- Explain how productivity growth changes the aggregate supply curve
- Explain how changes in input prices change the aggregate supply curve
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. This module discusses two of the most important factors that can lead to shifts in the AS curve: productivity growth and changes in input prices.
How Productivity Growth Shifts the AS Curve
In the long run, the most important factor shifting the AS curve 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. 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 24.7 (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.
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 24.7 (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 recessions in 1974–1975, 1980–1982, 1990–91, 2001, and 2007–2009 that were each preceded or accompanied 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 stagflation.
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 24.7 (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.
Another example in this vein is a pandemic, like the COVID-19 pandemic. A pandemic causes many workers to become sick, temporarily reducing the supply of workers by a large amount. Further, workers might be cautious to go back to work in a pandemic because of health or safety concerns. While the shock to labor supply might not be permanent, it can cause a reduction in the supply of many goods and services, reflected in a leftward shift in the short-run aggregate supply curve. At various points during the COVID-19-induced pandemic, computer chips for automobiles, meat, and other consumer services were in short supply because of worker shortages around the world.