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A commodity is some good for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. It is a product that is the same no matter who produces it, such as petroleum, notebook paper, or milk. In other words, copper is copper. The price of copper is universal, and fluctuates daily based on global supply and demand. Stereo systems, on the other hand, have many levels of quality. And, the better a stereo is [perceived to be], the more it will cost.

One of the characteristics of a commodity good is that its price is determined as a function of its market as a whole. Well-established physical commodities have actively traded spot and derivative markets. Generally, these are basic resources and agricultural products such as iron ore, crude oil, coal, ethanol, salt, sugar, coffee beans, soybeans, aluminum, copper, rice, wheat, gold, silver and platinum. Soft commodities are goods that are grown, while hard commodities are the ones that are extracted through mining.

Commoditization occurs as a goods or services market loses differentiation across its supply base, often by the diffusion of the intellectual capital necessary to acquire or produce it efficiently. As such, goods that formerly carried premium margins for market participants have become commodities, such as generic pharmaceuticals and silicon chips.

Etymology

The word commodity came into use in English in the 15th century, it came from the French, "commodité", to benefit or profit. Going further back, the French word derived from the Latin commoditatem (nominative commoditas) meaning "fitness, adaptation,". The Latin root commod- meant variously "appropriate", "proper measure, time or condition" and advantage, or benefit.

Commodity trade

In the original and simplified sense, commodities were things of value, of uniform quality, that were produced in large quantities by many different producers; the items from each different producer are considered equivalent. It is the contract and this underlying standard that define the commodity, not any quality inherent in the product.

Commodities exchanges include:

Markets for trading commodities can be very efficient, particularly if the division into pools matches demand segments. These markets will quickly respond to changes in supply and demand to find an equilibrium price and quantity. In addition, investors can gain passive exposure to the commodity markets through a commodity price index.

Commodities in Marxism

In classical political economy and especially Karl Marx's critique of political economy, a commodity is any good or service produced by human labour and offered as a product for general sale on the market. Some other priced goods are also treated as commodities, e.g. human labor-power, works of art and natural resources, even although they may not be produced specifically for the market, or be non-reproducible goods.

Marx's analysis of the commodity is intended to help solve the problem of what establishes the economic value of goods, using the labor theory of value. This problem was extensively debated by Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Rodbertus-Jagetzow among others. Value and price are not equivalent terms in economics, and theorising the specific relationship of value to market price has been a challenge for both liberal and Marxist economists.

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