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Posts Tagged ‘cost’

Fighting cyber crime

When you look at the linked articles below, I’m sure many of you will be thinking that this is an odd choice for an economics blog! However, part of the economic relevance of ‘cyber-crime fighters’ relates to the relative skills of workers and the gap that exists between the most and least skilled workers in the UK.

Crime has always existed, but as technology has developed the types of crime committed have grown along with the complexity of them. For certain crimes, a very skilled individual is needed. With this emergence of technologically advanced crimes, those fighting crimes have also had to improve their skills and techniques. Thus crime-fighters have become more technologically advanced as well.

The problem is that the number of skilled workers able to deal with things like cyber crime has not kept pace with the demand for them and thus we have a skills gap. Usage of the Internet has continued to grow, creating more and more opportunities for cyber crime. However, the UK supply of IT and cyber-security professionals has not been able to keep pace. Therefore, we have a shortage of skilled labour in this area.

More investment into research and education is occurring, with the aim of addressing this shortage, but it is expected to take many years before supply catches up to demand. In particular, more investment is needed in the sciences and technology subjects at school to create the supply at university level. The NAO said that:

‘The current pipeline of graduates and practitioners are unable to meet demand.’

A second area of relevance to economics is the cost of cyber crime. The NAO estimated that the cost is somewhere between £18bn and £27bn per annum. However, on the other side, is there a case that crime actually benefits the macroeconomy by requiring government investment. As cyber crime has grown, so has the demand for cyber-crime fighters and this has created more jobs. With more jobs comes increased spending and the benefits of the multiplier. The following articles consider cyber crime and the impact it is having.

National Audit Office warns UK needs more skilled cyber crime fighters BBC News (12/2/13)
IT staff shortages raise cyber crime risk Sky News (12/2/13)
UK planning ‘Cyber Reserve’ defence force BBC News (3/12/12)
Britain vulnerable from cyber attacks for at least 20 years The Telegraph, Tom Whitehead (12/2/13)
Britain targeted by 120,000 every DAY with cost to country thought to total £27billion Mail Online, Jack Doyle (12/2/13)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the demand for and supply of labour curves in the market for cyber crime fighters. How is the equilibrium wage determined?
  2. If there is increased investment in education, how would this affect the shape and position of the MRP curve and what impact would this have on your diagram?
  3. If there is a shortage of cyber crime fighters, what does that suggest about the position of the two curves? Illustrate this situation and explain why it is a problem.
  4. Which factors would be considered by NAO in estimating the costs of cyber crime?
  5. Explain why crime can pay.
  6. How does the macroeconomy benefit from increased crime? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  7. Does your answer to question 5 above suggest anything about the effectiveness of using GDP as a measure of welfare?
  8. How is the multiplier effect relevant?
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A watery smile in the South West

Anyone who lives in the South West can argue that they get a raw deal. Not only are the average salaries in this region lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom, but their water bills are 40% higher than those elsewhere in England and Wales. South West Water is the only provider of water in the South West and hence there are no other competitors that households or businesses can switch to, despite the extortionate prices.

Many households and businesses in the region are struggling to cope with the unfair bills, as people are forced to sacrifice other things in order to find the money. Furthermore, it can be argued that these higher bills are actually used for the benefit of everyone else in the United Kingdom. Since privatisation, South West Water are responsible for cleaning and maintaining over one third of the UK’s beaches and the prices they are charged by SW Water reflect this £2 billion cost. Moreover, with a relatively low population, this large cost cannot be spread across many people. Instead, the small population has to pay larger bills. A hairdresser, who does use a lot of water, is finding herself crippled by water bills of some £2,500. And this bill will pay to clean the beaches in the South West so that people living elsewhere can benefit from the beautiful surroundings.

There is now wide recognition of how unfair this scenario is and proposals have been suggested, ranging from a government grant (hardly likely given the state of public finances) to a levy on other regions’ bills to compensate SW Water for their clean-up costs. However, no decision has been made about how to progress and so for now, residents of the region must just simply grin and bear it, while sacrificing expenditure on other areas and seeing residents from across the UK benefit from their sacrifice.

P.S. If you hadn’t guessed it, yes I do live in the South West!

Why is water so expensive in the South West? BBC News (13/7/10)
North Devon MP Nick Harvey tackles unfair South West Water charges Barnstaple People (14/7/10)

Questions

  1. What is privatisation? Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the privatisation of water some 20 years ago.
  2. Does South West Water have a monopoly?
  3. Which of the 3 proposals is the most beneficial to those a) living in the South West, b) businesses in the South West c) the government and d) the rest of the country?
  4. Which proposal would you recommend and why?
  5. Is it fair that those in the South West should pay disproportionately more to clean and maintain beaches, which are used by everyone?
  6. Is the concept of market failure relevant in this case? Explain your answer.
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The corruption of Corruption

Russia is now ranked alongside Zimbabwe on the worldwide corruption index, despite the fact that the Russian authorities have been doing their best to tackle it. The Russian bribery ‘industry’ is worth some $300 billion per year and those who can be bought include several government officials.

The Russian economy is in much need of foreign investment, but the growing world of bribery is deterring international businesses from investing in Russia. Not only will they face the costs of building and running the business, but they are also likely to face substantial costs in trying to get the paperwork through, as IKEA found. Having said that they would never resort to bribery, IKEA had to pay $4 million for investment in local infrastructure and donate a further $1 million for local government projects just to get the 300+ permits they needed to begin construction. This then led to further bribes and a number of lawsuits. For some companies, the delays caused by not paying a bribe may actually cost more than the bribe itself.

The following webcast and articles look at the case of IKEA and the push by foreign businesses to avoid the clutches of Russian bribery.

Webcast
Russian bribes culture hits international business BBC News (14/5/10)

Articles
Foreign firms pledge not to give bribes in Russia BBC News (21/4/10)
IKEA masters rules of Russian business The Moscow Times (14/5/10)
Russians are spending twice as much on bribes Prime Time Russia (13/5/10)

Data Source
Corruption Perceptions Index 2009 Transparency International 2009

Questions

  1. Why is Russia in need of significant foreign investment? How would it help the economy?
  2. Can we classify IKEA (or any other company that uses bribery) as a risk-lover? Explain your answer.
  3. If a foreign firm wants to invest in Russia, which type of expansion do you think would be the easiest and the least open to bribery?
  4. IKEA began building without the necessary permits, but then ‘the bureaucrats took advantage of the situation’. Was IKEA operating under conditions of risk or uncertainty?
  5. In the article ‘IKEA masters rules of business’, Lennart Dahlgren said: “If we had waited to receive them all, we would have lost years”. What economic concept is being referred to?
  6. To what extent is government intervention and international co-operation needed to tackle corruption in Russia?
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Swine flu

According to Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s Chief Medical Officer, swine flu is on its way back. However, vaccinations are now available to the most vulnerable people, including front-line medical staff, people with chronic health problems and pregnant women. But, what about every-day workers? Surely, these are people that need protecting too, as they are the ones who contribute to the economy. How do you prioritise?

A key question is how much swine flu has actually cost the UK economy. Here, we’re not just concerned with the cost of the vaccines, but also the opportunity cost of that money, the lost output from illness, the human suffering – both of the victims and of their relatives and friends – and, of course, the impact on business and the economy. Some of the countries worst hit by the outbreak of swine flu have faced particular problems, such as protectionist trade policies and a significant fall in business through tourism.

So, will the vaccine prove cost effective for the government, or is it more about the moral obligation to provide it? These articles look at some of the recent developments in the worst pandemic in years.

Mexico economy squeezed by swine flu BBC News (30/4/09)
Swine flu vaccine on its way to GPs Grimsby Telegraph (21/10/09)
Exclusive – WTO protectionism report to feature swine flu bans Reuters (12/6/09)
Flu bill ‘may hit fire plans’ Teletext (27/10/09)
Swine flu vaccination under way BBC News (21/10/09)
Swine flu costs have put dent in profits, Amerigroup says Pilot Online, Tom Shean (27/10/09)
Swine flu gives Pharmaceutical Companies a New Edge Top News, Tangaroa Snell (26/10/09)
Economic cost of swine flu could be around $3 trillion to $4.4 trillion Today’s Zaman (Turkey) (2/11/09)
Swine flu mass vaccination programme launched Guardian (21/10/09)
Full list of swine flu cases, country by country Guardian (updated daily)
Doctors plan mass swine flu jabs for under-18s Times Online (1/11/09)

Questions

  1. What is the opportunity cost of swine flu? How could you illustrate this on a diagram?
  2. Vaccines are going to those at risk first. Why is this particularly relevant in terms of the economic problem?
  3. What is protectionism and what are the main forms? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of protectionist policies in the context of swine flu.
  4. If the government had to decide whether or not a swine flu vaccine was worth producing, how could they have done this? Outline the process by which costs and benefits can be weighed up. Are there any drawbacks to this method?
  5. How have businesses been affected by swine flu? Think about those who have benefited as well as those that have lost.
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University: An expensive three years

For some time now, education has been a top priority for the government. They have been tackling standards in schools and have a target of a 50% participation rate in higher education. Most people agree that school education should be free, but opinion is divided when it comes to higher education. Is the return to the individual greater than that to society or vice versa? Is it the same for all degrees? This is one of the questions that affects funding. Should the individual pay? Or the government? Or should there be a mixture of funding?

The question of university education has become even more of an issue in the current recession, with many seeing a university education as a way of avoiding, what could be, inevitable unemployment. With this increase in demand, there is increasing pressure on the funding: it is simply not fiscally feasible to fund everyone’s university education. As such, business leaders have advised a rise in tuition fees. Students could be charged thousands more and made to face a higher interest rate on any loans. This highly contentious issue is considered in the articles below.

Charge students more, say bosses BBC News (21/9/09)
Middle class university students ‘should pay more’ Telegraph (21/9/09)
Elite universities plan to cut UK student numbers amid funding drop Telegraph (20/9/09)
Fee rise must aid poor students BBC News (27/7/09)
Loans delay for 150,000 students continues Daily Mail (19/9/09)
‘No fee degrees’ university plan BBC News (8/7/09)
‘New market’ in education (podcast) BBC Today Programme (8/7/09)
Bring back tuition fees for middle class students Scotsman (11/9/09)
CBI advises raising university fees to £5,000 a year to tackle funding crisis Guardian (21/9/09)
University ‘way out of recession’ BBC News (8/9/09)
Schools secretary Ed Balls under fire over education cuts Mirror (21/9/09)
Students should pay more – CBI (video) BBC News (21/9/09)

Questions

  1. Why is education described as a merit good? Explain the characteristics and why it constitutes a market failure.
  2. Identify any externalities involved in higher education. Do they imply that the free market would led to a level of higher education that is above or below the social optimum?
  3. List the costs to society of a university education. (Think about opportunity cost).
  4. What are the arguments for (a) only the individual funding their university education (b) the government funding university education (c) a combination of both?
  5. Is it a reasonable policy to increase university fees? If so, should students receive loans to cover this increase? If not, what do you think is an alternative option to help this funding crisis?
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Free for all?

Google is a classic example of the new ‘Internet economics’. The main service it provides – search – is completely free and yet it is an enornmously profitable company and growing fast. Much of what they provide in addition to their search service is also free: Google Docs, Google Maps and Google Scholar. So how do they do it? The first link below is an article considering this issue and the second link gives access to an archived version of In Business giving further detail. The programme is well worth listening to. A key part of the explanation for this new phenomenon relates to the low and falling costs of providing these internet services.

Buy none, get one free BBC News Online (8/1/09)
Free for all BBC News Online (8/1/09) In Business – programme archive

Questions

  1. Write a short paragraph explaining briefly the Google business model.
  2. Identify two fixed and two variable costs of running an internet search service.
  3. What are the marginal costs of Google providing additional internet searches?
  4. Discuss the relationship between costs, revenue and profit for a company like Google as demand for their servces grows.
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