AskDefine | Define disequilibrium

Dictionary Definition

disequilibrium n : loss of equilibrium attributable to an unstable situation in which some forces outweigh others [ant: equilibrium]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the loss of equilibrium or stability, especially due to an imbalance of forces


Extensive Definition

In economics, economic equilibrium is simply a state of the world where economic forces are balanced and in the absence of external influences the (equilibrium) values of economic variables will not change. Market equilibrium, for example, refers to a condition where a market price is established through competition such that the amount of goods or services sought by buyers is equal to the amount of goods or services produced by sellers. This price is often called the equilibrium price or market clearing price and will tend not to change unless demand or supply change.


When the price is above the equilibrium point there is a surplus of supply; where the price is below the equilibrium point there is a shortage in supply. Different supply curves and different demand curves have different points of economic equilibrium. In most simple microeconomic stories of supply and demand in a market a static equilibrium is observed in a market; however, economic equilibrium can exist in non-market relationships and can be dynamic. Equilibrium may also be multi-market or general, as opposed to the partial equilibrium of a single market.
As in most usage (say, that of chemistry), in economics equilibrium means "balance," here between supply forces and demand forces: for example, an increase in supply will disrupt the equilibrium, leading to lower prices. Eventually, a new equilibrium will be attained in most markets. Then, there will be no change in price or the amount of output bought and sold — until there is an exogenous shift in supply or demand (such as changes in technology or tastes). That is, there are no endogenous forces leading to the price or the quantity.
Not all economic equilibria are stable. For an equilibrium to be stable, a small deviation from equilibrium leads to economic forces that returns an economic sub-system toward the original equilibrium. For example, if a movement out of supply/demand equilibrium leads to an excess supply (glut) that induces price declines which return the market to a situation where the quantity demanded equals the quantity supplied. If supply and demand curves intersect more than once, then both stable and unstable equilibria are found.
Most economists (e.g. Samuelson 1947, Chapter 3, p. 52) caution against attaching a normative meaning (value judgement) to the equilibrium price. For example, food markets may be in equilibrium at the same time that people are starving (because they cannot afford to pay the high equilibrium price).


In most interpretations, classical economists such as Adam Smith maintained that the free market would tend towards economic equilibrium through the price mechanism. That is, any excess supply (market surplus or glut) would lead to price cuts, which decrease the quantity supplied (by reducing the incentive to produce and sell the product) and increase the quantity demanded (by offering consumers bargains), automatically abolishing the glut. Similarly, in an unfettered market, any excess demand (or shortage) would lead to price increases, reducing the quantity demanded (as customers are priced out of the market) and increasing in the quantity supplied (as the incentive to produce and sell a product rises). As before, the disequilibrium (here, the shortage) disappears. This automatic abolition of non-market-clearing situations distinguishes markets from central planning schemes, which often have a difficult time getting prices right and suffer from persistent shortages of goods and services.
This view came under attack from at least two viewpoints. Modern mainstream economics points to cases where equilibrium does not correspond to market clearing (but instead to unemployment), as with the efficiency wage hypothesis in labor economics. In some ways parallel is the phenomenon of credit rationing, in which banks hold interest rates low in order to create an excess demand for loans, so that they can pick and choose whom to lend to. Further, economic equilibrium can correspond with monopoly, where the monopolistic firm maintains an artificial shortage in order to prop up prices and to maximize profits. Finally, Keynesian macroeconomics points to underemployment equilibrium, where a surplus of labor (i.e., cyclical unemployment) co-exists for a long time with a shortage of aggregate demand.
On the other hand, the Austrian School and Joseph Schumpeter maintained that in the short term equilibrium is never attained as everyone was always trying to take advantage of the pricing system and so there was always some dynamism in the system. The free market's strength was not creating a static or a general equilibrium but instead in organising resources to meet individual desires and discovering the best methods to carry the economy forward.

See also


disequilibrium in Persian: تعادل بازار
disequilibrium in French: Équilibre économique
disequilibrium in Hebrew: שיווי משקל (כלכלה)
disequilibrium in Lithuanian: Paklausos ir pasiūlos pusiausvyros taškas
disequilibrium in Polish: Równowaga rynkowa
disequilibrium in Portuguese: Equilíbrio de mercado
disequilibrium in Simple English: Equilibrium market price
disequilibrium in Slovak: Trhová rovnováha
disequilibrium in Chinese: 經濟均衡
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