Archive for March, 2009

Mar 13 2009

Robert Reich on Obama’s “cap and trade” plan for the environment

Robert Reich’s Blog: Is Obamanomics Conservative or Revolutionary?

Former Secretary of Labor and Berkely Economist thinks Obama’s federal government budget is conservative and responsible. He also likes Obama’s plan for tackling environmental problems, which uses the “cap and trade” system of using a market to internalize the environmental costs of firms’ production which in the past have been externalized due to lack of effective regulation.

What about the environment? Isn’t cap and trade a huge deal? Not at all. Instead of heavy-handed regulation it’s a market solution to the problem of global warming. Government merely sets an overall cap on the amount of carbon dioxide to be allowed into the atmosphere, which drops annually, and then requires firms to bid for permits to pollute within that overall cap. Firms can buy and sell permits to each other; they can innovate to reduce pollution even further. Such a system will generate enough revenues to give 95 percent of Americans a yearly refundable tax credit of $400, and also finance research and development of renewable energy and a modernized electricity grid.

There’s much more to this excellent post by economist Robert Reich, and I recommend anyone interested in economics give it a read.

Below is an illustration of the effect that a “cap and trade” program will have on the cost of firms to pollute, showing that over time the amount of permissible pollution can be tightened thereby increasing the incentive for firms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Mar 13 2009

Welker’s daily links 03/12/2009

Published by under Daily Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Mar 10 2009

Negative externalities of consumption: Britain’s “inebriated hooligans”

Some Britons Too Unruly for Resorts in Europe –

According to the article above, Great Britain exports more trouble to the rest of Europe than any other nation.

A recent report published by the British Foreign Office, “British Behavior Abroad,” noted that in a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, 602 Britons were hospitalized and 28 raped in Greece, and that 1,591 died in Spain and 2,032 were arrested there.The report did not distinguish between medical cases and arrests associated with drunkenness and those that had nothing to do with it. But it did say that “many arrests are due to behavior caused by excessive drinking.”

The unruly behavior of Britons does not always end when the vacation is over, either:

Earlier this summer, flying home to Manchester from the Greek island of Kos, a pair of drunken women yelling “I need some fresh air” attacked the flight attendants with a vodka bottle and tried to wrestle the airplane’s emergency door open at 30,000 feet. The plane diverted hastily to Frankfurt, and the women were arrested.

How is this story related to economics, you may be wondering? Well, it’s really about a market failure. The over-consumption of alcohol by British tourists is creating spillover costs for the societies (and police forces) of the nations in which the tourists get themselves into trouble.

As governments often do when market failures exists, some British consulates have begun taking action to reduce the negative externatlities associated with their nationals’ drunkenness.

Worried about the increase in crimes and accidents afflicting drunken tourists, the British consulate in Athens has begun several campaigns, using posters, beach balls and coasters with snappy slogans, to encourage young visitors to drink responsibly.

“When things do go wrong, they go wrong in quite a big way,” said Alison Beckett, the director of consular services. “What we’re trying to do here is reduce some of these avoidable accidents where they have so much to drink that they fall off balconies and are either killed or need huge operations.”

Because British tourists only consider their own enjoyment (benefits) while on vacation, they consume alcohol at a level that fails to take into account the social costs of their behavior. In economic terms, the marginal private benefit of alcohol consumption exceeds the marginal social benefit, representing an overallocation of resources towards alcohol in tourist towns. Government action by British consulates is aimed at reducing demand (marginal private benefit) among tourists, shifting the MPB curve back towards the MSB curve, in the hope  that alcohol consumption will decline to the socially optimal level, where marginal social benefit equals marginal social cost.

There seems to be a fine line between too much drinking and not enough in the tourist spots of Europe. As far as the impact that British drunkenness has on business, some in the tourist trade believe the very prospect of wild parties and cheap booze is what keep the local economies afloat. Crack down too much on the wild Britons, and business could collapse as customers attracted to the anarchy stop arriving.

Discussion questions:

  1. Is overconsumption of alcohol a market failure? If so, what type could it be classified as?
  2. If the tourist nations were serious about cracking down on drunk tourists, what economic actions could they take in the resort communities where most of the trouble occurs?
  3. How are proprietors of bars and clubs in resort communities benefiting at the expense taxpayers from other parts of the tourist nations? Does the private cost of running a bar in a place like Malia, Greece reflect the social cost? Explain.

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Mar 09 2009

New WW Study Guide availalbe: Unit 2.4 Market Failure and the Role of Government

Another unit of Welker’s Wikinomics Study Guides is now available for download on the W.W. Study Guides page of this blog. The latest edition is IB Unit 2.4 Market Failure and the Role of Government. Below is an outline of the unit. It can be downloaded for free as a .pdf or the .notebook file can be ordered if you are a teacher who uses Smart Boards to teach Economics. Enjoy!


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Mar 05 2009

Some good news for Swiss businesses and workers during hard economic times

Two items consisting of good news from the local English language news in Switzerland. The first article says that small and medium-sized enterprises, in other words family owned businesses, are likely to come out of a global economic slowdown relatively unscathed and healthy.

Swiss SMEs are well placed to survive the economic recession. – swissinfo

Family-run firms in Switzerland are well set to survive the global recession having put long-term growth before quick profits in the good years, a report concludes.

Such small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for more than 88 per cent of all Swiss companies, are also cushioned by an aversion to taking on too much debt but still face succession problems.

The survey of 300 Swiss family-owned SMEs found that 68 per cent of companies are less motivated by making money than in maintaining the good name of the firm.

Some 83 per cent of owners put the healthy state of their company down to risk aversion and 39 per cent said long-term planning was crucial to success.

Swiss family business consultant Hakan Hillerström contributed to the study by Barclays Wealth and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Often, without a stock market listing, family businesses are insulated from the need to meet the short-term demands of investors and so are better placed to ride out volatility than their listed peers,” he said.

Second is a story about the mobility of skilled labor in Switzerland. When global demand for one of Switzerland’s most famous exports, watches, falls, Swiss watch makers are snatched up and employed by other industries in which demand is actually increasing during the recession: namely, rail car engineering and construction. Similar skills are required of workers in both industries, watches and rail cars. I suspect demand for rail cars has increased because of the multiple fiscal stimulus packages being initiated around Europe, many of which include funding for infrastructure expansion, including upgrading and expanding rail networks.

I am impressed by the flexibility of labor markets in Switzerland in times of economic hardship. Such labor mobility as demonstrated below helps Switzerland weather economic woes more easily than it would if workers laid off from one industry could not easily find employment in others, such as is the case in many countries.

Enterprises in Vaud to exchange workers to beat redundancies. – swissinfo

Skilled workers from the Swiss watchmaking industry could soon find themselves building locomotives instead.

A new project to meet the challenges posed by the financial crisis has been launched in the French-speaking canton of Vaud, with the backing of the major trade union and employers associations, as well as the cantonal government.

The idea is that businesses experiencing a temporary shortfall in orders will be able to lend their workers to others facing a shortage of labour.

“It’s pretty ridiculous to pay people to sit around and do nothing,” Yves Defferrard of the Unia trade union told swissinfo. “But when they have no work for them, employers can often think of nothing better than to lay them off. That’s the wrong way to manage a crisis. It’s what happened in the downturn of 2000.”

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