Supply Management Economics Part IV

As indicated in our last post, the goal of this series is to bring economics to the forefront in Supply Management where it has been swept under the rug for far too long. Which is a travesty when you consider the three basic questions in economics revolve around what to produce, for whom, and how!

As a result of this, we decided we would introduce you to the economics of Supply Management (which is economics, after all), by going back to the basics (and all the way back to 1776 when Adam Smith published his treatise inquiring into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations and gave economics its independence from politics and moral philosophy).

We started by defining the production possibility curve and the concept of comparative advantage which give you the foundations required to figure out what you should be producing and what ratios are possible given the options at your disposal. Then, in our last post, we discussed the basic laws of supply and demand which ultimately tell you not only the quantities you should be producing, but for whom you should be producing them as production optimization centers around finding the optimal equilibrium between a corresponding supply and demand curve among all possible supply and demand curve pairings.

This just leaves us with the how. Classically, the answer was simple — either the goods were produced by the government or a private enterprise. But given the global nature of business, and trade, that exists today, the answer is no longer that simple. Today, the question is whether you produce the goods in house, whether you outsource production to a third party, or whether you produce them jointly (or in cooperation with) a third party.

And to answer this, you need to first get a grip on Total Cost. In economics, total cost is defined as the sum of all fixed costs, which are constant and independent of the number of units of the good (or service) produced, and variable costs, which vary depending on the number of units of the good (or service) produced. Fixed costs include rent, insurance premiums, depreciation on plant and equipment, and interest payments on bonds, to name a few. Variable Costs include wages of production workers, fuel, electricity, cost of material(s), and transportation. The Total Cost is the sum of all fixed and variable costs. And the how depends upon what option has the lowest total cost. Is it cheaper to produce the goods yourself, outsource to a third party (taking into account transportation and a profit margin for the outsourced producer), or produce the goods in a joint partnership with (one or more) manufacturer(s), where one party produces some of the components and another assembles them, for example. In basic modern economic theory, the answer is the option with the lowest cost.

And this concludes our introduction to the basics of economics for Supply Management, as we have now answered the three basic questions. But this isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning. First of all, since the answer for so many companies these days is to outsource, we have to understand the economics behind outsourcing so that a company can do a proper total cost analysis and make the right decision. But even more important, the value of an enterprise today is not measured solely on revenue, it’s measured on non-revenue producing components that are assigned a monetary value (such as brand equity, IP, etc.). After a hiatus, we’ll examine these issues and some of the economic theory that (in theory) underlies these decisions.