Archive for November, 2009

Nov 27 2009

Forget bonds, gold, stocks, or real estate; try investing in some Garlic!

Swine flu fear leads to shortage of garlic in China – Telegraph.

My colleague this morning happened to ask if I had heard about the garlic bubble in China. A quick news search led me to the story:

Garlic prices have increased fifteen fold in China in under a year because Chinese investors are said to be attempting to create an artificial shortage and drive up prices.

Chefs and housewives in some cities are struggling to get hold of one of the nation’s favourite ingredients, which has passed gold and oil to become the China’s best-performing asset.

Several factors have led to the “garlic bubble” in China. Firstly, low prices of garlic last year:

Falling garlic prices last year have contributed to the shortage with many farmers discouraged from planting the crop again…

To compound the problem, supplies of garlic have been further reduced due to speculation. Yes, speculators are hoarding warehouses full of garlic to drive price up in the face of rising demand. Chinese believe that garlic has medicinal properties and is therefore a remedy for swine flu. This year’s unusually high level of demand is attributable to the flu epidemic and Chinese desire to consume more garlic to fend off the illness.

The result of all these combined factors is illustrated below. The low prices in 2008 led to farmers to cut back on production, reducing supply to S2009normal. What the farmers did not predict, however, is the rise in demand due to swine flu. The reduced supply is exacerbated by speculators buying up output and warehousing it, shifting supply further left to S2009w/speculation.

As can be seen, prices have risen, but shortages persist. It should be expected, therefore, that prices will continue to rise until the shortages are eliminated. On the other hand, the speculators may begin to release their hoarded supplies, shifting supply outward and restoring equilibrium closer to the current price.

A third possibility is that the swine flu epidemic will subside and demand will return to a normal level. This, of course, would spell doom for speculators who put millions of RMB into garlic who would then find themselves with “assets” that had lost their value. This would mean the proverbial “bursting of the bubble”. This final possibility seems unlikely anytime soon, for among the Chinese, traditional beliefs run deep, and with the lack of widespread access to a swine flu vaccine, garlic will likely remain the remedy of choice for the country’s masses.

ChinaGarlic

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Nov 21 2009

AP and IB Exam Questions of the Week

AP Question of the week:

Refer to the graph to answer the questions that follow:

  1. The graph above shows the short-run costs faced by a firm in a perfectly competitive industry. Identify the cost curves that are denoted by each of the following:
    1. Curve 1
    2. Curve 2
    3. Curve 3
  2. Explain why Curve 1 intersects Curves 2 and 3 at the precise points that it does.
  3. Identify and explain the economic “law” that determines and HOW it determines the shape of Curve 1.
  4. At which price(s) would this firm be earning economic profits when producing at quantity Q1? Explain.
  5. At which price(s) would this firm shut down when producing at Q1? Explain

IB Question of the week:

  1. Explain how, in theory, a flexible exchange rate system should lead to the automatic stabilization of a nation’s current account balance. Use supply and demand diagrams to illustrate your answer
  2. Referencing the Marshal Lerner Condition, explain the possible effects of a depreciation of a nation’s currency on its current account balance.

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Nov 20 2009

Another Mankiw problem for the motivated Micro student!

Greg Mankiw’s Blog: Take Out Your Pencils 2

Harvard’s Greg Mankiw just keep them coming! Here’s another micro problem from the esteemed professor and textbook author’s blog. Several readers enjoyed challenging themselves with his last Micro problem, so I will re-publish Mankiw’s test question here to see if people can solve it in the comment section on this blog (sorry Professor Mankiw, you have comments turned off on your blog, so how are your readers to know if they have solved it correctly?)

The town of Wiknam has 5 residents whose only activity is producing and consuming fish. They produce fish in two ways. Each person who works on a fish farm raises 2 fish per day. Each person who goes fishing in the town lake catches X fish per day. X depends on N, the number of residents fishing in the lake. In particular,

X = 6 – N.

Each resident is attracted to the job that pays more fish.

a. Why do you suppose that X, the productivity of each fisherman, falls as N, the number of fishermen, rises? What economic term would you use to describe the fish in the town lake? Would the same description apply to the fish from the farms? Explain.

b. The town’s Freedom Party thinks every individual should have the right to choose between fishing in the lake and farming without government interference. Under its policy, how many of the residents would fish in the lake and how many would work on fish farms? How many fish are produced?

c. The town’s Efficiency Party thinks Wiknam should produce as many fish as it can. To achieve this goal, how many of the residents should fish in the lake and how many should work on the farms? (Hint: Create a table that shows the number of fish produced—on farms, from the lake, and in total—for each N from 0 to 5.)

d. The Efficiency Party proposes achieving its goal by taxing each person fishing in the lake by an amount equal to T fish per day and distributing the proceeds equally among all Wiknam residents. Calculate the value of T that would yield the outcome you derived in part (c).

e. Compared with the Freedom Party’s hands-off policy, who benefits and who loses from the imposition of the Efficiency Party’s fishing tax?

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Nov 15 2009

Welker’s daily links 11/14/2009

  • AP Macro and IB teachers should read this review of George Akerlof and Robert Schiller’s book “Animal Spirits”. There are some great points in this piece that can be brought into the AP or IB classroom with regards to the assumption of rational behavior and more importantly the Keynesian/Classical debate on Macroeconomic policy issues.

    tags: Keynes, rational behavior, free markets, markets, macroeconomics, animal spirits, fiscal policy, efficiency

    • The last two years, in which capitalism has suffered one of its periodic shocks, have given John Maynard Keynes a new lease of life. Events have demonstrated the limits of the theory that economies can be relied on to be stable if they are lightly regulated and otherwise left to themselves. There is now much talk of the paradox of thrift, whereby the rational choices of individuals can prove collectively ruinous, and of the need for government to counteract the inherently anarchic tendencies of markets. Keynes has been revived because he understood that markets are very often irrational. Unfortunately, few of those who urge that we go back to him seem to have understood why he believed this.
    • Apart from a brief postscript to one of the chapters and a few remarks in the preface, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller’s Animal Spirits was written before the current crisis. Yet, based on research undertaken over many years, it can be read as prefiguring the current disillusionment with economics. The trouble with prevailing theories, in Akerlof and Shiller’s view, is that they assume human beings are more rational than they actually are. ‘This book, which draws on an emerging field called behavioural economics, describes how the economy really works,’ they claim. ‘It accounts for how it works when people really are human, that is, possessed of all-too-human animal spirits.’
    • ‘Just as Adam Smith’s invisible hand is the keynote of classical economics,’ they write, ‘Keynes’s animal spirits are the keynote to a different view of the economy – a view that explains the underlying instabilities of capitalism.’ Here they are endorsing the caricature of Smith propagated by neoliberal ideologues anxious to confer a distinguished patrimony on an illegitimate intellectual offspring.
    • Shackle took Keynes’s argument a step further, and showed that no economic policy can ensure economic stability indefinitely. ‘Keynesian’ policies are no exception to this rule. Deficit financing and monetary expansion may have worked well in the conditions that existed after the Second World War. It is not clear that they will be so effective today, when globalisation has brought a freedom of capital movements that did not exist then.
    • Economics and politics are not separate branches of human activity, and economic life cannot be studied independently of social divisions and political conflicts among populations, along with their cultures and religions.

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

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Nov 12 2009

NEW! Exam Questions of the Week

Always looking for new ways to help students and teachers better grasp and learn economics, I have decided to begin a new feature on this blog. Once a week, I will post sample examination questions similar to those found on both the Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate exams. The purpose is to provide teachers and students with original questions that they can use for discussion in their own classes or as warm-up activities to begin a class.

The sections of the syllabus covered will vary each week, and will most likely reflect the topics I’m currently covering in my four economics classes. Since I teach both year 1 and year 2 IB Economics, AP Macro and AP Micro, the questions could cover any and all sections of the IB and AP syllabi. I will make it clear which section each question covers, as well as whether it is an IB style or AP style question.

So, without further ado, your first “Exam Questions of the Week”

IB Question of the week: Unit 4 – International Economics

Explain why a country’s large current account deficit puts downward pressure on its exchange rate and and why this may be inflationary for the country.

AP Question of the week: Unit 2.2 – Elasticities

Assume that hamburgers and french fries are complementary goods. The government decides to begin taxing the production of beef, an input in the production of hamburgers.

For each of the following markets, draw a supply and demand diagram showing the effect of a tax on beef producers.

  1. The beef market
  2. The hamburger market
  3. the French fry market

Assume that the demand for hamburgers inelastic in the short-run. How will the tax on beef affect the revenues of hamburger producers.

In the long-run demand for hamburgers is elastic. Explain why this may be.

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