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Tackling the problem of scarcity

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Anyone starting out in Economics will almost certainly tackle this issue right from the start: it's completely fundamental to the way economists think. Ben Cahill may have helped you with a starter activity on this topic, and I've included a few more links that may help you link to the topic of specialisation and the division of labour: our main way of tackling the problem.

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UK Economy: Poverty Britain’s hungry children

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Channel 4 news investigates the impact of persistent and deep poverty on the lives and hopes of children in thousands of households. A potent and stark report that reminds us of the gulf in living standards and the challenges of meeting basic needs such as a decent diet that meets minimum nutritional standards.

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Unit 1 Micro: Low Paid Workers Strike Over Pay

Sunday, September 01, 2013

In the United States many thousands of workers employed by fast-food businesses on low pay have launched a strike complaining against endemic low pay in their jobs. Workers want to be paid $15 (£10) an hour, the median wage [for service workers] is $9.08 an hour and the minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour - unchanged since 2009.

What are the main reasons why workers in these jobs are low paid? One contributory factor is the frequent absence of trade union representation when negotiating pay and conditions. Virtually all private sector fast food jobs in the United States are non-union.

To what extent might a higher minimum pay floor cost jobs? Or could it have the reverse effect and bring about higher productivity and employment? Would the profits of businesses such as McDonald's suffer if they were required to pay more? McDonald's profits totaled $5.47 billion in 2012 and the US fast-food industry each year generates revenues in excess of $200 billion.

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Working Hard for a Big Mac - A Measure of Real Wages Around the Globe

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An intriguing take here on relative real wages in a range of developed and developing economies - using that staple resource to help teach PPP: the price of Big Macs!

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Development Economics: Living on One Dollar

Monday, August 19, 2013

What is it like to live in extreme poverty? Could you budget only one dollar a day to survive? Four friends from the United States spent their summer living in Guatemala on one dollar a day to try and understand the reality of poverty first hand. This is the official trailer of a new documentary being screened for the first time in August 2013 and comes from the Center for Global Development

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Unit 2 Macro: Changing the GDP Calculation

Friday, August 09, 2013

The United States is making changes to the way that it calculate the value of their national output and the result is that the total value of the goods and services produced in the world's biggest economy will be substantially higher as a result. 

According to this article from BBC news "The way the US economy is measured has changed, to include the amount spent on intellectual property outlays such as pop song production and drug patents for the first time." Check out this short dynamic chart from the Economist for more background details. The gain in GDP is 3.5% or - in effect - a country the size of Sweden has been created by changing the scope of the GDP measurement!

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Unit 2 & 4: Zero hours contracts reflect UK response to employment opportunities

Monday, August 05, 2013

Several news sources are quoting a new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which estimates that as many 1 million people are on zero-hours contracts in the UK. For a summary of the report go to this link to see the CIPD version.

Zero-hours contracts are those where an employer gives no guarantees about the amount of hours an employee may work in any given period. In effect, the employee waits to find out how many hours they may be required and generally does not earn anything if they do not work. Whilst the zero-hours contract are controversial (trade unions are generally opposed and even Vince Cable is investigating their use), the CIPD report suggests that only about 14% of employees on these types of contracts do not earn a living wage.

The UK's approach to part-time, flexible and non-contract employment is often quoted as one of the reasons why unemployment figures have not matched those of previous recessions in the UK - someone on zero-hours contracts may not be classified as unemployed even if they do not work. A relatively large proportion of workers in the UK are working part-time would rather work full-time but have less choice in the current job market.

Fascinatingly, the Education sector is now one of the biggest users of zero hours contracts (approximately 35% of education establishments have at least one person employed using the method).

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Unit 4 Macro: Quah v Chang on Market-Led Development

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Here are some summary notes from a discussion between Danny Quah and Ha Joon Chang at a recent LSE panel discussion on the question "Is there a future for market-led development?"

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Unit 4 Macro: Public Social Spending and the Welfare Cap

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The UK Coalition government has introduced a controversial welfare cap - imposing a maximum on the total social security spending per year for each family. The welfare cap limits households to £26,000 a year. Couples and single parents receive no more than £500 a week in benefits, while the limit for single people is £350, although there are some exemptions.

The cap is designed to ensure that benefits payments do not exceed the income of the average working household and is designed both to cut total welfare spending and as part of a strategy of improving incentives for people to actively look for and take paid work.

Critics argue that a welfare gap does little or nothing to address deeper underlying problems such as the soaring cost of renting property and the lack of affordable child care.

Social spending varies greatly across different countries. The Economist live chart below looks at some of these differences.

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Unit 3 Micro: Adidas Goes West in China

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

CK Prahalad once wrote of the "fortune at the bottom of the pyramid"  - reflecting the commercial opportunities for businesses that can successfully connect and bring products to markets inhabited by low income consumers whose living standards are on the rise. China's fast-growing economy provides an enormous opportunity, but how can companies win sales in the Chinese interior, hundreds of miles away from the coastal centres of commerce? 

As wealth and consumerism reach China's most remote cities, foreign brands are venturing far from Shanghai and Beijing hoping to win over millions of new consumers. The FT's Patti Waldmeir visits two lower tier cities in central China and looks at how Adidas is expanding in the far outposts of the Middle Kingdom.

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Unit 4 Macro: Tackling Inequality Among Women

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Currently, barriers of law and custom stop many women from getting financing for business. Removing those barriers can help overcame the gender gap, and unleash economic growth. This World Bank video looks at some of the evidence. Our Development Economics blog covers many articles relevant to students tackling this for Unit 4 - click here for the Development Economics Blog

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Unit 2 Macro: The Rising Middle Class

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are escaping poverty and becoming middle class. The explosion of new consumers in China, India and other economic powerhouses is changing the global balance of power. The BBC website has a new series on exploring the effects of this shift in global economic power and influence - click here for further research and watch the video below

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Econ 3: Wage Determination and Equality

Monday, June 17, 2013

Here's a teaching resource suggested by one of our colleagues who attended the Wow Economics CPD event in Birmingham last week.  We were discussing a resource called the Average Wage game (available as an individual download from this website) which asks students to categorise occupations into those jobs with pay above the national average and those below the national average (as per the latest available statistics from the Office of National Statistics, November 2012).

One delegate suggested that they had used a similar resource which starts by asking students to rank occupations in an order which reflects their relative value to society (ignoring, initially, any notion of wages or pay).  Having ranked the occupations from the 'most' to the 'least' valuable, the teacher then shows the students the average wage paid to people working in those occupations and leads a discussion on how many of the most 'valued' occupations pay among the least wages.

This is a fantastic starter activity to initiate conversations about wage determination and equality of pay.  You may also find this as a good discussion point over the coming weeks when introducing some A2 concepts to AS students.

Click on this link to download the Tutor2u version of this resource developed directly from our delegate's suggestion.

The Wow Economics event has its last airing this Wednesday in London.  An all-new version of the resource-packed day will be advertised soon in time for the new academic year.

Paul Ormerod: The Rapid Rise of the Food Bank

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FOOD banks are a rapidly growing phenomenon in the UK. A few years ago, they barely existed, but an estimated half a million people now make use of them every week. On the face of it, it seems that poverty has sadly become endemic since the financial crisis, with many families unable even to feed themselves. Real incomes have declined since 2007, putting pressure on household budgets. But the pace of increasing demand is surprising.

In fact, the food bank is a market. It is, however, complex – with particular features which mean that it is likely to grow rapidly, exactly as we have seen. The key point is that food is not the only commodity traded.

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Rise in the number of working women could improve the GDP of the UK and Japan

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Students looking for a good example of a supply-side policy for improving the economic performance of the UK may be interested in this news article about how increasing the labour participation rates of women in the UK could lead to an increase in GDP by up to a staggering 10%.  This growth could be achieved by encouraging the number of women wishing to provide their labour (or increase the provision of their labour) to the same level as men.

The common view now is that legislation is no longer good enough in itself to provide this encouragement.  The Equality Act of 2010 combined the various equal opportunity laws together to penalise businesses that operate unequally.  What appears to be needed is an improvement in the accessibility, availability, cost and quality of childcare facilities to allow more mothers to work (or work longer).

A further article (follow this link) explores how this principle is equally true of the Japanese economy.  This article has a fantastic graph comparing the female participation rates for many of the major economies which might be a fantastic data example for teachers to use as a compare and contrast exercise.

As for the costs on society of such a policy.......  That's a different question!

Teacher Resource - Top Trumps for the ‘Better Life Index’

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Here's the return of not one, but two Tutor2u favourites in one blog!  Many of you will have heard of the 'Better Life Index' (follow this link to go to the website) - which is an OECD compiled statistical index of the quality of living in 36 of the most economically advanced countries in the world using a varied number of categories above and beyond just economic information.  Indicators include life expectancy and work-life balance alongside unemployment and average earnings.

The latest version of the index is now available and Australia has been measured as being the 'happiest' for the third year on the trot (the UK ranks as 10th in the world - you didn't realise how happy you were!).  The website homepage actually allows you to create your own index - a nice exercise to give to your students if you wanted to stimulate debate on the relative importance of the different indicators (for example, is the 'environment' more important to some students than others when measuring the quality of life?).

I've taken the raw data from the index and created some 'Top Trumps'-style cards to act as a fun and engaging activity for students.  The resource allows students to play a game where they attempt to 'win' their opponents cards from them by challenging them on the statistical outcomes for each country.  So, for example, if I hold the card for the UK and challenge my opponent to consider the citizen's average earnings and this is higher than their card (for example, if they were holding the card for Greece) then I would win both cards.  The rules are all in the file!

An interesting activity to challenge the minds of those AS students returning from exams soon.

I've created three versions on the links below - please forward the link for this blog to your sociology and politics collegues - they might find the data and activity equally useful.

  1. Top Trumps for Economics
  2. Top Trumps for Sociology
  3. Top Trumps for Politics

The UK Peace Index - highlighting the opportunity cost of violent crime

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I'm always sightly dubious about statistics and information represented by campaign organisations - I'm left with the reservation that information can presented in any way that you want to prove whatever point that you are trying to make (wasn't it an economist who came up with the phrase 'lies, damned lies and statistics'?).  So this fascinating report from an organisation called 'Vision of Humanity' needs to be looked at with an open mind.

However, if you take it at face value, it offers some really interesting information.

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Unit 4 Macro: From Domestic Product to Domestic Progress

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A newly constructed Social Progress Index has been unveiled for the first time with the hope that over time, it might become as widely quoted and recognised as the Global Competitiveness Index as a benchmark of progress made by individual countries in achieving sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth and development. In the 2013 rankings, Sweden comes first and the United Kingdom is second.

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Unit 4 Macro: Update on Overseas Aid in 2012

Sunday, April 07, 2013

New figures from the OECD find that overseas development aid fell by 4% in real terms in 2012, following a 2% fall in 2011. Aid payments have dropped in large party because many governments of developed countries are embroiled in fiscal austerity and choosing to cut aid as a result. The OECD data shows too that there is also a shift in aid allocations away from the poorest countries and towards middle-income countries.  

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Unit 4 Macro: Doughnut Economics

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oxfam senior researcher and former co-author of the UN's annual Human Development Report Kate Raworth visits the RSA in London to explain 'doughnut economics' -- the bold new theory that is sweeping the development world. A really clear seventeen minute video covering some of the key environment challenges that threaten sustainable growth and a call to make central to the debate the protection of natural capital and social capital.

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The Tutor2u Red Nose Day Challenge

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Schools and College up and down the country are preparing for all sorts of different activities for the Comic Relief Red Nose Day this Friday (15th March).  Are you doing anything with your class?

Here is a ready-made Powerpoint game to run for approximately 20 to 25 minutes in your class this Friday.  Whilst being a fun, team-based challenge, the multi-choice questions are all about facts and figures related to the causes that Comic Relief are attempting to support.  As such, the information contained within the game should prove a useful stimulus for discussion within your class about the causes of poverty in Africa, as well as alcohol-abuse and other social issues within the UK.  It could also prove a useful tool with discussing why these problems exist and what government solutions could be implemented (as well as asking why they haven't already been put in place!).

Click on this link to go to the Powerpoint file that contains the game.

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Economist video on the rising world population

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The economist argues that the era of fast-rising world population is over - this video looks at the momentum shift brought about by a trend fall in the fertility rate

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Unit 4 Macro: Dissecting the Middle-Income Trap

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Middle-Income Trap has become a popular and much quoted concept in development economics. Much discussion on the policies and strategies to lower the risks of growth slowdowns before a country has achieved high income status. But how relevant is the middle income trap? The absence of a clear definition of the idea makes it difficult to measure, this article from the Economist has a go and is highly relevant for students taking courses in development economics, especially EdExcel Unit 4.

Thailand launches strategy to escape the middle income trap (Feb 2013)

Revision notes here on the middle income trap

Peter Mandelson famously said that he was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’.  As

Friday, February 15, 2013

Peter Mandelson famously said that he was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’.  As was the case with many aspects of New Labour, he was working firmly in the Leninist intellectual tradition.  Some 20 years earlier, the then leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping, stated that ‘to get rich is glorious’.

The Chinese have certainly put the philosophy into practice.  An intriguing article in the Wall Street Journal at the end of last year by James Areddy and James Grimaldi, described the deep intermingling of China’s richest men with the Communist Party.  For example, Liang Wengen, who owns a major construction equipment making firm and whose personal wealth is estimated at $7.3 billion – billion! – is a member of the key political body, the Communist Party Congress.  Overall, the elite political institutions in China have no fewer than 160 individual billionaires as members.

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Paul Ormerod: Today Singapore and Japan, Tomorrow China

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It has suddenly become fashionable to be concerned about China’s growth rate slowing down.  This is not a matter of a short-run cyclical downturn, with normal service being resumed shortly as the economy roars ahead once more.  It is a worry that there will be a permanent slowdown by the end of this decade.  Instead of annual growth rates around 10 per cent and even more, the Chinese economy will settle down to the much more sedate rates seen in the West in the 1950s and 1960s in the range 3 to 5 per cent.

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Money can’t buy happiness - the backward sloping supply curve tells me so

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Like many teachers, I'm firmly of the belief that money is not the root of happiness.  I have to think like that - otherwise how do I argue with my old university friends who went to join the big banks that there’s more to life than big cars and foreign holiday homes ("Come and join us, Jon," they used to say to me, "you can set your own Libor rate and everything" ).  It's important that we remind the 'those-who-can't-do' brigade that teaching is a life-style.  It's a vocation.  A calling.

Well, according to research by US academics Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, the evidence suggests that wealth is a determining factor in happiness after all.  Apparently, the data shows that there are no upper limits to happiness with regards to money – yes, the increase in happiness slows down but still rises. 

Quick, somebody tell Victoria Beckham before David gives away all of his cash to the Paris children.

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Unit 4 Macro: Fair Trade and Micro Finance - Spurs to Development?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mark Austen writes on this essay title: Evaluate the impact that the micro-finance and Fair Trade movements can have in supporting development in some of the world’s poorest countries.

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econoMAX - Who’s for a Living Wage?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Robert Nutter explains that, over recent years, the fear that the minimum wage would cause increased unemployment has not materialised, although since the start of the current economic crisis employers have expressed some concerns that employment may be affected in low paid jobs. Another concern has been the belief that a national minimum wage is inappropriate for an economy where costs and labour market conditions vary significantly between regions. The national minimum wage may perhaps provide a living wage in North-East England but certainly not in London.

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Unit 4 Macro: Overseas Aid and Economic Development - Benefits and Costs

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Does aid help or hinder economic growth and development? This is the subject of a fierce debate in the development economics literature

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Unit 4 Macro: GDP and PPP Adjustments

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of output in an economy and is used to measure change in economic activity

GDP for different countries is usually measured in a common currency – normally we use the US dollar. But there are two problems in using exchange rates to measure GDP

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Unit 2 Macro: Key Term Glossary

Friday, January 04, 2013

An updated glossary of key terms for AS macro

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econoMAX - Educating Girls Worldwide

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Liz Veal (Editor of econoMAX) writes: Here in the UK we take for granted our education – my daughters have the same educational opportunities as my son; my sisters and I had the same chances as my brother. Education for all, irrespective of gender, is highly valued in our society and we are well-aware of the private and external benefits of education. In economics, we teach that the market would fail to provide enough education as it would be under-consumed because of the extra benefits to society that private individuals do not appreciate. This information failure is overcome with public sector provision of education, compulsory by law until aged 16.

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Economics of a Living Wage

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Adobe Flash player My AS macroeconomics students this week are researching the topical issue of a living wage  and the possible macroeconomic effects. The title of the assignment is:

"The introduction of a living wage in Britain to supplement a minimum wage will improve the long term performance of the UK economy" Discuss. (20 marks)

I have put together some news articles and videos on this topic using a Pinterest Board. You can find it by clicking here

BBC Newsnight Report on Living Wages - July 2012 - click here 

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Unit 4 Macro: UK to End Financial Aid to India from 2015

Monday, November 12, 2012

Here are some links connected to the news that the United Kingdom is drawing to a close financial aid to India by the year 2015. The focus will shift from aid to trade. Bilateral trade between the countries in 2010 was worth £10 bn. The countries have set a target of £20 bn by 2015. We also link to a new Inside Story programme from Al Jaxzeerah on the continuing debate over the effectiveness of and future of overseas aid in the world economy.

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National Stress Awareness Day

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

You may have been too busy to notice but today has been National Stress Awareness Day.  This comes just a few days after Ed Milliband's speech about the taboo of Mental Health and how it impacts upon people's lives.  If you haven't done so recently, do check out the World Health Organisation 's website which has lots of data on the prevalence of mental health issues around the world with the most startling facts being that 1 in 4 people around the world suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lifetime affecting as many as 450 million people.

And yet, when was the last time you used this as an example of labour market failure or poor economic performance?

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Unit 4 Macro: Micro Finance, Fair Trade and Development

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Here is a streamed revision presentation on aspects of micro finance and fair trade as part of a course on development economics.

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A Living Wage part 2 - some evidence for student analysis

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jonny Clark has beaten me to it with his blog about today's news about the Living Wage  - there is a rich seam of resources here for issues for study around poverty and inequality. The concept has high level support - hailed by Boris Johnson as it is "....not only morally right, but (it)makes good business sense too." and endorsed by Ed Miliband as " A really important idea". I would like to add a trio of items from the BBC website which could add evidence to student analysis - particularly as Nov 4th-10th is designated Living Wage Week , so this could make a timely topic on the return from half term!

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A Living Wage

You might see a raft of stories out today regarding the latest report from KPMG on the number of people within the UK who would appear to be earning below the identified 'Living Wage' in the UK.  The rate of this living wage is higher than the statutory minimum wage (£7.30 per hour for those outside of London compared to standard £6.19 per hour n.m.w.) and attempts to set a rate at which people can earn enough to pay for the basic cost of living.  The report states that approximately 1 in 5 people in the UK earn below the Living Wage (with the situation varying around the UK) and this is an increase on the number who were below the threshold during the last audit.  The Independent includes the image above and gives a brief (if slightly politicised) summary.  The Living Wage and National Minimum wage are good indicators for students giving responses on relative poverty.  A good exercise might be to ask students why there is a difference between the two standards or use the information and graphics here to determine why there are wage differentials for the jobs outlined above.  If you want to give your students some  extended work you might like to get them to read the document below which attempts to explain and give rationales with regards to the calculation of the Living Wage or get them to have a look at the Living Wage website  which shows what the campaign is trying to achieve.


Doughnut Economics- very tasty!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Today I went to a fascinating and very thought-provoking lecture from Kate Raworth, a Senior Researcher for Oxfam GB. She introduced the audience to the idea of doughnut economics, and certainly convinced me about the usefulness of this very elegant and accessible development economics theory. I can't wait to share it with my classes when we're discussing sustainable development next year!

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Unit 4 Macro: Economics of Overseas Aid

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I have uploaded onto slide share a revised short classroom presentation on the economics of overseas aid as part of our study of economic development.

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Unit 4 Macro: Video Shorts on Economic Growth and Inequality

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When teaching economic growth and inequality as part of our A2 macro course, I used these news clips to support the lesson and discussion. 

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The Big Issue of Poverty in the UK

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

This article in the BBC  about the 21st anniversary of the launch of the Big Issue newspaper acts as a timely reminder that we can find our very own examples of absolute as well as relative poverty in the UK.

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Unit 4 Macro: Progress in Meeting Development Goals in India

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Explain and discuss four indicators of progress made by India in achieving her main development goals.

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LSE lecture: Policy Challenges for Growth in Africa and South Asia

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yesterday I took some Oundelians to attend the Public Policy lecture at the LSE, entitled Policy Challenges for Growth in Africa and South Asia. It was sponsored by the IGC – the International Growth Centre: - as part of the LSE Growth Week .

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Unit 4 Macro: Development Economics - Focussed Links

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An autumnal hat tip to Mo Tanweer for providing this really useful selection of economic development related links

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Unit 4 Macro: Income and Wealth Inequality

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Globalisation has brought about a sustained rise in the value of global production, trade and wealth and has helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. But one of the paradoxes of globalisation is that, despite bringing about a degree of convergence in incomes between countries, the scale of relative poverty in income and wealth within nations has increased in many cases.

Video: Joseph Stiglitz on rising income inequality in the United States (December 2012)

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The Complex Relationship Between GDP and Economic Welfare

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The link between GDP and living standards is one that is increasingly questioned. A raft of books, from Richard Layard’s “Happiness” to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s “The Spirit Level” and beyond, argue that there is more to life than the pursuit of economic growth. Indeed there are many other measures of welfare that have been compiled, all of which offer alternative indicators of well-being.

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Unit 1 Micro: Child Poverty 2012 - It Shouldn’t Happen Here

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

In an important new report, Save the Children has highlighted the rising scale and intensity of poverty facing millions of children living in Britain's poorest families. Rising food prices,sharp increases in property rent, fewer employment opportunities and steep hikes in energy bills are just three of the factors that have affected hundreds of thousands of Britain's most vulnerable households. In the United States food stamps are required by millions. In Britain we are seeing a rapid expansion of and demand for food banks  provided by charities to offer assistance to families who live hand-to-mouth for weeks and months on end.

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Can we really measure happiness with a calculator?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Earlier this summer, I was fortunate to attend Political economy and the outlook for capitalism, the annual conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne.  The main theme was to review how we best measure quality of life and living standards, with a discussion as to whether economists should rely upon mathematical models and equations to come to judgements about this.  In the conference introduction, Professor Tony Lawson from the University of Cambridge advocated a move away from Neo-Classical economic models into further use of behavioural economics to support such research.

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Unit 4 Macro: World Income Groups - 2012 Classification

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

As of 1 July 2012, the World Bank income classifications by GNI per capita are as follows:

• Low income: $1,025 or less
• Lower middle income: $1,026 to $4,035
• Upper middle income: $4,036 to $12,475
• High income: $12,476 or more

Of the 192 member states of the United Nations, only 52 are currently classified as high-income countries. In other words, 140 countries (73 per cent) are still considered developing economies.

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