The buyer, however, takes this incentive into consideration, and takes the quality of the goods to be uncertain. Only the average quality of the goods will be considered, which in turn will have the side effect that goods that are above average in terms of quality will be driven out of the market. This mechanism is repeated until a no-trade equilibrium is reached.
As a consequence of the mechanism described in this paper, markets may fail to exist altogether in certain situations involving quality uncertainty. Examples given in Akerlof's paper include the market for used cars, the dearth of formal credit markets in developing countries, and the difficulties that the elders encounter in buying health insurance.
However, not all players in a given market will follow the same rules or have the same aptitude of assessing quality. So there will always be a distinct advantage for some vendors to offer low-quality goods to the less-informed segment of a market that, on the whole, appears to be of reasonable quality and have reasonable guarantees of certainty. This is part of the basis for the idiom, buyer beware.
Ironically, there is no reciprocal danger of a market for a good product collapsing in this manner when the asymmetry is in favour of the buyer, that is to say, when the buyers can assess more accurately the quality of the products than the sellers. In this case, regular market forces of supply and demand will prevail, the sellers will get the highest price paid, and the trend will be to weed out products with prices in excess of their quality. This is likely the basis for the idiom that an informed consumer is a better consumer. An example of this might be the subjective quality of fine food and wines (beyond just safety and freshness issues). Individual consumers know best what they prefer to eat, and quality is almost always assessed in fine establishments by smell and taste before they pay. However, a definition of 'highest quality' for food and wine eludes providers. Thus, a large variety of better quality and higher priced restaurants are supported.
This means that the owner of a good used car will be unable to get a high enough price to make selling that car worthwhile. Therefore, owners of good cars will not place their cars on the used car market. The withdrawal of good cars reduces the average quality of cars on the market, causing buyers to revise downward their expectations for any given car. This, in turn, motivates the owners of moderately good cars not to sell, and so on. The result is that a market in which there is asymmetrical information with respect to quality shows characteristics similar to those described by Gresham's Law: the bad drives out the good (although Gresham's Law applies to a different situation).
George E. Hoffer and Michael D. Pratt state that the “economic literature is divided on whether a lemons market actually exists in used vehicles." The authors’ research supports the hypothesis that “known defects provisions,” used by US states (e.g., Wisconsin) to regulate used car sales have been ineffectual, because the quality of used vehicles sold in these states is not significantly better than the vehicles in neighboring states without such consumer protection legislation.
A lemon market will be produced by the following:
The article draws some conclusions about the cost of dishonesty in markets in general:
The cost of dishonesty, therefore, lies not only in the amount by which the purchaser is cheated; the cost also must include the loss incurred from driving legitimate business out of existence.
Both the American Economic Review and The Review of Economic Studies rejected the paper for "triviality", while the reviewers for Journal of Political Economy rejected it as incorrect, arguing that if this paper was correct, then no goods could be traded. Only on the 4th attempt did the paper get published in Quarterly Journal of Economics. Today, the paper is one of the most-cited papers in modern economic theory (more than 4600 citations in academic papers as of August 2008).
Five years after Akerlof's paper was published, The United States enacted a federal lemon law (the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) that protects citizens of all states. There are also state laws regarding lemons which vary by state and may not necessarily cover used or leased vehicles. The rights afforded to consumers by lemon laws may exceed the warranties expressed in purchase contracts. These state laws provide remedies to consumers for automobiles that repeatedly fail to meet certain standards of quality and performance. Lemon Law is the common nickname for these laws, but each state has different names for the laws and acts, which may also cover more than just automobiles. In California and federal law, "Lemon Laws" cover anything mechanical.
The federal lemon law also provides the warrantor may be obligated to pay your attorney fees if you prevail in a lemon law suit, as do most state lemon laws. If a car has to be repaired for the same defect four or more times and the problem is still occurring, the car may be deemed to be "a lemon." The defect must substantially hinder the vehicle's use, value or safety. Purchasers who knowingly purchase a car in "as is" condition accept the defects and void their rights under the lemon law.