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Social Benefits

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Social Benefits

As Newton's third law of physics states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But how does that relate to economics? Well, it means that you don't live in a bubble. Everything that benefits or disadvantages you, doesn't affect only you. But how can you tell when something benefits others more than you and vice-versa? To learn how to calculate those benefits, the differences between private and social benefits, and more, keep reading on!

Social Benefit Definition

The whole advantage for society from creating or using a product or service is referred to as social benefit. It includes any personal gains as well as all outside benefits of manufacturing or consumption. In the context of externalities economists use the word 'marginal' to refer to the costs and benefits associated to them.

Learn more in our article - Externalities

Marginal Social Benefits

The idea of marginal social benefit describes how a product's social worth influences its cost, manufacturing, and consumption. The marginal social benefit of a shared asset has to be at least the same as its marginal social cost for optimal utilization from the point of view of society. As a result, the marginal social benefit of resources that are shared or common is typically the total of each user's marginal benefits for each amount of commodity consumed.

Marginal social benefit refers to the whole advantage for society from creating or using a product or service.

There are also other benefits called private benefits, which are different from external benefits. Private benefits are benefits that directly affect those who purchase and use a good. External benefits are the benefits that another person who isn't the buyer or seller gets. Why is this important to know? Because you must know the private and external benefits in order to calculate the social benefits.

Marginal private benefits are benefits that directly affect those who purchase and use a good.

Marginal external benefits are benefits that another person who isn't the buyer or seller gets.

Economists also distinguish amongst private and external costs. Private costs are costs borne by the company that manufactures the product. Private costs for an individual are monetary costs of acquiring an item. Someone who is not participating in the transaction bears the external costs.

Marginal private costs are costs borne by the company that manufactures the product. For an individual these are the monetary costs of acquiring an item.

Marginal external costs are uncompensated costs borne by someone who is not participating in the transaction.

Calculating Social Benefits

The way to calculate social benefits is fairly simple. The formula is:

The best way to learn is by doing, so let's go through an example!

Let's say you want to figure out the cost of taking the bus to work instead of getting a car and driving yourself. To figure out the social benefit, you know you need to figure out the private and external benefits first. To do so, you create a table listing the benefits of both.

Private External
A. The cost of a monthly bus ticket is cheaper than monthly car payments and the cost of car insurance.D. Less congestion on the roads.
B. Someone else is driving, so you can catch up on work or take a quick nap.E. Less pollution is created.
C. You never have to worry about the cost of gasoline.F. You're supporting the public transportation system which is needed by many people who can't afford private types of transportation.
Table 1. Private vs External Benefits. StudySmarterAfter creating the table, you realize that you need to figure out a quantity for each in order to calculate the social benefit. You decide to give the benefits the following points:A = 1B = 2C = 1D = 1E = 2F = 2You figure out that the social benefits are equal to 9!

Private Benefits vs Social Benefits

Private benefit is a general label that applies whenever anyone reaps a benefit from some action or business and this benefit doesn't have to be a financial gain. Essentially the difference between a private and social benefit is that a private benefit is a benefit that is gained by the person or group that is directly involved in the transaction and a social benefit is an advantage for a third party who isn't the consumer or the seller.

social benefits figure studysmarterSocial Benefits, Pixabay

The benefit to society from creating or using an item or service is referred to as a social benefit. All personal gains, as well as any external gains related to production or consumption, are considered part of social benefits. As in the figure above, social benefits are about the group rather than the individual. Social benefits are not just there to assist those who are directly related or involved in the issue at hand like private benefits are, but rather are expendable and are able to stretch to assist others within the community.

Importance of Social Benefits

The importance of social benefits is demonstrated by the fact that social benefits are arranged to suit the demands of the entirety of society, not just a part. This separates social benefits from private benefits, which are structured for the welfare of certain people or groups. Addressing societal requirements does not imply that every social benefit will take care of every member of society, but a social benefit that serves a section of society as a component of a bigger social benefits system satisfies the criteria that it must address the demands of the entirety of the society.

Examples of Social Benefits

Let's discuss an example of a social benefits:

A planned project frequently creates both expenses and advantages. For instance, constructing a new shop on an open field generates social benefits in terms of work opportunities. Nevertheless, the reduction of land has a societal cost. Let's say that the marginal social cost was $1 million. Of course, the building is only justifiable when the benefits outweigh the expenses. If it was known that the private benefits to the company were monetarily $500,000 and that the external benefit was worth about $200,000, how much would the social benefit be?

The marginal social benefit would be about $700,000. Given that $700,000 is not more than $1 million, the social benefits do not outweigh the social costs and therefore the building of the store is not justifiable from the societal point of view.

Issues with Quantifying Social Benefits

It's important not to accept models or estimations at face value. Even when founded on actual facts, the components that models incorporate and the premises on which they rely are all subjective decisions. Furthermore, they could never account for all of the consequences of a decision. This could cause issues when quantifying social benefits and can lead to resource misallocation.

For example, how about the effects of working remotely on social connectedness, health, and efficiency, for instance? What are the ripple impacts of buying an expensive electric car?

While there might be numbers that are assigned to figure out the social benefits of these, how can everyone know whether those numbers are accurate when they're a subjective measurement? If the calculations are wrong, there might be too few or too many resources given to the sectors that need them. By trusting the subjective social benefit results, instead of helping the society, it actually might cost the society.

So how can there be a way to create the optimal amount of goods or services? The answer is via a Pigouvian subsidy. This is a payout intended to stimulate actions with external advantages. Let's go through an example to see how this works.

A Pigouvian subsidy is a payout intended to stimulate actions with external benefits.

When COVID-19 broke out in late 2019 - early 2020, there were no vaccines available and it seemed like the entire world was on lockdown. The government was pushing for everyone to wear masks wherever they go, limit how many people are able to be in a household at one time, and were asking for everyone to get tested as soon as they possibly could if they thought they were in contact with someone who might have COVID-19 or if they were displaying any symptoms. The issue was that tests were expensive in the United States. PCR and rapid tests could cost you a pretty penny and not everyone was able or willing to pay the fee to get tested.

So what was done to encourage more people to get tested? Many urgent cares and health care clinics began offering free or reduced-price tests. This increased the number of people willing to go out and get tested to find out if they were sick or not. By doing so, more people were aware that they had to isolate themselves, call off work, etc, in order to not spread COVID-19 to others. So what would this look like mapped out?

social benefits pigouvian subsidy studysmarterFigure 1. Pigouvian subsidy, StudySmarter Originals

Getting tested for COVID-19 produces external benefits, so the marginal social benefit curve (MSB) of getting tested, is linked to the demand curve (D) pushed upward by the external benefit. Figure 1 shows that if there's no government intervention, the market produces Q0. The pink-filled triangular zone reflects the deadweight loss that could have been eliminated by creating Qsubsidy instead of Q0.

But what about a situation where the production of a product or service generates external costs—like fuel for transportation. Whether it's a car, boat, plane, train, or truck, transportation generates unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions via the burning of fossil fuels to provide petroleum-based gasoline and diesel.

Whenever a good or service, like transportation, has negative effects, there's also a discrepancy seen between marginal cost to the corporation, that we call the marginal private cost, and the marginal cost to society, that we call the marginal social cost. The marginal external cost (MEC) is the distinction between marginal private cost (MPC) and the marginal social cost (MSC) - the rise in external expenses to society from an extra piece of a commodity.

Let's see what this looks like mapped out too.

social benefits pigouvian tax studysmarterFigure 2. Pigouvian tax, StudySmarter Originals

Take a look at Figure 2. Because the production of gasoline and diesel creates external expenses, the marginal social cost curve, MSC, of gasoline and diesel relates to the supply curve, MPC, with the marginal external cost pushed higher. This illustrates that in the absence of government intervention, the market generates the quantity Q0. That market amount exceeds the socially optimum quantity of fuel production, Qtax, at which MSC intersects the demand curve, D. Here, the pink triangular region indicates the deadweight loss as a result of generating Qtax instead of Q0.

Left to its own devices, the market generates too much of a product with an external cost, and the cost to buyers is too little. A Pigouvian tax on fuel output that is equivalent to the marginal external cost brings the markets to the socially optimum production level, Qtax.

A Pigouvian tax is a tax intended to discourage actions with external costs.

Social Benefits - Key takeaways

  • Marginal social benefit refers to the whole advantage for society from creating or using a product or service.
  • Marginal private benefits are benefits that directly affect those who purchase and use a good.
  • Marginal external benefits are benefits that another person who isn't the buyer or seller gets.
  • A Pigouvian subsidy is a payout intended to stimulate actions with external benefits.
  • A Pigouvian tax is a tax intended to discourage actions with external costs.
  • The importance of social benefits is demonstrated by the fact that social benefits are arranged to suit the demands of the entirety of society, not just a part.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Benefits

Social benefit refers to the whole advantage for society from creating or using a product or service.

Getting tested for COVID or taking the bus instead of driving a car.

The importance of social benefits is demonstrated by the fact that social benefits are arranged to suit the demands of the entirety of society, not just a part.

Marginal social benefit is the shift in benefits related to the consumption of an extra unit of an item or service.

The difference between a private and social benefit is that a private benefit is a benefit that is gained by the person or group that is directly involved in the transaction and a social benefit is the advantage for society as a whole

Final Social Benefits Quiz

Question

Define private benefit

Show answer

Answer

Private benefit refers to the situation when anyone reaps a benefit from some action or business and this benefit doesn't have to be a financial gain.

Show question

Question

Give an example of a social benefit 

Show answer

Answer

Getting tested for COVID, taking a bus instead of a car to work

Show question

Question

What's the importance of social benefits?

Show answer

Answer

The importance of social benefits is demonstrated by the fact that social benefits are arranged to suit the demands of the entirety of society, not just a part.

Show question

Question

This idea of marginal social benefit describes how a product's _____ _____ influences its cost

Show answer

Answer

social worth

Show question

Question

What's a Pigouvian tax?

Show answer

Answer

A Pigouvian tax is a tax intended to discourage actions with external costs.

Show question

Question

Social benefits are about the ____ rather than the individual.

Show answer

Answer

group

Show question

Question

What's a Pigouvian subsidy?

Show answer

Answer

A Pigouvian subsidy is a payout intended to stimulate actions with external benefits.

Show question

Question

Why shouldn't you take models or estimations at face value?

Show answer

Answer

Even when founded on actual facts, the components that models incorporate and the premises on which they rely are all subjective decisions. Furthermore, they could never account for all of the consequences of a decision. This could cause issues when quantifying social benefits and can lead to resource misallocation. 

Show question

Question

Give an example of a private benefit enjoyed by a firm

Show answer

Answer

Cheap inputs that increase a firms profit margins

Show question

Question

Give an example of an external benefit enjoyed by a firm

Show answer

Answer

Large interstate highways that allow free flow of goods, without congestion.

Show question

Question

Give an example of private benefit enjoyed by an individual

Show answer

Answer

A cheap cup of coffee at Starbucks

Show question

Question

Give an example of external benefits enjoyed by an individual.

Show answer

Answer

Clean air due to emission reduction programs.

Show question

Question

What is the social benefit equation 

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Answer

Social Benefit = Private Benefit + External Benefit

Show question

Question

Define Marginal Social Benefit?

Show answer

Answer

Marginal social benefit, is the total benefit to society, from one extra unit of a good

Show question

Question

What are external benefits?

Show answer

Answer

External benefits are benefits that another person who isn't the buyer or seller gets.

Show question

Question

Fill the blank in the following definition:


The marginal social benefit of a shared asset has to be at least the same as its ... for optimal utilization from the point of view of society.

Show answer

Answer

marginal social cost

Show question

Question

Which is the definition of private benefits?

Show answer

Answer

benefits that directly affect those who purchase and use a good.

Show question

Question

Which economic term is used to describe 

the costs borne by the company that manufactures the product?

Show answer

Answer

Marginal private costs

Show question

Question

What is the formula to calculate social benefits?


Show answer

Answer

Marginal social benefit = Marginal private benefit + Marginal external benefit 

Show question

Question

Private External
A. The cost of a monthly bus ticket is cheaper than monthly car payments and the cost of car insurance.D. Less congestion on the roads.
B. Someone else is driving, so you can catch up on work or take a quick nap.E. Less pollution is created.
C. You never have to worry about the cost of gasoline.F. You're supporting the public transportation system which is needed by many people who can't afford private types of transportation.


A = 1

B = 2

C = 1

D = 1

E = 2

F = 2


According to the table and the assigned points for each benefit, how much is the social benefit? 

Show answer

Answer

9

Show question

Question

Private External
A. The cost of a monthly bus ticket is cheaper than monthly car payments and the cost of car insurance.D. Less congestion on the roads.
B. Someone else is driving, so you can catch up on work or take a quick nap.E. Less pollution is created.
C. You never have to worry about the cost of gasoline.F. You're supporting the public transportation system which is needed by many people who can't afford private types of transportation.


A = 1

B = 2

C = 1

D = 1

E = 2

F = 2


According to the table and the assigned points for each benefit, how much is the marginal private benefit?

Show answer

Answer

4

Show question

Question

Fill the blank in the following definition: 

Pigouvian subsidy is a payout intended to stimulate actions with ...


Show answer

Answer

external benefits

Show question

Question

Which economic term is used to describe

the whole advantage for society from creating or using a product or service?

Show answer

Answer

Marginal social benefit

Show question

Question

Why are the social benefits important?

Show answer

Answer

The importance of social benefits is demonstrated by the fact that social benefits are arranged to suit the demands of the entirety of society, not just a part.

Show question

Question

What are the Marginal external benefits?

Show answer

Answer

Marginal external benefits are benefits that another person who isn't the buyer or seller gets.

Show question

Question

What are the Marginal private benefits?

Show answer

Answer

Marginal private benefits are benefits that directly affect those who purchase and use a good.

Show question

Question

Write the formula to calculate the marginal social benefit.


Show answer

Answer

Marginal social benefit = Marginal private benefit + Marginal external benefit 

Show question

Question

What do we need to know to calculate the social benefits?

Show answer

Answer

We must know the private and external benefits in order to calculate the social benefits.

Show question

Question

What do we need for optimal utilization from the point of view of society?

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Answer

The marginal social benefit of a shared asset has to be at least the same as its marginal social cost for optimal utilization from the point of view of society

Show question

Question

What is the difference between private and social benefit?

Show answer

Answer

The difference between a private and social benefit is that a private benefit is a benefit that is gained by the person or group that is directly involved in the transaction and a social benefit is an advantage for a third party who isn't the consumer or the seller.

Show question

Question

What is a criteria of social benefit?

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Answer

That it must address the demands of the entirety of the society. 

Show question

Question

Let's say that the marginal social cost of a project was $1 million. If it was known that the private benefits to the company were monetarily $500,000 and that the external benefit was worth about $200,000, how much would the social benefit be?

Show answer

Answer

The marginal social benefit would be about $700,000

Show question

Question

What is the marginal external cost (MEC)?

Show answer

Answer

The marginal external cost (MEC) is the distinction between marginal private cost (MPC) and the marginal social cost (MSC) - the rise in external expenses to society from an extra piece of a commodity.


Show question

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