Learning Objectives

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

  • Explain how productivity growth changes the aggregate supply curve
  • Explain how changes in input prices change the aggregate supply curve
  • Explain how imports influence aggregate demand
  • Identify ways in which business confidence and consumer confidence can affect aggregate demand
  • Explain how government policy can change aggregate demand

The original equilibrium in the AD/AS diagram will shift to a new equilibrium if the AS or AD curve shifts. When the aggregate supply curve shifts to the right, then at every price level, producers supply a greater quantity of real GDP. When the AS curve shifts to the left, then at every price level, producers supply a lower quantity of real GDP. Likewise, when the aggregate demand curve shifts to the right, then at every price level, consumers demand a greater quantity of real GDP. And when the AD curve shifts to the left, then at every price level, consumers demand a lower quantity of real GDP.  This module discusses the most important factors that can lead to shifts in the AS and AD curves.

How Productivity Growth Shifts the AS Curve

In the long run, the most important factor shifting the AS curve, and thereby leading to long run economic growth, is productivity growth. Productivity means how much output can be produced with a given quantity of labor. One measure of this is output per worker or GDP per capita. Over time, productivity grows so that the same quantity of labor can produce more output. Historically, the real growth in GDP per capita in an advanced economy like the United States has averaged about 2% to 3% per year, but productivity growth has been faster during certain extended periods like the 1960s and the late 1990s through the early 2000s, or slower during periods like the 1970s and 2010s. A higher level of productivity shifts the AS curve to the right, because with improved productivity, firms can produce a greater quantity of output at every price level. Figure 1 (a) shows an outward shift in productivity over two time periods. The AS curve shifts out from SRAS0 to SRAS1 to SRAS2, and the equilibrium shifts from E0 to E1 to E2. Note that with increased productivity, workers can produce more GDP. Thus, full employment corresponds to a higher level of potential GDP, which we show as a rightward shift in LRAS from LRAS0 to LRAS1 to LRAS2.

The two graphs show how aggregate supply can shift and how these shifts affect points of equilibrium. The graph on the left shows how productivity increases will shift aggregate supply to the right. The graph on the right shows how higher prices for key inputs will shift aggregate supply to the left.
Figure 1. Shifts in Aggregate Supply (a) The rise in productivity causes the SRAS curve to shift to the right. The original equilibrium E0 is at the intersection of AD and SRAS0. When SRAS shifts right, then the new equilibrium E1 is at the intersection of AD and SRAS1, and then yet another equilibrium, E2, is at the intersection of AD and SRAS2. Shifts in SRAS to the right, lead to a greater level of output and to downward pressure on the price level. (b) A higher price for inputs means that at any given price level for outputs, a lower real GDP will be produced so aggregate supply will shift to the left from SRAS0 to SRAS1. The new equilibrium, E1, has a reduced quantity of output and a higher price level than the original equilibrium (E0).

A shift in the SRAS curve to the right will result in a greater real GDP and downward pressure on the price level, if aggregate demand remains unchanged. However, if this shift in SRAS results from gains in productivity growth, which we typically measure in terms of a few percentage points per year, the effect will be relatively small over a few months or even a couple of years. Recall how in Choice in a World of Scarcity, we said that a nation’s production possibilities frontier is fixed in the short run, but shifts out in the long run? This is the same phenomenon using a different model.

How Changes in Input Prices Shift the AS Curve

Higher prices for inputs that are widely used across the entire economy can have a macroeconomic impact on aggregate supply. Examples of such widely used inputs include labor and energy products. Increases in the price of such inputs will cause the SRAS curve to shift to the left, which means that at each given price level for outputs, a higher price for inputs will discourage production because it will reduce the possibilities for earning profits. Figure 1 (b) shows the aggregate supply curve shifting to the left, from SRAS0 to SRAS1, causing the equilibrium to move from E0 to E1. The movement from the original equilibrium of E0 to the new equilibrium of E1 will bring a nasty set of effects: reduced GDP or recession, higher unemployment because the economy is now further away from potential GDP, and an inflationary higher price level as well. For example, the U.S. economy experienced a recession in 1974–1975 that was preceded by a rise in the key input of oil prices. In the 1970s, this pattern of a shift to the left in SRAS leading to a stagnant economy with high unemployment and inflation was nicknamed .

Conversely, a decline in the price of a key input like oil will shift the SRAS curve to the right, providing an incentive for more to be produced at every given price level for outputs. From 1985 to 1986, for example, the average price of crude oil fell by almost half, from $24 a barrel to $12 a barrel. Similarly, from 1997 to 1998, the price of a barrel of crude oil dropped from $17 per barrel to $11 per barrel. In both cases, the plummeting oil price led to a situation like that which we presented earlier in Figure 1 (a), where the outward shift of SRAS to the right allowed the economy to expand, unemployment to fall, and inflation to decline.

Along with energy prices, two other key inputs that may shift the SRAS curve are the cost of labor, or wages, and the cost of imported goods that we use as inputs for other products. In these cases as well, the lesson is that lower prices for inputs cause SRAS to shift to the right, while higher prices cause it to shift back to the left. Note that, unlike changes in productivity, changes in input prices do not generally cause LRAS to shift, only SRAS.

Other Supply Shocks

The aggregate supply curve can also shift due to shocks to input goods or labor. For example, an unexpected early freeze could destroy a large number of agricultural crops, a shock that would shift the AS curve to the left since there would be fewer agricultural products available at any given price.

Similarly, shocks to the labor market can affect aggregate supply. An extreme example might be an overseas war that required a large number of workers to cease their ordinary production in order to go fight for their country. In this case, SRAS and LRAS would both shift to the left because there would be fewer workers available to produce goods at any given price.

Demand Shocks

As we mentioned previously, the components of aggregate demand are consumption spending (C), investment spending (I), government spending (G), and spending on exports (X) minus imports (M). (Read the following Clear It Up feature for explanation of why imports are subtracted from exports and what this means for aggregate demand.) A shift of the AD curve to the right means that at least one of these components increased so that a greater amount of total spending would occur at every price level. A shift of the AD curve to the left means that at least one of these components decreased so that a lesser amount of total spending would occur at every price level. The Keynesian Perspective will discuss the components of aggregate demand and the factors that affect them. Here, the discussion will sketch two broad categories that could cause AD curves to shift: changes in consumer or firm behavior and changes in government tax or spending policy.

Do imports diminish aggregate demand?

We have seen that the formula for aggregate demand is AD = C + I + G + X – M, where M is the total value of imported goods. Why is there a minus sign in front of imports? Does this mean that more imports will result in a lower level of aggregate demand? The short answer is yes, because aggregate demand is defined as total demand for domestically produced goods and services.

When an American buys a foreign product, for example, it gets counted along with all the other consumption. Thus, the income generated does not go to American producers, but rather to producers in another country. It would be wrong to count this as part of domestic demand. Therefore, imports added in consumption are subtracted back out in the M term of the equation.

Because of the way in which we write the demand equation, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that imports are bad for the economy. Just keep in mind that every negative number in the M term has a corresponding positive number in the C or I or G term, and they always cancel out.

How Changes by Consumers and Firms Can Affect AD

When consumers feel more confident about the future of the economy, they tend to consume more. If business confidence is high, then firms tend to spend more on investment, believing that the future payoff from that investment will be substantial. Conversely, if consumer or business confidence drops, then consumption and investment spending decline.

The University of Michigan publishes a survey of consumer confidence and constructs an index of consumer confidence each month. The survey results are then reported at http://www.sca.isr.umich.edu, which break down the change in consumer confidence among different income levels. According to that index, consumer confidence averaged around 90 prior to the Great Recession, and then it fell to below 60 in late 2008, which was the lowest it had been since 1980. As the 2010s progress, confidence climbed from a 2011 low of 55.8 back to levels in the upper 90s, which economists consider close to a healthy state.

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) publishes one measure of business confidence: the “business tendency surveys”. The OECD collects business opinion survey data for 21 countries on future selling prices and employment, among other business climate elements. After sharply declining during the Great Recession, the measure has risen above zero again and is back to long-term averages (the indicator dips below zero when business outlook is weaker than usual).

Of course, either of these survey measures is not very precise. They can however, suggest when confidence is rising or falling, as well as when it is relatively high or low compared to the past.

Because economists associate a rise in confidence with higher consumption and investment demand, it will lead to an outward shift in the AD curve, and a move of the equilibrium, from E0 to E1, to a higher quantity of output and a higher price level, as Figure 2 (a), below, shows.

Consumer and business confidence often reflect macroeconomic realities; for example, confidence is usually high when the economy is growing briskly and low during a recession. However, economic confidence can sometimes rise or fall for reasons that do not have a close connection to the immediate economy, like a risk of war, election results, foreign policy events, or a pessimistic prediction about the future by a prominent public figure. U.S. presidents, for example, must be careful in their public pronouncements about the economy. If they offer economic pessimism, they risk provoking a decline in confidence that reduces consumption and investment and shifts AD to the left, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy, contributes to causing the recession that the president warned against in the first place. Figure 2 (b) shows a shift of AD to the left, and the corresponding movement of the equilibrium, from E0 to E1, to a lower quantity of output and a lower price level.

Visit this website for data on consumer confidence.


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Visit this website for data on business confidence.


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The two graphs show how aggregate demand shifts. The graph on the left shows aggregate demand shifting to the right toward the vertical potential GDP line. The graph on the right shows aggregate demand shifting to the left away from the vertical GDP line.
Figure 2. Shifts in Aggregate Demand (a) An increase in consumer confidence or business confidence can shift AD to the right, from AD0 to AD1. When AD shifts to the right, the new equilibrium (E1) will have a higher quantity of output and also a higher price level compared with the original equilibrium (E0). In this example, the new equilibrium (E1) is also closer to potential GDP. An increase in government spending or a cut in taxes that leads to a rise in consumer spending can also shift AD to the right. (b) A decrease in consumer confidence or business confidence can shift AD to the left, from AD0 to AD1. When AD shifts to the left, the new equilibrium (E1) will have a lower quantity of output and also a lower price level compared with the original equilibrium (E0). In this example, the new equilibrium (E1) is also farther below potential GDP. A decrease in government spending or higher taxes that leads to a fall in consumer spending can also shift AD to the left.

How Government Macroeconomic Policy Choices Can Shift AD

Government spending is one component of AD. Thus, higher government spending will cause AD to shift to the right, as in Figure 2 (a), while lower government spending will cause AD to shift to the left, as in Figure 2 (b). For example, in the United States, government spending declined from 21% of GDP in 1991 to 17.8% of GDP in 1998. However, from 2005 to 2009, the peak of the Great Recession, government spending increased from 19% of GDP to 21.4% of GDP. If changes of a few percentage points of GDP seem small to you, remember that since GDP was about $14.4 trillion in 2009, a seemingly small change of 2% of GDP is equal to close to $300 billion.

Tax policy can affect consumption and investment spending, too. Tax cuts for individuals will tend to increase consumption demand, while tax increases will tend to diminish it. Tax policy can also pump up investment demand by offering lower tax rates for corporations or tax reductions that benefit specific kinds of investment. Shifting C or I will shift the AD curve as a whole.

During a recession, when unemployment is high and many businesses are suffering low profits or even losses, the U.S. Congress often passes tax cuts. During the 2001 recession, for example, the U.S. Congress enacted a tax cut into law. At such times, the political rhetoric often focuses on how people experiencing hard times need relief from taxes. The aggregate supply and aggregate demand framework, however, offers a complementary rationale, as Figure 3 illustrates. The original equilibrium during a recession is at point E0, relatively far from the full employment level of output. The tax cut, by increasing consumption, shifts the AD curve to the right. At the new equilibrium (E1), real GDP rises and unemployment falls and, because in this diagram the economy has not yet reached its potential or full employment level of GDP, any rise in the price level remains muted.

The graph shows an example of an aggregate demand shift. The higher of the two aggregate demand curves is closer to the vertical potential GDP line and hence represents an economy with a low unemployment. In contrast, the lower aggregate demand curve is much further from the potential GDP line and hence represents an economy that may be struggling with a recession.
Figure 3. Recession and Full Employment in the AD/AS Model Whether the economy is in a recession is illustrated in the AD/AS model by how close the equilibrium is to the potential GDP line as indicated by the vertical LRAS line. In this example, the level of output Y0 at the equilibrium E0 is relatively far from the potential GDP line, so it can represent an economy in recession, well below the full employment level of GDP. In contrast, the level of output Y1 at the equilibrium E1 is relatively close to potential GDP, and so it would represent an economy with a lower unemployment rate.

Government spending and tax rate changes can be useful tools to affect aggregate demand. We will discuss these in greater detail in the Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy chapter and The Metallist Approach to Government Finances. Other policy tools can shift the aggregate demand curve as well. For example, as we will discuss in the Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation chapter, the Federal Reserve can affect interest rates and credit availability. Higher interest rates tend to discourage borrowing and thus reduce both household spending on big-ticket items like houses and cars and investment spending by business. Conversely, lower interest rates will stimulate consumption and investment demand. Interest rates can also affect exchange rates, which in turn will have effects on the export and import components of aggregate demand.

Clarifying the details of these alternative policies and how they affect the components of aggregate demand can wait for The Keynesian Perspective chapter. Here, the key lesson is that a shift of the aggregate demand curve to the right leads to a greater real GDP and to upward pressure on the price level. Conversely, a shift of aggregate demand to the left leads to a lower real GDP and a lower price level. Whether these changes in output and price level are relatively large or relatively small, and how the change in equilibrium relates to potential GDP, depends on whether the shift in the AD curve is happening in the AS curve’s relatively flat or relatively steep portion.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, shifts in AD are only really relevant in the short run.  Recall that, in the long run, aggregate supply is fixed at full employment (potential GDP).  In this case, aggregate demand, too, will be sufficient to purchase that output in equilibrium.  This, of course, is just Say’s Law: supply creates it’s own demand–and furthermore, supply will fully employ the economy’s resources, at least in the long run.

Summary

The aggregate demand/aggregate supply (AD/AS) diagram shows how AD and AS interact. The intersection of the AD and AS curves shows the equilibrium output and price level in the economy. Movements of either AS or AD will result in a different equilibrium output and price level. The aggregate supply curve will shift out to the right as productivity increases. It will shift back to the left as the price of key inputs rises, and will shift out to the right if the price of key inputs falls. If the AS curve shifts back to the left, the combination of lower output, higher unemployment, and higher inflation, called stagflation, occurs. If AS shifts out to the right, a combination of lower inflation, higher output, and lower unemployment is possible.

The AD curve will shift out as the components of aggregate demand—C, I, G, and X–M—rise. It will shift back to the left as these components fall. These factors can change because of different personal choices, like those resulting from consumer or business confidence, or from policy choices like changes in government spending and taxes. If the AD curve shifts to the right, then the equilibrium quantity of output and the price level will rise. If the AD curve shifts to the left, then the equilibrium quantity of output and the price level will fall. Whether equilibrium output changes relatively more than the price level or whether the price level changes relatively more than output is determined by where the AD curve intersects with the AS curve.

The AD/AS diagram superficially resembles the microeconomic supply and demand diagram on the surface, but in reality, what is on the horizontal and vertical axes and the underlying economic reasons for the shapes of the curves are very different. We can illustrate long-term economic growth in the AD/AS framework by a gradual shift of the aggregate supply curve to the right. We illustrate a recession when the intersection of AD and AS is substantially below potential GDP, while we illustrate an expanding economy when the intersection of AS and AD is near potential GDP.

Glossary

stagflation
an economy experiences stagnant growth and high inflation at the same time

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Principles of Economics: Scarcity and Social Provisioning (2nd Ed.) by Rice University; Dean, Elardo, Green, Wilson, Berger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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