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The production possibilities curve model

Understanding and creating graphs are critical skills in macroeconomics. In this article, you’ll get a quick review of the production possibilities curve (PPC) model, including:
  1. what it’s used to illustrate
  2. key elements of the model
  3. some examples of questions that can be answered using that model.

What the PPC model illustrates

The production possibilities curve (PPC) illustrates tradeoffs and opportunity costs when producing two goods. We can use the PPC to illustrate:
  • Scarcity
  • Efficiency
  • Opportunity costs
  • Gains from trade

Key features of the PPC

  • Two axes: each axis represents a good that a country produces, such as capital goods and consumer goods.
  • One curve: A curve showing all possible combinations that can be produced given the current stock of capital, labor, natural resources, and technology. A straight line represents constant opportunity costs, and a bowed out line represents increasing opportunity costs.

Helpful reminders for the PPC

  • Use arrows to indicate the direction of any change.
  • If answering an exam question, read the prompt carefully to determine the shape of the PPC. Unless the prompt states otherwise, use a concave (“bowed out”) PPC to indicate increasing opportunity costs.
  • Read the prompt carefully to determine how any points should be labeled. If the instructions say to label something as “warthog,” label it as “warthog.”

Common uses of a PPC

Showing whether an economy is in a recession or at full employment

A PPC showing full employment outputA PPC showing a recession
A country is at full employment and produces two goods: consumer goods and capital goods. Draw a correctly labeled graph of the production possibilities curve (PPC). Indicate a point on your graph (labeled X) that represents full employment and in which both goods are being produced.Assume there is a recession in Hamsterville. Draw a correctly labeled graph of the production possibilities curve in Hamsterville in which capital goods and consumer goods are being produced. Label point C in your graph representing the recession.
A point on the PPC is an economy in full employment
A point inside the PPC is an economy in a recession

Try it yourself

Here is a question from the 2016 AP Macroeconomics Exam that uses the PPC. Try to solve it on your own, and then click on the solution to compare your work to the correct answer.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user njohnson
    Why is this PPC constant and not concave?
    (3 votes)
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    • starky tree style avatar for user melanie
      The PPC in the 2016 FRQ question is constant because the data from the table implies constant opportunity costs rather than increasing opportunity costs. IN a single day Erica can make 150 donuts or 50 cupcakes.
      (6 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Michelle Padilla
    what does a point OUTSIDE the PPF (the line) mean?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user tw11
    How can an economy hope to produce a point outside the curve?
    (1 vote)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Jimin
    how do you know when the PPC grave should be a curve (increasing) or a straight line (constant)?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user welilerhafane
    draw a production possibility curve (label your .) the vertical axis shows the production of [public goods and the horizontal axis shows the production of private goods .the economy is currently producing at point a on the production possibility curve where 50% of all production is devoted to public goods and 50% to private goods
    (0 votes)
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