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"Smoking during pregnancy remains a major health problem, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 5,000 foetuses and babies each year in the UK. It is responsible for tens of millions of pounds in extra healthcare spending."
This extract from a report published today in the British Medical Journal offers clear evidence of a negative externality - not only does the extra healthcare spending carry the opportunity cost of less spending available for other health treatments, but there is also evidence that the babies whose mothers smoke but which survive will have more health problems later in life. This is classic territory for an AS question on the lines of 'Evaluate policies which the government could use to reduce the incidence of smoking during pregnancy." The report also proposes a controversial policy - giving shopping vouchers worth £400 to pregnant smokers who manage to kick the habit.read more...»
Here's one of those stories that help illustrate the point about de-merit goods really well. The Children's Food Campaign are calling for a specific tax on sugary drinks to help combat obesity in children. Key points:
- Sugary drinks is the example of a de-merit good
- Tax is the proposed strategy for reducing consumption
- Costs of obesity given here (in terms of number of illnesses that could be reduced)
- Article gives a counter argument from British Soft Drinks Association using evidence from France
Click here to read the article from The Grocer website
Every so often I read an article and start to tot up the number of economic concepts being covered in just a few words. This occurred to me again this morning when reading this BBC news article on train fare rises. Train fares are pegged to July's inflation rate and, as inflation is quite low at the moment, this means that the average rise of 2.2% is also relatively low (although regular train users may still feel aggrieved).
Have a read yourself and see how many concepts crop up or give them same exercise to your A2 students. My thoughts are below:read more...»
Don’t worry about all the world’s fossil fuels running out. The graphic above suggests that we can’t run the risk of burning all the fuel that we know we have anyway! But if that’s true, then what are all those fossil fuel reserves worth?
According to the Guardian, the concept of a “carbon bubble” has gained rapid recognition since 2013, and is being taken increasingly seriously by some major financial companies. The concern is that if the world’s governments meet their agreed target of limiting global warming to 2C by cutting carbon emissions, then about two-thirds of proven coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burned. With fossil fuel companies being among the largest in the world, sharp losses in their value could prompt a stock market crash and a new economic crisis.read more...»
If you're looking at government intervention to correct market failure then you may find this 5 minute resource of value. Using statistics compiled from Professor Tony Travers of the LSE, highlighted in this article, it asks students to predict which local government budget areas will see the largest cuts by 2018.read more...»
Apologies, but I can't resist the prospect of using this story about a new solution to the market failure of pollution: an eco-friendly bus which has just gone into service to transport people between Bath and Bristol Airport.read more...»
The Local Government Association (which represents local councils in the UK) have joined the debate about term time holidays for pupils this week. They argue that current rules banning term time holidays or imposing fines on those families who take such breaks do not recognise the complexities of modern families and also prevent poorer families from affording vacations that are invariably dearer during the holiday period.
It struck me whilst reading one of the reports that the suggested policy is to allow head teachers that most quantifiable of options, 'common sense', to make decisions on a case-by-case basis would be the sort of argument that would make me scream if a student wrote it in an assessment answer. Economics students, unlike Local Government officials, need to take a much more analytic approach to this question!read more...»
Reports out over the last couple of days suggest that government spending on free nursery places for 3 year olds since 1998 has not produced any valuable educational or economic outcome. The policy was introduced as part of a series of reforms introduced by Tony Blair when he came to power in 1997. The Blair Government saw it as a method of reducing the differentials between educational attainment of poorer and wealthier sections of society and promoting a speedier return to work for some mothers.
Researchers studying the impact of the policy during the 2002 to 2007 time period, where spending on the policy amounted to more than £7bn found that the education received at age 3 had some impact on attainment at age 5 but any improvements were lost by age 11. The research suggested that the policy had only a minor impact on enabling more women to return to work earlier. Also, there is evidence that 5 out of 6 users of the free place would have gone to a paid-for equivalent at age 3 anyway.
So, does this offer us a good example of government failure in economic and social policy?read more...»
I love a story that really can resonate with students and get them 'irked'. It struck me yesterday that reading about a recent Bristol University research paper that claims that school admission policies lead to greater inequality might strike a chord with some young people.
The study suggests that the common policy in the UK of prioritizing admission places in primary and secondary schools based upon how close a student lives to that school continues a cycle of inequality. The argument is that, wealthier people are more able to afford to move to areas with higher performing schools and so are more inclined to do so. People without that facility have less choice in where to send their children and may have to stick with local schools despite their relative poor performance. So the cycle continues ..... poorer people receive a poorer quality education and are therefore less equipped to get the necessary qualifications to earn higher wages.read more...»
A report out yesterday from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows a dramatic fall in the consumption by young people (aged 11 to 15) of our favourite demerit goods – alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. The report suggests that over the last decade regular smoking fell from 9% to 3% of 11- to 15-year-olds. Regular alcohol drinking dropped from 25% to 9%. Drug use has halved from 12% to 6% over this 10 year period.
This, of course, is very good news with regards to the relative health of our youth. As an economics teacher the first question I would ask my students is how this downturn has been achieved? What has happened either within the market or with government intervention to shift consumption in this way? It could be argued that this represents the most successful example of government intervention into markets to change behaviour and can be attributed to regulation, restriction of use and good old education! Information failure does not appear to have had an impact and the political will to succeed has been fairly uniform among the major parties in power.
For me, of course, it also offers the opportunity to do the next in my series of numerical activities in preparation for the arrival of the new specifications in 2015!read more...»
A document containing the key diagrams and terms for Unit 1 Micro is streamed below.
For more revision support for AS Micro, visit our dedicated AS Micro blog channel. We also have a free AS Micro revision class on our sister site Zondle and a wide collection of revision notes for AS Micro here on the tutor2u website.read more...»
Here is an example of a product which has important market failure implications. BBC Newsnight investigates the open sale of legal highs - not approved for human consumption - but which are a growing presence even on mainstream high streets.read more...»
Here are twelve more questions covering markets and market failure - test your understanding with this zondle-powered quiz!read more...»
Here are some revision quizzes for students to check their understanding of market failureread more...»
Anti-smoking measures, such as taxes and bans, eventually lead people to eat better and lose weight. That is the central conclusion of research by Luca Savorelli, Francesco Manaresi and Davide Dragone, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2014 annual conference. The three economists overturn the conventional wisdom that kicking the smoking habit is healthy but results in weight gain.
I'm sure that introducing the concept of normative statements is something that most Economics' teachers introduce early in the curriculum to show the dangers of expressing opinions without evidence. It's a tricky balancing act that we have to play - as students start to write longer, evaluative pieces we are keen for them to make reasoned arguments that don't sit on the fence but warn them of the dangers of starting to rant.read more...»
In 2007 a ban on smoking in enclosed public places was introduced in England - Scotland had introduced a similar measure a year earlier. Fresh evidence published in the medical journal The Lancet finds that enforced bans on smoking are now having a discernible effect on measures of public health.read more...»
I thought it worthwhile sharing my resources which I have been collecting for students (and teachers alike). I have been promoting them on Twitter (@Economics_KSF) through scoop.it but for those of you not on there, the link for the scoop.it boards are here:read more...»
According to a report published by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, the Government are currently underestimating how many students will actually pay back their university loans over the coming decades. Currently, the Government estimates that between 35 and 40% of loans to Higher Education students are never paid back - the Committee believes that the rate on non-repayment is much higher and reflects a weakness in the loan collection method. The primary reason for non-repayment is that student details get lost over a period of time particularly if the graduate moves and works abroad or was an EU citizen who has returned to their own country. The method of using the income tax registration process as a way of locating former students has been criticized for not being an effective method of collecting information. It is estimated that the shortfall could be as much as £80 million by 2042.read more...»
This will be an excellent case study to use when you're discussing the issues around minimum prices to solve the problem of externalities.read more...»
Here are somr revision resources on government intervention in markets. There are some revision notes, a streamed revision video from PJ Holden and then ten questions for students wanting to check their understanding on government intervention in marketsread more...»
The NHS gives us so much value, as Economics teachers, as it serves as a great example of so many areas of theory. The story which heads up the BBC News site this morning is another useful one: NHS waiting time data for elective surgery has been found to be 'unreliable'read more...»
The pharmaceutical (medicines) industry poses interesting questions for economists.read more...»
Proposing Government intervention strategies for dealing with externality market failure is a common enough exam question. Many of my students will concentrate on the use of indirect taxation, subsidies, pollution permits or regulation as a method of reducing consumption - often forgetting that the Government can use good, old-fashioned advice as a way of altering purchasing patterns.read more...»
I put this together this morning, to help students understand where they need to revise for upcoming mocks, or for the real event in May. I hope some of you get some use out of it too.read more...»
Do consumers of carbonated soft drinks really know how much sugar is in their regular fix? This five minute Newsnight clip is ideal for showing when teaching aspects of the economics of information failure. Will "getting the information in people's hands" help them to adjust their lifestyles? What are the economic arguments for and against direct intervention in the market for carbonated drinks such as a tax on high sugar content products? What are the alternative options or should we simply let consumers make their own choices?read more...»
The NHS is part of the British establishment just as much as tea, talking about the weather and sarcasm. This view through rose-tinted spectacles has prevented serious debate and clouded our judgment. Foreign visitors are now being charged to use our A & E services, yet they can still see GP's for free. This ludicrous half measure is just one example that we are blinded by love for our NHS. A situation has arisen in which any attempt from politicians to discuss much needed improvements for the current healthcare system is political suicide. This is hindering development.
Here is an example of direct intervention in markets to address some of the information failures associated with the obesity epidemic. US food authorities have taken the first step towards banning artificial transfats, substances that are found in processed foods. They say it is a move that could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year. According to the BBC website
"Artificial trans fats are used both in processed food and in restaurants as a way to improve the shelf life or flavour of foods. The fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, making it a solid."read more...»
It occurred to me recently that the way the government tries to control the population, by encouraging and discouraging certain activities, is rather like the way in which I, as a parent, try to control my child.
Legislation – Setting rules
Imprisonment – Grounding
Fines – Reducing pocket money
Providing information – Using examples from experience, educating
Subsidising – Helping towards payment
State Provision – Buying things for my children
For example, I don’t want my daughter to smoke, drink or take drugs, so what do I do to prevent this? I will provide her with plenty of information as to why she shouldn’t partake in these activities, should she do it anyway, I’ll probably ban these products from my house and also reduce her pocket money in order to prevent her from buying them.
How does the Government try to prevent its citizens from smoking drinking and taking drugs? Well, it provides us with information, legislates against it, setting age limits and laws to try to prevent excessive consumption, and places large levies on alcohol and tobacco products to try to discourage consumption, something akin to what I am putting into place.
Will it work?
In some cases, yes, in others, no and the combination of controls will probably vary for each individual, but as a parent I only really get one chance to get it right for each child, the Government, however, can play the percentage game.
Bringing up children is not all about steering your child away from negativity, much as the Government also wants us to do positive things with our lives. For example:
I see education as quite important in a child’s life and as such, I will try my best to ensure that my daughter takes advantage of the best education available to her and embraces it. How will I do that? I will insist that she goes to school, as will the Government. I will monitor her progress carefully, as will her schools. I will encourage her to work hard, as will her teachers, and I will provide information as to the positive future that will ensue from her hard work, as will Government initiatives.
So, all in all, I am my daughter’s Government, trying to persuade her to make the correct decisions, in her own best interests. I’m sure that along the way, I’ll make some horrendous mistakes, as I’m sure most students would agree, parents don’t always know the best way to deal with situations, much as Governments don’t, largely down to information failure! I’m sure Sophie will make some choices that I won’t necessarily agree with, but as long as I look at the long term and have a clear direction, hopefully I’ll raise a happy, positive individual, much as the Government wants to do with all of us.read more...»
Okay, hands up, how many of you economics teachers use cigarettes as one of your primary examples of a demerit good? Well, it does fit the bill and it gives you the opportunity to give teenagers a bit of a lecture about healthy living (if only the Ofsted inspector was there for that lesson).
The government's announcement today that they are to postpone the introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes is bound to meet with some criticism - many will claim that they are giving in to pressure from a tobacco industry which feels that it is already heavily regulated. The concept is that a standard, plain package will put some people off from purchasing cigarettes as there is some research that says that people are attracted to the branding. Personally, until they put the phrase 'don't listen to your peers, they smell' on the box I'm not convinced the plan would have much impact anyway.
What intrigued me more about this story, is the fact that the government have postponed the plan until the impact of standardised packaging has been more closely studied in Australia (where the policy already exists). So there you go, not only is this a story about cigarettes as a demerit good but it is also an example of the government attempting to avoid policy failure. The government argues that it shouldn't spend money on implementing policies and then policing the tobacco firms and retailers if the impact of the programme is minimal. In a sense, the government are arguing that taking its time over this plan may save money in the long run or enable it to spend its scarce resources on a policy that has more impact.read more...»
The emergence of a competitor product can often send shock-waves through markets of established products where profits have been more or less guaranteed for decades. Will e-cigarettes have a similar effect on the tobacco industry? And is this an emerging industry in need of greater government regulation and taxation?read more...»
As an example of collusion, this news article showing alleged price fixing by Canadian chocolate manufacturers and their wholesale distributors illustrates how highly-dominant firms can impact against the public interest.
Reading this article and admitting that chocolate is the closest product that I consume which exhibits addictive qualities (apart from coffee and salt-laden crisps that is) it struck me that this perhaps could be used as an evaluative argument when considering the case for legalisation of slightly stronger narcotics.
One argument for legalising cannabis is that tax revenue can be accrued and there would be a reduction in crime given the lowering of prices (and consequential drop in burglary and stealing to pay for the relatively expensive habit).
This reduction in price, it could be argued, might only occur if the newly formed legal market for cannabis is highly competitive and doesn't suffer from oligopolistic distribution conditions like chocolate does in Canada (or in the UK, for that matter).
Just a thought. Now, where's the other half of that Twirl?
This morning's news stories include an implied threat to close MOSI (The Museum of Science and Industry) in Manchester, in order to keep the Science Museum in London open.
Should museums charge admissions fees or not? Is a museum a merit good or not? If entry is free, are you tempted to avoid placing money in the transparent collection box as you go in? If is free, how should the museum fund its activities - encouraging donations, marketing guidebooks, souvenirs, themed gifts, or reliance on government grants? This begs questions about how a government allocates scarce funds?
Florence's Uffizi Gallery does not charge children or pensioners, amongst others. Can you identify which museums have more price inelastic demand, and face a smaller drop in visitor numbers should charging be reintroduced? Why would visitors pay €18 to climb Pisa's famous leaning tower?
mind that AQA had set a question on this topic in 2004. "Using the data and your economic knowledge, assess the case for and against providing free entry to museums."
MOSI is supposed to be one of Manchester's biggest visitor attractions, but would there be a negative multiplier effect if it closed? Should the cultural heritage be preserved? This clip from Yes Minister helps focus a debate.
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.
This revision quiz focuses on public and merit goods.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has reopened its doors to the public after a 10 year closure for rebuilding. It's most famous exhibit is "Nachten Watchen" or "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt. This short clip Onze helden zijn terug! celebrates the rejuvenation of The Museum. read more...»
AS Micro students will be gearing themselves up for a key period of intensive revision over the coming days and weeks. For most, being able to analyse and evaluate government intervention in markets is crucial to scoring well in exam questions and reaching those top grades.
Evaluation is not a skill that can be learnt overnight. It requires plenty of attempts to get the evaluative style and approach working well.BTW, if you are revising market failure I highly recommend Matt Smith's Scoop.It Board - full of great applied examples on this big area for the Unit 1 economics exam! Click here to view it read more...»
A tax on the calories contained in soft drinks is around 6% more effective at reducing obesity than a general tax on soft drinks – but the effect is only a drop in people’s weight of around 1.6 pounds per year. These are the findings of research by Wei Xiao, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.
The study analyses the buying patterns of 10,000 American households by looking at data on soft drink purchases from supermarket scanners. Based on the calorie content of soft drinks and the medically accepted view that an intake of 6.614 calories leads to a gain in weight of 1 gram, the author simulates the effectiveness of various soft drink tax policies on people’s weight.
The research suggests that a tax that targets the calorie content will be more effective than a universal tax on soft drinks – as some soft drinks are healthier than others. But the author admits that ‘although an obesity tax on soft drinks can cause weight reduction, the effect is small’, adding that even without any dietary changes, ‘a human’s weight can change in the region of one pound in a day’.
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.read more...»
The subject of obesity is an increasingly important topic in the study of market failure. Its consequences are severe and go right to the heart of the ‘inefficient allocation of resources’ economic concept of market failure. Overconsumption of a number of demerit goods are one of the many causes of this growing epidemic and worrying trends and statistics can be found here with this BBC video clip also providing a useful overview on the facts behind global obesity. The UK is one of the most obese nations in the world with about a quarter of adults classed as obese and that figure is predicted to doubly by 2050.
In many countries, governments have regulated the use of plastic bags with some countries banning them and others imposing a tax on their use. From an economic point of view, the reasons for a tax seem pretty clear - spillover costs including pollution on land and at sea, the lack of biodegradable materials being a major problem.read more...»
Hard sell and low standard - a new report on the UK cosmetic industry has found deep-rooted problems in the selling of plastic surgery services and highlights class market failure issues of miss-selling and information failures. Many vulnerable consumers complain of being pressured into surgery and the report argues that some providers use cut-price and time-limited deals to sell cosmetic treatments in a similar way to the flogging of double-glazing. Free consultations also seen to cause consumers to feel pressurized into having surgery. The review, led by the medical director of the NHS, Sir Bruce Keogh, was set up because of the safety scare involving breast implants made by the French firm, PIP.
Here are some news videos on this controversial issue - it is a fast growing market but one with huge risks for those with cosmetic needs and wants.read more...»
Given that the increasing concern over obesity (and it's knock-on issues) are fairly prevalent in the news at the moment I thought this article from the Independent may be of interest. The reporter is linking the causes of obesity and debt together - suggesting that our big problem as an animal is that we don't like to think about the future. I thought that it was an interesting link, not least because we probably all know that its true! It further illustrates the problem of imperfect information and our inability to consume products that benefit us in the long-run (e.g. pensions) and over-consume those products that we know are not good for us (e.g. 90% of what you have consumed over the last two weeks).
Happy New Year to all Tutor2u blog readers.
An updated glossary of key terms for the Unit 1 Economics paperread more...»
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.read more...»
An A-Z glossary for the Unit 1 Micro courseread more...»
Those of you who felt angry or let down by the recent proposals for a Pasty Tax, or those that have been imposed on static caravans or toasties (turning the mighty Subway in to a new lobbying organisation) in the UK should spare a thought for the poor French citizens who are potentially about to have a new surcharge placed upon Nutella - that famous hazelnut and chocolate spread.
Unlike the previously mentioned British taxes, which were imposed or proposed to generate revenue or close apparent loopholes, this tax has been put forward for market failure reasons. The tax, of course, is not directly on the brand but upon one of its main ingredients - palm oil. The proposed increase by the French government is nearly 300%. The French are arguing that palm oil is a product with negative externalities - poor for the health of its consumers and a large burden on the health system. There is also a claim that the high production of palm oil in South East Asia has resulted in large-scale deforestation.
Read a short article on the issue at the Huffington Post. The cost of your morning crepe in Brittany may be about to increase!
I'm sure you don't have any problems convincing your students that education is a merit good/service. Every so often, however, it may be difficult for young people in the UK, aspirational and aiming high, to see how their own learning impacts so positively upon the wider society. Although we constantly debate the quality of education in the UK and strive to improve, many young people will take opportunities to access schools and colleges for granted - perhaps arguing about local differences and the cost of higher education but rarely about actual access to basic education. With such relatively high levels of literacy and numeracy amongst British youngsters it is difficult for them to imagine a society where this is not the norm. The Waseela-e-Taleem initiative in Pakistan, however, could prove a useful example of how government intervention into education is about more than just the structure of assessment and paying teachers - but a country's drive to improve access to basic education and shift its economic as well its political and sociological prospects.read more...»
Here is a terrific example from Matt Smith of how to use Scoop-It to curate lots of useful examples of market failures and associated interventions. Click here for Matt's Scoop-It on Market Failure
The Danish government has opted to bring to an end a policy intervention designed to curb consumption of high fat foods. The measure - introduced in the autumn of 2011 - added £1.50 per kilo of saturated fats in a product but the experiment will end because of fears over inflated food prices and domestic jobs being put at risk. Food manufacturers complained of increased compliance costs and there was some evidence of a rise in cross-border shopping to avoid the tax. A proposed new tax on sugar has also been cancelled.