Category Archives: Supply & Demand

Ludicrous regulations of the US Airline Industry and Contestable Markets

With Auckland now at COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and schools operating online we continued going through the A2 syllabus and discussed Contestable Markets using Webex. I used this clip from Commanding Heights to show how regulated the US airline industry was during the 1970’s. Regulations meant that major carriers like Pan Am never had to compete with newcomers. However an Englishman named Freddie Laker was determined to break this tradition and set-up Laker airways to compete on trans-atlantic flights. He offered flights at less than half the price of what Pan Am charged. Alfred Kahn was given the task by the then President Jimmy Carter to breakup the Civil Aeronautics Board (the regulatory body) and he wanted a leaner regulatory environment in which the market was free to dictate price. There is a piece in the clip that shows how ludicrous some of the regulations were:

When I got to the Civil Aeronauts Board, the biggest division under me was the division of enforcement – in effect, FBI agents who would go around and seek out secret discounts and then impose fines. We would discipline them. It was illegal to compete in price. That means it was illegal to compete in the discounts you offer travel agents. So we regulated travel agents’ discounts. Internationally, since they couldn’t cut rates, they competed by having more and more sumptuous meals. We actually regulated the size of sandwiches. Alfred Kahn

When the CAB was closed down competition was the rule and the industry had vastly underestimated the demand for air travel at lower prices – a very elastic demand curve – see graph below.

In the A2 course contestable markets is a popular essay question and is usually combined with another market structure.

What is a contestable market?

• One in which there is one firm (or a small number of firms)
• Because of freedom of entry and exit, the firm faces competition and might operate in a way similar to a perfectly competitive firm
• The threat of “hit and run entry” from new firms may be sufficient to keep the industry operating at a competitive price and output
• The key requirement for a contestable market is the absence of sunk costs – i.e. costs that cannot be recovered if a business decides to leave a market
• When sunk costs are high, a market is more likely to produce an price and output similar to monopoly (with the risk of allocative inefficiency and loss of economic welfare)
• A perfectly contestable market occurs only when entry and exit into and out of a market is perfectly costless
• Contestable markets are different from perfect competitive markets
• It is possible for one incumbent firm to dominate the industry
• Each existing firm in the market produces a differentiated product (i.e. goods and services are not perfect substitutes for each other)

There are 3 conditions for market contestability:

• Perfect information and the ability and or legal right to use the best available technology
• Freedom to market / advertise and enter a market
• The absence of sunk costs

• Liberalisation of the US Airline Industry in the 1970’s and the European Airline Market in late 1990s
• Traditional “flag-flying” airlines faced new competition
• Barriers to entry in the industry were lowered (including greater use of leased aircraft)
• New Entrants – easyJet- Ryanair

The challenges for the oil market with COVID-19

Another good video from the FT this time on the future of the oil industry. There is a movement towards more cleaner fuels by major companies in Europe but the same can’t be said about the US. Oil producing countries have been hit by lower prices but some like Saudi Arabia have sufficient reserves to fall back whilst others like Nigeria and Venezuela are financially exposed. Below is a graphic from the video looking at supply and demand – useful for an introductory lesson on the market.

Source: FT

Income Elasticity of Demand and Consumer Purchases Post-Covid

I came across this material on the blog ‘Sex, Drugs and Economics’ which discusses Bruce Wydick’s post on his blog ‘Across Two Worlds’. This is very useful for NCEA Level 3 and CIE AS Level Unit 2 both of which look at Income Elasticity of Demand.

Wydick looks at who is most likely to do well and who is likely to suffer in a post-covid environment. A typical recession is generally caused by supply-side factors (oil crisis years of 1973 – prices up by 400% – 1979 – prices up by 200%) or demand-side impact (loss of business confidence and consumer confidence). Covid-19 is very different as it is a complete shut-down of certain businesses and it forced people to stop buying things that they normal do. Wydick puts goods and services into two categories:

Snap-Back goods and services – things we couldn’t buy during the Level 4 lock-down period but were purchased when we went to Level 3. Pent up demand meant that purchases of these goods and service might have been higher than normal – buying less now means buying more later.

Gone Forever – as it states. Invariably this generally refers to services like air travel, tourism, haircuts, public transport and entertainment. When it becomes safe to have a haircut you still only get one haircut as the rest of your haircuts have disappeared and there is no catch-up spending like with snap-back goods.

These are the differences between goods with low versus high income elasticity. Income elasticity of demand measures the responsiveness of quantity demanded to changes in income. We can have different types of normal goods. If a 10% increase in income brought about a 10% increase in quantity demanded, we can say the income elasticity of demand is unitary. If EY>1 we classify the good as a luxury, and if EY<1, a necessity.

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. Wydick puts the different types of purchases in a simple 2 x 2 matrix“Snap-Back” vs. “Gone Forever” and High vs. Low income elasticity. 

It then becomes easy to see which industries are in the most trouble in 2020.  So, when goods and services are both “gone forever” and have a high income elasticity, we can expect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to be most severe. Wydick identifies air travel, tourism, sporting events, hospitality, and transport (but not public transport). Everything else either snaps back and experiences some catch-up spending, or isn’t as affected by lower incomes. Goods that have a high income elasticity means that when you lose your job during the recession, you and others like you are even less likely to buy these things. For New Zealand the decline of the tourism industry is a significant hit to GDP and employment in this sector.

What causes a recession? TED-Ed

Showed this to my IGCSE class today – great video which is well put together with good examples that explain a recession and its causes. Particularly apt for today’s economic environment. Makes good use of supply and demand graphs as well as supply side and demand side variables. Detailed explanation of the business cycle. Useful for NCEA Level 2 growth standard.

AS Revision – Indirect Tax

The AS multiple-choice paper is coming up and here is this graphic to explain indirect taxes – a popular question. An indirect tax will have the following effects on the market:

Indirect Tax

• The supply curve shifts vertically upwards(effectively a shift to the left) by the amount of the tax(gf) per unit. The price increases but not by the full amount of the tax. This is because of the slopes of the demand and supply curves.
• The consumer surplus is reduced from acp to agb. The portion gbhp of the old consumer surplus is transferred to government in the form of tax.
• The producer surplus is reduced from pce to fde. The portion phdf of the old producer surplus is transferred to the government in the form of tax.
• The market is no longer able to reach equilibrium, and there is a loss of allocative efficiency resulting in the deadweight lost shown by the area bcd. This represents a loss of both consumer surplus bhc and the producer surplus hcd that is removed from the market. The deadweight loss also represents a loss of welfare to an individual or group where that loss is not offset by a welfare gain to some other individual or group.

AS & A2 Revision – How PED varies along a demand curve

Been doing some more revision sessions on CIE AS economics and went through how the elasticity of demand varies along a demand curve. Notice in Case A that the fall in price from Pa to Pb causes the the total revenue to increase therefore it is elastic – the blue area (-) is less than the orange area (+). In Case B the opposite applies – as the price decreases from Pa to Pb the total revenue decreases therefore it is inelastic – the blue area (-) is greater than the orange area (+). In Case C the drop in price causes the same proportionate change in quantity demanded, therefore there is no change in total revenue – it is unitary elasticity.

Remember where MR = 0 – PED = 1 on the demand curve (AR curve). A particularly popular question at A2 level is ‘where on the demand curve will a profit maximising firm produce at?’. As MC = MR above zero the imperfect firm always produces on the elastic part of the demand curve.

Why is Vanilla so expensive?

The video below from The Economist looks at the supply and demand that impacts the price of vanilla. 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in the perfectly suited climate of the north-east region of Madagascar. It’s the country’s primary export crop.

In 2014 vanilla was $80 a kilo.

In 2017 was $600.

Today it’s around $500.

The price rise is due in part to global demand. The trend of eating naturally means that food companies have shunned synthetic flavouring in favour of the real deal. Companies have started to look elsewhere for their natural vanilla. Indonesia, Uganda and even the Netherlands are growing the crop. For a century Madagascar has enjoyed a near-monopoly on vanilla. But this industry may be in line for a radical overhaul.

English Premier League – where competition means more revenue and better football

As the season drew to a close with the Europa League and Champions League Finals last week one couldn’t help noticing the dominance of the EPL sides. To have 4 clubs from the EPL in the finals is unprecedented and testament to the strength on the EPL. A lot of the other European leagues have a dominance of one or maybe two teams – EG

  • Spain – La Liga – Barcelona won the championship easily this year. Real Madrid its closest rivals in previous years finished 3rd.
  • Germany – Bundesliga – Bayern Munich won the league for the last 7 years although Borussia Dortmund have been close on a few occasions.
  • France – Ligue 1 – Paris St German won the league by 16 points and have won Ligue 1 6 out of the last 7 seasons
  • Italy – Serie A – Juventus won the league by 11 points and it was their 8th consecutive title.
  • Netherlands – Eredivisie – Ajax won the league by 3 points from PSV Eindhoven. Third place was a further 18 points behind

US Economist Walter Neale said that a pure monopoly in sport is not good. If some team is totally dominant in a league the interest in the competition wanes and fewer fans turn up to games and also television rights become less attractive. Therefore if a club is dominant in a league it will have to look to other alternatives to generate more revenue – creating a super league amongst other teams at the expense of national leagues like the Premier League, La Liga in Spain and Germany’s Bundesliga. This would be like major sports in the USA where the same teams compete without the threat of relegation. It would also be to the detriment of local leagues in which clubs traditionally have huge followings and also generate a lot of income.

However the EPL has done well to have a very competitive competition with 6 clubs being serious contenders for the title – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester Utd. With such competition there is interest from the fan base and TV rights which makes for a profitable league. So revenue in the sports arena is generated by competition not monopoly power. The EPL title went down to the last game whilst PSG won the Ligue 1 with 5 games left.

Source: Financial Times – 15th May 2019 – ‘Premier League wins by creating room at the top for football clubs’  by John Gapper.

Veblen Good – £42,000 a night at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London

Lucy Kellaway wrote an interesting piece in the FT about the cost of a nights stay at the most expensive hotel in London – a suite in the Mandarin Oriental will cost you £42,000 a night which is £10,000 to £20,000 more than London’s other most expensive suites.

You could say that the Mandarin hotel is a good example of conspicuous consumption which was introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. It is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. So-called Veblen goods reverse the normal logic of economics in that the higher the price the more demand for the product.

Over the last three decades conspicuous consumption has accelerated at a phenomenal level in the industrial world. Self-gratification could no longer be delayed and an ever-increasing variety of branded products became firmly ingrained within our individuality. The myth that the more we have the happier we become is self-perpetuating: the more we consume, the less able we are to tackle the myth.

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.


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

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