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Introducing Wildcard Wednesdays - Economist Competition

Monday, January 31, 2011

I haven’t yet decided whether to permanently name the Wednesday blog entry ‘Wildcard Wednesday’, ‘Wacky Wednesday’, ‘Worldwide Wednesday’ or ‘www.ednesday’. This week, however, I couldn’t resist opting for Wildcard Wednesday, having seen the latest caption competition for the Economist. If you’re keen to get published in the Economist, even if it’s just for a one-liner (Geoff should be good at this!), then this regular competition is just the ticket. This week’s competition details can be found here. You need to make sure that you make your entry by midnight on Wednesday, in order for it to be registered. The winning entry will be published alongside the image in this coming Friday’s print edition of the Economist. I think this is a really fun opportunity for both teachers and students; no prize money, just oodles of kudos!

The ethics of paying to pollute

Here is a thought-provoking piece from the BBC web site on ethical dimensions to policies such as carbon trading and carbon taxation. Aristotle on modern ethical dilemmas

Radical Economics: Yo Hayek!

BBC Radio 4 Analysis has a programme on the Austrian school to economic thought. And there is a follow up programme next week as Newsnight’s Economics Editor Paul Mason meets the economists of “financialisation” and asks whether the growth of credit has given birth to a new kind of capitalism More details here

Brad Pitt and the Big Short

Fans of Brad Pitt may be interested to know that the Hollywood star is pretty much lined up to take a lead role in the film of The Big Short -  the epic new book from Michael Lewis. The author let this slip in discussion at a packed LSE last week as he explored the charaacters of many of the lead figures in a story of epic financial returns from staggering regulatory failure.

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Mathematical Monday - Price Elasticity of Demand

This week’s stretch-and-challenge mathematical activity looks at some of the algebra behind the concept of price elasticity of demand. As with last week’s activity, nothing more advanced than higher level GCSE maths is needed to complete the exercise, although it’s still something you probably will want to use as extension material. I’ve also included some hints, tips and possible ways of reaching the answers.



Regulation and the banking industry: reflections from Davos

Sunday, January 30, 2011

If, like my school, you haven’t entered students for Unit 3 in January but are teaching both A2 units side-by-side for June examination, you might be looking for examples of competition policy and regulation to offer your students in the coming weeks. The report of the Independent Commission on Banking and the focus on regulation at last week’s Davos meeting are very well timed; this report filed today by Tim Weber of the BBC gives a neat summary of the time leading up to Lehman’s collapse, and offers a rather chilling conclusion from informal dinner-table discussions with the world’s top bankers that it is unlikely that regulators can, in practice, untangle the systemic risks in the financial system that make it imperative for government’s to step in and support failing banks.

If you would like to follow this up as an example with students, you might try some of the following links. There are numerous articles assessing the report of the ICB - just a couple are given here.

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econoMAX Jan/Feb 2011

The first 2011 edition of econoMAX, the digital magazine for A Level Economics students, is now available to subscribing schools. Details of the new articles are summarised below. An annual institutional subscription to econoMAX is just £50 (+VAT) which provides each department with over 50 new articles each academic year and unrestricted access to an archive of over 400 other articles.  You can download a sample article from a recent edition of econoMAX here.  Subscriptions to econoMAX can be ordered here.

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Inequality on the rise

Saturday, January 29, 2011

As my attention turns towards A2 macroeconomics now that the unit 3 exam is over, I was delighted with the helpfulness of The Economist in providing me with exactly what I needed for my lesson on income inequality. Read on to find out more…

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Adapt - Tim Harford’s new book

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tim’s new book is now available for pre-order from Amazon!

FT Series on China’s Growing Influence

A hat tip to Ian Martin from Beauchamp College for spotting this resource. The FT is doing a series on the growing influence of China and its impact on economies and markets around the globe. This is a link to a lovely interactive graphic showing how China’s trade with 43 nations has increased since 1992.

The all-new Theory Thursdays!

This week’s theory challenge takes a look at indifference curves. Indifference curves map out consumer preferences between different sets of goods, and allow us to determine what happens when the consumer faces a change in their income or in the price of the good. For those teachers who are short on time in terms of explaining the basics of indifference curve analysis to students, then this YouTube video provides an adequate introduction. Below are some sets of questions that students can tackle after getting their head around the basic concepts.

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Tracking Commodity Prices - Free Chart Download

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Commodity markets are rarely far from the front pages of the economics and business news coverage. The surge in world food prices in 2008 was followed by a steep fall in many prices during the recession. But rampant food price inflation is back on the economic and political agenda. I have made available below my own commodity price chartroom PowerPoint - in it I follow the world price of between eight to ten soft commodities ranging from sugar to wheat, from cocoa to frozen orange juice.

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Playdoh Economics (2)

In my previous post on Playdoh Economics, I shared how I use playdoh to get the students engaged in the basic concepts of Economics, many of which they have already done before. I also use the Playdoh for graph revision, and a couple of the students efforts are shown below.

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CAQ 19

China and India have been in the news again for all sorts of reasons… do you know why?  And which American bank has reported more losses, this time amounting to USD1.2bn (£769m)?  Take this week’s current affairs quiz to find out…

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Inside the IMF and Should the government measure our national happiness?

Here are two BBC Radio broadcasts that can be set as homework research task: one on the workings of the IMF and the other on Should the government measure our national happiness? . Both remain available until 12:00AM Thu, 1 Jan 2099 by which time I will probably have been allowed to retire.

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Choppy Times - An Economic Cycle Update and Resource Download

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

These are exciting times to be teaching AS macroeconomics what with debates about rising inflation and slowing growth and intense discussion about future directions for UK fiscal policy, volatile currencies and commodity prices and signs of a return to even higher unemployment.

Today we learned of (provisional) evidence of a contraction in real GDP for the UK and renewed fears of a double dip. For teachers keen to display an up to date chart of what is happening to GDP, inflation, unemployment and consumer confidence I have made available for download (see the link below) an updated PowerPoint chart set for the UK. Nothing fancy just six selected charts! They might be good for annotated handouts.

UK economic cycle update:

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Global Economy - Student Enrichment Day - 7th Feb in London

There are just under two weeks to go until our first Global Economy Student Enrichment Day at the Vue Cinema, Fulham Broadway. The main aim of the day is to offer a set of presentations to students who want to deepen their awareness and understanding of some important global economic issues. Many teachers are attending the day as well (with or without their students!) and there are still places left. Here is the programme

* Geoff Riley (Tutor2u):  An Ever Bigger Union? Has EU Enlargement been a success?
* Ruth Tarrant (Tutor2u): Trade Imbalances and Development - A Global Perspective
* James Bevan (Chief Economist of CCLA Investment Management, Radio 5 Wake up to Money): The Economics of Global Cities - Challenges facing London
* David Smith (Economics Editor of the Sunday Times), The Global Financial Crisis and the Changing World Economy
* Mo Tanweer (Head of Economics, Oundle School): The Economics of Currency Wars

Each presentation will have an accompanying student/teacher handout and we will make the presentations available via an online download for those attending.

Monday 7 February 2011
Venue: Vue Cinema, Fulham Broadway
Timing: 10:45 am to 3.15 pm

There are still some places available for the conference.  Please request places using the following form or by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) in the office:

Booking Form for Global Economy 2011

Head of Economics and Business Studies - Bryanston School

Many thanks to Adam Beales for letting us know about a great teaching vacancy for Sept 2011 at Bryanston…

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Barry Hearn at the Entrepreneurship Society

Leading sports entrepreneur Barry Hearn is speaking at the Entrepreneurship Society on Wednesday 2nd February starting at 8-45pm. Colleagues who are interested in coming along and perhaps bringing some students are extended a warm welcome.

5 Fresh Links: Reforming the EU Common Agricultural Policy

The economic, environmental and social issues arising from farm support in developed and developing countries often figure in final year teaching for A2 economics. We are looking at this at the moment as part of our teaching of the economics of the EU. Here are five fresh links on the vexed question of how best to reform the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU - including two recent videos from BBC news.

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Variations in Regional Economic Growth

The Centre for Cities published statistical data which shows variations in economics activity across the UK.

The BBC report highlighted some of the findings. “Economic recovery will be “unevenly spread” across the country with some cities needing extra government help to create jobs, a study has suggested.

Research group Centre for Cities said places such as Hull, Doncaster and Northampton were now “bouncing back”. But Sunderland, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Swansea and Newport might not feel the full benefits for some time. Centre for Cities said areas more reliant on public sector jobs would have the most difficulties.

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Youth Unemployment

Hugh Pym on the latest rise in youth unemployment


Introducing Tuesday Talks!

Last week, my extension class and I watched a thought-provoking short TED talk by Rachel Botsman on the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of collaborative consumption - the talk is shown further below. According to Botsman, collaborative consumption is the use of bartering, swapping or sharing of consumer goods (usually durables) using technology to help the manage these collaborative relationships between strangers. The idea provides a great contrast to the ‘standard’ approach to thinking about consumer expenditure in an economy.

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Youth Unemployment in the UK

Monday, January 24, 2011

Many students and teachers will be looking at the issue of rising unemployment in the UK at the moment - focusing on the causes of effects of a high number out of work and also the effectiveness of different strategies for getting people back in a job. Youth unemployment is an especially important structural problem in the labour market and new figures find that nearly one young person in five is unemployed.  Indeed 260,000 under-16s live in homes where nobody has ever worked. Here are five links to supporting resources including news articles, background comment pieces and videos.

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Changes in Real Prices

This is a graphic I use each year when looking at changes over time in indices of consumer prices for different goods and services. Using data drawn from the published Retail Price Index since 1988 (the base year) I print this chart out and explore in classroom discussion some of the economic factors behind the divergence in prices for rail fares, cigarettes, household repair services, clothing and electrical items. We discuss the impact of changes in indirect taxes, unit labour costs, economies of scale, trade and globalization effects and the intensity of competition among other factors. Eagle-eyed students spot the upturn in clothing prices and link it to the rising world price of cotton. Others notice the strong seasonality in clothing prices and the annual hike in rail fares!

I have copied the latest chart into a PowerPoint file for colleagues who might want to use it


Brisbane before and after the floods

A brilliantly conceived way of showing the impact of the floods that have afflicted many areas of Brisbane can be found here. Some stunning images here perhaps when thinking about the damage that floods create and flood defences as a public good.

Excellent moving graphic showing US population pyramid - 1950 to 2010

Click on the image below to take you to the graphic.

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The Externalities of Plastic

A hat tip to Mark Seccombe for suggesting these resources on the externalities of plastic waste - very timely as many teachers get stuck into aspects of market failure and sustainability with their AS students.

I came across this video which would be a good little clip to introduce negative externalities on both the production and consumption side. It would also reinforce the difficulties of putting monetary values on externalities. The first half is better for Economics, the second half drifts into sociological comment.

It could be supported by this cracking site on plastic bag usage. This article considers plant based plastics as a way forward, it could be good example of weighing up costs and benefits – the second-to-last paragraph has some good stuff from a business point of view.

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Here is something I got which was doing the rounds on email – very amusing.

I was asked to explain the Economic crisis in Ireland here is an example
as I understand it….( passed on of course !!)

Mary is the proprietor of a bar in Dublin . She realises that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronise her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans). Word gets around about Mary’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Mary’s bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Dublin. By providing her customers’ freedom from immediate payment demands, Mary gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Mary’s gross sales volume increases massively.

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What worries economists in 2011

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Introducing Mathematical Monday!

Over the course of what remains of this academic year, I’m planning to run a series of blog entries that teachers can use to enrich the content that they deliver to their most able students, or those who are considering reading economics at university.

Today’s introductory Mathematical Monday resource uses some public-domain lecture notes from Essex University, in which students can work through applying simple linear equations to basic demand and supply. Students with a good grade at GCSE maths should be able to manage this part! The notes and activities then move on to macroeconomics, making use of the 45 degree line, which few teachers use now but keen and able students will manage to work it out. The notes can be found here

An Aggregate Supply puzzle

A rather fascinating debate has been raging in my department office since we returned from the Christmas holidays. Surprisingly, it doesn’t concern the ‘big news’ items such as the VAT rise or the government’s austerity measures, but instead we seem to have found a bit of a theoretical conundrum.

The debate started as a result of a puzzling entry in the original AQA Unit 2 specification, which stated that candidates must have an understanding of the Keynesian LRAS curve. To our relief, this has been updated to just ‘an understanding of the Keynesian AS curve’, although candidates (unlike for any of the other major exam boards) must still use both the ‘classical’ upwards sloping SRAS and vertical LRAS, as well.

Our conundrum deepened when we started to think about representing output gaps using the AD/AS framework, and it is this part of the puzzle that we think would benefit from input from the readers of this blog.

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Using Visuals in Economics Teaching

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I came across this impressive Prezi presentation on Using Visual Thinking in the Classroom. I willl go back to it again when I have some more time to draw more ideas on better utilising photographs, concept maps, flow charts, and infographics in Economics lessons.

Many colleagues will be keenly aware of the benefits that come from a more visual approach although often times the input required to develop the resources is tough for hard-pressed colleagues. Just a thought .... email through or leave a comment on the blog about some of your favourite images or infographics that really work for you!

Here are some links to a selection of visual resources we have mentioned previously on the blog:

Some amazing images to help teach economies of scale (Ben Cahill)

Images from a planned economy

Infographics: Economist Daily Image

Market failure in pictures

Starter Activity - Economic Cycle in Pictures




My favourite negative externalities picture

This picture from a US newspaper has great examples of both negative production and consumption externalities, although the woman involved only seems to be concerned about one of them!

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Economics at the Movies - Margin Call

Now releasing in the UK and starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore, Margin Call is presented as a thriller that revolves around the key people at a investment bank over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis.

BBC Newsnight interview (Jan 2012)

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Economics in the News Quiz - 24 Jan 2011

Try these 10 questions on recent economics news stories

Economics in the News - 24 January 2011

Happiness and Prosperity and the Equation that Links the Two

Happiness or Prosperity. How can we tell if a country is happy? Does it matter?

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Winner of the Fun Theory Competition

Here is the winner of the Fun Theory competition to find innovative and fun ways to get people to change their behaviour in socially beneficial ways! For Dan Ariely of “Predictably Irrational” fame the Fun Theory programme provides simple ideas about how human motivations and incentives drive change. In this case speeding drivers pay fines into a fund that provides money for a lottery to reward law-abiding drivers.

Ariely on Limitations of Rational Economics

A hat tip to Mark Seccombe for spotting this - Dan Ariely on the limitations of rational Economics. And to tick the cross-curricular boxes Mark always leads into it with a bit of Shakespeare: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!” – Hamlet Act II, scene II

5 Fresh Links: Focus on Inflation

There has been much coverage of the rise in UK consumer price inflation to 3.7% in December 2010 and another rise will happen when the January 2011 data is published because of the spike in VAT to 20%. Here are five links to comment pieces on the inflation issue:

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Shorting the market - the vultures target HMV

A few weeks back we focused on the problems facing UK retailer HMV. Weak sales and a difficult financial position have made the business a target for hedge funds who decide to short the stock anticipating a further fall in the company’s share price. This Guardian article looks at the stocks on the UK FTSE that lead the list of shares being targeted by the short-sellers.

Short selling is a strategy used by investors who expect the price of a stock to fall. It involves selling shares by borrowing them from another institution and then betting that they can buy them back at a lower price and profit from the difference. Short selling became a high profile and controversial tactic during the global financial crisis when many fragile banks were the targets of the stock market vultures and some were forced to accept nationalisation and emergency financial support.

US GDP compared to other countries

The Economist has a neat graphic looking at how American states compare with other countries in terms of GDP and population.

Monopoly power at the station car park

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You have just parked your car at the station only to discover that the parking fee has risen 19%, significantly higher than the RPI and CPI rates of inflation.

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China and macroeconomic policy conflicts

AS students of economics will be trying to consider squaring the macroeconomic circle, as they face trade offs between economic growth, stable employment and inflation. This short discussion on Radio 4 explores one of the policy conflicts.

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The US-China power balance, trade and currencies

The BBC produced a nice little graphic this week to go illustrate comparisons between the US and Chinese economies, alongside the talks between President Obama and President Hu Jintao. Relations between the two countries have been strained by issues such as the trade imbalance and China’s growing military might. The figures here give some background to those issues.

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Remember what life was like before the recession?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nice graphic here and below to remind us.

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Property rights - Chinese style!

What do you do when you want to tear an apartment building down so that it can be redeveloped in to a (presumably) more profitable factory. If you own the entire building there may not be too much of an issue. But what happens when you only own six of the seven floors and the family on the highest level isn’t interested in moving out?

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Apple and Goldman Sachs - Worlds Apart

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Here is a fantastic piece from John Cassidy - author of Why Markets Fail - a simply terrific investigation of the different ways that we can measure the rate of return for different business activities. Apple employees earn a lot less than Goldmans’, despite generating a much higher return.

Economics Q&A: Can economics provide answers to the crisis of collapsing stocks in global fishing?

The UK is one of many countries that now face a dilemma when it comes to fish stocks and their sustainability. In the UK we now consume over 385,000 tons of fish per year whilst on a global scale only 10% of large fish stocks that existed in the 1950s are still present today; this include both cod and tuna. Stock depletion has become a larger issue because of the increases in fishing technology – especially in long-line fishing which is the main technique used in Japan.

As a result many of the once inaccessible fish reserves have become economically viable to fish as boats are more fuel efficient and require less labour. In a fully functioning market the decline in supply of the product would cause an increase in price and act as a disincentive for consumers to purchase the product meaning that the industry would reach a sustainable equilibrium. In this case however there has been a deep market failure resulting from the tragedy of the commons. The sea, and its fish, is a common resource either on a global scale or on a national scale within a country’s own territorial waters. There are very few established property rights over the sea meaning that rational economic agents have an incentive to plunder the seas resources causing the falling fish stock levels.

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Tesco - Time to start a price war!

Here is some pure gold dust for students of competition and strategy in the food retailing industry! A leading analyst (Dave McCarthy at Evolution Securities) has written a lengthy research document building the case for Tesco to launch an aggressive price war - permanently cutting prices on hundreds of different items. Much of the case for the price discounting is reproduced in this Guardian article and key arguments are that Tesco is better able to withstand the hit on group profits from doing it, and that lowering the returns from the sector will help to bring an end to the land grab and building programme that ultimately may not be in anyone’s interests.

Has Tesco lost its way recently? Sainsbury’s was the best performing supermarket over the Christmas period. Its like-for-like sales were up by 3.6%. I have stopped shopping at Tesco partly because the retail experience is so dire (the mega store in Slough is just about the most soulless place on the planet) and also because Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have significantly raised their game in keeping products available on the shelves and in extending their value range. The Waitrose “Essentials” range has been a big success.

A new CEO provides a window of opportunity for a change of direction at Tesco and this analyst believes that Tesco needs to exploit first mover advantage before the rivals become too strong to absorb future price wars.

Read: Analyst advises Tesco to launch a price war to damage the competition

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