Shifts in Aggregate Demand

How Changes by Consumers and Firms Can Affect AD

When consumers feel more confident about the future of the economy, they tend to consume more. If business confidence is high, then firms tend to spend more on investment, believing that the future payoff from that investment will be substantial. Conversely, if consumer or business confidence drops, then consumption and investment spending decline.

The University of Michigan publishes a survey of consumer confidence and constructs an index of consumer confidence each month. The survey results are then reported at http://www.sca.isr.umich.edu, which break down the change in consumer confidence among different income levels. According to that index, consumer confidence averaged around 90 prior to the Great Recession, and then it fell to below 60 in late 2008, which was the lowest it had been since 1980. Since then, confidence has climbed from a 2011 low of 55.8 back to a level in the low 80s, which economists consider close to a healthy state.

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) publishes one measure of business confidence: the "business tendency surveys". The OECD collects business opinion survey data for 21 countries on future selling prices and employment, among other business climate elements. After sharply declining during the Great Recession, the measure has risen above zero again and is back to long-term averages (the indicator dips below zero when business outlook is weaker than usual). Of course, either of these survey measures is not very precise. They can however, suggest when confidence is rising or falling, as well as when it is relatively high or low compared to the past.

Because economists associate a rise in confidence with higher consumption and investment demand, it will lead to an outward shift in the AD curve, and a move of the equilibrium, from E0 to E1, to a higher quantity of output and a higher price level, as Figure (a) shows.

Consumer and business confidence often reflect macroeconomic realities; for example, confidence is usually high when the economy is growing briskly and low during a recession. However, economic confidence can sometimes rise or fall for reasons that do not have a close connection to the immediate economy, like a risk of war, election results, foreign policy events, or a pessimistic prediction about the future by a prominent public figure. U.S. presidents, for example, must be careful in their public pronouncements about the economy. If they offer economic pessimism, they risk provoking a decline in confidence that reduces consumption and investment and shifts AD to the left, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy, contributes to causing the recession that the president warned against in the first place. Figure (b) shows a shift of AD to the left, and the corresponding movement of the equilibrium, from E0 to E1, to a lower quantity of output and a lower price level.

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The two graphs show how aggregate demand shifts. The graph on the left shows aggregate demand shifting to the right toward the vertical potential GDP line. The graph on the right shows aggregate demand shifting to the left away from the vertical GDP line.
Shifts in Aggregate Demand (a) An increase in consumer confidence or business confidence can shift AD to the right, from AD0 to AD1. When AD shifts to the right, the new equilibrium (E1) will have a higher quantity of output and also a higher price level compared with the original equilibrium (E0). In this example, the new equilibrium (E1) is also closer to potential GDP. An increase in government spending or a cut in taxes that leads to a rise in consumer spending can also shift AD to the right. (b) A decrease in consumer confidence or business confidence can shift AD to the left, from AD0 to AD1. When AD shifts to the left, the new equilibrium (E1) will have a lower quantity of output and also a lower price level compared with the original equilibrium (E0). In this example, the new equilibrium (E1) is also farther below potential GDP. A decrease in government spending or higher taxes that leads to a fall in consumer spending can also shift AD to the left.