit card surcharge. As of last week, merchants are now allowed to add a fee when a customer pays using a credit card.
There have been a lot of posts on the r/Canada and r/PersonalFinanceCanada subreddits and the consensus from most people (who are likely consumers) is that this is another way to fleece the customer. I think this is a misguided point of view so I wrote a post trying explain as carefully as I can why this will eventually benefit the customer. The vast majority of the comments to my post were negative so I'd like to get an actual economist to look at my argument to see if it is on the whole is sound.
Link to original post with better formatting (text also reproduced below)
# Why having credit card surcharges is the right thing to do. A long read on the history, economics, business and the prisoner's dilemma of the credit card industry.
There's been a lot of discussion and debate on r/Canada, r/PersonalFinanceCanada and r/Ontario about the new court decision that allows merchants to apply credit card surcharges which were previously not allowed or greatly restricted. A lot of the blame seems to be directed at the merchants (i.e., the retailers / stores), and perhaps rightly so, since one can make an argument that these "surcharges" have certainly already been factored into the price of goods and services.
This purpose of this post is not to discuss that any further. Instead, it's to shed light on how we got here in the first place, and how restricting credit card surcharges have led us down a rather pernicious path of excessive fees. The forces that have upheld the ban on credit card surcharges are both governments (which in some countries/states outright ban merchants from adding a credit card surcharge) and the credit card duopoly of Visa and Mastercard (who force merchants to not apply a surcharge in their terms and conditions where the law doesn't prohibit this).
Some of the downsides of not having credit card surcharges are:
1. Visa/Mastercard have created a market dynamic where a rational consumer has no choice but to pay using a credit card (since the perks make using a credit card make it on net cheaper than paying by cash)
2. As a consequence of this, the credit card fees (which are ultimately footed by the consumer) are almost certainly higher than you'd expect in a properly functioning market
3. This fact that credit card fees are paid by all customers, regardless of whether they pay by card or cash, mean that certain populations who are less likely to use credit cards (usually poorer) subsidise the credit card usage of populations who are more likely to use credit cards (usually richer).
Let me make my stance clear before we proceed. I am not justifying the new surcharges that some merchants (such as Telus) seem to want to apply. If a merchant is sincere about adding a credit card surcharge to cover credit card fees, it should go hand in hand with an equivalent decrease in price for anyone paying by cash.
What I am arguing for is that it is wrong that credit card surcharges have been restricted in the past. I'll show how the ideal outcome for the consumer is not only for credit card surcharges to be legal but for it to be mandatory for the consumer to pay as a surcharge the exact credit card fee caused by the use of card. This will benefit both cash users, who will no longer have to subsidize the fees of credit card users, and card users, since this will likely apply pressure to decrease credit card fees.
While I have idealized much, and for the most part ignored factors like the costs involved in using cash (for instance, added security), I believe much of my argument still stands even if you were to account for this.
# How Credit Cards Work #
Before we get into the details of why having credit card fees are the right thing to do, we need to understand the seemingly convoluted dynamics of how the credit card industry works.
When you purchase something with a credit card, the merchant has to pay the credit card network (Visa/Mastercard) and the bank issuing the credit card which transfers the funds. For simplicity's sake I'm going to refer to both of these fees as the 'credit card fee' or simply 'fee' but there's a more detailed break down in the appendix at the bottom of this post. The credit card networks such as Visa and Mastercard set the rules for how this fee is calculated but the issuing bank gets most of the money (since it is the bank that handles the money and takes on the risk in issuing you a line of credit). In a way this is backwards from how things usually are. Usually, if you take a loan out to purchase something, you pay the interest on the loan, not the merchant. However, in this case, it is the merchant that pays the bank for the credit used by the consumer.
The credit card fee can vary widely. In Canada it is usually between 1-3% of the amount of the total transaction. The bank gets about 80% of the total fee and the credit card network gets about 5-10% of the fee. The rest go to the payment processor whom I'm going to ignore for the most part since they neither set the rules for the bulk of the fees nor get the bulk of the fees.
Many credit cards also come with a range of "benefits" that I'll collectively refer to as "perks". This includes any feature of using a credit card that has nothing to do with facilitating a transaction. The more obvious ones are Air Miles, airport lounge privileges, extended warranties on electronics and any amount of "cashback" (in quotes since it's not really cashback if they take your money to give it back to you). As I'll explain below these "rewards" are probably the most brazen part of the market failure that the credit card networks have created.
There are a couple of points that are important to understand for the rest of the discussion:
1. The credit card fee varies greatly between 1-3% of the total transaction. The primary reason for this wide range of fees is the type of card you use. Premium cards (for Visa, this would be Visa Infinite and for Mastercard this would be World Elite) have a higher credit card fee rate for a merchant compared to the same transaction for a basic card. This is how you get more "perks" such as Air Miles or "cashback" when you use these premium cards.
2. The credit card networks (Visa/Mastercard) set the terms and conditions for the merchants that accept these networks. In jurisdictions where this is not illegal, this usually means that merchants are prohibited from passing on the credit card fee to the consumer in the form of a surcharge. For instance, if a store sells apples for $1 in cash, if it is to accept credit cards, the final price to a consumer using a credit card must be the same. This means that to cover the additional credit card charge, merchants have to inflate the price of the apple for everyone, including consumers who pay by cash. The same apple now perhaps costs $1.015 for everyone, including cash payers.
# Externalities, Market Failure and The Prisoner's Dilemma, or in other words, how credit card networks can never lose #
When you pay using a credit card and there is no credit card surcharge, all of the customers of that merchant indirectly pay higher prices to cover your card fees. This [often affects poorer people disproportionately](https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/americas-poor-subsidize-wealthier-consumers-in-a-vicious-income-inequality-cycle/) since it is harder for them to get a credit card. It's doubtless wrong to have someone else pay a part of your bill, worse when it's a poorer person paying a richer person's bill.
Externalities are bad in economics because when you don't have to pay full price, you often take actions that are bad for society as a whole. For instance, if you run a chemical factory and there were no government regulations on pollution, you would probably save on costs to minimize pollution so that you can increase your profits. This might mean than you save $100 on costs, but at the same time the cost to society as a result of disease caused by your polluting could be $1000. Thus, your actions are globally suboptimal and should probably be prohibited.
In many cases, government regulations reduce the extent of the externality, but with no regulations credit cards fees are a perfect externality with the card user paying 0% of the fee.
> The Prisoner's Dilemma of Using a Credit Card or why the credit card system is rigged against consumers
In a world without credit card surcharges, holding all other factors constant, as a rational consumer you can only make one choice; sign up for the most premium credit card your bank offers you and use it to pay for everything.
Let's go back to our example of the $1 apple and see how this works out. Let's also increase the credit card fee to 15% and have a perk of 5% cashback to better illustrate the problem (treat 5% cashback as 5 cents cashback for simplicity's sake).
There are four scenarios depending on who decides to pay using card or cash:
1. **You pay by: Cash, Others pay by: Cash**
The apple *costs $1.00 for everyone*. In this scenario, both you and everyone else is irrational to not use a credit card and get 5% cashback. However, go to the fourth scenario to see how this actually pans out.
2. **You pay by: Cash, Others pay by: Cash**
You pay $1.00 but you get 5% cashback making the *net price $0.95 for you*.Since you are the only person using a card, the credit card surcharge as a proportion of all sales is negligible to the merchant and the price of the apple remains at $1.00.*Everyone else pays $1.00*.In this scenario the other customers are irrational to use cash.
3. **You pay by: Cash, Others pay by: Card**
The sticker price of the apple has now gone up to $1.15 since the merchant has to cover the credit card fee for almost all customers.*You pay $1.15* for the apple.Everyone else pays $1.15 at the counter but then gets 5% cashback which leaves them with a *net price of $1.10*.In this scenario you are irrational to use cash.
4. **You pay by: Card, Others pay by: Card**
The sticker price of the apple is $1.15 since the merchant has to cover the credit card fee.You pay $1.15 but get 5% cashback so *your net price is $1.10*.Everyone else has a *net price of $1.10* as well for the same reason.
Notice how regardless of how the other customers pay, the optimal solution for you is to pay by credit card. Eventually all of the other customers pick up on this trick as well and what ends up happening is that everyone pays by credit card regardless of how much the fees are. Even in this example with massively inflated credit card fees, **you have no choice but to use a credit card**.
> Market Failure
See the problem here? You may or may not have a preference to pay using a credit card, but the only rational choice you can make is to pay using credit card. You may well prefer to pay by card for convenience’s sake but that's irrelevant here. What this shows is that you have no choice. This compounded with the fact that governments do not regulate credit card fees means that there really is nothing stopping the credit card networks from charging 50% or even 100% of the transaction amount as a fee.
In reality this doesn't happen because such a move will almost certainly elicit a severe regulatory crackdown from governments. At the same time, this makes it plain to see that whatever the credit card fees are now, they must be exorbitantly higher than what they ought to be. So even if you're comfortable with a 2% added fee, you should know that this might well be 5-10x what it ought to be).
This next sentence describes, perhaps, what I find most egregious about all of this.
**In credit cards, not only do you have a perfect externality where those who benefit from it's use pay $0 and offload all of the costs to all consumers, but when it comes to "perks" the externality is effectively used to pay for an additional product (Air Miles, cashback, etc.) that has nothing to do with facilitating a transaction.** These features are unnecessary and unnecessarily inflate the fees. In a sense even the line of credit that you have though the bank is an unnecessary perk if you pay you credit card bill on time. The only feature of value, then, is the ability to make an electronic cashless transaction. In many cases, not even those who receive these additional perks would want them if they knew that they are paying more as a result of it.
# Why Credit card fees should not only be allowed but also be mandatory #
Regardless of whether a merchant decides to apply a credit card surcharge or not, the fees will eventually be passed on to the consumer. Therefore, it is in the consumer's interest that credit card fees are lowered, not in the merchant's interest.
The only way consumers can apply pressure on the credit card networks to reduce their fees and to stop bundling pointless "perks" is if consumers are given a legitimate option on whether to use a credit card or not. The only way to have this option is if you aren't forced to indirectly pay credit card fees if you pay by cash. In other words, if a consumer uses a credit card, they ought to be obligated (with no exceptions even if the merchant is against it) to pay as a surcharge the exact credit card fee. Not a penny less, not a penny more. At the same time, merchants should be obligated to reduce the current prices for consumers paying by cash. Note that the current ruling that allows merchants to apply a credit card surcharge is still suboptimal since merchants are still free to not apply a surcharge.
**Having a mandatory credit card surcharge means that if consumers feel they are being unfairly charged high card fees, they will switch to cash which would incentivize the credit card networks to lower their fees. Similarly if they feel that the additional fees incurred by using a premium card are not worth it, they will switch to using a basic credit card.**
Other options to lower fees are to have government intervention to set limits on credit card fees or to outlaw bundling "perks". Intervention like this is difficult to do correctly and might lead to further problems that increase costs on the consumer.
# Conclusion #
In conclusion, the prisoner's dilemma of using a credit card means that we have no legitimate choice on whether or not to use a credit card. Credit card networks have intentionally further exploited the consumers inability to (indirectly) not pay these fees by bundling unwanted "perks" that further increase credit card fees, making it even more suboptimal to not use a credit card. This market failure leads to considerably higher credit card fees which eventually make us all, collectively, worse off.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how credit cards work, and how the credit card networks have created a system that increases costs on the consumer.
# Appendix #
The major fees paid by the merchant are:
1. Interchange fee. Set by the credit card network but paid to the issuing bank. Covers the risk to the bank for issuing you a line of credit. Between 1-3% of the transaction amount. For debit transactions, this drops to about 0.3%.
2. Assessment fee. Set by the credit card network and paid to the credit card network. Covers the cost to use a credit card network such as Visa or Mastercard. Usually around 0.1% of the transaction amount in the U.S. and probably similar in Canada.
3. Payment processing fees (set by the payment processor and paid to the payment processor). In Canada, these are companies like Moneris, Global Payments, and Square. These companies facilitate the transaction, handle the fees when a transaction occurs and pays the various fees out to the bank and the credit card network. Fees vary but the numbers online seem to suggest this is either under 0.15% of the transaction amount or a flat fee around $0.15 in the U.S. Some payment processors charge one flat overarching fee that includes the interchange fee, assessment fee and the processing fee which makes it hard to tell how much of a cut they're actually getting. Unlike the interchange and Assessment fee, the retailer is free to choose their payment processor, so you'd expect market dynamics to push this fee down.
I appreciate your sharing your view on a specific policy issue based on the systematic application of economic concepts.
My understanding of the suggestion is that the mandatory surcharging rule on credit card payments would be better for...
Without a doubt, demand has outpaced supply over the past 18 months. In labor markets, there are currently 4.9 million more jobs available than there are individuals looking for work (i.e., comparing job openings from the JOLTS release to...
Without a doubt, demand has outpaced supply over the past 18 months. In labor markets, there are currently 4.9 million more jobs available than there are individuals looking for work (i.e., comparing job openings from the JOLTS release to...
The largest service that tries to predict "value" of an athlete's NIL comes from a company called On3. They explain their algorithm here that they use to assign valuations. Most notably, to an idiot like me, they say that their service is not a deal tracker, and does not adjust their ratings based on deal flow or current deal activity.
I'm not asking for specific projections about social media marketing or the NIL industry...but I would like to know, as an economist, what data is typically required to be able to confidently project a range for a product or service's 'valuation?', especially in a newer market? Consumers can get a relatively reliable range for what their home might sell for, what they could earn in a particular job, how to pay for a used car...what would they need to be able to do the same for say, what their Instagram might be worth as a college soccer player?
I believe the question being asked is how to calculate what an NIL deal might be worth to a college athlete? In particular, the focus of the question also seems to be on determining what a college athlete could get paid to be a sponsor, a...
My issue with this was that, if the pollution is generated as a result of a rice farmer's production activity (i.e. the burning of the crop stubble to clear the land for his next harvest), then how can it be considered a "consumption externality"? Isn't a consumption externality a side effect (which can be good/bad) that results from a consumption activity and not a production activity? Likewise, isn't a production externality a side effect (which also can be good/bad) that results from a production activity?
Yes, it is as you say. A production externality is generated when the production activities of one firm adversely or positively affects the production activities of another firm. Similarly, a consumption externality is generated when my...
That's a bit like asking which of your two eyes is more important. As in many cases in economics, the answer to your question is: it depends. There are markets where, at a point in time, supply is more important. Take an interval of time when...
The question you asked is complicated, but I think it boils down to: “do longer commute times lead to community decline?”. First, I am not sure if communities are in decline generally, but you cite some examples of community decline, such as...
I am unaware of any discussions pertaining to a Marshall-like plan for the Russian economy presently.
The official digital Yuan issued by the central bank of China does not has the expiration date. The "digital Yuan" mentioned in the question should be the digital consumption voucher which is issued by the local government and has the expiration...
There is a lot in this question to digest: the trade war, impacts by farm size, and the effectiveness of government support. For the soybean market, the U.S.-China trade dispute did have a significant impact. Roughly half of U.S...
1. How do you personally live your best life?
2. What are some challenges you face as an economist?
3. Is there something that keeps you moving forward?
4. How advantageous is it to have the support of others?
5. Are you always motivated to do things or does it require discipline?
6. Anything else you'd like to share?
How do you personally live your best life?
I live my best life by doing what I enjoy daily. That is researching and teaching economics. When you do what you love, it’s hardly working. In addition, I love going to...
People sometimes have different ideas in mind when considering home price appreciation. Most conventional discussions do not adjust for inflation. A more nuanced consideration could account for rises in the general price level, i.e.,...
Running a business is always risky, and owning an auto mechanic shop is no different. Your concern about changing technology is interesting because I see two main avenues of change. First, there may be changes in the process of repairing vehicles...
Economics provides a framework for understanding aspects of individual and collective behavior. In particular, economics focuses on how individuals and societies allocate resources. Economists also offer important insights about how...
As a corollary thought, were the FED to have real time data on inflation, they could micromanage rates rather than waiting a month and then having to jump rates in an attempt to catch up to inflation. If inflation jumps a tiny bit Tuesday then lift rates a tiny bit immediately. I assume that there would be some good reasons not to move rates frequently, but if the big picture intention is to limit inflation to a desirable zone, agility would be a valuable tool. It feels like we are spending 29 out of every 30 days driving out of control.
Yes, more timely inflation measures do exist. For example, academics have used new data-gathering techniques, referred to as "big data", to create daily inflation measures; see, e.g., the Billion Prices Project (...
It is not a necessity to use a seasonally adjusted data for VAR and Granger Causality. If one, however, uses a data with seasonality for estimating VAR / Granger causality and does not do anything to deal with it, the results would capture both...
As you wrote, to compute concentration ratios, you would need data on quantities produced or sold (property appraisals in your case) and a reasonable market definition, which can be a separate challenge on its own.
Assuming you have...
You asked how a monopolist might use marketing campaigns to increase profit. As you discussed, marketing efforts would likely result in consumers willing to pay more, shifting the demand out. This can only be good news for the firm if...
Indeed, one answer to a fundamental question in international trade -- why do countries trade? -- is that specialization based on comparative advantage leads to gains from trade for all countries. This same principle also applies at the...
The incentive to work should really not be a higher wage, working ANYWHERE should immediately give you the right to live comfortably.
Now, the main answer to the original question I realize; is inflation. Demand rises and then so do costs whether it’s for more product or more labor, whatever the reason… if from the beginning we gave every single worker regardless of the role access to food, water, shelter, clothing, and whatever else is needed for a human to be happy and healthy, I don’t see how the economy could suffer. Maybe my point is: the reason poverty exists is because of this economy.
I realize I’ve got off track, but if the government printed $50k and gave it to EVERYONE; sure people would absolutely use it irresponsibly but if that money is going back into the economy anyway… why does inflation even matter? Bc the American dollar in a way loses value? So what… just print more money… it’s paper, $1 = $1 but what’s the deal with $1 being $10 if there’s like a lesser need for people to make large profit because we can just print more money…
Printing more money does not solve a country’s financial problems, rather it would exacerbate those. Suppose an economy prints more money, it would mean that the consumers can now buy more goods or a greater quantity of the same good. The...