Category Archives: Externalities

Ireland’s first home win against the All Blacks – Behavioural Economics

You maybe aware that the rugby game this morning (NZ time) between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks in Dublin created history. It was the first time that Ireland have beaten the All Blacks on Irish soil. Remember they did beat the ABs in Chicago two years ago.

Image result for ireland v all blacks

Irish supporters, including myself, will take great pleasure in talking about such a result – lets face it we lost it in the last few minutes 5 years ago on Irish soil at Croke Park in Dublin. What all this alludes to is the fact that as part of this entertainment comes without the public paying for it, the public benefits from an externality.

Those who travelled to Dublin (and those local supporters) for the game and will have no doubt spent a significant amount of Euros tonight in the bars and restaurants around town. Nevertheless the satisfaction (utility) derived in Euros from the game would have been much greater than the price they paid for the ticket. This suggest that there is a lot of consumer surplus present – the difference between the price that a consumer WOULD BE WILLING TO PAY, and the price that he or she actually HAS TO PAY. The success of the Irish team will boost merchandise sales and interest for the World Cup next year in Japan but more importantly it has been good for rugby in general with throwing the World Cup wide open. When the All Blacks play overseas there are significant externalities whether it be the revenue generated in hosting the match or the social benefits to society. Furthermore the lead up to the game brings about a sense of delayed gratification (Behavioural Economics). Looking ahead the fact that people have paid for tickets to the World Cup means that they can reap the pleasures of anticipation of being there. Research (Smarter Spending – see previous post) shows that owning material things from expensive homes to luxurious cars turn out to provide less pleasure than holidays, concerts or even witnessing Ireland beating the All Blacks – where were you when Ireland beat the All Blacks in Dublin? With Ireland’s win national pride increases, along with patriotism and people feeling better about themselves. This is turn brings people together and boosts well-being of the nation. As for the All Blacks they will learn from this defeat as they did against the Springboks earlier in the season. All in all it makes for a great World Cup with supporters experiencing the pleasures of anticipation.

Clean energy – winners and losers

The impact of energy flows on the power and influence of nations has mostly been about the need for oil. Securing oil supply by ensuring its shipment, protecting the countries that produce it to the extent of going to war in an oil producing country has been prevalent in the 20th century. Oil being inelastic in demand has meant that as it becomes more scarce the price increases will result in higher revenue for the oil producing oligopoly. Countries dependent on the importing of oil have been at the wrath of higher oil prices caused by embargoes, wars, a financial crisis to name but a few – see graph below.

In fact the USA has been the most aggressive in protecting its oil supply to the extent that it saw it as their right to use military force in the Middle East – 2003 – second Iraq War. The reason given was to remove Saddam Hussein but this just disguised their real motive was to protect the oil fields. If they were so concerned about Saddam Hussein’s regime why didn’t they do anything about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe? The answer is Zimbabwe doesn’t have oil. Remember the Gulf War in 1990 was a UN sanctioned operation involving many countries not just the USA and UK.

However the idea of scarcity is coming to an end thanks to 3 big developments.

  1. The shale revolution in the US has lead to them being the biggest combined producer of oil and gas – the US now pumps 10m barrels a day and it is making the country less reliant on imported oil. Also increases in US supply has added to the global market reducing the price.
  2. China is now moving to a more service based economy and in the process is moderating its demand for coal and oil, slowing the consumption of electricity. More importantly though it is deploying gas and renewable energies and stopping the growth of carbon-dioxide emissions. It’s dependence on imported fossils fuels has been the catalyst to develop more of its own wind and sunlight for energy sources as well as it planner more electric vehicles.
  3. Climate change requires low-carbon energy and the Paris accord of 2015 is a start to fight climate change. To achieve this goal trillions of dollars will have to be invested in wind and solar energy, batteries, electricity grids and a range of more experimental clean-energy sources. Ultimately this creates significant competition between countries in developing these technologies but also but at risk the access to rare earths and minerals to make the hardware. It seems that energy is now driven by the technology not the natural resource we are so used to.

Energy transitions since the Industrial Revolution has seen the following:

Coal ——> oil ——> technology and clean energy.

The obvious losers from this change will be those who have an endowment of fossil-fuel reserves and have relied for too long on oil without reforming their economies.

Traditional energy system (oil etc) is constrained by scarcity
The abundant renewable energy system is contained by variability

Ultimately the challenge for countries in future will be who can produce the most energy and who has the best technology. Those that don’t embrace clean-energy transition will be losers in the future.

Source: The Economist – Special Report ‘The Geopolitics of Energy’ 17th March 2018

World Cup – the economics of faking an injury.

As the World Cup enters the quarter final stage we have seen the same old tricks played by players to try and influence the decision of the referee.

  • France’s Lucas Hernandez admitted to flopping in France’s 2-1 win against Australia in an attempt to get Australian midfielder Mathew Leckie sent off.
  • Spanish defender Gerard Piqué accused Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo of exaggerating a fall to secure a penalty kick in their 3-3 nail-biter. Piqué said Ronaldo has a habit of “throwing himself to the ground.”
  • Neymar rolling around in what seemed to be excruciating pain when there was contact on his ankle and that was on the sideline. What would he have done if it was in the penalty area and Brazil were 0-1 down?

That being said it was hoped that the VAR system would start to see this sort of tactic removed from the ‘beautiful game’. Some of the techniques of faking an injury are below – HT to Kanchan Bandyopadhyay.

The Economist has looked at this area and I thought that I would delve a little deeper. There is no doubt that if you study the costs and benefits of faking an injury there are certain sports where it is perceived as quite worthwhile – i.e. the benefits outweigh the costs. Cost benefit analysis is part of Unit 3 of the AS Level course. What is cost-benefit analysis (CBA)?

Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) refers to estimating the private and external benefits of an investment project – airport, rail link, road etc against the private and external costs. Once these costs/benefits are established a decision is made as to whether the project should go ahead.

CBA can be applied to any decision you make and below is a table outlining the cost and benefit of faking a peanalty or injury in particular sports. I see the benefit in soccer of diving in the box and being awarded a penalty outweigh the costs by a significant amount. Firstly, if the appeal for a penalty is turned down it is very unlikely that the referee will administer any punishment to the player faking a foul. In too many cases they are happy to let the game play on as they feel under so much pressure anyway for not awarding it. Whilst in ice-hockey a suspension of either 2 or 4 minutes has acted as a deterrent to those caught “embellishing” . I have put some values in the end column which will no doubt encourage a lot of discussion – remember Warren Gatland, the Welsh coach in the Rugby World Cup 2011, considered informing a player to fake an injury so there would be no pushing in the scrums. This was after their captain, Sam Warburton, was sent off early in semi-final against France.

However, with the perceived benefits of diving in soccer it does encourage players to even practice this activity. This reminded me of a great advertisement run by the Guardian Newspaper for the Euro 2004 Soccer Cup – see below

 

 

A2 Economics – using whiteboards to teach externalities

Once again with my A2 class I successfully used whiteboards to get across the concepts of positive and negative externalities. Below are the graphs done by Sarah Cheng. As I have stated before whiteboards are a very useful way of getting across difficult graphs.

The externalities topic at A2 Level Economics involves being able to draw and understand four graphs. A different way of teaching this area of the course was to get students to use A3 size whiteboards so that they could practice drawing these graphs. This proved to be very successful with students for the following reasons:

  • the novelty of using whiteboards
  • if they made a mistake this could be easily rubbed out and they could start again
  • it allowed me to go around the class to correct graphs where necessary
  • students took pride in their graphs
  • the best set of graphs was posted on the econfix blog
  • students who were struggling could learn off others

China and Pollution

Interesting video from Al Jazeera about pollution in China.

Smog levels in Beijing were almost seven times the maximum exposure recommended by the World Health Organization. That makes the smog a matter of life and death. In the first quarter of this year more than 90 percent of Chinese cities failed to meet the government’s own air-quality standards.

Air pollution contributes to 17 percent of all deaths in China. As many as 1.6 million people died this year as a result of air pollution, the Berkeley Research Group estimates. That’s about 4,400 people dying every day. But what is the government doing to tackle the issue? And why has it failed to strike a balance between economic growth and public health?

Coal remains one of the easiest and cheapest form of energy and this is very apparent in India where usage is about 62% of energy needs. India is the second largest consumer after China and ahead of the USA. Also coal consumption is growing about 7 percent a year to power the country’s economic catch-up. As China is going through a growth period similar to Europe many years earlier, their argument will be that European countries polluted the environment by a similar amount

Climate change activists have highlighted concerns of rising temperatures by 2100, however are rising temperatures as significant when you consider the long-term implications of much higher unemployment?

Norway sovereign wealth fund takes an ethical stance

Norway’s soveriegn-weatlh fund surpassed US$11trn in assets on September 19th this year. With its significant revenue from North Sea oil and gas getting invested overseas it is likely to get even bigger to the extent that Norway can start to shape ideas abroad. It is increasingly speaking out on ethical behaviour of companies and is an increasingly activist shareholder. The ethics watchdog for the fund recommends that it excludes several firms in oil, cement and steel industries for emitting too much greenhouse gas. This may seem hypocritical in that Norway produces significant amounts of oil but it operates under its own ethical guideline set by parliament.

Source: The Economist – 23-9-17

Missing out on billions of dollars

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has share in 9,000 companies, 1.3% of the entire world’s listed equity. It has lost out on billions of dollars of revenue by its government prohibiting any investment in tobacco companies and manufactures of certain weapons. The fund is forbidden by law from investing in firms that produce nuclear weapons or landmines, or are involved in serious and systematic human rights violations, among other criteria. These include Boeing, Airbus, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris. Last year the council looked into the construction industry in Qatar – host of the 2022 soccer World Cup – and neighboring countries, after reports of abuse by human rights groups. Since then new regulations have been implemented which protect the rights and living and working conditions of labour in the construction industry. This includes the right of immigrant workers to hold onto their passport. There is a broad consensus in Norway that the fund should not make money from companies that take people’s lives.

Norway and coase theorem

Another way Norway is trying to influence global warming is by using its sovereign wealth fund to change behaviors of other countries. Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests.

Stick and Carrot

The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.

5 or 6 more China’s

The reality is that the planet can’t stand another 5 or 6 China’s but developing countries still need to grow and, like their developed country counterparts, it will involve greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to curb global emissions developing countries will have to leapfrog to new technologies as the burning of traditional fossil fuels will just exacerbate the problem. However developing countries have neither the resources nor the incentive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels on their own as their main focus is economic growth. Whilst developed countries have a lot to lose from developing-world emissions it is in their interest to pay the latter to curb emissions e.g. Norway paying Liberia not to chop down its trees. Although this looks a simple enough policy politicians will not be so enthused by it as money that is paid overseas to cut climate change is not very popular with the electorate and therefore the government.

America’s Cup and Cost Benefit Analysis

There has been a lot talk about the impact of the America’s Cup and the economic impact it will have on the Auckland economy. Consultancies have suggested that the Cup could generate up to $1billion injected into the NZ economy, thousands of jobs created, a return of more than seven dollars on every dollar invested in new wharf facilities. These figures have come under criticism by Tim Hazeldene in the NZ Herald.

As for the value-added injection and the jobs created: to a first-order approximation, the net number of new jobs created in Auckland, with its already stretched construction and tourism industries, will be about zero. The workers needed will be bid away from other jobs, or imported as new immigrants. As a result, there will be no significant real output increases, the extra spending will be soaked up in higher prices.

Higher prices are harmful for domestic New Zealand customers and travellers but beneficial to the bottom lines of New Zealand and foreign owned businesses. It’s a trade-off. My expectation is that, overall, there will be net economic benefits from holding the Cup in Auckland but that they will be quite small — below the costs to which national and local government are being asked to contribute.

The economic impact is based a lot on the multiplier effect but the use of cost benefit analysis also considers those external costs and benefits which are not easily convertible into a monetary value.

Evaluation of CBA
It is clearly more efficient for public spending to be subject to rigorous analysis, rather than based on the whims of politicians. However, there are a number of criticisms of CBA, including:

1. It is often very costly to undertake, though usually this forms a very small proportion of total project spending.
2. Assessing the monetary value of external costs and benefits is often very difficult. What precisely is the value of the congestion that would be reduced if a new bi-pass were built around a busy town? How much extra tourist revenue will actually be gained from a new airport? How long will the building be used as a venue, as in the case of the Viaduct area in Auckland for the 2020 America’s Cup. One solution to this problem is shadow pricing, where analysts attempt to place a value on the costs and benefits of a decision or a project where an actual market price does not exist.
3. Changing circumstances can make initial projections appear grossly inaccurate. The Wembley Stadium project in London went considerably over-budget, and the majority Olympic Games are far more costly than originally estimated. For instance the Montreal Olympics in 1976 was eventually paid off in December 2006. Higher interest and inflation rates, and falling exchange rates can all dramatically affect costs.
4. Actual costs can also rise above planned costs as a result of moral hazard, where project managers go over budget because they expect that those who fund the project will make extra funds available, providing an insurance against their over-spending.
5. Ultimately, decisions to go ahead with projects are only guided by CBA, leaving politicians to make the final decision. Politicians are free, of course, to ignore the results of an appraisal.

If you have read the book Circus Maximus you will no doubt be aware that most big sporting events run over budget and in some cases don’t generate the benefits until well after the event if at all. So just because an event runs over budget is that enough to say that we shouldn’t go ahead with the event. There are a great many other benefits of hosting an event like the Americas Cup which are not measured by GDP. The sense of community and wellbeing that comes from New Zealanders performance whether it be in rugby or at the Olympics. It tends to bring people together feel a sense of belonging which has external benefits. More recently the NZ government have introduced the Treasury Living Standards Framework – LSF

The Living Standards Framework

The Treasury Living Standards Framework draws on international work to supplement income based on measures of well being. So as well as GDP – which tends to be the standard indicator as to the health of an economy – other indicators such as:

Natural Capital – land, soil, water, plants and animals
Human Capital – skills, knowledge and physical and mental health
Social Capital – Trust, rule of law, cultural identity
Financial and Physical Capital – Houses, roads, buildings, hospitals etc.

So how will the above be impacted by the America’s Cup in Auckland?

Using whiteboards to teach externalities

In my teaching I am very keen on using whiteboards so that students can get used to drawing graphs and also writing essay plans. It makes it very easy for me to go around the classroom to check on their accuracy and I have to say that the students enjoy the whiteboards even if it does lead to a little doodling. The boards are just over A3 size and are perfect to draw some of the more complex graphs in NCEA and CIE economics. Below are some externality graphs by A2 student Jonathan Ta.

Externalities.jpeg

Behavioural Economics and reclining airline seats

I picked up this topic from Michael Cameron’s blog Sex, Drugs, and Economics which looked in detail at the economics behind reclining airline seats. The issue that he refers to is – who owns the space between reclining airline seats?

Externalities

The person (Recliner) who reclines their seat reduces the amount of space that the person (Reclinee) behind has especially if they have their tray table down and becomes a negative externality to them. Some airlines are worse than others with regard to space – American carriers tend to have very little room as do the low cost airlines. However carriers that operate more long haul flights especially Emirates seem to be more generous with the space between seats. However if there is nobody in the seat behind then there is no externality. This refers to the Coase Theory (see previous blog post) in which Ronald Coase stated that problems are jointly produced by the person who creates the externality and the person who is affected by it. He argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like the scares resource i.e. the space between airline seats.

An article on the site Evonomics by Buccafusco (Cardozo School of Law) and Sprigman (NYU School of Law) looked at research into how much passengers would be willing to pay to recline their seat. They looked at the following scenarios.

Default – you have the right to recline your seat
Recliners wanted on average $41 to refrain from reclining, while reclinees were willing to pay only $18 on average. Only about 21 percent of the time would ownership of the 4 inches change hands

Default – you don’t have the right to recline your seat and have to negotiate
Recliners were only willing to pay about $12 to recline while reclinees were unwilling to sell their knee room for less than $39. Recliners would have ended up purchasing the right to recline only about 28 percent of the time—the same right that they valued so highly in the other condition.

The Coase theorem suggests that the initial allocation of rights should not matter, because if the person who values the right the most doesn’t start out with it, they will simply purchase it from the other. But what Buccafusco and Sprigman found suggests that this simple solution might not work. What they found was an endowment effect.

Loss Aversion and the  Endowment Effect

Loss aversion can be explained by prospect theory, which states that an individual’s value function (whether for money or otherwise) is concave for gains but convex for losses. In other words, people are more sensitive to losses compared to gains of similar magnitude. This is illustrated below.

Prospect theory

The reference point in the diagram is the current position of the individual concerned. Gains and losses are evaluated with reference to this neutral reference point. The value function takes an asymmetric S-shape because marginal value (or sensitivity) declines as absolute gains and losses increase in size. A dollar lost more than outweighs a dollar gained. In conventional economics, gains and losses are treated equally – a dollar lost simply cancels out a dollar gained. Golf provides a perfect example of a reference point: par. Every hole on a golf course has a number of strokes associated with it; the par provides the baseline for good – but not outstanding – performance. For a professional golfer, a birdie (one stroke under par) is a gain, and a bogey (one stroke over par) is a loss. Economists have compared two situations a player might face when hear the hole:

  • putt to avoid a bogey
  • putt to achieve a birdie

One group of economists analysed more than 2.5 million putts in exquisite detail to test that prediction and found that whether the putt was easy or hard, at every distance from the hole, the players were more successful when putting for par than for a birdie. The difference in their rate of success when going for par (to avoid a bogey) or for a birdie was 3.6%.

Note that endowment effects are working for the ‘reclinees’ as well – they are willing to give up their extra knee room for $39 if they had the right to keep it, but would only be willing to pay $18 to get that right if they didn’t start out with it.

The endowment effect means that this problem isn’t really amenable to a simple solution, because recliners already have the default rights, and are understandably unwilling to give those rights up. And any change in policy is going to incur passenger protest – because even though we may gain knee room, passengers would be giving up their right to recline, and loss aversion almost ensures that would be a painful and unwelcome trade-off for most passengers.

Repeated games may help climate change negotiations

Reading a post from Michael Cameron’s blog reminded me of how repeated games of the prisoner’s dilemma may help climate change negotiations.

The Paris Agreement came in to effect on 4th November this year and it brings all nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.

The main issue with tackling climate change is the cost to countries of implementing it. To be successful it will need profound transformation of energy and transport organisations, and changes in the behaviours of billions of consumers. Research has suggested that it will likely cost 1% of GDP – even though it doesn’t seem much, it is double the amount currently spent on development aid worldwide.

A successor treaty? 

According to Michael Liebreich, the prospects don’t look good when you consider the following:

  • The US sees a cap on carbon emissions as a threat to competitiveness, and hence to its global supremacy. Add to this the rhetoric of President elect Donald Trump which has dismissed global warming.
  • The developing world denounces any calls for a cap on emissions as an effort by former colonial powers to hold back development;
  • Europe has been making encouraging though patchy progress towards targets, driven mainly by a one-off switch from coal to gas.

The issue here is how countries can expect to make cuts in emissions when their economic competitors refuse. This in turn leads to The Tragedy of the Commons which occurs when a group’s individual incentive lead them to take actions which, overall, lead to negative consequences for all group members.

Climate Change as Prisoner’s Dilemma
The initial impression from the discussions over climate change is that of a typical Prisoner’s Dilemma. As mentioned previously, the cost of tackling climate change is approximately 1% of annual per capita GDP. However, if nothing is done about the issue the cost is estimated to be between 5% to 20% of GDP. So that defines what happens at the extreme of cooperative or non-cooperative behaviour.

Climate Change - Pris Dil

Form the table above, a country that refuses to act, whilst the other cooperates, will experience a free-rider benefit – enjoying the advantage of limited climate change without the cost. On the flip side, any country that imposes limits, when its competitors do not, incurs not just the cost of limiting its own emissions, but also a further cost in terms of reduced competitiveness – estimated here at an additional 3.0%.

From the table it seems predictable that countries should prefer to be self-interested: the best national policy, if others reduce emissions, is to defect; likewise, if other countries are not taking action, then it is pointless to be the only sucker to take action, and one should again defect.

Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma and Cooperation 

The dynamics of the prisoner’s dilemma do change if participants know that they will be playing the game more than once. In 1984 an American political scientist at the University of Michigan, Robert Axelrod, argued that if you play the game repeatedly you are likely to see emerging is cooperative rather than defective actions. He identified four elements to a successful strategy which is this case can be applied to climate negotiations:

1  Be Nice – sign up to unilateral cuts in emissions, as deep as your economy and financing capacity allows.

2  Be Retaliatory – single out countries that have not commenced action and, in collaboration, find ways of pressurising them until they do so.

3  Be Forgiving – when non-compliant countries come onboard give them generous applause; signal that good behaviour
will be rewarded with even deeper cuts in your own emissions.

4 Be Clear – let everyone know in advance exactly how you are going to behave – that you will work with them if they take action on emissions, and that you will retaliate if they do not.

It is the belief of Michael Liebreich that this research by Axelrod should be put into practice by the world’s climate negotiators. As treaties on climate change are on-going and therefore become part of the game.

Final thought 

Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma provides valuable insight into how countries should act away from the negotiating table and over the longer term. This analysis also highlights the fact that the negotiations themselves are not the game. Diplomats and politicians don’t reduce emissions, engineers and consumers do. However, there are errors in the resemblance as governments can form alliances, which makes the dynamics of the game a great deal more complex. Furthermore, they can act inconsistently and irrationally, and their willingness to act is most probably associated with the harshness of global warming. Ultimately, for the planet’s sake, one hopes that everyone will play the game.

Sources: 

  • The Economist – Economics Focus: Playing with the planet. 29th September 2007 
  • New Energy Finance – How to Save the Planet – Michael Liebreich– 11th September 2007