Archive for the 'Determinants of Demand' Category

Dec 17 2008

The questions no one seems to be asking about the auto industry bailout! | The Economists’ Forum | Will Americans demand the cars that Congress wants the big three to build?

It’s been driving me nuts, this whole bailout debate. My frustrations are definitely appartent to my students, who have had to put up with my occasional rants about the insanity of the whole affair since the issue came to the media forefront over a month ago. Here are some of the issues that just don’t add up from the perspective of a high school economics teacher:

The three companies asking for a bridge-loan supposedly want the money so that hundreds of thousands (some reports say as many as 2.6 million) jobs can be saved. But how could Ford, Chrystler and GM possibly maintain their labor force in a time of a recession when nobody is buying new cars in the first place? In the parlance of AP or IB Economics, automobiles are normal goods, ones for which demand falls as incomes fall. By definition, a recession in the United States means falling incomes. A government loan may allow the Big Three t keep making cars for the time being, but WHY WOULD THEY KEEP MAKING CARS when falling incomes point to falling demand in the immediate future? Making cars that nobody will buy represents a gross misallocation of the nation’s productive resources, not to mention taxpayers’ money. What is required of these industries is precisely what the government loan will prevent them from doing, DOWNSIZING, meaning the shrinking of their labor force as well as the number of plants in operation.

The US recession can not be avoided by allocating the nation’s scarce resources towards a bailout of the auto industry. In fact, it will be worsened because the capacity of any nation to emerge from a cyclical downturn requires the flexibility of the country’s labor force to adapt to the structural changes the country is experiencing in the era of globalization and free trade. America’s future does not reside in labor-intensive manufactured goods, especially in the production of a very expensive durable good for which demand falls drastically during recessions; specifically, automobiles.

The Finanacial Times Economists Forum approaches the issue of long-term falling demand for automobiles from another perspective. One of the conditions of the Big Three accepting a loan from the federal government is the mandate that Detroit will begin producing more fuel efficient automobiles to assure Americans more affordable, more environmentally friendly alternatives to the gas-guzzling SUVs that have dominated the industry for the last two decades. But here’s the problem, gasoline has fallen to a price as low as it was when SUVs were at their peak popularity back in the early 2000s! As any high school economics student knows, gasoline and SUVs are what we call complementary goods, or two goods for which demand and price are inversely related. As gas prices fall to their 2000 levels, demand for SUVs promises to rise once again, while demand for fuel-efficient automobiles will likely decline, creating market pressures for the Big Three to make not more fuel-efficient cars, but more SUVs instead! From the Financial Times:

The basic problem is that Americans like to drive sport-utility vehicles, minivans and small trucks when gasoline costs $1.50 a gallon…

Consumers may have regretted their behaviour when gasoline prices soared above $4 a gallon, but as gas prices descend, there is no reason to believe that left unchecked they will not return to their gas-guzzling ways.

Indeed, there is a distinct possibility that if they really do increase their small car production, in a few years the big three will be back asking for more help, on the grounds that they are losing money by doing exactly what Congress asked.

The only reasonable solution to this dilemma? If Congress DOES begin mandating that Detroit increase its production of fuel-efficient cars and phase out its manufacture of SUVs, any such requirement should be accompanied by a government-set price floor on gasoline. Several months ago, my colleague and fellow blogger Steve Latter blogged about a proposed price floor of $4 per gallon on gasoline. Such a scheme would likely prove nearly impossible to initiate politcally, but may be exactly what’s necessary to add legitimacy to any government requiremens of Detroit to manufacture fuel efficient automobiles. The FT appears to support such a scheme:

Congress should put their mouths where their money is. They should make binding commitments to ensure higher US oil prices and thereby sufficient demand for fuel-efficient cars and trucks in the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What message does falling demand in the auto market send from buyers to sellers, and what contradictory message does a subsidy from the government send to auto makers?
  2. If the auto makers receive a low-interest bridge loan (subsidy) from the government, how will this actually undermine the efficient functioning of markets in America?
  3. Why would a price floor on gasoline be needed to accompany a government requirement that the Big Three make more fuel efficient automobiles after receiving a government loan?

13 responses so far

Sep 19 2008

It’s all about DEMAND! / World – Air fares nosedive amid falling travel demand

Our IB and AP Econ classes here at Zurich International School have just begun our second unit of the year, where the concepts of Demand and Supply are introduced and the effect these have on prices is examined. The first assignment of the new unit was for each student to find an article discussing the demand for a particular good, service or resource, and post it to our Unit 2 wiki page.

If it’s ever unclear whether a change in demand for a good or a service can actually affect the price, the article linked here should make it perfectly clear that demand is a powerful market force. In an industry where it has seemed recently that prices only rise, a recent fall in market demand has driven prices downward, as firms have responded to consumer demand in order to sell their product, which in this case are seats on short and long-haul flights within and from Europe.

Falling demand for business and leisure travel is causing a marked decline in air fares, with UK fares to North America declining by nearly a half, according to American Express.

Air fares peaked earlier this year as a result of rising oil costs. But the slowing global economy has caused that to reverse.

The lowest economy class fares in Europe, the Middle East and Africa fell on average by 12.5 per cent in April to June compared with the first quarter, with long-haul fares down more than a quarter.

But UK fares suffered the sharpest falls, with the lowest economy fares down by an average of 20.2 per cent, including a 49 per cent fall in fares to North America and a 22 per cent decline in fares to Japan, Asia-Pacific and Australia.

Discussion questions:

  1. What factors are driving demand for air travel down within, to and from Europe?
  2. Why does the price of air travel fall as demand for air travel weakens?
  3. Which other industries may have to lower their prices as fewer and fewer people travel between European countries and North America?

14 responses so far

May 05 2008

“Living” evidence of a determinant of demand at work in the deserts of Northern India / Asia-Pacific / India – Camel demand soars in India

In a principles of economics course such as AP or IB Econ, we learn about the determinants of demand. I teach my students the acronym “TOEISS”, which stands for consumer tastes, other related goods’ prices, expectations, income, size of the market and special circumstances. A change in any of these determinants will shift the demand curve for a particular product.

“Other related goods” refers to the effect that a change in price for a substitute or a complement of one good will have on the demand for that good. An example might be the effect of an increase in the price of pork on demand for beef. Clearly, these two goods are substitutes in consumption, and if pork becomes pricey, consumers will demand more beef.

In an era of soaring gasoline prices, many consumers have made the switch from large, inefficient, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs to smaller, more efficient hybrids and compact cars, a reasonable substitute for the average commuter. For some drivers, however, a hybrid just won’t meet their everyday needs.

In northern India, where farmers rely on tractors to till their arid fields, rising gas prices have made expensive tractors, dependent as they are on large inputs of fuel, less attractive to farmers. As gas prices have risen, demand patterns have shifted among farmers in the northern state of Rajasthan:

As the cost of running gas-guzzling tractors soars, even-toed ungulates are making a comeback, raising hopes that a fall in the population of the desert state’s signature animal can be reversed.

It’s excellent for the camel population if the price of oil continues to go up because demand for camels will also go up,” says Ilse Köhler-Rollefson of the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. “Two years ago, a camel cost little more than a goat, which is nothing. The price has since trebled…

”Market prices for these “ships of the desert”, which crashed with the growing affordability of motorised transport, are rising again as oil prices soar.

A sturdy male with a life expectancy of 60-80 years now fetches up to Rs40,000 ($973), compared to Rs5,000-Rs10,000 three years ago, according to Hanuwant Singh of the Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan, a non-profit welfare organisation for livestock keepers. Entry-level tractors cost around $4,000.

Camels, the ultimate “alternative energy vehicle”. In fact, the only fuel these vehicles need is the occasional bite of grass and a weekly sip of water; talk about fuel economy!

While it may seem funny to those of us so used to the motor vehicle, animals represent a viable substitute for farm machinery in the developing world, and it is likely that as fuel costs continue to soar, more poor farmers will switch back to traditional means of tilling their soil. Water buffalo, cattle, camels, these are all substitutes for the gas powered tractor. Demand for these “alternative vehicles” will rise as fuel costs climb.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is causing the demand for camels to increase in India?
  2. What will happen to demand for camels if the price of oil begins to fall again in the future? Explain.
  3. Do you think the camel is a viable “alternative energy vehicle”? What are the pros and cons of using a camel for farming compared to using a tractor for farming?

6 responses so far

May 01 2008

More on Obama, Clinton, and the “gas tax holiday”

Clinton thinks suspending the gas tax for the summer is good for Americans. She says that any revenue lost can be made up for by taxing the profits of oil companies.

Obama thinks it will cause more harm than good to the economy. He says the $9 billion of government revenue foregone could have done more good for the economy through job creation and road maintenance than the $25 each American driver will save with a suspension of the gas tax.

They’re both using their positions on the gas tax to garner more support among Democratic voters in Indiana and North Carolina, where next week’s key primaries will be held.

Greg Mankiw
, Harvard economist, has this to say about Hillary’s plan:

I don’t know any prominent economist who favors this McCain-Clinton proposal. More common is the reaction of a friend of mine (a veteran of the Clinton administration) who calls the idea “ludicrous.”

Sometimes a candidate’s position on one particular issue, even a relatively minor one like a federal gas tax that most Americans probably didn’t even know they were paying when they filled up their tanks, draws clear lines around a candidate’s values.

Clinton’s ‘Trouble’ ad

Obama Takes On Clinton and McCain on Gas Tax Holiday

It should be noted that while Obama is probably right that a gas tax suspension will only save drivers a pittance, his economics is slightly flawed. Here’s Tim Haab of Environmental Economics blog responding to Obama’s claim that a gas tax holiday could actually increase demand for gas thus raise gas prices:

Wrong, wrong, wrong: A lower gas price causes quantity demanded to increase as consumers move down the demand curve. The only things that cause gas demand to change are changes in income, prices of substitutes and complements, tastes and preferences and expectations… I demand a retraction.

Who are these “some economists” that Obama is talking about? Did they get their degrees from an SEC school or something? Name names so that we can have an econoblogosphere beatdown! Out these blasphemers!

Note: I think Obama got the $25 to $30 number correct.

Mr. Haab is technically correct when it comes to basic economic theory. Repealing the gas tax should shift supply out, not demand, as taxes are a determinant of supply. Rather than demand changing, quantity demanded by drivers will increase, in response to the increased supply and lower prices.

What I do think could happen, however, is that expectations of future price increases might incentivize drivers to increase their demand for gas over the summer. This Mr. Haab seems to oversee. When August roles around and drivers know that come Labor day the gas tax will kick in again, they may chose to take a family road trip that they otherwise would have postponed, shifting overall demand for gas out, driving prices up.

In the case of a temporary suspension of an excise tax on any good, there is always the expectation that the price will increase again in the future. This could lead to hoarding or stockpiling of the good, increasing overall demand and driving the price up before the tax has even returned.

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Nov 26 2007

Black Friday sales data: what does it tell us about American consumers?

Holiday weekend retail sees big crowds, but no splurging – Nov. 25, 2007

Black Friday; a most interesting phenomenon of American culture. A day when consumer demand in retail product markets is at its strongest, the day after Thanksgiving when, still lightheaded from excess tryptophan and mashed potato intakes and an NFL overdose from the previous day, millions of Americans stumble full-bellied from their beds and flock to the malls and big box retail outlets of suburban America to give thanks to the gods of consumerism: Wal-mart, Target, JCPenny, Nordstroms, Macey’s… all the holy temples of our sacred religion open their golden gates to the hoards of consumption-crazed pilgrims, all hoping to pay tribute to their beloved deities with their almighty dollars.

Although deep discounts brought out much bigger crowds of holiday bargain hunters, a major retail trade group said Sunday that shoppers actually spent less money this year over the crucial Thanksgiving weekend.

The National Retail Foundation’s (NRF’s) 2007 Black Friday Weekend Survey said more than 147 million shoppers hit the stores over the Black Friday weekend, up 4.8 percent from last year.

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11 responses so far

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