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By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Analyze the impact of both imperfect information and asymmetric information
  • Evaluate the role of advertisements in creating imperfect information
  • Identify ways to reduce the risk of imperfect information
  • Explain how imperfect information can affect price, quantity, and quality

Consider a purchase that many people make at important times in their lives: buying expensive jewelry. In May 1994, Doree Lynn bought an expensive ring from a jeweler in Washington, D.C., which included an emerald that cost $14,500. Several years later, the emerald fractured. Lynn took it to another jeweler who found that cracks in the emerald had been filled with an epoxy resin. Lynn sued the original jeweler in 1997 for selling her a treated emerald without telling her, and won. The case publicized a number of little-known facts about precious stones. Most emeralds have internal flaws, and so they are soaked in clear oil or an epoxy resin to hide the flaws and make the color more deep and clear. Clear oil can leak out over time, and epoxy resin can discolor with age or heat. However, using clear oil or epoxy to “fill” emeralds is completely legal, as long as it is disclosed.

After Doree Lynn’s lawsuit, the NBC news show “Dateline” bought emeralds at four prominent jewelry stores in New York City in 1997. All the sales clerks at these stores, unaware that they were being recorded on a hidden camera, said the stones were untreated. When the emeralds were tested at a laboratory, however, it was discovered they had all been treated with oil or epoxy. Emeralds are not the only gemstones that are treated. Diamonds, topaz, and tourmaline are also often irradiated to enhance colors. The general rule is that all treatments to gemstones should be revealed, but often disclosure is not made. As such, many buyers face a situation of asymmetric information    , where the both parties involved in an economic transaction have an unequal amount of information (one party knows much more than the other).

Many economic transactions are made in a situation of imperfect information    , where either the buyer, the seller, or both, are less than 100% certain about the qualities of what is being bought and sold. Also, the transaction may be characterized by asymmetric information, in which one party has more information than the other regarding the economic transaction. Let’s begin with some examples of how imperfect information complicates transactions in goods, labor, and financial capital markets . The presence of imperfect information can easily cause a decline in prices or quantities of products sold. However, buyers and sellers also have incentives to create mechanisms that will allow them to make mutually beneficial transactions even in the face of imperfect information.

If you are unclear about the difference between asymmetric information and imperfect information, read the following Clear It Up feature.

What is the difference between imperfect and asymmetric information?

For a market to reach equilibrium    sellers and buyers must have full information about the product’s price and quality. If there is limited information, then buyers and sellers may not be able to transact or will possibly make poor decisions.

Imperfect information refers to the situation where buyers and/or sellers do not have all of the necessary information to make an informed decision about the price or quality of a product. The term imperfect information simply means that not all the information necessary to make an informed decision is known to the buyers and/or sellers. Asymmetric information is the condition where one party, either the buyer or the seller, has more information about the quality or price of the product than the other party. In either case (imperfect or asymmetric information) buyers or sellers need remedies to make more informed decisions.

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Source:  OpenStax, University of houston downtown: microeconomics. OpenStax CNX. May 28, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11651/1.2
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