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Explaining the Price Mechanism

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 30 Mar 2021

This is a revision resource on some of the key functions of the price mechanism.

In this revision video we will look at the key functions of the price mechanism and then work through a small selection of past paper multiple-choice questions so that you can test your understanding

Functions of the Price Mechanism

What is the price mechanism?

The price mechanism is the means by which decisions of consumers and businesses interact to determine the allocation of resources.

The free-market price mechanism clearly does NOT ensure an equitable distribution of resources and can lead to market failure.

Changes in market prices

Changes in market price act as a signal about how scarce resources should be allocated.

A rise in price encourages producers to switch into making that good but encourages consumers to use an alternative substitute product (therefore rationing the product).

A fall in price leads to an extension of demand but makes it less profitable for a business to supply the good or service affected.

What are the main functions of the price mechanism?

1. Signalling function

  • Prices perform a signalling function – i.e. they adjust to demonstrate where resources are required.
  • Prices rise and fall to reflect scarcities and surpluses.
    • If prices are rising because of high demand from consumers, this is a signal to suppliers to expand production to meet the higher demand.
    • If there is excess supply in a market, the price mechanism will help to eliminate a surplus of a good by allowing the market price to fall.

2. Incentive function

  • Through choices consumers send information to producers about their changing nature of needs and wants.

One important feature of a free-market system is that decision-making is decentralised, i.e. there is no single body responsible for deciding what to produce and in what quantities.

This is in contrast to a planned (state-controlled) economic system where there is significant intervention in market prices and state-ownership of key industries.

3. Rationing function

  • Prices ration scarce resources when demand outstrips supply.
  • When there is a shortage, price is bid up – leaving only those with willingness and ability to pay to buy.
Price Mechanism - Shifts in and Movements along Curves

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