An economic system is usually said to be relatively more efficient than another under one or both of the following conditions:
- Allocative or Pareto efficiency: no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off, and social welfare is maximized.
- Productive efficiency: no additional output can be obtained without increasing the amount of inputs, and production proceeds at the lowest possible average total cost.
These definitions are not equivalent: a market or other economic system may be allocatively but not productively efficient, or productively but not allocatively efficient. There are also other definitions and measures. All characterizations of economic efficiency are encompassed by the more general engineering concept that a system is efficient or optimal when it maximizes desired outputs (such as utility) given available inputs.
There are two main strains in economic thought on economic efficiency, which respectively emphasize the distortions created by governments (and reduced by decreasing government involvement) and the distortions created by markets (and reduced by increasing government involvement). These are at times competing, at times complementary – either debating the overall level of government involvement, or the effects of specific government involvement. Broadly speaking, this dialog is referred to as economic liberalism or neoliberalism, though these terms are also used more narrowly to refer to particular views, especially advocating laissez faire.
Further, there are differences in views on microeconomic versus macroeconomic efficiency, some advocating a greater role for government in one sphere or the other.
Allocative and productive efficiency
A market can be said to have allocative efficiency if the price of a product that the market is supplying is equal to the value consumers place on it, represented by marginal cost. Because productive resources are scarce, the resources must be allocated to various Industries in just the right amounts, otherwise too much or too little output gets produced. (Thomas. Government Regulation of Business. 2013 McGraw-Hill.) When drawing diagrams for firms, allocative efficiency is satisfied if the equilibrium is at the point where marginal cost is equal to average revenue. This is the case for the long run equilibrium of perfect competition.
Productive efficiency is when units of goods are being supplied at the lowest possible average total cost. When drawing diagrams for firms, this condition is satisfied if the equilibrium is at the minimum point of the ATC curve. This is again the case for the long run equilibrium of perfect competition.
The mainstream view is that market economies are generally believed to be more efficient than other known alternatives and that government involvement is necessary at the macroeconomic level (via fiscal policy and monetary policy) to counteract the economic cycle – following Keynesian economics. At the microeconomic level there is debate about how to maximize efficiency, with some advocating laissez faire, to remove government distortions, while others advocate regulation, to reduce market failures and imperfections, particularly via internalizing externalities. It is important to note that most economics analysis is done by trained economists, who use limited equations and simplistic models to investigate the world that focus primarily on the financial values attributed to resources. This narrow view can often fail to incorporate the richness of non-financial values that exist in human cultures and relationships, as well as the non-financial aspects of nature's functions.
The first fundamental welfare theorem provides some basis for the belief in efficiency of market economies, as it states that any perfectly competitive market equilibrium is Pareto efficient. Strictly speaking, however, this result is only valid in the absence of market imperfections, which are significant in real markets. Furthermore, Pareto efficiency is a minimal notion of optimality and does not necessarily result in a socially desirable distribution of resources, as it makes no statement about equality or the overall well-being of a society.
Schools of thought
Advocates of limited government, in the form laissez faire (little or no government role in the economy) follow from the 19th century philosophical tradition classical liberalism, and are particularly associated with the mainstream economic schools of classical economics (through the 1870s) and neoclassical economics (from the 1870s onwards), and with the heterodox Austrian school.
Advocates of an expanded government role follow instead in alternative streams of progressivism; in the Anglosphere (English-speaking countries, notably the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) this is associated with institutional economics and, at the macroeconomic level, with Keynesian economics. In Germany the guiding philosophy is Ordoliberalism, in the Freiburg School of economics.
Microeconomic reform are policies that aim to reduce economic distortions via deregulation, and increase economic efficiency. However, there is no clear theoretical basis for the belief that removing a market distortion will always increase economic efficiency. The Theory of the Second Best states that if there is some unavoidable market distortion in one sector, a move toward greater market perfection in another sector may actually decrease efficiency.
||This article is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (September 2012)|
Economic efficiency can be characterized in many ways, e.g.,
- Allocative efficiency
- Distributive efficiency
- Dynamic efficiency
- Informational efficiency is used to characterize financial markets
- Kaldor-Hicks efficiency
- Pareto efficiency
- Productive efficiency
- Optimisation of a social welfare function
- Utility maximization
Applications of these principles include:
Efficiency is but one of many vying goals in an economic system, and different notions of efficiency may be complementary or may be at odds. Most commonly, efficiency is contrasted or paired with morality, particularly liberty and justice. Some economic policies may be seen as increasing efficiency, but at the cost to liberty or justice, while others may be argued to both increase efficiency and be more free or just. There is debate on what effects specific policies have, which goals should be pursued, the relative weights that should be placed on different goals, and which trade-offs should be made.
For example, some advocates of laissez faire (such as classical liberalism in the 19th century and Objectivism in the 20th century) argue that such economies protect property rights and are thus both free and just, regardless of whether or not they are more efficient, though advocates also generally believe that laissez faire economies are more efficient.
Others argue that laissez faire leads to concentration of power and thus curtails liberty and reduces competition, and leads to unjust distribution of income and wealth, regardless of whether it increases efficiency, for example in the early 20th century American progressive movement – some (such as the Freiburg school) argue that laissez faire decreases efficiency in addition to being unfree and unjust, while others argue that government involvement may reduce efficiency, but that this is an acceptable cost for the increase in liberty and justice.
In welfare economics, trade-offs between efficiency and distributive justice, particularly in redistribution – to the extent that a certain policy decreases efficiency – is often visualized by the metaphor of the leaky bucket, imagining income or wealth as water moved between individuals, and inefficiency as leakage. Opponents of redistribution argue that redistribution is not only inefficient (the bucket leaks), but unjust (income or wealth should not be redistributed by the government at all, but rather the market alone should decide distribution).
- Economics, fourth edition, Alain Anderton, p281
- Barr, N. (2004). Economics of the welfare state. New York, Oxford University Press (USA).
- Sen, A. (1993). Markets and freedom: Achievements and limitations of the market mechanism in promoting individual freedoms. Oxford Economic Papers, 45(4), 519–541.
5.Tan Lidong <The economics of happiness>, publishing house of China university of politics and law (January 2012)