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“lemons” and other examples of imperfect information

Consider Marvin, who is trying to decide whether to buy a used car. Let’s assume that Marvin is truly clueless about what happens inside a car’s engine. He is willing to do some background research, like reading Consumer Reports or checking websites that offer information about makes and models of used cars and what they should cost. He might pay a mechanic to inspect the car. Even after devoting some money and time collecting information, however, Marvin still cannot be absolutely sure that he is buying a high-quality used car. He knows that he might buy the car, drive it home, and use it for a few weeks before discovering that car is a “lemon,” which is slang for a defective product (especially a car).

Imagine that Marvin shops for a used car and finds two that look very similar in terms of mileage, exterior appearances, and age. One car costs $4,000, while the other car costs $4,600. Which car should Marvin buy?

If Marvin was choosing in a world of perfect information, the answer would be simple: he should buy the cheaper car. But Marvin is operating in a world of imperfect information, where the sellers likely know more about the car’s problems than he does, and have an incentive to hide the information. After all, the more problems that are disclosed, the lower the car’s selling price.

What should Marvin do? First, he needs to understand that even with imperfect information, prices still reflect information. Typically, used cars are more expensive on some dealer lots because the dealers have a trustworthy reputation to uphold. Those dealers try to fix problems that may not be obvious to their customers, in order to create good word of mouth about their vehicles’ long term reliability. The short term benefits of selling their customers a “lemon” could cause a quick collapse in the dealer’s reputation and a loss of long term profits. On other lots that are less well-established, one can find cheaper used cars, but the buyer takes on more risk when a dealer’s reputation has little at stake. The cheapest cars of all often appear on Craigslist, where the individual seller has no reputation to defend. In sum, cheaper prices do carry more risk, so Marvin should balance his appetite for risk versus the potential headaches of many more unanticipated trips to the repair shop.

Similar problems with imperfect information arise in labor and financial capital markets. Consider Greta, who is applying for a job. Her potential employer, like the used car buyer, is concerned about ending up with a “lemon”—in this case a poor quality employee. The employer will collect information about Greta’s academic and work history. In the end, however, a degree of uncertainty will inevitably remain regarding Greta’s abilities, which are hard to demonstrate without actually observing her on the job. How can a potential employer screen for certain attributes, such as motivation, timeliness, ability to get along with others, and so on? Employers often look to trade schools and colleges to pre-screen candidates. Employers may not even interview a candidate unless he has a degree and, sometimes, a degree from a particular school. Employers may also view awards, a high grade point average, and other accolades as a signal of hard work, perseverance, and ability. Employers may also seek references for insights into key attributes such as energy level, work ethic, and so on.

Questions & Answers

why does a firm continue operating at a breakeven point
Prince Reply
to retain its customers for later coming profits.
tesfie
this is because the firm's revenu is covering the variable cost so the firm should continuos business
Florencia
and zero profit is a normal profit which covers entrepreneur's profit along with recovering wages, interest and rent.
Farooq
what economic trend can we expect after lifting of 10 year long sanctions in an national economy?
tesfie Reply
difference between change in demand and change in quantity demanded
Maurice Reply
how
kumar
how to change
kumar
For a demand with repect to price. change in demand refers to the shifting of demand curve, where as change in quantity demanded means movement along the given demand curve.
Farooq
According to lional Robbins how did he explain economics
Raphael Reply
He defined economics as a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scares which has alternative uses.
Emmanuel
What is economics
Nasiru Reply
why are some countries producing inside the ppf
Claire Reply
prove or disprove that balance of trade of trade deficit is a cause of an abnormal demand curve?
Chioma Reply
what's the fixed cost at output zero
Saidou Reply
fixed cost stay the same regardless of the level of output
Luka
what are the differences between change in demand and change in quantity demand
Sulaiman Reply
what is consumers behaviour
Marfo Reply
importance of income
Emmanuel Reply
Tfor settlement of debt. For purchases. For payment of bills. For daily transactions. For social & recreational enjoyment. For business purposes etc
Oyetunde
thanks
Emmanuel
For investment purposes For security purposes For purpose of forecasting & strategizing.
Oyetunde
what is the real definition of economics
jegede Reply
Economics is the study of the use and allocation of (scarce) resources
demsurf
Jegede, what is the "non" real definition of economics then?
Ernest
Economics is a study of how human use limited resources to fulfil their unlimited want
Musa
the study of how a society use scarce factors of production efficiently so as meet aggregate social demand
Marc
what is oligopoly?
Sailo
Oligopoly can be defines as a market where by there is only tmo or more sellers of a commodity
Paamat
Sory not tmo but two
Paamat
incidence of production there is a choice do you agree? justify
Oduro Reply
What is incidence of production? do u mean incidence of tax?
Aryeetey
I want to know about Richard lipsey and robin as the economist and their definition proposed by them
Musa Reply
what are the causes of scarcity And what are the goal scarcity
Musa
scarcity only exist because human wants are unlimited...if human just know how to be contented then scarcity will not exist
Ylaine
what is ment by possibility curve
Ruzaiq
define accounting?teatly
Ahmed Reply
Is the recording, classifying, interpreting record of all transaction
Yuusuf
is still the act of measuring, interpreting and communicating of financial issues
Yuusuf
measuring business or individual finance
Zeyi
Accounting is the process of collecting,recording,classifying,summarizing and interpreting/presenting financial data to the stakeholders for their economic decision making
asri
hi
Otilina
hi
AVIAH
wat is PPC
ALLAJI

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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