Author Archives: Mark

A2 Economics – Contestable Markets

I covered this topic today at the Cambridge A2 Economics revision course. The degree of contestability of a market is measured by the extent to which the gains from market entry for a firm exceed the cost of entering (i.e. the cost of overcoming barriers to entry), with the risks associated with failure taken into account (the cost associated with any barriers to exit). Accordingly, the levels of barriers to entry and exit are crucial in determining the level of a market’s contestability. Barriers to exit consist of sunk costs, that is to say costs that cannot be recovered when leaving the market. The contestable markets approach suggests that potential entrants consider post‑entry profit levels, rather than the pre-entry levels suggested by neo‑classical theory.

Obviously no market is perfectly contestable, i.e. with zero sunk costs. In modern economies it is the degree of contestability which is relevant, some markets are more contestable than others. Also just because there have been no new entrants to a market over a given period of time does not mean that this market is not contestable. The threat of entry will be enough to make the existing (incumbent) firms behave in such a way as to recognise this, i.e. by setting a price which doesn’t attract entry and which only makes normal profits.

Markets which are highly contestable are likely to be vulnerable to ‘hit and run competition’. Consider a situation where existing firms are pricing at above the entry‑limit level. Even in the event that existing firms react in a predatory style, new entry will be profitable as long as there is a time lag between entry and the implementation of such action. Having made a profit in the intervening period, the new entrant can then leave the market at very little cost.

In a contestable market there are no structural barriers to the entry of firms in the long-run. If existing businesses are enjoying high economic profits, there is an incentive for new firms to enter the industry. This increases market competition and dilutes monopoly profits for the incumbent firms. Market contestability requires there are few sunk costs. A sunk cost is committed by a producer when entering an industry but cannot be recovered if a firm decides to leave a market.

Entry limit pricing

The fear on the part of existing firms of rendering the market contestable (stimulating new entry) by making high levels of profit is likely to lead to the adoption of entry limit pricing, a concept introduced in the previous unit. This is essentially a defensive strategy, with existing firms setting prices as high as possible but not so high as to enable new corners to enter the industry. If the existing firms set price at P2 and output at Q2 (see diagram below), it would be possible for a new firm to enter the industry and supply Q1. Total market supply would then be Q3 (Q1 + Q2), the price would be P3 and the new firm would be covering its costs. If, instead, the existing firms chose to produce at Q3 (with price level P3), the new firm producing Q1 (total market supply would now be Q4 at price P4) would not be covering its costs and would have to exit the industry in the long run.

The video below on the Airline Industry in the US from Commanding Heights series is a good example of breaking down monopoly power.

Source:

Anforme – A2 Level Economics Revision Booklet.

Models of Capitalism – LMEs vs CMEs during COVID-19

The Economist Free Exchange recently ran an article looking at the various taxonomies that are used to categorise models of capitalism. The book entitled “Varieties of Capitalism” (2001), distinguished between liberal market economies (LMEs) and co-ordinated market economies (CMEs).

LMEs’ rely on market mechanisms to allocate resources and determine wages, and on financial markets to allocate capital. E.G. America, Britain and Canada
CMEs, like social organisations such as trade unions, and of bank finance. E.G. Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands

Western economies tend to sit on a continuum between these two models – below is a table outlining the main criteria each:

Source: Wikipedia

Which system is better during a pandemic?

During the pandemic, CMEs have generally had a more sound strategy for containing the spread of the virus. This may be generated by unity and consistency than by the strength of the intervention that is chosen. Some countries, e.g. Sweden, avoided lockdowns completely but seemed to get a lot of public support and relied on voluntary social distancing. New Zealand implemented a lockdown policy from the outset and relied a lot on contract tracing as well as strict system of managed isolation. LMEs such as the USA and the UK have had a policy which have been on the whole disorganised and not taken the virus seriously.

However in such situations and because of their innovative nature LMEs are more likely to focus on treatments and vaccines.

Of 34 vaccine candidates tracked by the World Health Organisation
CMEs = 4
LMEs = 13
(AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish drugmaker working with Oxford University, straddles both categories).

CMEs are likely to have a lower death count but LMEs seem to hold the upper hand with regard to a vaccines. Maybe a global coalition and co-ordination is needed in future to get the best of both systems.

Source: The Economist – Which is the best market model? 12th September 2020

AS Economics – Price Elasticity of Demand

Doing some revision courses for AS students and went over Price Elasticity of Demand. Might be useful for those doing AS at the moment.

Price Elasticity of Demand (PED)
This measures the relative amount by which the quantity demanded will change in response to change in the price of a particular good. The equation is:

% change in Quantity ÷ Demanded % change in Price

How is PED calculated?

Consider the following demand schedule for buses in a city centre.

Price (average fare)          Quantity of passengers per week
100c                                      1000
60c                                        1300
30c                                        2275

Suppose the current average fare was 100c, what is the PED if fares are cut to 60c?

The percentage change in QD is equal to:
• The change in demand 300 (1300-1000) divided by the original level of demand 1000. To obtain a percentage this must be multiplied by 100. The full calculation is (300 ÷ 1000) x 100 = 30%

The percentage change in price is equal to:
• The change in price 40c (100c – 60c) divided by the original price 100c. To obtain a percentage this must be multiplied by 100. The full calculation is (40 ÷ 100) x 100 = 40%

These two figures can then be inserted into the formula with 30% ÷ 40% = 0.75
Let us now consider the PED when the average fare is cut from 60c to 30c

The percentage change in QD is equal to:
• The change in demand 975 (2275-1300) divided by the original level of demand 1300. To obtain a percentage this must be multiplied by 100. The full calculation is (975 ÷ 1300) x 100 = 75%

The percentage change in price is equal to:
• The change in price 30c (60c – 30c) divided by the original price 60c. To obtain a percentage this must be multiplied by 100. The full calculation is (30 ÷ 60) x 100 = 50%

These two figures can then be inserted into the formula with 75% ÷ 50% = 1.5

Please note that the minus sign is often omitted in PED, as the price elasticity is always negative because demand curves slope downwards. The textbook displays figures as:
PED = (-) 0.2

What price elasticity of demand figures tell us.

Determinants of Elasticity of Demand

The elasticity of a product is influenced by:
• the number of substitutes available
• whether it could be described as a luxury or a basic commodity
• the proportion of the purchaser’s income it represents
• the durability of the product.

Usefulness of Price Elasticity of Demand

The usefulness of price elasticity for producers. Firms can use price elasticity of demand (PED) estimates to predict:

1. The effect of a change in price on the total revenue & expenditure on a product.

The relationship between elasticity and total revenue.

                      Elastic         Inelastic            Unitary
Price ↑           TR↓                TR↑                      No Change
Price ↓           TR↑                TR↓                      No Change

2. The likely price volatility in a market following unexpected changes in supply.

3. The effect of a change in GST (indirect tax) on price and quantity demanded and also whether the business is able to pass on some or all of the tax onto the consumer.

4. Information on the price elasticity of demand can be used by a business as part of a policy of price discrimination – off-peak and peak travel in major cities. Before 9am – inelastic demand curve – after 9am elastic demand curve.

Adapted from CIE A Level Revision – Susan Grant

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