We live in a world of scarcity. In other words, what we want outweighs what we can attain. Why? Well, we have limited resources – money, options, time, etc. When you’re making choices about what to buy, your budget, the prices of goods and services, and your preferences all act as constraints.
To better illustrate this idea, let’s return to our simple example of pizzas and coffees. Let’s also assume that you like both pizza and coffee and want more of both. If you were to look at a map of your indifference curves for these goods, you’d see that you get the most utility on the indifference curve farthest from the origin. But, since scarcity is our reality, that level of utility is probably not achievable.
Combining your budget constraint with your indifference curves can help you see how to get maximum utility given your resources. Any point at which your budget constraint lies tangent to an indifference curve is an optimal combination of pizzas and coffees. Why is it optimal? Two simple reasons: 1) You can afford it, and 2) it will give you the most happiness (aka utility).
In this video, Arizona State University’s Professor Joana Girante will further explain the concept consumer optimization and how it applies to your everyday life. She’ll also cover why your points of consumer optimization will never intersect, but always lie tangent to, your indifference curves. Finally. Prof. Girante will go over marginal rates of substitution in more detail.
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