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?

Oct 20 2009

## Would a soda tax make Americans better off?

Econ professor and blogger Tim Haab has posted a great story on market failure, efficiency and corrective taxes at his blog, Environmental Economics: I love when someone else does my work for me.

With appreciation, I re-post his blog here in its entirety. Tim’s “Questions to consider” are perfect for IB and AP Econ students to answer in their Market Failure unit. Read and answer Tim’s discussion questions in the comments:

Today’s Econ 101 topic–actually AED Economics 200 but same diff–the deadweight loss from taxes in otherwise well-functioning markets. In my neverending–futile?–attempt to stay current, I plan to use this example from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to help pay for an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system.

The taxes would pay for only a fraction of the cost to expand health-insurance coverage to all Americans and would face strong opposition from the beverage industry. They also could spark a backlash from consumers who would have to pay several cents more for a soft drink.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based watchdog group that pressures food companies to make healthier products, plans to propose a federal excise tax on soda, certain fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and ready-to-drink teas. It would not include most diet beverages. Excise taxes are levied on goods and manufacturers typically pass them on to consumers.

The Congressional Budget Office, which is providing lawmakers with cost estimates for each potential change in the health overhaul, included the option in a broad report on health-system financing in December. The office estimated that adding a tax of three cents per 12-ounce serving to these types of sweetened drinks would generate \$24 billion over the next four years. So far, lawmakers have not indicated how big a tax they are considering.

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs. At least a dozen states already have some type of taxes on sugary beverages, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Questions to consider:

1. How do you reconcile the seemingly conflicting goals of reducing soda consumption and raising revenues to pay for health care?
2. Which effect do you expect to dominate: reduction in quantity demanded due to higher prices or increased revenue from higher prices?
3. Assuming the market for sodas (pop around here) is currently working efficiently, what effect do you expect a new tax to have on consumer well-being, producer well-being, government revenue and total social welfare?
4. What role do the elasticity of demand and elasticity of supply play in your answers to 1,2 and 3?

Sep 29 2009

## Letting markets work: the Malaysia fuel subsidy goes bye bye

Asia Sentinel – Malaysia cuts fuel subsidy

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the conflict between good politics and good economics. Most of the time in government, smart economic policy is sacrificed in order to achieve political favor with voters. Whether it’s price ceilings on petrol in China, Zimbabwe’s slashing of food prices, harmful import restrictions to benefit domestic producers, or the proposed suspension of gas taxes in a time when fuel conservation is really what’s needed, politicians often act in economically stupid ways to bolster or hang on to their popularity.

So when a government makes a bold move that is economically sound, it sometimes comes as a surprise, as in the case of the Malaysian government this week. The government in Kuala Lumpur has for years subsidized domestic fuel prices, which at under 2 Malaysian Ringit per liter have been the equivelant of roughly \$2.40 US per gallon, far below the average price in the west. Drivers benefited from this subsidy, but were not forced to bear any of the burden of rising oil prices, nor had they any incentive to conserve or switch to more fuel efficient automobiles or alternative forms of transportation. The Malaysian government, on the other hand, has had to allocate more and more of its limited budget towards subsidizing petrol prices.

Well, as of yesterday, all price supports for petrol are cancelled, and the effect will be sweeping in the Malaysian economy:

The government announced Wednesday evening that petrol prices would rise by 78 sen (US24¢) at midnight — a 41 percent jump from RM1.92 per liter to RM2.70. That means those spending RM2,000 per month to fill the tanks of their BMWs will now be paying RM2,820. Regardless of income levels, it is likely most Malaysians will feel the pinch.

The subsidy would have cost the Malaysian government 56 billion ringit (around \$17 billion) this year. With the money it will now save by ending the subsidy, the government will begin making public transport cheaper and more convenient for commuters who wish to avoid paying for the more expensive petrol to fuel their personal automobiles:

The government hopes to channel the savings into improving public transportation, as it promised many years and elections ago but with little to show. In Kuala Lumpur, despite having a light rail train service and monorail, public transportation is expensive and inconvenient. Worse, intercity travel is still being serviced by old and slow trains, and accident-prone buses.

Malaysia is not the only country taking measures to end government fuel-price supports:

Indonesia has hiked fuel prices by an average of 29 percent, saving about 34.5 trillion rupiah and kicking off a series of street demonstrations… Similarly, after slashing subsidies, Taiwan will distribute US\$659 million to middle and low-income families. The latest to raise oil prices is India, whose government announced Wednesday that gasoline and diesel prices will increase by 10 percent.

As more and more countries allow the market mechanism to work, and in the short-run fuel prices rise with the price of oil, the chances are that the long-run equilibrium price of petrol will actually begin to fall.Price controls and subsidies distort market demand. In Malaysia, where a government subsidy kept the price consumers paid around 2 RM, the quantity demanded exceeded the free market quantity. With the removal of the subsidy, consumers will respond by driving less, reducing overall quantity demanded for petrol. As other Asian nations follow suit, global quantity demanded for petrol will decline, while higher prices incentivize producers to increase output. New prouction facilities will come online, just as drivers begin to find alternative ways to get to work, either through carpooling, public transportation, cycling or walking.

The combined effect of slowing increases in demand (or perhaps even a decline in demand if enough substitution of alternative forms of transportation takes place), and increases in supply as new production facilities come on line will be a stabilization and eventual fall in the price of oil.

The future fall in oil prices is explained in more detail here. Malaysia’s repealing of the fuel subsidy is one example of how markets work to restore equilibrium in a market such as that for oil today, where short-term bubbles always burst. \$135 oil is probably not here to stay, if only the market is allowed to works its magic.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why does a subsidy create disequilibrium in a product market like the petrol market in Malaysia?
2. Give two examples of how consumers may respond to the 40% increase in petrol prices once the subsidy is removed in Malaysia.
3. How could making fuel more expensive to consumers in the short-run actually lead to a fall in oil and fuel prices in the long-run?

May 20 2009

## AP Economics – will it evolve to a changing economic reality?

A.P. Economics vs. Real Life – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com

Econ Exams: Are The Correct Answers Still Right? : NPR

Listen to the 3 minute NPR podcast here

It’s interesting to me that AP Economics has gotten two major mentions in the mainstream media recently, both asking the same question: Does high school Economics teach kids about the real world anymore?

Both the New York Times and NPR refer to a past AP Macro multiple choice question, this one from the NYT:

Policy makers concerned about fostering long-run growth in an economy that is currently in a recession would most likely recommend which of the following combinations of monetary and fiscal policy actions?
MONETARY POLICY…/…FISCAL POLICY
a. sell bonds…/…reduce taxes
b. sell bonds…/…raise taxes
c. no change…/…raise taxes

The correct answer, as readers should know, is e. Buying bonds increases the money supply and lowers interest rates, while choosing not to engage in expansionary fiscal policy means no crowding out of private investment will occur and thus “fostering long-run growth” in the economy.

The NYT blogger writes:

But that answer does not even remotely resemble what policy makers have actually done in response to the current crisis (or, for that matter, in response to previous recessions).

It’s true, the severity of the current recession has forced the government and Fed to create new monetary and fiscal tricks, but the fundamentals behind a response indicated in answer e. still hold true. Lowering interest rates to encourage private investment is a pro-growth policy for correcting a mild recession.

Anyway, I think it’s worth listening to the podcast from NPR and reading the blog post from the NYT. Definitely read the comments on the blog post too, some interesting points are made by readers.

Comments Off on AP Economics – will it evolve to a changing economic reality?

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.”

• ## Order Welker’s books

for IB Economics

for AP Macro