Author Archives: Mark

Hernando de Soto – Property Rights 20 years on.

I have blogged quite a bit on this topic using the work of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto and his book ‘The Mystery of Capital’. There was also some great footage from the Commanding Heights Series which showed de Soto traveling in Peru and talking about what he sees as the main obstacle to the development of markets and capitalism within developing countries – property rights.

Without a title to a property nobody knows who owns what or where, who is accountable for the performance of obligations, who is responsible for losses and fraud, or what mechanisms are available to enforce payment for services and goods delivered. Consequently, most potential assets in these countries have not been identified or realised; there is little accessible capital, and the exchange economy is constrained and sluggish. However in the West, where property rights and other legal documentation exist, assets take on a role of securing loans and credit for a variety of purposes – building capital with capital.

De Soto estimated that about 85% of urban parcels in Third World and former communist nations, and between 40 and 53 % of rural parcels, are held in such a way that they cannot be used to create capital. The total value of the real estate held but not legally owned by the poor of these countries is at least $9.3 trillion – $13.5trn in today’s money. Studies suggest that titling has boosted agricultural productivity, especially in Asia and Latin America. The World Bank wants 70% of people to have secure property rights by 2030. Despite all these efforts, only 30% of the world’s people have formal titles today. In rural sub-Saharan Africa a dismal 10% do. Just 22% of countries, including only 4% of African ones, have mapped and registered the private land in their capital cities.

PRINDEX is an organisation that measures global perceptions of land and property rights – see video below.

In July 2020 they published an informative report on tenure security – “Comparative Report – A global assessment of perceived tenure security from 140 countries”. Some of the findings from the report:

  • Nearly 1 billion people around the world consider it likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their land or property in the next five years. This represents nearly 1 in 5 adults in the 140 countries surveyed.
  • Levels of perceived insecurity vary by region. While the greatest number of people who are insecure live South Asia (22% of people), sub-Saharan Africa (26%) and the Middle East and North Africa (28%) each have higher proportions of insecurity.
  • People living in cities experience higher levels of insecurity than those living in rural areas (18% vs. 16%).
  • The possession of formal land and property rights documentation tends to be associated with greater confidence of perceived tenure security compared to owners and renters who have no formal documentation at all (80% vs. 63%)
  • Nearly half of all women in sub-Saharan Africa (48%) feel insecure about their land and property rights when faced with the prospect of widowhood or divorce.
  • Tenure insecurity is strongly linked to age. Overall, 24% of young people aged 18-25 felt insecure compared to just 11% of people aged over 65.
  • Tenure insecurity is associated with economic factors in regions that are highly developed, such as North America, Europe, Australasia and parts of Asia.
  • Perceived tenure insecurity is closely correlated with other economic, human development, and governance indicators, including gross domestic product (GDP), World Governance Indicators (WGI), the Multidimensional Poverty Index, and the Human Development Index. There is a particularly strong correlation between tenure insecurity and the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

Below is a graph from the report:

Perceived tenure insecurity as measured across all properties and plots of land that a respondent has rights to access or use, not just their ‘main’ property.

Concerns

In the developing world having the authority to allocate land has great benefits.

  • Politicians use land as a way of rewarding supporters and themselves
  • Politicians / Chiefs use their powers to sell the land to mining companies / developers without the consent of their people
  • Some seize the land because it is deemed to be in the “public interest”

A crucial lesson of the past few decades, however, is that if land reform is treated purely as a top-down technical task, it will not work well. It is not enough simply to map and register a property, as several high-profile efforts show. Land is an emotive issue, especially where memories of colonial expropriation still linger. As Mr de Soto argued, capitalism should be for the many, not just the few. The Economist – September 12th 2020

AS Economics Revision – Inflation

Here are some revision notes on inflation and a diagram that I have found useful. As well as cost-push and demand-pull inflation remember:

Inflationary Expectations

In recent years more attention has been paid to the psychological effects which rising prices have on people’s behaviour. The various groups which make up the economy, acting in their own self-interest, will actually cause inflation to rise faster than otherwise would be the case if they believe rising prices are set to continue.

Workers, who have tended to get wage rises to ‘catch up’ with previous price increases, will attempt to gain a little extra compensate them for the expected further inflation, especially if they cannot negotiate wage increases for another year. Consumers, in belief that prices will keep rising, buy now to beat the price rises, but this extra buying adds to demand pressures on prices. In a country such as New Zealand’s before the 1990’s, with the absence of competition in many sectors of the economy, this behaviour reinforces inflationary pressures. ‘Breaking the inflationary cycle’ is an important part of permanently reducing inflation. If people believe prices will remain stable, they won’t, for example, buy land and property as a speculation to protect themselves.

AS Level Revision – Floating Exchange Rates

Being doing a Cambridge revision course this week and this is an area that I covered today. Below is a useful graphic explaining how the demand for exports impacts the currency of the importer and exporter – US$ and Euro.

In theory, an advantage of a floating exchange rate is that it will automatically correct any tendency for the balance of payments to move into surplus or deficit.The following sequence of events shows how this automatic correction is supposed to work.

• Assume the NZ balance of payments is initially in equilibrium.
• Assume now that export values remain unchanged, but an increased demand for $ tends to move the NZ B of P into a deficit.
• This increased demand for imports will increase the supply of dollars in the foreign exchange market.
• The external value of the dollar will fall and this will make exports cheaper and imports dearer.
• The changes in the relative prices of exports and imports will increase the volume of exports and reduce the volume of imports and the B of P will be brought back into equilibrium.

In practice it may not work out like this because the supplies of exports and imports may be slow to adjust to the price changes. For example, if the prices of exports fall, it may take considerable time before the increased quantities demanded can be supplied. There are also problems associated with the elasticities of demand for exports and imports. A 10% fall in the prices of exports will not increase the amount of foreign currency earned unless the quantities demanded increase by more than 10%. A further problem is that a depreciation of the pound increases import prices and, since New Zealand imports a large amount of raw materials and manufactures, this has the effect of raising the cost of living and the costs of production in many industries.

A disadvantage of the system of floating exchange rates is the fact that greatly increases the risks and uncertainties in international trade.

For example, an Auckland manufacturer of cotton cloth may be quoted a firm US$ price by his American supplier, payment due, say, in 3 months. He will still not be certain of the costs of his cotton because he does not know what the US$-NZ$ exchange rate will be when he comes to make payment.

If he is quoted US$500 for a bale of cotton and the exchange rate stands at:
NZ$1 = US$0.56, a bale of cotton will cost him NZ$892.86.

If, however, by the time he comes to make payment, the exchange rate has moved to:
NZ$1 = US$0.53, a bale of cotton will cost him NZ$943.40.

Speculators remove some of this uncertainty by operating a forward exchange market where they guarantee to supply foreign currency at some future date at a price agreed now. A perfectly free market in foreign currency is not likely to be found in the real world. Even when currencies are said to be floating, governments tend to intervene in the market to smooth out undesirable fluctuations. The central bank (Reserve Bank in NZ) is responsible for this type of intervention and the way it operates is explained in the next section.

Advantages of a Strong Dollar

• A high NZ$ leads to lower import prices – this boosts the real living standards of consumers at least in the short run – for example an increase in the real purchasing power of NZ residents when traveling overseas
• When the NZ$ is strong, it is cheaper to import raw materials, components and capital inputs – good news for businesses that rely on imported components or who are wishing to increase their investment of new technology from overseas countries. A fall in import prices has the effect of causing an outward shift in the short run aggregate supply curve
• A strong exchange rate helps to control inflation because domestic producers face stiffer international competition from cheaper imports and will look to cut their costs accordingly. Cheaper prices of imported foodstuffs and beverages will also have a negative effect on the rate of consumer price inflation.

Disadvantages of a Strong Dollar

• Cheaper imports leads to rising import penetration and a larger trade deficit e.g. the increasing deficit in goods in the NZ balance of payments in 2011
• Exporters lose price competitiveness and market share – this can damage profits and employment in some sectors. Manufacturing industry suffered a steep recession in 2011 partly because of the continued strength of the NZ$, leading to many job losses and a sharp contraction in real capital investment spending and the lowest profit margins in manufacturing industry for over a decade
• If exports fall, this has a negative impact on economic growth. Some regions of the economy are affected by this more than others. The rural areas are affected by a strong dollar in that our produce becomes more expensive to overseas buyers.

AS Economics – Economic Integration

Although in the CIE syllabus only three stages of economic integration are mentioned there are actually six stages between nations, ranging from the relatively weak to more complex and stronger associations.

1. Preferential Trading Area – weakest form of integration. Nations agree to give preferential access to certain products from overseas countries. The EU (European Union) and countries of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) have formed Preferential Trading Area.

2. Free Trade Area – most common type of integration. Nations permit an agreed list of products to be traded tariff free. However those nations can set their own tariffs between themselves and nations outside the agreement. EG. NAFTA, EEA and APEC

3. Customs Union – same as FTA but all member nations agree a set of standard tariff levels between themselves and outside nations. This is known as the Common External Tariff (CET).

4. Common Market – same as Customs Union but is more complex in that it involves the establishment of common laws relating to the economy, trade, and employment and a common form of taxation between member nations.

5. Economic and Monetary Union – one trade barrier that a Common Market does not eradicate is the presence of different currencies although Economic and Monetary Union does not necessarily involve a single currency. It is where member nations irrevocably fix their exchange rates to one another.

6. Complete Economic Integration – all of the above but also includes considerable political integration as well. Nations embark on harmonization of economic policies and there tends to be the development of a supranational state making decisions on behalf of member nation’s governments.

Economic integration has the potential to benefit all parties involved and create additional economic welfare. It also brings nations together politically and culturally which again, can be a positive.

Examples of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs):

  • The number of RTAs has risen from around 70 in 1990 to over 300 today
  • The European Union (EU) – a customs union, a single market and now with a single currency
  • The European Free Trade Area (EFTA)
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – created in 1994
  • Mercosur – a customs union between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (AFTA)
  • Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
  • South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) created in January 2006 and containing countries such as India and Pakistan

Covid19 and unemployment – BBC Podcast

BBC World Service - The Real Story, Newshour Extra: Welcome

Below is a link to a very good podcast from the BBC ‘The Real Story’. Dan Damon discuss what should be done about rising unemployment in the age of Covid-19? Contributors include Australian economist Steve Keen author of ‘Debunking Economics’. Topics of debate include:

  • Universal Basic Income
  • Modern Monetary Theory
  • How much debt can a government sustain in propping up an economy?
  • Should a government subsidise companies taking-on workers?

Also features a very good interview with Daniel Susskind – author of ‘A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond’

It is 53 minutes long but can take your mind off the commute to work.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cszcnf

Questions for potential Oxbridge Economics students

That time of year again – here are some questions that I have used for practice Oxbridge interviews for those students hoping to read economics at either Oxford or Cambridge. They might be of interest and could be useful for general class discussion.

  • Does the current crisis warrant a reappraisal of economics as broad as the one that followed the Great Depression?
  • Paul Krugman said – “The economics profession went astray because economists as a group mistook beauty clad in impressive looking mathematics for truth” Does he have a point here?
  • How can we know which economic policies to fight Covid-19 actually work?
  • Is now the time to introduce a universal basic income in the aftermath of Covid-19?
  • In the aftermath of the financial crisis do you see an end to the Neo-Classical theory and the Washington consensus and a return to the Keynesian Bretton Woods System?
  • Is economics becoming too mathematical?
  • In the response to the crisis we have seen more of the same – massive Keynesian stimulus in the form of both monetary and fiscal policy. What are your thoughts on this comment?
  • Politicians and some economists said that the global economic growth from 2003 – 2007 was different from previous growth periods in history and therefore shouldn’t be alarmist. Do you agree?
  • How could economists prevented a crisis like the GFC in 2008?
  • How does politics impact on decision-making for economists?
  • How has politics fed the belief that markets left to themselves deliver better economic outcomes?
  • Can economists be trusted to draw the right conclusions and learn the right lessons from the financial crisis?
  • Since the GFC there has been significant mention of the policies of economists Frederick von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes – who, if any, was right?
  • You state that you have read Jeffrey Sachs’ book “Common Wealth” – what policies did he advocate to reduce poverty. (Refers to a personal statement)
  • In the book “Dead Aid” you mention “Dambisa Moyo’s criticism of shock therapy in developing countries. Can you say the same in developed nations? (Refers to a personal statement)
  • Macroeconomics is essentially ideological – do you agree?
  • Keynes said “If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!” What did he mean?
  • In a recession, should governments reduce budget deficits or increase them?
  • Do zero-interest rates stimulate economic recovery or suppress it?
  • Should welfare benefits be maintained or cut in response to high unemployment?

AS Economics Revision – Income Elasticity of Demand graph

Here are some revision notes on YED which might useful for the CIE AS Economics exam next month. Quite a few of the class had never come across this graph which is popular in multiple-choice questions. It is important that you read the axis.

Usefulness of Income Elasticity of Demand

Knowledge of income elasticity of demand for different products helps firms predict the effect of a business cycle on sales. All countries experience a business cycle where actual GDP moves up and down in a regular pattern causing booms and slowdowns or perhaps a recession. The business cycle means incomes rise and fall.

Luxury products with high income elasticity see greater sales volatility over the business cycle than necessities where demand from consumers is less sensitive to changes in the economic cycle

The NZ economy has enjoyed a period of economic growth over the last few years. So average real incomes have increased, but because of differences in income elasticity of demand, consumer demand for products will have varied greatly over this period.

Over time we expect to see our real incomes rise. And as we become better off, we can afford to increase our spending on different goods and services. Clearly what is happening to the relative prices of these products will play a key role in shaping our consumption decisions. But the income elasticity of demand will also affect the pattern of demand over time. For normal luxury goods, whose income elasticity of demand exceeds +1, as incomes rise, the proportion of a consumer’s income spent on that product will go up. For normal necessities (income elasticity of demand is positive but less than 1) and for inferior goods (where the income elasticity of demand is negative) – then as income rises, the share or proportion of their budget on these products will fall. See table below for a summary of values.

Public debt – how high can it go?

From the Economist – good video on government bonds and debt through the ages with some great graphics.

It asks the question is government debt a concern today? They state that as long as a country’s GDP is growing faster than the country’s debt accumulating in interest then it grow its way out of debt with no fiscal cost. It also questions why interest rates today are low? Central banks such as the RBNZ and the US Federal Reserve set the interest rates and will keep them low until the economy starts some sort of recovery. They are able to do this as there is little to no inflationary pressure in the economy – remember most central banks have an inflationary target. This does mean that savers lose out as the return they get is very low. Furthermore implementing a programme of quantitative easing floods the market with cash which in turn leads to a lower cost of borrowing.

A2 Worksheets – Perfect and Imperfect Labour Market

When covering Labour Markets with my A2 level classes I put together an exercise which tests them on calculating MCL, MRPL etc and also showing why MCL = MRPL is the number of workers a firm should employ. There is an exercise for both Perfect and Imperfect Labour markets – see ‘Word’ document. The excel document is a model answer showing the data in a table and a graphical format. Hope it is of use.

Imperfect Competition in the Labour Market
ACL MCL of Labour