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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
He's back! Sort of by popular demand! If you're looking for a quickfire activity for your Economics lessons this week then download the latest edition of the Angry Economist. Ask your students to choose one of the 8 policies announced in today's Autumn Statement by George Osborne and our favourite curmudgeonly economist randomly chooses an objective to analyse.
How does the proposed funding for new roads impact on equality for instance? How does the change in Stamp Duty application affect economic growth. A fun and quick way to get your students analyzing first thing in your lesson.
Download the Angry Economist Autumn Statement Edition here.
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...»
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...»
The overall rate of infant mortality has been halved in the past two decades.
That's the good news. But Unicef' s latest figures estimate every day 17,000 under-fives die - 6.3 million a year - from largely preventable causes. Most of the deaths happen in the first hours or weeks following birth.read more...»
This west African health crisis is a tragedy. It could be an issue that stimulates an economics discussion. According to James Surowiecki in The New Yorker there are no real tools to stop the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The lack of treatment is disturbing. But given the way drug development is funded, it’s also predictable.read more...»
Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth (2012) gives his view on How useful economics is. For more on Roth's work in theories of market exchange in areas such as organ donation click the links below.read more...»
Many readers at this time of the year will be looking forward to their summer break, perhaps contemplating with a certain amount of envy their colleagues who have already departed. But is leisure good for you? A bit of a no brainer one might think. Indeed, until recently the consensus amongst applied economists was that even enforced leisure, by being made unemployed, seemed to be a good thing.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...»
If you are like me, teaching unemployment starts with explanation of its causes and then moves on to its impact (before discussing possible solutions). I've always found the 'impact' aspect relatively straight-forward; it would seem students find the concept of loss of output and its consequences fairly logical. Discussing the long-term effects can be more difficult as young adults in full-time education may not be wholly empathetic towards the outcomes of job loss.
An interesting report came out from the Nuffield Trust recently (a copy is available from this link) about the increase in the prescription of antidepressants. The increase from 15 million items prescribed in 1995 to 40 million items in 2012 is quite large but the report shows that the biggest jump has come during the economic downturn since 2008. The report hypothesizes on a number of causes of this increase but does suggest a link between unemployment and the increase in prescription of antidepressants. Perhaps it isn't a quantum leap to illustrate that there is a relationship between unemployment and depression but evidence of this nature may be valuable when making a point about the impact of unemployment (and its cost to society as a whole) in the class or as part of an exam answer.
It is a staggering statistics, but around 3 billion people in the world cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. And more than 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to pneumonia caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution. This short World Bank video looks at the subsidies available to stove manufacturers under the Clean Stove Initiative.read more...»
For many developing countries tourism is already a major part of their economy and a significant source of extra factor incomes and employment. But there is a fierce debate about the economic and social consequences of tourism - what roles can tourism play in economic development? Can travel to developing countries do more harm than good? This revision blog provides some arguments and resources on this topic.read more...»
Here’s a good example of overlaps between market failure, government failure and the problem of asymmetric information contributing to these problems. The UK government spent £500m stockpiling the drug Tamiflu in the hope that it would help prevent serious side-effects from a feared flu epidemic. It turns out the drug would probably be no more helpful than paracetamol. But the bigger scandal is that Roche (who make the drug) broke no law by withholding vital information on how well its drug works (or doesn’t).read 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.
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...»
Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London, has been happy to extend the use of bicycles in London; and the pattern of use has thrown up some interesting points. There were 7.4 million cycle hire trips last year but an estimated 71% of cycling use was by men. Most of these journeys would have been made on foot (31%) or by public transport (47%). Coverage of the study published in the BMJ looked at the health effects is found here.. The notes in the article, provide good examples of the strengths and weaknesses of cost benefit analysis.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...»
A great introduction to some global or development economics, looking at the world’s biggest problems, as measured by their cost to the world’s economy. There’s commentary and a good stimulus video. It will add a dimension to your introduction to global challenges, even if you’re already familiar with the basic Copenhagen Consensus idea: prioritise the world’s problems from biggest to smallest. That approach should lead to a more efficient response, given that resources – and political will – are limited.read more...»
The pharmaceutical (medicines) industry poses interesting questions for economists.read more...»
This short you tube clip published by the World Bank looks at some salient facts and figures on the extent of extreme poverty in the world
The extreme poor live on less the US$1.25 a day. Many lack basic sanitation and clean drinking water; they're malnourished and suffer from lack of education. The facts speak volumesread 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...»
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...»
A great line at the end of this BBC video about China. In the cartoon mentioned, a patient asks a doctor if there is a cure for diabetes, the doctor replies: "Yes - poverty".read more...»
Air pollution is widely regarded as a negative externality arising from consumption and production. New research from the World Health Organisation finds that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of cancer - this 2 minute news report looks at their findings. You can find extensive revision notes on externalities and market failure by clicking this link.read more...»
It was a pleasure to visit the LSE earlier on this week to hear a lecture from the distinguished economist Professor Angus Deaton from Princeton University in the United States. His new book "The great escape from inequality" is on my must-read list for the half term holiday and brings into focus over 250 years of changes in health and income inequalities across the world economy.
I will blog about his book a little later on but for now this Financial Times interview provides an introduction to some of the main themes of his book. Incidentally, Professor Deaton has strong views on the efficacy of foreign aid and this chapter of his book has provoked some strong responses from the pro-aid lobby active on twitter. Click below for the full video of his lecture at the LSE.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...»
For years, a mystery has baffled visitors to developing countries: Coca-Cola is everywhere, but basic medicines are not. This year, Zambia has become the first African country to embrace a trial of the ColaLife concept. ColaLife aims to use Coca-Cola’s distribution model to deliver life-saving medicines to far-flung, rural communitiesread more...»
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.
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.
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.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...»
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.
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.
Bill Morrison examines whether proposals for a minimum price for alcohol will work in the UK. The UK Government is looking to introduce a minimum price per unit for alcoholic drinks. The price muted is 45p which would make a relatively strong can of lager approximately £0.95. Currently a local supermarket is retailing a brand of lager containing 2.1 units per can at the equivalent of £0.75. Under the new legislation, should it come into force, the equivalent box of ten cans would have to be sold at a minimum of £9.46. More of which later. However, why do we need to introduce a minimum price for alcohol?read more...»
In a democracy, it is always a risky business for politicians to tell the electorate things they do not want to hear. So Steve Webb, the pensions minister, must be congratulated. He told the truth about the retirement age. In a speech last week he stated bluntly: ‘If someone tells a 30 year old what their state pension age is going to be, they are lying’.
A great video clip to introduce students to the new Government adverts advocating "healthy eating" and a solution to the negative externalities created by eating fast food.
We had quite a debate as to whether this would actually work or not!
An updated glossary of key terms for the Unit 1 Economics paperread more...»
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...»
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?read more...»
This is the title of a new report from Save the Children, released ahead of a meeting of a high-level UN panel on poverty which takes place in London today. It says that global inequalities in
wealth are at their highest level for 20 years and are growing. In some countries, the gulf between the richest and poorest families has increased by up to 179% over the past two decades, and more than twice the numbers of poor children die before the age of five than rich children. While the charity acknowledges progress has been made in goals such as reducing child mortality, the report says this has been uneven across income groups.
I was told off this week by my students for using McDonald's as an example to illustrate my point yet again. In fact it was the second week on the trot that I was reprimanded as they told me previously that I was always peppering my conversation with Latin phrases "'cos it makes you sound more clever."
"No I don't," I replied - I've told my students a million times not to exaggerate. The offending example came as I was attempting to explain how fatty foods (especially those from the exalted temple of the Golden Arches) were a demerit good. I thought about it for a little while and realised that two weeks ago I'd told them about the use of 'stars' to motivate McDonald's staff and their extensive training programmes when we discussed labour productivity. I'd also mentioned them when we discussed possible issues relating to economies of scale and the fact that a homogenised world can lead to less choice (a weak argument in their view - a McDonald's in every town sounded like a wonderful idea) and discussed the use of persuasive advertising as an example of non-price competition. They were right, I seemed to be talking about McDonald's all the time - and I'm a vegetarian!
"Mea culpa," I confessed.read more...»
Listen, I'm an old curmudgeon. I don't wear patches on my jacket elbows nor do I wear corduroy trousers but that's because I don't like newfangled things. So when I said to my students today that I think that tattoos may be an example of a demerit good they responded with "well, you would say that, wouldn't you!" read more...»
You might find this news report from KL.FM (a radio station in King's Lynn) about the self-regulated sales of 'strong booze' in Ipswich an excellent example of a policy to deal with de-merit goods. Alcohol is a prime example of a de-merit good and a common student response regarding government policies to reduce its consumption often centres around the use of taxation and age-based prohibition. A good evaluative answer to questions relating to government policy would mention the fact that alcohol remains a popular product despite its obvious issues and might also discuss how the over-consumption of alcohol could be linked to something more cultural (compared to, say, France) - hence the need for something a little more creative than blanket bans or high duties. I would want to ask my students questions such as 'what are the costs to society' mentioned within the report and why might the targeting of high-strength alcoholic drinks be a more affective policy then banning sales of all alcohol?
Demographic change can have a direct bearing over time on the growth and development potential of individual countries.
Micro insurance is a growing sector within developing country finance. The number of people covered by micro-insurance has increased almost 6.5 fold in five years, reaching nearly 500 million worldwide, with China and India leading the charge. Micro-insurance attempts to protect poor people against risks arising from accidents, illness, a death in the family or the damage caused by natural disasters - in exchange for insurance premium payments tailored to their needs, income and level of risk.read more...»
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.
Malnutrition has been called by economists at the World Bank as the “non-human face” of poverty. High rates of malnutrition can severely impair development and bring untold human misery. In 2006, around 40% of Indian children under the age of five were undernourished. Progress in reducing this has been painfully slow. See this video from BBC news (Aug 2012) on India's enduring problem with malnutrition.