Archive for January, 2008

Jan 29 2008

New blog feature: AP and IB Economics “Help Desk”

Inspired by my two favorite Economics bloggers, the professors at “Environmental Economics”, I have decided to add a “AP and IB Economics Help Desk” to my blog.

The purpose is to give blog readers (mainly my students of course, although anyone is welcome to submit economics-related questions) the opportunity to submit questions relating to our AP or IB Economics course directly to me at any time, from school or from home.

Too many students end up never asking the questions they need to ask because they are shy, too busy, or just don’t think of the right questions before, during and after class. From now on, I will encourage students to submit their questions via the “Help Desk”, which can be found in the upper left corner of this blog at all times, under the “Pages” box.

I will make it a point to reply to questions within one day of their submission. Questions that I feel all students should hear the answer to will be posted to the blog and I will share the answer in an article for the world to read. Please take advantage of this feature, especially in the coming months as AP and IB exams approach! – Mr. W

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Jan 29 2008

“Creative Capitalism”: Harnessing the power of markets to serve the poor – by Bill Gates

Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism – WSJ.com

“We could make market forces work better for the poor if we could develop a more creative capitalism…” – Bill Gates at the 2007 Harvard commencement address

Is capitalism capable of lifting the world’s 4 billion poor people out of poverty? Bill Gates, the world’s greatest beneficiary of capitalist markets, thinks the system that forms the foundation of our market economy requires some re-thinking. Gates is calling for “creative capitalism” in which firms respond to incentives aimed at developing technologies that serve the world’s poor.

Gates first expressed his interest in a capitalist system with a focus on helping the poor in his Harvard commencement address last year, and reiterated his vision last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Gates envisions a future where profits will motivate industies to create goods and services not just for the top 20% of the world’s income earners, those in the rich countries of the OECD (the “country club of the UN” as Hans Rosling calls it), but by developing products that are meant to benefit the world’s poorest people, those in the bottom 20%, who suffer most from poverty.

Watch the videos below and discuss the prospects of Gate’s vision becoming a reality.

June 2007 at Harvard

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and January 2008 at Davos

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Jan 29 2008

Macroeconomy a major focus in Bush’s final State of the Union address

Economy in focus in Bush address – Jan. 28, 2008

A week into our unit on macroeconomics, we’ve already introduced why the study of macroeconomics is so important. The health of a nation’s economy is dependent on the achievement through macroeconomic policy of three major goals:

  1. full-employment
  2. price level stability, and
  3. economic growth

The word most heard on the lips of economists and political pundits in the US today is recession, a macroeconomic condition in which all three of the above goals are jeopardized. Defined as “a decline in real output over time”, a recession usually leads to unemployment, negative economic growth, and sometimes inflation (a rise in the overall price level), or in some cases deflation (a fall in the price level).

Recessions are usually a result of a decline in consumer spending, which in the US makes up around 70% of GDP. In other words, out of the four types of expenditures (C, I, G and nX), households’ spending on goods and services produced within the US is the largest component of our nation’s national income. When consumers stop spending for some reason, recession is a likely outcome.

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Jan 25 2008

If only EVERYONE took AP Economics…

Carbon tax bill in the mail – Canada.com

…then we’d be spared the naive statements that appear in our media and out of the mouths of our citizens when a basic economic principle plays itself out in the market place.

In Quebec, the provincial government levied a carbon tax on energy producers:

When the provincial government imposed the country’s first carbon tax last fall, it wanted producers to pay.

But just as oil refiners have already done, Gaz Métro started passing on the cost of the carbon tax (to consumers) this month.

Big surprise, right? Only in a market in which demand is perfectly elastic would the entire burden of a tax be born by producers, since raising prices at all would mean loosing all their customers. Clearly, electricity is not such a market, and given the inelasticity of demand for a necessity such as electric power, chances are a big chunk of the “0.67 cents per cubic metre of natural gas” tax placed on utilities is being passed onto consumers.

In market economies, tax incidence is shared between producers and consumers. This of course, is the way it should be. If the price stays low and output remains high, no externality has been corrected and just as much greenhouse gas will be emitted as before the tax. In order to decrease output to a more socially optimal level, the tax should be passed on to consumers, but also born by producers in the form of lower profits. Despite this economic reality, consumers still aren’t happy about it:

“I don’t care how much it is, even if it’s just half a penny,” said Leonard, a Laval resident who called to complain about his gas bill. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used.

“They said consumers would not pay for this – and now here we are, paying for it.”

Poor old Leonard… never got to take an economics class in school! If only everyone had taken AP Econ in high school, naivety like this could be avoided! Ask ol’ Leonard if he’s stopped using electricity due to the higher price, and I bet you can guess his answer. Why? Inelastic demand.

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Jan 22 2008

Kiva.org – how YOU can be a banker for the world’s poor

Today in IB Economics, as part of our unit on Economic Development, our class had an interesting discussion about the barriers developing countries face in improving the lives of the average citizen.

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One obstacle persistent in many poor countries is the average citizen’s lack of access to a dependable banking system. Entrepreneurs interested in getting financing for a business endeavor may find themselves unable to access credit, as domestic banks may be unwilling to loan small amounts of money to individuals without a credit history or even any formal education or training. Meanwhile, international banks operating in developing countries are often there only to serve international investors and corporations that want to open up shop in the country. These banks may not even allow a common citizen of the developing country through its doors, much less consider giving them a loan.

Marco, a student in my class, mentioned an organization he’d heard of that allowed citizens from the developed world to log in and make loans directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. The very concept of this variety of micro-lending seemed so straightforward and ingenious that I had to fine out more. Luckily, Marco found the website and this video about the organization, which goes by the name Kiva.org. From their website:

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can “sponsor a business” and help the world’s working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you’ve sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is investment necessary for economic development to occur?
  2. What institutional factors exist that prevent improvements in human capital in some developing countries?
  3. I micro-lending in general and Kiva.org in particular a realistic solution to the problem of poverty in developing countries?

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