The Price Mechanism

The interaction of buyers and sellers in free markets enables goods, services, and resources to be allocated prices. Relative prices, and changes in price, reflect the forces of demand and supply and help solve the economic problem. Resources move towards where they are in the shortest supply, relative to demand, and away from where they are least demanded.

The rationing function of the price mechanism

Whenever resources are particularly scarce, demand exceeds supply and prices are driven up.  The effect of such a price rise is to discourage demand, conserve resources, and spread out their use over time. The greater the scarcity, the higher the price and the more the resource is rationed. This can be seen in the market for oil. As oil slowly runs out, its price will rise, and this discourages demand and leads to more oil being conserved than at lower prices. The rationing function of a price rise is associated with a contraction of demand along the demand curve.

The signalling function of the price mechanism

Price changes send contrasting messages to consumers and producers about whether to enter or leave a market. Rising prices give a signal to consumers to reduce demand or withdraw from a market completely, and they give a signal to potential producers to enter a market. Converse