Author Archives: Mark

Hyperinflation – can be controlled with a different government.

Venezuela has been in the news for sometime with its economy spiralling out of control with the inflation rate last year at 100,000% – doubling roughly once a month. The occurrence of hyperinflation in economies has become more common with governments now printing money rather than that money being backed by the amount of gold that they held – gold standard. Because the gold supply is quite inelastic, being on the gold standard would theoretically stop government overspending and keep inflation under control. The country effectively abandoned the gold standard in 1933, and completely severed the link between the dollar and gold in 1971 – this was around the time of the Vietnam War.

The more recent hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Argentina etc have come about through government’s not been able to control the printing presses and succumbing to the desire to stay in power at the expense of crippling the economy. Huge fiscal deficits and excessive borrowing are the common denominator here – see flow chart below:

Hyperinflation usually happens amongst chaotic domestic conditions, whether social unrest or that country being involved in conflict – e.g. post war Germany. However as reported by The Economist hyperinflation can occur under more mundane circumstances. For instance in Bolivia’s inflation reached 60,000% which was started by a commodity boom which allowed them to borrow heavily from overseas but once resource prices tumbled there was a significant reduction in government revenue. The  government under Hugo Banzer increased spending to satisfy the voters who supported them in the election and this created further inflationary pressure. In a way this is similar to the Venezuela experience with high oil prices generating significant revenue for the government but once the oil prices fell the printing presses started to work overtime. And once inflation starts to accelerate Inflationary expectations kick in and then it becomes very difficult to control. However these inflationary expectations could reflect the lack of seriousness of government policy to rectify the problem as a change of government which is focused on prices can end hyperinflation in weeks. This reflects the trust in the incoming regime and was true of Bolivia (see video below).  Here the incoming government under Gonzalo (Goni) Sánchez de Lozada were serious about the ravages of inflation and to deal with it  didn’t use highly sophisticated economic theory.  See below:

  • Government spending was slashed
  • Price controls were scrapped
  • Import tariffs were cut
  • Government budgets were balanced.
  • No borrowing from the Central Bank

As Jeff Sachs – advisor to the Bolivian government –  said:

“All this gradualist stuff just doesn’t work. When it really gets out of control you’ve got to stop it, like in medicine. You’ve got to take some radical steps; otherwise your patient is going to die.”

Sources:

The Economist – February 2nd 2019

Commanding Heights – PBS Video

New Green Deal – more about politics than economics

In Unit 3 of A2 CIE economics course you will no doubt have come across externalities – see graphs below. In simple terms the cost to the consumer must also be accompanied by the external costs (referred to as externalities) which is normally not paid by the consumer. Externalities are common in virtually all economic activities. They are defined as third party (or spill over) effects arising from the production and/or consumption of goods and services for which no appropriate compensation is paid.

Externalities can cause market failure if the price mechanism does not take into account the full social costs and social benefits of production and consumption. The study of externalities by economists has become extensive in recent years, not least because of concerns about the link between the economy and the environment.

This all seems very straight forward as you would assume the external cost (externality) of driving a car (emissions) would be added to the private cost of running the car (petrol etc). However carbon taxation is politically elusive as only 20% of global emissions are covered by schemes that put a price on carbon and only 1% of emissions subject to such schemes face a price as high as $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide. The Green New Deal proposes to a move to a 100% clean and renewable energy within a decade or two, and to zero net emissions by mid-century. Those who support the idea are sceptical about costs and funding as decarbonising the economy will require some serious capital.

For the Green New Deal to work it must mobilise a majority that are more passionate than the remainder. A carbon tax with a dividend may be appealing but the financial benefits are small when divided by the number of voters. Remember that an associated tax would encourage an aggressive response from wealthy fossils-fuel firms. A Green New Deal, in contrast, might promise sufficient goodies to organised interest groups, such as labour unions and domestic manufacturers, to gather a winning political coalition.

Some see the Green New Deal is something more radical. Roosevelt saw the Depression as both a threat to liberal democracy and the product of an economic system that put profits ahead of the welfare of the working man. Similarly, left-wing activists view climate change as the result of unbridled capitalism. They aim to solve it by redistributing economic and political power.

Source: The Economist – A bold new plan to tackle climate change ignores economic orthodoxy. 7th February 2019

China’s ghost cities – there needs to be another plan

Below is a very good report from 60 Minutes Australia that gives you an update on China’s ghost cities. Roughly 22 percent of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That adds up to more than 50 million empty homes, he said. One solution that the government could use is property or vacancy taxes to try to counter the issue, but neither appears imminent and some researchers, including Gan, say what actually counts as vacant could be tricky to determine.

For so long China has relied on major infrastructure projects including building cities to drive growth figures in their economy. Historically China’s economic model was based on export-led growth, massive government injections into the economy and access to cheap money. This is not sustainable and although you can keep blowing up bridges and build cities that nobody lives in at some point it becomes unsustainable. Furthermore since the global financial crisis economies have increased protectionist policies to look after their own economy and this has been followed with by the potential trade war with the USA. Therefore the Chinese government need to refocus the growth of the economy on domestic consumption rather than building things – Gross Fixed Capital Formation. So much more C than I in the GDP Expenditure equation. EG:

GDP = C↑+ I↓+ G + (X-M)

Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

With the 29th March deadline approaching UK farmers are particularly opposed to a no-deal Brexit; customs hold-ups at the borders could ruin fresh produce. And there is concern that new trade deals with countries like New Zealand could lead to a flood of cheap imports and therefore making it harder for British farmers.

The EU bloc receives receives about 60% of UK food exports with 70% of the UK food imports come from the EU bloc. Lamb and beef exports could face export tariffs of at least 40% if the UK reverted to World Trade Organization rules under a no-deal exit. The UK produces approximately 60% of what is required to feed its population with the remainder being imported. The UK’s £110bn-a-year agriculture and food sector is deeply integrated with Europe relying on the bloc for agricultural subsidies of £3.1bn ($4bn) under the CAP – Common Agricultural Policy. The government has promised to pay the equivalent of the CAP subsidies up to 2022, no one is certain what will happen after that.

What is CAP?

At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector has been known as the common agricultural policy – CAP. The CAP was established under Article Thirty Nine of the Treaty of Rome, and its objectives – the justification for the CAP – are as follows:

1. Raise and maintain farm incomes, through the establishment of high prices for food. Such prices are often in excess of the free market equilibrium. This necessarily means support buying of surpluses and raising tariffs on cheaper imported food to give domestic preference.
2. To reduce the wide flutuations that often occur in the price of agriculutural products due to uncertain supplies.
3. To increase the mobility of resources in farming and to increase the efficiency of all units. To reduce the number of farms and farmers especially in monoculturalistic agriculture.
4. To stimulate increased production to achieve European self sufficiency to satisfy the consumption of food from our own resources.
5. To protect consumers from violent price changes and to guarantee a wide choice in the shop, without shortages.

CAP Intervention Price

An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated below in Figure 1. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:

1. It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
2. At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
3. In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
4. There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1
Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.

CAP Int Price
Figure 1: The effect of an intervention price on the income of EU farmers.

The increase in farmers’ incomes following intervention is shown also: as has been noted, one of the objectives of price support policy is to raise farmers’ incomes. The shaded area EBCFG indicates the increase in the incomes of the suppliers of lamb.

Throughout most of its four decades of existence, the CAP has had a very poor public relations image. It is extremely unpopular among consumers, and on a number of occasions it has all but bankrupted the EU.

A2 Economics – UB40 and unemployment mind map

Just started unemployment with my A2 class today and below is a mind map which you might find useful. Also used the UB40 album cover as a good lesson starter – the  reverse has been made to look like the UB40 unemployment benefit attendance card from which the band took their name. Their UK top-ten hit “One In Ten” was an attack on Thatcherism and is mistakenly cited as referring to the number of unemployed in the UK at that time. It is in fact a song about government statistics in general, and how politicians use them to de-humanise problems. Useful way to introduce the subject especially if the class like reggae.

 

Chile looks to cherries for transition away from copper

As with a lot of developing countries (and developed countries for that matter) there tends to be a reliance on a particular resource which can be to the detriment of its economy. Invariably if an economy is going to become more resilient it must be able to diversify into other areas that generate growth.

Traditionally Chile has relied on copper which accounts for over 50% of its export value but if it is going to become more developed it must start to rely on other goods or services. In November 2017 a free trade agreement (FTA) between Chile and China was signed and this was the catalyst for the cherry industry to flourish. Garces Fruit, just south of the capital Santiago, has become the world’s biggest producer of cherries and the development of the industry has been due to a combination of the government and the private sector. Cherries in China are viewed as a symbol of prosperity and marketed as something closer to a luxury product rather than ordinary fruit. With the harvest in Chile around the Chinese new year they make a perfect gift. However the benefits of the primary sector began in the 1990’s, with rising exports of wine, salmon and grapes but farmers are now tearing out vines and replacing them with cherries which are more profitable. Even though the cherry industry requires a lot of labour, which Chileans are not keen on doing, between 2015 and 2017 700,000 immigrants, mainly from Haiti and Venezuela, averted a labour shortage.

Chile Cherry export destination – 2017

Cherries remain the most planted fruit in Chile along with walnuts and hazelnuts due to its high profits and increasing demand from China. However, prices in China decreased with large supplies exported to that market (demand), but China still pays higher prices than the price other country destinations offer to Chilean exporters. China is the top market for Chilean cherries. Chile exported 156,497 MT or 85 percent to that market in 2017 (see graph above), a 109 percent increase over MY2016/17. Chilean cherry export season starts in November and end in February and it focuses its market promotion and export campaigns in China. It is expected that Chilean exports to China will increase to that market since demand for Chilean fruits keeps increasing, and Chilean exporters get higher prices in China for their fruits than in other destinations.

Sources:

The Economist – January 19th 2019 – Bello Adam Smith in Chile

USDA – Chile Report Stone Fruit – 8th October 2018.

Wealth distribution in New Zealand – 2018

The Department of Statistics recently published wealth distribution figures for New Zealand. According to Stats NZ, the median household net worth in the year ended 30 June 2018 was $340,000, up from $289,000 in 2015. The increase was mainly driven by an increase in property values over the last three years.

% of net wealth held by % of Households – 2018

According to the survey, the top ten percent of households hold 53 percent of total wealth in New Zealand, which is unchanged from 2015. The top one percent of households hold 16 percent of total wealth in New Zealand, which is down slightly from 2015. New Zealand’s Gini Coefficient is approximately 0.33.

The Lorenz Curve
The Gini Coefficient is derived from the same information used to create a Lorenz Curve. The co-efficient indicates the gap between two percentages: the percentage of population, and the percentage of income received by each percentage of the population. In order to calculate this you divide the area between the Lorenz Curve and the 45° line by the total area below the 45° line eg.
Area between the Lorenz Curve and the 45° line  ÷  Total area below the 45° line.

The resulting number ranges between:
0 = perfect equality where say, 1% of the population = 1% of income, and
1 = maximum inequality where all the income of the economy is acquired by a single recipient.
* The straight line (45° line) shows absolute equality of income. That is, 10% of the households earn 10% of income, 50% of households earn 50% of income.

In 2010 China’s Gini coefficient was 0.61 which was one of the world’s most unequal countries however officially it has been falling for seven years from 0.49 in 2008 to 0.46 in 2015. Rural incomes have grown more quickly that their urban counterparts – in 2009 the average urban income was 3.3 times that of a rural worker but now it is 2.7 times. Many of those living in rural areas actually work in cities but are prevented from living there because of the strict residency system. Also companies have now been looking to the rural areas for cheap labour.
But at the top end you would get the impression that inequality of wealth is extremely high – wealth = what you own, as opposed to what you earn. China has more dollar billionaires (596) than the USA (537). Research has shown that 1% of the population control a 1/3 of China’s assets.

Human Development Report – 2018 – gaps reflect unequal opportunity

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index focusing on three basic dimensions of human development:

  • the ability to lead a long and healthy life, measured by life expectancy at birth;
  • the ability to acquire knowledge, measured by mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling; and
  • the ability to achieve a decent standard of living, measured by gross national income per capita.

To measure human development more comprehensively, the Human Development Report presents four other composite indices.

  • The Inequality-adjusted HDI discounts the HDI according to the extent of inequality.
  • The Gender Development Index compares female and male HDI values.
  • The Gender Inequality Index highlights women’s empowerment.
  • And the Multidimensional Poverty Index measures non income dimensions of poverty.

The 2018 Update presents HDI values for 189 countries and territories with the most recent data for 2017. The main points are:

59 are in the very high human development group,
53 in the high,
39 in the medium
38 in the low.

In 2010, 49 countries were in the low human development group.

The top five countries in the global HDI ranking are:

Norway (0.953),
Switzerland (0.944),
Australia (0.939),
Ireland (0.938) and
Germany (0.936)

New Zealand comes in at 16 with 0.917

The bottom five are:
Burundi (0.417),
Chad (0.404),
South Sudan (0.388),
the Central African Republic (0.367)
Niger (0.354).

The largest increases in HDI rank between 2012 and 2017 were for Ireland, which moved up 13 places, and for Botswana, the Dominican Republic and Turkey, which each moved up 8. The largest declines were for the Syrian Arab Republic (down 27), Libya (26) and Yemen (20) .

Why is Inequality a problem for development?
A recent Oxfam International report showed that:

“8 men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity”
“82 percent of all global wealth in the last year went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom half of humanity saw no increase at all”

Deep imbalances in people’s opportunities and choices stem from inequalities in:
income  – education – health  – voice – access to technology – exposure to shocks.

Human development gaps reflect unequal opportunity in access to education, health, employment, credit and natural resources due to gender, group identity, income disparities and location. Inequality is not only normatively wrong; it is also dangerous as:

  • It can fuel extremism and undermine support for inclusive and sustainable development.
  • It can lead to adverse consequences for social cohesion and the quality of institutions and policies, which in turn can slow human development progress.

The global level inequality in income contributes the most to overall inequality, followed by education and life expectancy. Countries in the very high human development group lose less from inequality than countries in lower groups

Source: Human Development Indices and Indicators 2018 – Statistical Update

Scandinavian countries most expensive but happy

Another good video here with Tom Chitty from CNBC – outlines why the cost of living is so high in Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These countries on average have some of the highest tax rates (see graph) in order to fund a large welfare state. Expenditure in social welfare is one of the highest as a % of GDP and eventhough it is very expensive to live in these countries they rank as some of the happiest.