Give examples of how we weigh marginal cost and marginal benefit in our personal lives.

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Marginal cost and marginal benefit are important factors when making economic decisions. Marginal cost is the cost of getting more of something. Marginal benefit is the gain we receive by getting more of something. These concepts play an important role in our economic decision-making.

For example, I am a tall person. When I travel by airplane, I have to decide if the marginal cost of paying more for a seat with more legroom is worth the benefit of getting the additional legroom. I usually feel the marginal benefit of the legroom outweighs the marginal cost, especially on longer flights.

Another example would be to decide if I should buy a weekly subway pass or pay for each trip I take. I have to decide if the additional benefit outweighs the additional cost. With a weekly pass, I can ride an unlimited number of times during the week, and I don’t have to wait in line to buy the pass each time I travel. The cost is the additional amount I pay for the pass. If I don’t use the pass as much as I thought I would use it, I would lose money.

We use these concepts quite often when we make economic decisions.

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Economists say that we are always using marginal analysis (looking at marginal costs and marginal benefits) when we decide what to do in our daily lives.  The costs and benefits can be tangible or intangible.  Here are some examples:

  • My family plans a trip to Disneyland.  We can buy a 3 day pass to Disneyland or a 5 day pass.  Will the marginal cost of the 5 day pass (whatever the difference in price plus two more nights of hotel and food) be more or less than the marginal benefit (the extra fun of having two more days there)?
  • A parent needs to decide whether to work overtime.  Will the marginal benefit (the extra money) be greater than the marginal cost (loss of time at home with the family)?
  • I am going shopping for groceries and I have to decide whether to buy organic or conventional vegetables.  Will the marginal cost (how much more the organics cost) be greater than the marginal benefit (healthier food, perhaps, and less impact on the environment)?

In all of these cases, it is up to the person involved to do the calculation.  There is no actual right answer because these are examples where either the cost or the benefit is intangible.


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