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Opportunity Cost, Comprehensive Definition?

April 12, 2004

I'm looking for a complete and comprehensive definition of 'opportunity cost'. Ideally, it could serve as a universal application guide for the concept.

I don't expect that a single reference could be found to satisfy this requirement, but several in combination might, and supplementary and explanatary footnotes could help.

This, the best of which I am aware, which isn't many, follows below.

The following quotes concerning opportunity cost come from a non-Austrian mainstream economics text.

Economics, A Contemporary Introduction, 3rd Edition, 1994

by William A. McEachern, Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut, page 30,31, emphasis in original --

"Because of scarcity, whenever you make a choice, you must pass up other opportunities; you must incur an opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of the chosen item or the chosen activity is the benefit expected from the best alternative that is forgone."

"Opportunity cost is a subjective idea. Only the individual chooser can estimate the expected value of the best alternative. In fact, we seldom know the actual value of the forgone alternative, because by definition that opportunity lost is 'the road not taken' -- the alternative passed up in favor of the preferred option."

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