Sweet Sensations?

Recently a report has been released considering the increasing amount of sugar in the average diet, and the problems that it induces in regards to health and especially obesity.

The report outlined that a tax between 10% and 20% would be the most effective, while also stopping supermarkets from offering special deals. The idea is to effectively price people out of consumption. The report outlines how this has worked in Mexico, which implemented a 10% tax on sugar based drinks, resulting in a reported 6% decrease in sales.

This can be viewed as a conventional case of a negative externality. As the costs that arise from these drinks are not integrated into pricing. This is due to the increasing cases of diabetes in developed countries, as well as the adverse health affects caused by sugary drinks as well as the no sugar substitutes.

The British Medical Association recommended adopting the measures in the report, but the Food and Drink Federation director stated “we do not agree that international evidence does not supports the introduction of a sugar tax”.

Now cynicism obviously points towards the fact that some friends of government ministers are not keen on such taxation. Let alone the fact that it would effectively be waging war over huge corporations such as Coca-Cola.

Aside from the issues in resolving this, it is interesting to look at consumer relationships with addictive products that are legal. While there is a wealth of information that supports the negative impact of sugar it is largely ignored by consumers. Similar to when the adverse effects of cigarettes had only started to be revealed.

The question I often face in these areas is should the government be managing our lives in these scenarios. While my usual answer is no, one has to take into consideration the fact that it is a burden on public healthcare services, which each taxpayer contributes to. The prevalence of Type-2 diabetes in the U.K. is indicative of resources being redirected to deal with diagnosis and treatment. This is a problem that can clearly be reduced by putting this tax forward as a starting point. While high sugar content in foodstuff can make that particular food addictive, causing similar problems.

The Failings of Price Mechanism

The free market is defined by the allocation of resources based upon the functioning of the price mechanism. This takes into account the equilibrium between demand and supply schedules. In this essay I will argue that while the price mechanism may be efficient, there are cases where it fails. Specifically focusing on the case of monopolies and then market failure whereby there are externalities.

The price mechanism does provide efficiency, through the price signaling created by demand and supply schedules. This brings us to a point of equilibrium that is Pareto optimal as neither consumer or producer can be better off without the other being worse off. Furthermore, at this equilibrium we also achieve allocative efficiency, suggesting that there is the best allocation of resources possible. This is shown through the diagram below, at the equilibrium of Qe – Pe.

Equilibrium

We may note that there is producer and consumer surplus, this defines our parameters of Pareto efficiency, any move from the market clearing equilibrium either the producer or consumer may be worse-off. This is limited by not considering the type of market structure that is present.

The monopoly market structure provides evidence for the possible inefficiency that may be incurred through the price mechanism system. This is a consequence of monopolies being able to set their prices, and looking to profit maximise at the point where MC=MR as seen below:

P2The scenario above takes the market away from away from allocative efficiency, and incurs a deadweight loss. This is a result of there being social welfare, which is not taken by the consumer or producer (shown below).

P3

This prices out a range of consumers, so the deadweight loss represents transactions that could have occurred and would have been socially beneficial, but have not occurred. This point is not Pareto optimal as the consumer is worse-off, nor is it allocatively efficient. Allocative efficiency and Pareto optimality could be achieved if the monopoly were to go to the equilibrium of Qe-Pe, this would mean the firm prices at the point where MC=AR, returning to market clearing.

It is important to note that a monopoly may achieve dynamic efficiency, which is unlikely for a perfectly competitive firm as a consequence of having normal profit. The monopoly gains abnormal profit (as shown by the profit margin in graph 2) that can be used for research and development. Taking the example of pharmaceutical companies, it can be noted that this abnormal profit is required for new drugs to be developed, otherwise at the cost of innovation perfectly competitive firms would not be able to supply new or better drugs which may benefit society.

We must also consider inefficiency incurred through firms pursuing aggressive tactics such as using the abnormal profit to set up legal barriers, attempt to takeover smaller firms, and abuse the economics of scale to lower the price in order to stop firms entering the market. This generates greater inefficiency in terms of reducing consumer’s welfare while also ensuring future inefficiency as barriers to entry. An example of this behaviour was shown by the De Beers diamond cartel in the 1980s, where it had a market share of up to 90% (Zimnisky, Paul). This was achieved through persuading independent mines to join the cartel; if they chose not to they would flood the market with diamonds reducing their price thereby pricing them out. They also dictated price through stockpiling in order to limit supply (Zimnisky, Paul). Exemplifying firm behaviour through the price mechanism that yields inefficiency in terms of societies welfare.

The price mechanism may also fail to provide efficiency as a consequence of externalities, which are an effect on a third-party that was not involved in the original transaction that is not accounted for in the price. The degree of inefficiency tends to correlate with the typology of the good in question. The manner in which the market forces operate suggests that the price mechanism is still operating efficiently due to the market clearing, as the externality is not directly shown. We must also consider that there can also be a deadweight loss in this scenario. The externality as an inefficiency may be shown through considering marginal private cost and marginal social cost, in that the market equilibrium is at the price and quantity that corresponds with marginal private cost, not accounting for the social cost:

P4

However, this can be countered by the efficiency stated through the Coase theorem. Suggesting that if bargaining in regards to an externality can occur, then an efficient outcome will be reached, providing there are negligible transaction costs. This scenario is shown below:

P5

In this the net social gain is a result of bargaining in regards to the externality between the two parties, which results in net social gain. This is due to the loss of profit, take for the conventional example used of wind turbines and noise. The turbine company is willing to compensate people suffering from the noise due to the greater gain of using the wind turbines. There is also the opportunity to be Pareto optimal at Q1. However, this theory is limited by assuming the negligible transaction costs, which in reality tends to not be the case.

Consequently, we may examine methods of dealing with externalities, such as taxation and compensation. The case of tax effectively raises the cost of the good or service in order to account for the cost of the externality. Depending on the elasticity of demand we may note a change in the quantity consumed, regardless of that the price is “corrected”. Shown below:

P6

Here the red highlighted area represents the active externality. With the size of the tax shown through the shifting upwards of price. Now at Q1 we operate at a Pareto optimal point, while the cost is at C2, when originally at the cost of C2 there would have been Q2 consumed. When we consider compensation, the total compensation paid is up to the point where cost first meets marginal social cost. With the Pareto optimal quantity at Q1, this makes up for the cost that is unaccounted for in the original transaction, as shown below:

P7

Even though these are theoretically capable of dealing with an externality in order to yield an efficient outcome, we must consider that the government carries them out. Therefore, there is government inefficiency that may be carried through the initial inefficiency of the price mechanism, this is due to the inability to determine the degree of compensation or tax that is required to bring price to the point of market clearing.

Take for example the externality present with industrial fishing. While fishing occurs we may assume that the amount of fishing occurring is so that there is supply to meet demand in order for the market to clear at equilibrium. However, this does not account for the negative effect on fish stocks. Due to the demand for fish exceeding the reproductive rate of fish there is a strain on fish stock. Furthermore, the methods by which fishing occurs such as trawling may adversely affect other sea life. Quotas can prove inefficient in dealing with this problem due to the lack of infrastructure related to dealing with each fishing boat and the policing required. Moreover, this can lead to fisherman using the same methods then stock dumping which also carries negative effects towards the health of sea life. We would not consider tax, as it is not in the government’s interest to raise the cost of living for the population, this leaves compensation. This may be towards subsidising fish farms, reducing the burden on natural fish stocks. Additionally, it could go towards subsiding the fisherman to the decrease in revenue if they were to fish by less efficient but more environmentally friendly means.

In conclusion, we may note that the price mechanism can at times be relied upon for providing efficiency. However, it may fail when we consider market structures such as monopolies, or the case of externalities where there are inefficiencies that are unaccounted for in the market equilibrium. To refine this analysis of price mechanism efficiency we would consider the typology of the goods in services in question such as merit and normal goods, or common access resources.

Almog Adir


 

Bibliography

Zimnisky, Paul. “A Diamond Market No Longer Controlled By De Beers.” Kitco Commentary. 06 June 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Copyright Almog Adir © 2014 · All Rights Reserved · My Website

GDP: An Indicator of Economic Welfare?

Examine The Difficulties of Using GDP as a Measure of the Welfare of an Economy:

It can be argued that gross domestic product does not actually do a good job of what we most often use it to display: growth. There are some key aspects that are ignored through the use of GDP as a marker for the growth and welfare of an economy. It is important to clarify that growth is not necessarily good if there is the exploitation of land, labour, and capital. This is because the main aim of the economy is the provision of our welfare, so people are employed, stable prices, and sustainable growth.

Gross Domestic Product can be defined as:

The market value of all the goods and products produced or provided within a country at a given moment in time.

There are various ways to determine the GDP of a country, there is the expenditure approach or the production approach. The expenditure approach is:

GDP = private consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports-imports)

This identifies the first issue in which GDP fails to accurately measure the welfare of an economy. The calculation of GDP at no point involves whether or not the welfare of the people has improved, GDP is used as an indicator of a standard of living because the central variables tend to attribute towards factors that improves people’s welfare within an economy. GDP should be considered as an indicator of economic activity.

The measurement of gross domestic product is considered to have externalities; in this case it is the recognition of the factors that attribute to welfare and standard of living that the measurement ignores.

  • The first issue is wealth distribution; GDP does not describe whether or not the people are truly benefitting from economic growth. This can be seen in countries such as Qatar where an insignificant percentage of the population hold all the wealth of the country, but the wealth is significant due to oil trade. Due to the manners in which GDP can be calculated it does not show whether or not growth is actually improving the welfare of the people.
  • Gross domestic product does not include non-market transactions. Examples of non-market transaction can be noted as volunteer work, where work is done by the good will of people. There is also the example of open software programmes such as Linux which has developed our approach to coding and programming even though Linux is run as a volunteer programme. Factors such as volunteer work greatly benefit society and improve the general standard of living and gross domestic fails to recognise this because it is based on wholly economic activity.
  • Non-monetary & black markets fail to be identified as a part of the economic activity in a country that would attribute to GDP. Many undeveloped economies rely on non-monetary economies, this means that trade is done through swapping goods, rather than the employment of debt instruments and banknotes. This means that the economic activity and possible welfare of people in undeveloped countries may be underestimated if based around gross domestic product. There is also the existence of black markets, which consists of trade of illegal goods or the ability to evade tax, and as a result there is the underestimation of GDP.
  • Another difficulty with attributing GDP to economic welfare is the issue of what is being produced. For example if many people were getting sick and required healthcare there would be a boost in GDP as this would account for economic activity, however this obviously does not concern welfare as it would be better if the people did not become ill in the first place. This can be summarised as uneconomic growth where economic growth brings about a decrease in the quality of life. This can be applied to the issue of using fossil fuels for energy; even though increased energy consumption usually corresponds with growth it may mean more pollution and adverse and harmful effects to our environment.
  • Finally, there is the issue of sustainable economic growth. There are many historic examples where there was a boost in GDP due to the discovery of new resources or the re-utilization of land or capital. However this growth would not be sustainable due to the scarcity of those resources. This would incur the miscalculation of GDP, and again fail to represent the welfare of the economy.

The use of gross domestic product can be useful to give a holistic view of a countries economy, however when looking at the welfare of an economy it fails to be an effective indicator because it does not involve factors such as happiness, and non-monetary activity within that country which directly attribute to peoples standard of living. This is why there are other approaches to the welfare of an economy such as the Human Development Index (HDI) or Gross National Happiness (GNH). The main issue with attempting to indicate a level of welfare within a country is that factors such as environmental sustainability can be difficult at times to quantify, and equally so with happiness. However, the dependence of GDP to indicate welfare of an economy and growth is becoming an outdated concept.

10 Terms to Know For Microeconomics

Production Possibility Frontier (PPF):

A production possibility frontier represents where resources can be allocated to produce certain amounts of a good in comparison to another good. It represents the choice the market has in production between two different goods, limited by the factor that certain resources are scarce.

Unemployment:

When there is surplus of labour which does not get utilised by the market. There are two manners in which to define unemployment. The first being the classic definition which states that if the price of employment increases above equilibrium there is more labour supplied but less demand. The second definition is “cyclical unemployment” where there is not enough aggregate demand in the economy to provide jobs for everyone who wants to work.

Infrastructure:

Infrastructure is the physical structures that are required for the operation of society and enterprise; it provides the means for an economy to function.

Supply:

Supply is the total amount of a good or service available for consumption at a given price at a certain moment in time.  The basis of the law of supply which states that as the price of good or service increases, the quantity supplied also increases.

Demand:

Demand is a consumer’s desire and willingness to purchase a good or service at a given price at a certain moment in time. The basis of the law of demand which states that as the price of a good or services decreases, the quantity demanded increases.

Market Failure:

Market Failure is when there is the inefficient allocation of resources, the existence of a negative externality on either the consumption or production of a good or service, and the existence of a monopoly power.

Externality:

An effect to a third party which was not accounted for in the price of the original transaction of the good, this can be either positive or negative.

Consumer & Producer Surplus:

Consumer surplus is where a consumer was willing to pay a price above equilibrium but only had to pay the equilibrium price, and producer surplus is where a producer was willing to produce at a price below equilibrium but was able to sell their good at equilibrium price.  Represented by the graph below:

P7 - Social Surplus

Public Good:

A public good is typically provided by the government, and it is meant to be non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Meaning that anyone can have access to it, you do not directly pay for it, and one person using it does not affect your usage of it. Some examples are street lighting, beaches, benches, and air.

Indirect Tax:

An indirect tax is paid through the consumption of good or services, whereas a direct tax is on your income. Examples of indirect taxes are Value Added Tax, Sales Tax, and Excise Tax. They provide a source of government income, and are a manner in which a negative externality can be resolved.

Overfishing (Market Failure)

What are the main causes and consequences of the market failure in fishing?

The main cause of the market failure in fishing is the over-consumption and demand for all varieties of fish and seafood.  This is driven by government subsidies aimed to help the fishing industry as they are a considerable part of the economy, as some towns and cities are dependent on fisherman traffic. Governments are also contributing subsidies in the interest of keep food prices down, in foods such as fish which have become common in global diets.

The consequence of this over-consumption is the clear over-fishing and exploitation of the varieties of fish that can be consumed. There is now a growing dependence on fish farms to supply for the demand of fish.

The central external costs of the supply in fish contributing to market failure are:

  • The eventual extinction of specific species of fish
  • Accidental catch of other unwanted fish, reducing general population
  • Algal blooms, caused by dead fish left in sea and ocean
  • Weakening ecosystems, to near collapse
  • Loss of large fish i.e. Tuna
  • Forced government subsidisation
  • Less beautiful underwater cultures for tourism
  • Depleting natural resources
  • Driving small businesses out

The cause of the over-fishing is difficult to pin on a single source as it is both the demand of consumers, as well as the argument “well there will be no difference if the fish are taken now or in a months’ time”.

There is the developing issue of illegal fishing, even though laws and regulations have been set in place to only allow fishing within certain areas it is costly and difficult to actually enforce these laws and regulations. This issue develops on the point that companies now go to other countries to fish as there are less restrictions on quotas, such as the Senegal example where local fishing business is beginning to be taken by corporations.

A cause of over-fishing can be attributed to the methods used to obtain fish, even though they are the most effective and efficient there is a lot of unwanted catch in fine mesh nets and trawling methods. This is why there is a major breakup in the food chain of the species, and has a residing effect on the ecosystem of the fish whether big or small.

Facts:

Globally, some 75 per cent of wild marine fish are now said to be either fully-exploited or overfished, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)

Fish farming, now provides almost half of all the fish consumed by humans.

Development of crime in areas such as Somalia, and Senegal

Have the government solutions to over-fishing made the situation worse?

Overall, it can be argued that the government has not really made a clear attempt for a solution and if anything has made the situation worse. Governments throughout Europe, Asia, and American have made it a prerogative to subsidise the fishing industries.  This is an attempt to keep the industries alive even though they are catching less wanted fish then in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century.  Governments have made it more worthwhile for fisherman to try and scavenge for what is out there rather than protect fish stocks for the future, and this is what the subsidies have achieved.

In regards to further failure by the government is the inability to abide or follow advice on quotas on the amount of fish that can be fished per day to ensure that there is no complete collapse of a species or ecosystem. Most quotas that governments set range between 20%-40% higher than what scientists advise. There is also the issue of policing this which the government is not completely committed too.  This is because the market failure is heavier on the government and producer side than the consumer. As consumers have not been offered viable alternatives to fish, there is the continued over-consumption.

In a sense government solutions have not done enough as over-fishing is only one cause for the general decline in fish stocks as there is also global warming, and illegal fishing. Global warming has had serious implications on the quality of sea life, and has encouraged the dependency on fish farms to provide common fish. The issue here is that the fish farms still fish to provide smaller fish to larger fish such as tuna.  This has started a vicious cycle which the government has not successfully intervened, and if anything encouraged fisherman to not follow quotas.

There is also the ban of catching certain fish; again this government intervention further contributes to the market failure as it simply makes those fish more desirable. There is also a lower price on farmed fish as they are considered a lesser good than natural fish. There has been no attempt to tax depending on unwanted fish taken, or hand out certain areas of water where companies have to personally decide how to take care of the land.

Facts:

Unfair Fisheries Partnership Agreements that allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries.

The cost of mismanagement, in lost economic output, is huge: some $50 billion a year, according to the World Bank.

 

What action would you suggest to reduce the damage done by overfishing while supporting those who depend on the fishing industry?

There needs to be a clear change in government policy as well as the manner in which fishing is done. There should be a greater stress on achievable regulation, and possibly an increase in prices.

Governments may choose to continue subsidising the fish industry, but should begin to subsidise fish farms that grow all the fish needed to feed bigger carnivorous fish. This will produce self-sustaining fish farms that are no longer reliant on the fishing of small fish to provide feed.

Governments should agree that only local fish is not taxed within a country, so in the case of salmon being supplied in Scotland has no tax, whereas if it was exported to another country there would be an export tax in the country of origin, and an import tax in the receiving country. This would accurately price the cost of the fish, and especially rarer fish.

Industry standards have to change; this can be done by introducing time frames that fishing is allowed within the season. Beyond this if a boat goes out to fish for a week then it may only actively fish on 4 of those 7 days, ensuring that quotas are met not over reached. Also in the equipment used for fishing to ban the use of trawling, and fine mesh nets. The method of trawling has adverse effects to the ecosystems, and fine mesh nets produce a lot of unwanted catch of small juvenile fish therefore further reducing the chances of endangered species.

No fish zones need to be created in areas where the ecosystem has suffered or there is the chance of a fish becoming extinct, this is done today but I would call for an international body to police these zones to ensure there is no illegal fishing whether industrial or local.

For a time temporary bans on certain fish would have to be placed, this would reduce the number of jobs and profitability of the industry, however this ensures job safety in the future by allowing the fish populations to naturally increase without intervention.

Facts:

Restoring these stocks could deliver up to £14.62 billion per year in gross revenues. This is 2.7 times the current (2010) value of their landings

The size of investment required to achieve this is £10.4 billion over the entire transition period (9.4 years) – £9.16 billion in present value terms