Archive for the 'Economic systems' Category

Apr 21 2008

Why learning economics is SO IMPORTANT! The case of Ban Ki Moon…

UN chief warns world must urgently increase food production – Yahoo! News

So you don’t say things that make you sound stupid to people who have studied economics, i.e. AP Econ students. Here’s UN chief Ban Ki Moon speaking at a UN conference in Ghana this week:

“One thing is certain, the world has consumed more (food) than it has produced” over the last three years, he said.

Ban blamed a host of causes for the soaring cost of food, including rising oil prices, the fall of the U.S. dollar and natural disasters.

He said he would put together a special task force to help deal with the problem and called on the international community to help…

“We need a real world and not the world of economic theories,” Ban said. “I will work on this right now with a sense of urgency.”

You know who says things like that? People who don’t understand the basic economic theories. Sadly, the theory Mr. Moon is missing here is one of our science’s most basic and simple to understand: that of supply and demand.

First of all, I’d just like to point out the absurdity of his first statement, that “the world has consumed more than it has produced.” Mr. Moon, I’d like to ask you this: If our world has not produced all the food we’ve consumed, then whose world DID produce it? Can’t we just call up the world where all the extra food we’ve consumed was grown and ask them to send us more?

Next, regarding Mr. Moon’s “task force” that he plans to form to deal with the problem, my question is this: What can a handful of bureaucrats accomplish around a table in New York that the market can’t do on its own? Rising food prices send signals to farmers who grow food; a signal that sends a very clear message: “GROW MORE FOOD!”

I’m sorry, but Mr. Moon and his “task force” can spend all the time and money they want brainstorming ways to get farmers to grow more food, but in the mean time the invisible hand of the market, guided by price signals sent from consumers to producers, will work its magic to allocate more resources towards food production and away from alternative uses of grain crops such as ethanol production, eventually shifting the supply curve of food out, stabilizing food prices.

Mr. Moon’s intentions are honorable, but his means of achieving his goal are misguided in an era of the market mechanism, which underpins most of the world’s agricultural economies today.

25 responses so far

Feb 11 2008

From the Help Desk – business cycles in command economies?

Jessica Ng asks,

Hi Mr. Welker,
I was just wondering whether the business cycle pertains to ALL economies, including both market and command economies?

Great question, Jessica. I thought I’d put this one out there for everyone to discuss. What do you think, readers? Based on what we’ve learned about the business cycle, would you think that this pattern of economic expansion, contraction, recession and recovery would be likely to happen in a command economy, where all economic decisions are made by a central planning agency? In other words, are business cycles unique to market economies, or can an economy run by the government also experience these patterns of instability? Post your thoughts in a comment below.

Powered by ScribeFire.

18 responses so far

Jan 14 2008

When markets work…

Michael Munger, Bosses Don’t Wear Bunny Slippers, If Markets Are So Great, Why Are There Firms: Library of Economics and Liberty

The other day when we introduced our unit on market failure, we began by revisiting the concept of free markets as mechanisms for allocating scarce resources efficiently. As I was reading blogs tonight, I stumbled upon this blog post by Michael Munger, professor of political economy at Duke University, where he shares an anecdote he uses when introducing the allocating power of markets through the price mechanism:

When I teach political economy, I start with the neoclassical theory of consumption, and then cover production. And I show students how miraculous is it that the actions of millions of people who have never met can be directed by prices. Resources move toward their highest valued use, and consumption goods are delivered to the consumers who want them.

For example, the United States promoted ethanol as an auto fuel. This sharply increased the price of corn worldwide. As Brazilian reporter Kieran Gartlan put it: “Higher prices are leading Brazilian farmers to plant more second crop corn this year, and the country’s modest corn exports are expected to expand [from 42 million tonnes to 48 million tonnes, an increase of 230 million bushels.]” (DTN, March 2, 2007, emphasis mine).

No one directed the Brazilian farmers to shift to corn production. The article puts it perfectly: “Higher prices are leading farmers….” The leadership comes from the prices themselves! The farmers may have had no idea why the price of corn had increased, to $4.00 per bushel. (After all, Brazil uses sugar, not corn, to produce its ethanol.) But Brazilian corn production increased within a year, by nearly 15%. No one made the farmers switch; they made choices. Other corn producers, in Argentina, Mexico, and several African countries, followed suit. No one talked about it, no one gave any orders; prices led them.

The reason I post this excerpt from professor Munger’s blog now is that it serves as a great response to a student who on the first day of our market failure class posited that perhaps the government could do a better job of deciding what goods and services and how much of them should be produced in an economy.

Yes, markets fail, and for many reasons: a concentration of power among a few large firms, an underallocation of resources towards goods that have spillover benefits, the over-provision of goods that have spillover costs, the failure of the market to provide public goods: these are examples of how market fail.

But when markets work, they really work! The efficiency of resource allocation that results from free, competitive, markets is unrivaled by any central planning agency. Munger’s example above is a simple illustration of this allocative power of markets and prices.

Powered by ScribeFire.

3 responses so far

Oct 13 2007

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – observations on my visit to the “other China”

SAS Sichuan Cycling Adventure – web albumWhat century am I in?

The last two weeks I have been leading student trips outside of Shanghai, first to the Philippines where 16 juniors and seniors built a house for Habitat for Humanity, and just today I returned from Sichuan Province where 24 students road their bikes through the fields of the Chengdu Basin and along the foothills of the Himalaya for three days.

Along the way on our cycling adventure we visited the Panda breeding center, the 2300 year old Qin Dynasty irrigation project at Dujiangyan, and several ancient villages preserved into modern times. On our way to the airport this morning our bus found itself in the middle of a village street market that I swear looked like it could have been 50 years back in time. There was not a private automobile to be seen, only Chinese “Forever” and “Flying Pigeon” bicycles (based on the 1937 American Raleigh design). Half the villagers were wearing the “Mao” costumes of what I thought was a bygone era in China, but it turns out this communist fashion has simply become isolated in the poor countryside, which is where we spent most of this week! Continue Reading »

Comments Off on “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – observations on my visit to the “other China”

Aug 25 2007

The magic of markets – missing in Zimbabwe!

Command vs. Market economics in Zimbabwe:
Mugabe’s decree on prices puts Zimbabwe economy in a tailspin – International Herald Tribune

And a blog post commenting on the news:Empty shelves in Zimbabwe
Managing Globalization » Economics 101 in Zimbabwe

Our first unit in AP Economics (and Friday’s lecture) examined the differences between command economies and market economies. One of the main points of yesterday’s lecture was that markets work because they result in an efficient allocation of resources towards the right products, using least-cost production methods, and putting those products in the hands of the people whose resources command the highest value in the resource market. If too much of one good is being produced and not enough of another, the “invisible hand” of the market will reallocate resources from the over-produced product to the under-produced product.

One of the reasons command economies fail is that central planners who attempt to control output and price, even when their intentions are to help consumers by assuring enough stuff is produced and available at an affordable price, are in essence acting against a basic economic law: that of supply and demand. In Zimbabwe, where inflation has reached nearly 10,000 percent (that means a candy bar that costs $1 today will cost $100 in a year!!) the president recently attempted to place price controls on all products by forcing merchants to slash their prices in half. The result? Food has vanished from the shelves of markets in Zimbabwe:

Essentials like bread, sugar and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished, seized by mobs of bargain-hunters who denuded stores like locusts in wheat fields. Meat is nonexistent. Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic.

Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl, because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss. Businesses are laying off workers or reducing their hours.

As our first AP unit “Basic Economic Concepts” winds down, this article and blog post seem timely to remind us of one of the core principles of Economics: the importance of prices and markets in allocating resources (land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship) towards producing the goods and services society most wants. Later in the year we’ll examine what happens when markets fail, which they often do; but at this point in the course it is important to understand that despite their failures and shortcomings, free markets rarely experience the chaos associated with command economies of the past, and even the present as the Zimbabwe example shows. In the words of Daniel Altman, the blogger linked above:

The Soviets, Chinese and some of their allies kept their tightly controlled economies going for quite a few decades, though not perhaps with unalloyed success (former backyard smelters in China will get the pun). Mugabe’s version hasn’t even lasted through a change of seasons. Now, there are still a few lingering arguments in academia and policy circles about the merits of command economies. But a poorly planned command economy – no one seems to want that. Can anything short of total collapse follow?

Any thoughts? Why did Mugabe’s attempt to help consumers by keeping prices low only make the problem worse? What does this say about markets versus planned economies? Discuss!

Powered by ScribeFire.

36 responses so far

« Prev - Next »