February 2009

IZA DP No. 4018: Supply Theory sans Profit-Maximization

published in: B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics: Contributions to Theoretical Economics, 2009, 9 (1), Article 26

We utilize the analytical construct of a stochastic supply function to provide an aggregate representation of a finite collection of standard deterministic supply functions. We introduce a consistency postulate for a stochastic supply function that may be satisfied even if no underlying deterministic supply function is rationalizable in terms of profit maximization. Our consistency postulate is nonetheless equivalent to a stochastic expansion of supply inequality, which summarizes the predictive content of the traditional theory of competitive supply. A number of key results in the deterministic theory follow as special cases from this equivalence. In particular, it yields a probabilistic version of the law of supply, which implies the traditional specification. Our analysis thus provides a necessary and sufficient axiomatic foundation for a de-coupling of the predictive content of the classical theory of competitive firm behavior from its a priori roots in profit maximization, while subsuming the traditional theory as a special case.