Archive for the 'Market failure' Category

Mar 04 2013

Monopoly prices – to regulate or not to regulate, that is the question!

Competitively Priced Electricity Costs More, Studies Show – New York Times

The problem with monopolies, as our AP students have learned, is that a monopolistic firm, left to its own accord, will most likely choose to produce at an output level that is much lower and provide their product at a price that is much higher than would result from a purely competitive industry.Regulated Monopoly A monopolist will produce where its price is greater than its marginal cost, indicating an under-allocation of resources towards the product. By restricting output and raising its price, the monopolist is assured maximum profits, but at the cost to society of less overall consumer surplus or welfare.

Unfortunately, in some industries, because of the wide range of output over which economies of scale are experienced, it sometimes makes the most sense for only one firm to participate. Such markets are called “natural monopolies” and some examples are cable television, utilities, natural gas, and other industries that have large economies of scale. (click graph to see full-sized)

Government regulators face a dilemma in dealing with natural monopolistic industries such as the electricity industry. A electricity company with a monopoly in a particular market will base its price and output decision on the profit maximization rule that all unregulated firms will; they’ll produce at the level where their marginal revenue is equal to their marginal cost. The problem is, for a monopolist its marginal revenue is less than the price it has to charge, which means that at the profit maximizing level of output (where MR=MC), marginal cost will be less than price: evidence of allocative inefficiency (i.e. not enough electricity will be produced and the price will be too high for some consumers to afford).

Here arises the need for government regulation. A government concerned with getting the right amount of electricity to the right number of people (allocative efficiency) may choose to set a price ceiling for electricity at the level where the price equals the firm’s marginal cost. This, however, will likely be below the firm’s average total cost (remember, ATC declines over a WIDE RANGE of output), a scenario which would result in losses for the firm, and may lead it to shut down altogether. So what most governments have done in the past is set a price ceiling where the price is equal to the firm’s average total cost, meaning the firm will “break even”, earning only a “normal profit”; essentially just enough to keep the firm in business; this is known as the “fair-return price”.

Below AP Economics teacher Jacob Clifford illustrates and explains this regulatory dilemma. Watch the video and see how he shows the effect of the two price control options on the firm’s output and the price in the market.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2ePDt6-k8Q[/youtube]

The article above examines the differences in the price of electricity in states which regulate their electricity prices and states that have adopted “market” or unregulated pricing, in which firms are free to produce at the MR=MC level:

“The difference in prices charged to industrial companies in market states compared with those in regulated ones nearly tripled from 1999 to last July, according to the analysis of Energy Department data by Marilyn Showalter, who runs Power in the Public Interest, a group that favors traditional rate regulation.

The price spread grew from 1.09 cents per kilowatt-hour to 3.09 cents, her analysis showed. It also showed that in 2006 alone industrial customers paid $7.2 billion more for electricity in market states than if they had paid the average prices in regulated states.”

The idea of deregulation of electricity markets was that removing price ceilings would lead to greater economic profits for the firms, which would subsequently attract new firms into the market. More competitive markets should then drive prices down towards the socially-optimal price, benefiting consumers and producers by forcing them to be more productively efficient in order to compete (remember “Economic Darwinism”?). It appears, however, that higher prices have not, as hoped, led to lower prices:

“Since 1999, prices for industrial customers in deregulated states have risen from 18 percent above the national average to 37 percent above,” said Mrs. Showalter, an energy lawyer and former Washington State utility regulator.

In regulated states, prices fell from 7 percent below the national average to 12 percent below, she calculated…

In market states, electricity customers of all kinds, from homeowners to electricity-hungry aluminum plants, pay $48 billion more each year for power than they would have paid in states with the traditional system of government boards setting electric rates…”

That $48 billion represents higher costs of production for other firms that require large inputs of energy in their own production, higher electricity bills for cash-strapped households, and greater profits and shareholder dividends for the powerful firms that provide the power. On the bright side, higher prices for electricity should lead to more careful and conservative use of power, reducing Americans’ impact on global warming (since the vast majority of the country’s power is generated using fossil fuels).

Here arises another question? Should we be opposed to higher profits for powerful electricity firms if their profits result in much needed energy conservation and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions? An environmental economist might argue that if customers are to pay higher prices for their energy, it might as well be in the form of a carbon tax, which rather than increasing profits for a monopolistic firm would generate revenue for the government. In theory tax revenue could be used to subsidize or otherwise promote the development and use of “green energies”.

Whether customers paying higher prices for traditionally under-priced electricity is a good or bad thing depends on your views of conservation. But whether higher profits for a powerful electricity company are more desirable than increased tax revenue for the government are beneficial for society or not seems clear. If we’re paying higher prices, the resulting revenue is more likely to be put towards socially desirable uses if it’s in the government’s hands rather than in the pockets of shareholders of fossil fuel burning electricity monopolies.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do governments regulate the prices in industries such as natural gas and electricity?
  2. Why would a state government think that de-regulation of the electricity industry might eventually result in lower prices in the long-run?
  3. Why, in reality, did the price of electricity in unregulated electricity markets ultimately increase so much that consumers in the market states paid billions of dollars more than in regulated states?
  4. What industries besides that for electricity share characteristics that might qualify them as “natural monopolies”? Which of the industries you identified should be regulated by government, and WHY?

230 responses so far

Jan 08 2013

Income Inequality and Asymmetric Information as Market Failures – student animations

The following animations were made by this year’s grade 12 IB Economics students when they were studying market failure in the 11th grade. They are meant to show scenarios that demonstrate two types of market failure that may arise in society: asymmetric information and income inequality.

Watch the videos and answer the questions that follow.

Income Inequality:

Discussion Questions: After watching your assigned video, answer the questions that follow

  1. In the animation you watched, what was the “market” that was being discussed?
  2. According to the dialogue, how does a market failure lead to the existence of income inequality?

Information Asymmetry

Discussion Questions: After watching your assigned video, answer the questions that follow

  1. In the animation you watched, what was the “market” that was being discussed?
  2. How did asymmetric information between the buyer and seller in the market lead to a market failure?

2 responses so far

Jan 08 2013

Income inequality as a Market Failure

The prevalence of income inequality in free market economies indicates that inequality may be the result of a market failure. Those who are born rich are more likely to become rich, while individuals who are born poor are more likely to live a life of relative poverty. In a “free” market, it is believed, all individuals possess an equal opportunity to succeed, but due to a mis-allocation of resources in a purely market economy, this may not always be the case.

The resources I refer to here are those required for an individual to escape poverty and earn a higher income. These include public and merit goods that those with high incomes can afford to consume, while those in poverty depend on the provision of from the state, including:

  • Good education
  • Dependable health care
  • Access to professional networks and the employment opportunities they provide

Whenever a market failure exists, it can be argued that there is a role for government in regulating the market to achieve a more optimal distribution of resources. When it comes to income inequality, government intervention typically comes in the form of a tax system that places a larger burden on the rich, and a system of government programs that transfer income from the rich to poor, including welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, healthcare for low income households, public schools and support for economic development in poor communities.

Many politicians and some economists like to argue that income inequality is not as evil as many people make it out to be, and that greater income inequality can actually increase the incentive for poorer households to work harder to get rich, contributing to the economic growth of the nation as a whole. Allowing the rich to keep more of their income, in this way, leads more people to want to work hard to get rich, as they will be able to enjoy the rewards of their hard work.

Another common argument is that higher income inequality leads to social and economic disruptions that can slow economic growth and bring an economy into a recession or a depression, since the middle and lower income groups in the nation will not benefit from a relatively equal share of the nation’s output, and over time will see their living standards drop and their overal productivity and contribution to national output decline.

The debate over inequality and what government can or should do about it is at ther root of many other economic debates today. A recent study by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, provides support for those who support the second argument above. Here are some of the main discoveries from the study, “Searching for the Supposed Benefits of Higher Inequality: Impacts of Rising Top Shares on the Standard of Living of Low and Middle-Income Families”.

Discoveries of the study:

Some believe that increase inequality leads to more growth, others argue that it leads to less growth.

A more interesting question is whether rising income inequality leads to a higher standard of living for everyone in society, or whether standards of living decline for those in the middle as the percentage of total income earned by the top 10% increases.

The study found that the higher the percentage of income earned by the top 10%, the incomes of those in the middle and bottom of the income distribution actually decreases. Not just the percentage of total income, but the actual incomes of these groups falls as the rich get richer.

The popular belief is that reducing taxes on the rich increases the amount of investment in the economy, creating more jobs and helping increase incomes of the middle and lower income households. This theory is sometimes referred to as “trickle down” economics, as the increased incomes and wealth at the top will “trickle down” and raise the incomes of the rest of society as well.

However, actual data shows that a 10% increase in the share of total income earned by the top 10% of income earners leads to a 2% decline in the incomes of households in the middle of the income distribution (based on data for the period between 1979 and 2005).

It’s not just that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, rather that the rich getting richer makes the poor (and the middle income earners) poorer. This is a breakthrough discovery.

Possible explanations:

  • The rich contribute to growth abroad, rather than at home: Rich households’ higher incomes allow them to consume more domestic output and imported goods and services, but it also allows them to save more, which sometimes translates into more investment. But more investment does not always translate into domestic economic growth, since investment is now global. A rich American saving more does not mean American firms will have access to cheaper capital, as domestic savings may fuel investment in emerging markets or elsewhere abroad. Foreign investment resulting from savings among rich Americans counts as a leakage from America’s circular flow of income, leaving less income within America for the middle and low income earners. Essentially, much of the income earned by the rich is saved abroad, contributing to employment and growth overseas, reducing incomes of the middle class at home.
  • Reduced support for the provision of public goods: When examining living standards, more than just income must be considered, but also access to education, provision of health care and other public goods such as public safety and security. Richer households are less interested in things like public schools and social welfare programs, as they do not rely on these for their own well-being. Therefore, the richer the top 10% become,  the greater their incentive to work against efforts to fund public education, public health and public safety. The underprovision of these social welfare enhancing goods by govenrment further widens the gap between the living standards of the richest and the middle class. Economist Robert Reich refers to this phenomenon as “the secession of the successful”.
  • Wage competition reduces incomes in the middle: Business owners, who make up a large percentage of the richest households in America, increase their own incomes to the extent that they can drive down the wages they pay their employees. In this way a higher share of national income is enjoyed by a smaller proportoin of society. The minimum wage has barely increased over time, and workers have less bargaining power as fewer workers than ever are members of labor unions; this has allowed business owners to pay lower wages over time, concentrating an increasing share of national income in business profits, and less and less in wages for workers.

In the video below, the study’s author shares some of the findings discussed above. Watch the video and respond to the discussion questions that follow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Summarize the argument against a government taking measures to redistribute its nation’s income to reduce the level of inequality between the rich and the poor.
  2. Summarize the argument for a government reducing inequality.
  3. Popular belief holds that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. In other words, if the total income of a nation is increasing, it does not matter if the rich are enjoying a larger percentage of the higher income than the poor and middle, because everyone is likely to be better off than if total income were not growing at all. Does the study discussed above support this popular view? Why or why not?
  4. What measures can a government take to assure that higher national income leads to higher standards of living for everyone in society, including the middle class and the poor? Why might the highest income earners be opposed to such attempts by government?
  5. Should government intervene to reduce the level of income inequality in society?

66 responses so far

Nov 21 2012

IB Economics Podcast Assignment – Market Failure Commentary

As IB SL and HL students, you will be required to write, record and post one podcast written and performed by you and a classmate. The purpose of this project will be to strengthen and enhance your ability to explain economic theory, apply it to current real-world issues and evaluate the effectiveness of economic theory to explain what is occurring.As these skills are required to write a successful IB Economic Internal Assessment, the process of producing the podcasts will strengthen the performance of students on their IAs.

Before reading the rest of the assignment details, listen to the three podcasts below. The first is an introduction to the IB Internal Assessment and this podcast assignment from Mr. Hauet. The second is an example of the type of analysis you may do in an IB Economics podcast from me. The third is a podcast by a Digital Journalism student in which she investigates the negative externalities of the meat industry.

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The Assignment:

Students will work in pairs and sign up to produce a podcast on a real world market failure.

For example, you may choose to do your story on an industry you are aware of that creates water pollution:

  • Research the industry and find examples how it creates water pollution.
  • Investigate the external costs imposed by this industry on the environment and human health.
  • Gather data from studies that have already been conducted on industry’s contributions to water pollution.
  • Interview individuals or find others’ written or audio/visual accounts of the social, environmental, or health impacts of water pollution.
  • Investigate solutions to water pollution that have been implemented in different communities or nations.
  • Propose solutions to the specific examples of water pollution you have investigated.

Any audio editing program may be used to produce your podcast. You may find the following recommendations useful:

Podcast Requirements:
Part 1 – Introduction
  • An intro accompanied by music – the intro should be a hook such as a section from an interview or a clip from a news program. The music should not be copyrighted and therefore must be taken from sites such as Jamendo or produced by yourself (Garage Band is great for this)
  • An brief  introduction to the topic of the podcast
  • A fact, economic indicator or story that happened recently that may interest your listeners.This is your “hook”.
Part 2 – Analysis
  • Summarize the issue. This should include the cause of the market failure, what it means for the economy, the environment, society or human health, and what is being done about it.
  • Application – How can economic theory inform our understanding of the market failure you have chosen to research.
  • Analysis– Does economic theory support the findings from your research and what is said in the interview? Why or why not? In a written commentary, diagrams would be a crucial part of analysis. Since this is audio, you can describe the concepts that the diagram you could use illustrate.
  • Interview – The podcast must include at least one interview with someone who can provide additional insight into the market you have chosen to research. You may interview someone yourself, or you may use an excerpt from an interview you found in your research (perhaps on YouTube).

Part 3 – Evaluation

  • Evaluation – What are the short and long run implications of the market failure on society, the environment or human health. What are the possible solutions to your market failure? How are different stakeholders effected? Is one solution better than another and why?
  • Conclusions – Bring the podcast to a close by discussing the implications of the issue in other areas. Can this issue be fixed and if so what are the future implications? Be sure to end just as you started, with some nice music that suits the topic.

Bibliography: As this assignment will involve original research, you are required to produce a bibliography. It should be formatted properly. You may use EasyBib to help you with the formatting of our bibliography.

Examples:

Here are some examples of economics podcasts from Planet Money. Your podcast should be similar in its production to these.

Samples of last year’s student podcasts:

Your final product will be assessed using similar criteria for the internal assessment and will include the following:

  1. Terminology – Terminology appropriate to the topic is used throughout the podcast – 2 marks
  2. Application – Relevant economic theories are applied throughout the podcast – 2 marks
  3. Analysis – There is effective economic analysis within the context of the topic and interview – 3 marks
  4. Evaluation – Judgments are made using sound evidence and appropriate reasoning – 4 marks
  5. Podcast Requirements – The podcast is presented in a highly effective manner, including a clear introduction with music, clear audio, at least one interview, a conclusion with music, and a bibliography formatted in MLA style. – 3 marks

Total – 14 marks

2 responses so far

Nov 21 2012

Market failure blog post activity and student-created study guide

Over the years I have written many posts on this blog about market failure. The purpose of this activity is for students to re-visit some of these posts, reflect on different types of market failure, and then complete a short survey in which they demonstrate their understanding of the topic.

With the results from the survey, we will have assembled a comprehensive spreadsheet of all the different types of market failure we study, including definitions, examples, graphical representations and possible government responses. This document can then be used for review by Economics students studying for a market failure test.

First, you must get into five groups and each group must read a couple of blog posts about their assigned market failure type.

Group 1: Public Goods:

Group 2: Positive consumption externalities:

Group 3: Positive production externalities:

Group 4: Common Access Resources and the Tragedy of the Commons

Group 5: Information Asymmetry
Group 6: Income Inequality

Once your group has read and discussed the blog posts you were assigned, work together to complete the following form. Only click submit once all questions have been answered!

Google Form – Market Failure Definitions and Examples

Once each group has submitted the form, the results can be viewed publicly here:

Market Failure Definitions and Examples Study Guide

One response so far

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