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New Zealand tips into recession

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Another country joins the list of economies tilting into recessionary headwinds. Data for the second quarter of 2008 is expected to show that the New Zealand economy has entered a recession for the first time since the fall-out from the 1997-98 emerging markets financial crisis. Consumer and business confidence has declined and rising inflation has hit household real incomes. The New Zealand Treasury reports that

“The fall in profitability, both experienced and expected, is due to weakening demand from households and increasing cost pressures.  More firms are now reporting demand as the main constraint on production as opposed to supply factors such as labour, finance and capital.”

More here from the BBC and also from the New Zealand Treasury report.

Telling it like it is

This 27 year old from Essex hits the nail on the head when discussing the problems facing first time buyers in the housing market - a lucid and spot on description of the impact that the housing bubble has had on housing affordability, and effective demand for people willing to save for a sizeable deposit.

The government has been reverting to type this week by floating a series of possible palliative interventions for the housing market - centred around reductions in or holidays on paying stamp duty. Why cannot they just realise that house prices need to fall? The market had become dangerously over-priced and creation a money-for-nothing illusion of wealth that contibuted heavily to the credit crunch. Let prices fall, let the market adjust - stop pretending that poorly thought-out and rushed government intervention can make a difference.

Drax feels the heat of rising carbon prices

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It is impossible to miss - the giant Drax coal-fired power station that straddles the A1 near Ferrybridge in Yorkshire and dominates the landscape for miles around is the largest in Western Europe and supplies about 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity. Of course generating electricity from coal necessitates plenty of carbon emissions - figures show that every six months Drax creates nearly 10 million tonnes of CO2 and, under the terms of the EU’s carbon trading scheme, it must not only pay for coal but also purchase emission allowances.

It has just announced that the combined cost of coal and CO2 permits has nearly doubled over the last year from £222m to £413m.

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RES Young Economist of the Year 2008 - Results Announcement

The final result of the Royal Economic Society Young Economist Essay Competition has just been announced by the RES.  Details from the Press Release are provided here with thanks to the RES…

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Here’s a great idea for an Economics classroom wall display


Every once in a while you come across a free application that really fires the imagination, for teacher and student alike…

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Coasean Toilets

Monday, August 04, 2008

Not doing anything to dispel the ridiculous notion that we at tutor2u have a bizarre toilet fetish, I thought that I’d write a quick note about something I saw last week. Coming out of Embankment tube station (on the left hand side towards the riverbank for those who would like a visit), I was curious to discover a sign next to a bar reading “Public toilets 100 feet” with an arrow pointing up ahead. So being the economist that I am, I figured it would be a good time to conduct my own little scientific experiment. I walked 100 feet and there was indeed a public toilet, free and surprisingly well-kept (maybe this will contribute to that previous discussion). But what I found most interesting of all was the how the bar took their own initiative to put up a helpful sign directing bursting passers-by, and how it’s a marvellous example of the Coase theorem in action.

Credit crunch - one year on

Twelve months on from the onset of the global credit crunch here is a selection of comment and analysis pieces on one of the defining moments in economics and finance of the last couple of decades - I will add more over the coming days

BBC: Credit crunch a year on: the losers

The Times Unhappy anniversary: a year of credit crunch

Guardian special reports on the credit crunch

Telegraph special reports on the credit crunch

The Independent - The credit crunch one year on

How did the credit crunch start? (BBC news video)

Unjust rewards?

Polly Toynbee and David Walker from the Guardian have a new book out this week - available on Amazon - which looks at the depth of inequality in modern Britain.

“The top 10% of income earners get 27.3% of the cake, while the bottom 10% get just 2.6%. Twenty years ago the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company earned 17 times the average employee’s pay; now it is more than 75 times. Since Labour came to power in 1997 the proportion of personal wealth held by the top 10% has swelled from 47% to 54%.”
A gross income of just under £40,000 is sufficient to get you into the top decile of the income distribution (making an adjustment for household size). The book will be a timely reminder that - eleven years into a Labour government committed to a mild form of redistribution through policies such as New Deal, tax credits and the minimum wage, there are incredibly powerful forces that drive inequality higher in modern economies.  One way of measuring income inequality is to use the gini coefficient - the latest figures for the UK are available here..

Grey hairs, pensions and the trend growth rate

Is the ageing of the US population a contributing factor to a shrinking of the USA’s trend growth rate? Yes according to Stephen King writing in the Independent today.

“As the proportion of people in retirement swells, so the burden on workers tends to increase, as does competition over resources. Whether or not people have funded pension schemes, the ultimate problem relates to claims on output. If there are fewer people in work, there may simply not be enough output to satisfy all the competing claims.”

A shrinkage of the trend growth rate will have serious implications for the rate at which living standards can rise but the essence of King’s piece is that it will also contribute to growing inflationary pressures unless the USA can raise its game on productivity and/or become less unfriendly when it comes to net inward migration. It is a reminder that the root causes of inflation are not always on the demand-side.

Nokia cuts prices as battle for market share in handsets hots up

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Nokia has increased its market share for handsets from 38.4% to 40.9% according to second quarter data from CCS Insight and reported in an article in the Times yesterday. The intense battle for market share is resulting in periodic price wars and the economic downturn seems to have precipitated another one - Nokia is reducing prices by up to 10% .

The mobile phone handset industry is best described as an oligopoly. In the second quarter of 2008 the leading five manufacturers accounted for 83% of world sales.

Nokia 40.9
Samsung 15.3
Motorola 9.4
LG 9.3
Sony Ericsson 8.2

The global mobile phone market grew by 12.3 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2008 with shipments reaching 584 million units - the economies of large scale production in this kind of industry must be absolutely enormous. The power of the brand and the impact of achieving lower costs per unit are two of the key competitive drivers that impact on consumer prefereces.

The Times article is here

Credit crunch lies behind school closures

Few sectors of the economy are immune to the impact of the credit crunch and the market for independent education in the UK is no exception. This week six school closures have been announced and the reality is many of the smaller private schools are under intense financial pressures as a new academic year looms.

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A new era of investor activism?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Matthew Taylor from the RSA considers what might be behind the growth of shareholder activism. Some interesting insights here for students wanting to broaden their understanding of the principle agent problem arising from the divorce between ownership and control in modern businesses.

“We are entering an era of investor activism. There are at least three broad shifts that will compel investors to enter the market as more than merely consumers.”

His piece is here

The Yahoo - Carl Icahn relationship is definitely one worth following!


£7-45 an hour - a living wage in London?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The London Mayor Boris Johnson has issued a report that raises the ‘living wage’ in London to £7-45 an hour. It is an interesting example of a policy designed to create an informal pay floor for thousands of low-paid workers throughout London which is higher than the UK national minimum wage and which reflects the increased cost of living in the capital.

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Bitter blow for pubs as more opt to call last orders

It is a bitter blow for the licensed trade but 1.2 million fewer pints of beer are being drunk every day in Britain this year compared to last and over twenty pubs a week are calling last orders for the final time.

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Nintendo poised to overtake Sony in the consoles battle

Sony has released results showing that it has sold 14.4 million PS3 machines worldwide since it went on sale late 2006 but this might not be enough to prevent Nintendo from overtaking them as the world’s biggest seller of computer games consoles in 2008. This classic oligopolistic market continues to see vigorous price and non-price competition between the three dominant players - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. This week - all ten of the top UK selling computer games are either for the Wii or Nintendo DS and five of the chart toppers are produced by Nintendo themselves. The company has sold more than 10 million Wii consoles and 70 million DS handheld machines worldwide.

More background available here “Consoles look to hit their stride”

Rachel Lomax on her career and a changing economy

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An excellent piece from BBC’s Woman’s Hour in which Jenni Murray interviews Rachel Lomax about her career including her stint as a deupty governor of the Bank of England and member of MPC and the changes she has seen in the UK economy. Hat tip to Penny Brooks for alerting me to the interview.

Barriers to labour mobility in Europe

The BBC website has updated developments in restrictions introduced by national governments for the movements of workers within the European Union. The free movement of labour is one of the key foundations of the single market but in the wake of EU enlargement, many governments have introduced limits often in the form of quotas - funny how these ‘temporary’ controls often become semi-permanent! And any form of restriction creates an incentive to by-pass the control. There is more detailed background information available from the EurActive website.

Economic slowdown becomes steeper

This BBC news video is excellent at looking at some of the causes of the economic slowdown in the UK economy and features a brief cameo appearance by my old director of studies at university - Martin Weale from the National Institute. In a related article, the International Monetary Fund reports that the worst of the credit crunch is not yet over.

Do economists want (effectively demand) brains?

Monday, July 28, 2008

I’ve been very busy so I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I’d like but since I’m working at The Economist Group I couldn’t resist the chance to slip in a shameless plug. This week’s edition features an excellent article on a relatively new branch of economics: “neuroeconomics”, going beyond simple theories from behavioural economics and into real empirics by examining brain activity via MRI scanning. Groundbreaking stuff that can change the face of Homo economicus forever, especially with regards to how it interprets rational choice theory (apparently there are two states in which we make decisions?!). Used correctly, it promises to introduce inductive reasoning into a deductive science. Read all about it here.

Beanscene battles to avoid being a has-bean

The BBC reports that one of Scotland’s fastest growing coffee houses has gone into administration as bottom-line losses became unsustainable. Beanscene’s 14 shops are spread across Scotland from Ayr to the border town of Hawick to the old town in Leith.

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Get me to pay day - ok - but it will cost you 1500%

Quick cash, cash rush, same-day-money, get me to pay-day, pay-day express - the brand names of the pay-day loan market which claims to provide an essential service for cash-strapped people who need an injection of liquidity to cover unforessen spending and avoid high charges on unauthorised overdrafts. Whatever the social value of providing such cash funds to those in desperation the rates of interest charged on the loans are incendiary to say the least and it is little wonder that the Office of Fair Trading is expected to investigate this segment of the home finance industry.

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Cheap flights - elasticity and effective demand

Double-digit annual inflation rates in the prices of airline tickets for the low cost carriers will bring about a radical restructuring of the industry according to a report in today’s Times. I have tended to assume in the past that the demand for cheap airline tickets was fairly inelastic - for most people the price of a return flight for a holiday is a low percentage of their annual income; holidays in the sun have come to be regarded as an essential part of the year for millions of travellers. And for those with second homes in the mediterranean flights are pretty much unavoidable. The Times article hints at a low price elasticity of demand

“According to analysts a 10 per cent increase in fares typically leads to a 6.5 per cent fall in passenger numbers. Budget airlines carry an estimated 45million British passengers a year. If fares rise by 20 per cent over two years, passenger demand looks set to fall by more than five million.”

So the predicted large contraction in demand isn’t down to any fudnamental change in demand elasticity - more the scale of the fare hikes which are pricing thousands more out of the market - effective demand is taking a hit. I suspect the response may be even greater if the low cost airlines continue to fashion new ways of extracting revenue from their passengers. Doug McVite is quoted as saying “it is probably only a matter of time before some joker suggests charging for using the toilet. The whole experience of flying budget will become even more unpleasant.”

Expresso Book Machines - Printing on Demand

Sunday, July 27, 2008

“As many as 1m titles may soon be available through on-demand printing, including 600,000 titles being digitised by the publisher Lightning Source, available to be printed in one-off versions on the Espresso machine, as well as hundreds of thousands of “open-source” titles, such as classics with expired copyright.”Countless hours have been spent by look lovers searching in second hand bookstores and online inside the long tail of millions of back-catalogue books and pamphlets that are out of print. The second hand book industry is thriving and several towns such as Sedbergh and Hay on Wye have enjoyed a renaissance built on clusters of bookstores that lure browsers throughout the year. But perhaps the days of longingly poring over second hand book shelves are under threat from a technological innovation called Expresso Book Machine which claims to bring printing on demand into the mainstream of book retailing. This machine is featured in today’s Sunday Times.

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Tim Harford on carbon negativity

Friday, July 25, 2008

Too good a post not to mention. We should never underestimate the power of innovative thinking and ideas when approaching some of the most intractable issues of our age. For me, what matters is (pardon the pun) creating the right climate for innovation to flourish - incentives matter enormously when it comes to developing ideas to reduce CO2 emissions. Can open source be a catalyst for effective and viable solutions?

The Death of Economics Teaching?

Professor Alan Smithers says that economics risks dying out as a subject because of the chronic shortage of qualified Economics teachers in England and Wales. This BBC report provides some of the background and is sure to fuel some debate! According to the report, “only three economics teachers were trained on teacher training courses in the whole of England last year, shows a study of students entering teaching.”

Whether this information is accurate is open to serious doubt but what annoys me most is that the article fails to understand that the nature of entry into the teaching profession is changing. I have eight other colleagues with me in my economics department and if and when the time comes when a vacancy arises, I either make an appointment from existing teachers OR from those wanting to enter teaching without having to go through the rigmarole of a one year PCGE course where they risk getting hung up on the worst aspects of out-dated and overly dogmatic teaching pedagogy.

Indeed Economics is a subject that benefits from having people come into teaching having had experience of the markets, industry and working in government. Many of the new entrants into Economics teaching in schools and colleges have not taken a teacher training qualification - and that is often no bad thing!

One of the abiding joys of my twenty years in teaching is that three of my students are now themselves Heads of Department at schools dotted around the country. Only one of them has a PGCE!

Are numbers still falling? Our pupil numbers are up - they are significantly higher than five or six years ago - and anecdotal evidence from conversations with other colleagues and friends in other schools supports the view that take up of Economics remains strong. It would be great to hear from other readers of this blog to see what their experiences are - please do leave a comment!  Indeed we plan to run a survey on this via the website.

There are lots of vibrant Economics departments around the country doing some tremendous stuff with their students. There is much more that we can do - but the fact that there are more students opting to take media studies rather than Economics is neither a surprise or necessarily strongly linked with the relative decline of Economics. How many media studies or psychology students would have taken Economics anyway?

All thoughts welcome!

Its a confidence thing

A quick chart tour through some of the confidence and expectations surveys that seem to expand with increasing frequency. They all point to near-recession conditions but the official data on output, incomes and jobs will take longer to show through - hat tip to Edmund Conway for a good article on the newly released GDP data which shows that the economy is growing at its slowest rate for fifteen years and that was before the collapse in sentiment.

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Should we take economists seriously?

Does the publication of economic data encourage too much meddling by governments and policy-makers? How much use is data in telling us what we already know - that the economy is going through a bad time. The Today programme featured this discussion between Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, and Phil Collins, of the London School of Economics, on how much influence economists should have.

From supplier to buyer - China’s impact

Jack Ma (chairman of Alibaba Group) writing in the Financial Times reminds us of an important shift in trade flows between China and the rich advanced nations. Although growth in the Chinese economy is slowing down her export growth will continue to remain strong because of fundamental comparative advantages - but supporters of protectionism often fail to look at the other side of the ledger - the very fast growth of import demand into the Chinese economy - China is becoming a powerful global buyer and not just of mineral supplies from other developing nations.

“While there is a lot of competition from cheaper alternative markets, such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam, nothing can beat China’s vast choice of products and suppliers. Over the years, Chinese suppliers have re­defined themselves beyond pricing and sharpened their advantage in terms of quick turnround, good infrastructure, speed to market and compliance with international standards…..China’s role as top supplier, and now a leading buyer, is causing a new economic phenomenon that should be embraced rather than feared.”

More here

US minimum wage rises to $6.55

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The US federal minimum wage increases today by 70 cents on Thursday, to $6.55 per hour from $5.85. The increase will raise the minimum wage in 25 states; the other 25 have minimum wages higher than $6.55 and the move will affect around two million workers. But will rising food prices simply swallow up the real income boost that the rise in the pay floor provides? And is it wise to rack up the minimum wage at a time of recession? What will happen to employment in the low skilled segments of the US labour market?  Coverage here via the Associated Press and also the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina.

Another UK restaurant chain has been exposed for paying the staff less than half of the UK minimum wage of £5.73 an hour and using tips and other gratuities to make up the difference - there is a groundswell of public opinion that this is inequitable and may require further government intervention

Tackling Inflation

This superb resource from the Financial Times will be ideal for A2 and AS students wanting to understand a little more about the different approaches of the various central banks in tackling inflationary pressures through the use of monetary policy.

Moscow coffee had better be good!

Over £5 for a standard cup of coffee would stagger most of us but it has become the norm for expats living in Moscow - officially the world’s most expensive city and a fact already well known to the thousands of Manchester United and Chelsea fans who travelled to the Champion’s League final last May.

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Change of gear and direction for Ford

The market mechanism at work!

Ford Motor has announced in the wake of a second quarter loss of nearly $9bn and a double-digit decline in US car sales volumes that it is shifting its focus from pick-up trucks and fuel guzzling sport-utility vehicles towards smaller, more fuel-efficient passenger cars. It will bring six small European models to north America, and convert three existing truck and SUV assembly plants to small cars. It also plans to accelerate the introduction of a new fuel-efficient V6 engine and to double four-cylinder engine capacity.

There are costs involved in revamping production, re-tooling the factories that previously assembled SUVs and writing off assets that can no longer be used in making the smaller vehicles - but the aim is to reduce operating costs by $5n over the course of the next couple of years. This is a good mini case study in one of the factors that affects elasticity of supply - i.e. the cost and ease with which factor inputs can be switched to produce different goods and services. The issue of how the motor sector is adjusting to changing consumer preferences is a good application of the concept of allocative efficiency.

Production of the Ford transit van in the UK is currently under review This BBC news article looks at how some of the world’s biggest volume car-manufacturers are adjusting to falling demand and heavy losses.

The Guardian: Ford downsizes to beat the car industry crisis

Dan Ariely speaks at Google

The author of Predictably Irrational - the hit book with my students this summer - talks to the folk at Google in a presentation in early July. The venue looked packed and it is easy to see why - I love his explanation of the effects of asymmetric dominance as a way of changing our buying behaviour.

The 99p effect

The BBC news magazine explores the psychological basis for retailers pricing their products at £1.99 or £3.99 and the disproportionate effect this kind of price point can have on our buying behaviour. It is a great article to use when introducing consumer behaviour and in explaining the non-linearity of demand curves when teaching price elasticity of demand.

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Declan quizzes the Amazon boss

This is an excellent video snippet with Declan Curry quizzing Amazon chief executive Brian McBride on news that the online retailer - which is estimated to have over 15% of the market share in selling books - has reported profits of $158m in the three months to the end of June, a rise of 102% - helped by DVD releases of hit tv series and the likes of the enw Cold Play album and the incredible volume of sales achieved by the release of Grand Theft Auto IV.

Lots of concepts linked to the brief discussion

Amazon’s buying power in the market - does Amazon get better wholesale prices from the publishers than others in the book trade?
The long term shift towards online retailing and away from bricks and mortar
The emphasis on huge sales volumes allied to low profit margins

In April Amazon opened a new 800,000 sq ft fulfilment centre in Swansea Bay which is the size of ten football pitches

This article links in - smaller bookstores are clubbing together to give themselves better buying power in a bid to compete with the online retailers and the supermarkets.

Between a rock and a hard place

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Monetary Policy Committee split three ways at the July meeting - the result of course being that rates were left on hold at 5% for a further month. The minutes of the meeting make for fascinating reading providing as they do a generous overview of the most recent macroeconomic developments both here and overseas. I was struck by the emphasis given in most of the rate setting variables to the increasing flow of evidence from survey data - be it reports from the Bank’s own regional agents on conditions on the ground in the real economy, to survey information from the property market, employers’ organisations and data on business and consumer confidence and expectations.

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Plenty of room at the Beijing Inn

The long awaited financial bonanza for Beijing’s hotels during the forthcoming summer Olympic games seems less likely to materialise with the news that many 3 and 4 star hotels remain vastly under-occupied with the games just a few days away. It seems that the expected influx of nearly 500,000 visitors from overseas will prove to be an over-estimate - tourists appear to have been put off by the cost of travelling, fears over security and the time and expense of arranging visas. Domestic visitors from elsewhere in China seem to have been affected by the massive earthquake in south-west China and the snowstorms that struck the south in February.

The response of hoteliers when market demand turns out to be lower than forecast is a classic form of second degree price discrimination - reducing rack rates in a bid to increase the take up of unsold rooms. Given the travel distances involved, it would appear unlikely that the price reductions will have much impact in enticing people onto planes bound for Beijing this August. Most of the four or five star hotels will already be full of Olympic dignitaries most of whom wont have to pay a penny for their time at the Games.

Zimbabwe introduces a Z$100bn banknote

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
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Classroom confectionery

Incentives matter! A good news story from Norfolk about the simple power of incentives and behavioural change. Apples, carrots and bananas would probably have had nowhere near the same effect! But the Schools Food Trust are not amused. It reminds me that my Latte Lessons have been one the best things I have done to encourage students to read around the subject.



Wheels come off due to health care costs

What is the main cost of producing a new car for the US automotive giant General Motors? It is a question I could routinely ask of my introductory economics class this autumn when we think about the basics of supply. The likely answers might include the cost of steel, wages of assembly workers, glass and rubber, design costs and the expense of fixed capital machinery for the production line.

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Tracking GDP for the Roman Empire

The Today Programme on Radio 4 had a spell-binding interview with an economic historian who has devoted virtually the whole of his working life to creating national income statistics for the world economy - data that we can use today to enrich and deepen our understanding of why some countries grow faster than others. Click here for a discussion between Evan Davis and the historian Angus Maddison, Emeritus Professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Groningen. He explains how you can work out the GDP of the Roman Empire! And here is a link to his most important work.


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Rightmove asking price index is a useful gauge to where the balance of power lies in the UK housing market and the shifting sands of sentiment in the property sector.

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Deep Very Deep

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here is a great example of occupational mobility and transferable skills in the labour market. With the UK construction industry shedding thousands of jobs among highly skilled workers, another industry is booming and trying to encourage newly redundant workers to retrain for a trade as a deep-sea diver. The Underwater Centre in Fort William has a world-class reputation for providing professional diving courses and demand for divers has been booming as the oil and gas industry looks to step up production in response to rising prices.

“According to the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) who represent over 350 offshore marine and underwater engineering companies worldwide, over 40 more floating drilling rigs will be commissioned over the next two years, creating a demand for 5000 more support roles, of which commercial divers and ROV operators make up a proportion.”

The work is arduous and risky but the rewards are good providing that people are able to work their way through the training programme.

This story helps to apply lots of economic concepts linked to the labour market

Opportunity cost of paying for a diving qualification
Occupational mobility of workers when they are made redundant
The elasticity of supply of labour to highly skilled jobs such as deep-sea divers
Outward shift in market demand for labour and the effect on wages
The derived demand for labour

Here is a BBC report on this story

Announcing the Economics Blog Widgets!


Would you like to include the very latest content from the Economics Blog on your department web page?  How about adding the Blog to your Facebook or MySpace page?  Why not keep track of specific categories on the Blog such as Recession Watch, Market Failure and the Price Discrimination in Action.

How can you do all these cool things?  You need an Economics Blog Widget…

read more...»

Le Crunch Hits the Fringe

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Collapsing consumer confidence, increasing competition from other live events across the UK, high ticket prices, dreadful problems with the online ticketing system have all combined to hit ticket sales for the Edinburgh Fringe this August and remarkably there are still many city centre hotels with spare rooms with the Festival just a fortnight away. Normally the month of August is the cue for hotels and B&Bs to hike up their prices to silly levels to take advantage of the influx of people staying for the festivals. But this year things look to be different ...the Scotsman reports that “Hotel and guest house bookings for this year’s Festival are at an all-time low for this time of year….and… Dozens of private flats are still being advertised as available to rent on the Fringe’s website”

My week in Edinburgh for the fringe is always one of the highlights of my year, maybe it will be a little easier to get a table for supper in 2008 and perhaps I should have played chicken and delayed booking hotel rooms!

Apple’s dilemma resolved by falling pound

Earlier this year Apple was accused of engaging in some blatant price discrimination by selling download tracks at a higher price in mainland Europe compared to the UK. They responded by saying that they wanted to bring in a “standardised price” within months. Well now the falling pound against the Euro seems to have done the job for them - according to this BBC report - “exchange rate changes since January mean 0.99 euros now equals 79p, meaning no price cut is necessary, Apple said”

Still no explanation for why download prices are cheaper in the USA? I haven’t downloaded a song from iTunes for months - there is now much more competitoon - but I am happy enough downloading the free podcasts to keep me happy!


Darling’s Tough Love

Alister Darling’s interview in the Times today was revealing on several different levels. First for confirming that the Treasury is actively looking at altering the government’s own fiscal rules in time for the Pre-Budget statement in November. Second that Darling did not appreciate the extent of the negative fall-out on the real economy from the credit crunch - a crunch which has now reached Crunch 2.0 as it moves from the financial sector to manufacturing and services. And third that, given the parlous state of the government’s own finances - this year will be a particularly difficult one and tough choices will have to be made on spending priorities

”“So every chancellor has to be conscious of the fact that there’s a balance to be struck between how much you can spend, and how much people will say, ‘OK, if you’ve another pound to spend, remember me as well.”

A classic example of opportunity cost to use when the new term starts in September.

The dreadful public borrowing figures are reported here: public borrowing surges

Will the sunshine on this solar subsidy?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I spotted this article in the Guardian from a little while back - “The largest rooftop solar power station in the world is being built in Spain. With a capacity of 12 megawatts of power, the station is made up of 85,000 lightweight panels covering an area of two million square feet” It brings into play three important economic concepts - renewable energy as a factor resource, economies of scale in production and also the costs and benefits of government subsidy - Spain has introduced subsidies of €0.42 per kilowatt per hour for investment in solar power - though the level of subsidy may be lowered in the months ahead.


Making both ends meat

Two minimum wage stories

A Sheffield butcher has become the first employer to be prosecuted for not paying the minimum wage to its employees -  this BBC report covers the story - Jackson, from Pontefract, and Smout, from Sheffield, were charged with non payment of minimum wage and failing to keep adequate pay records.  Reading between the lines, I was surprised to read that so few prosecutions have been brought forward since the NMW came into force in April 1999.

And today BBC London exposes the Hard Rock cafe for paying a basic wage of just £2.06 an hour in a story linked to the debate about whether restaurants are routinely using customer tips to supplement the wages of their workers.

The current minimum wage stands at £5.52 for workers over 22 years of age. If you worked 48 hours a week, that translates into £13,772 a year - a few weeks ago, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published survey research which indicated that a single person in Britain today needs to earn at least £13,400 a year before tax to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living.




Poverty Trap worsens

The soaring cost of child care is worsening the poverty trap according to a new report commissioned for the save the Children Fund in Scotland. More than one quarter of Scots parents on low incomes cannot work full time because of the cost of registered childcare which has risen by more than 10 per cent this year across most of the country. The average cost of child care in Britain during the holiday season is nearly £90 per week.

The Times has this article

“Joanne Brady, a single mother of two children from Glasgow, is unable to work because she loses more in means-tested child tax credits than she gains in income. “They take 20 per cent off for each child when you go to work. You still have to pay your housing, travel and lunches and it’s just not adequate.” Ms Brady, 27, is among the 28 per cent of parents with children under 18 and an income of less than £15,000.”

And the BBC also covers the report.

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