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Posts Tagged ‘fallacy of composition’

A bridge to somewhere

Many politicians throughout the world,
not just on the centre and left, are arguing for increased spending on infrastructure. This was one of the key proposals of Donald Trump during his election campaign. In his election manifesto he pledged to “Transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth and more rapid productivity gains”.

Increased spending on inffrastructure has both demand- and supply-side effects.

Unless matched by cuts elsewhere, such spending will increase aggregate demand and could have a high multiplier effect if most of the inputs are domestic. Also there could be accelerator effects as the projects may stimulate private investment.

On the supply side, well-targeted infrastructure spending can directly increase productivity and cut costs of logistics and communications.

The combination of the demand- and supply-side effects could increase both potential and actual output and reduce unemployment.

So, if infrastructure projects can have such beneficial effects, why are politicians often so reluctant to give them the go-ahead?

Part of the problem is one of timing. The costs occur in the short run. These include demolition, construction and disruption. The direct benefits occur in the longer term, once the project is complete. And for complex projects this may be many years hence. It is true that demand-side benefits start to occur once construction has begun, but these benefits are widely dispersed and not easy to identify directly with the project.

Then there is the problem of externalities. The external costs of projects may include environmental costs and costs to local residents. This can lead to protests, public hearings and the need for detailed cost–benefit analysis. This can delay or even prevent projects from occurring.

The external benefits are to non-users of the project, such as a new bridge or bypass reducing congestion for users of existing routes. These make the private construction of many projects unprofitable, except with public subsidies or with public–private partnerships. So there does need to be a macroeconomic policy that favours publicly-funded infrastructure projects.

One type of investment that is less disruptive and can have shorter-term benefits is maintenance investment. Maintenance expenditure can avoid much more costly rebuilding expenditure later on. But this is often the first type of expenditure to be cut when public-sector budgets as squeezed, whether at the local or national level.

The problem of lack of infrastructure investment is very much a political problem. The politicians who give the go-ahead to such projects, such as high-speed rail, come in for criticisms from those bearing the short-run costs but they are gone from office once the benefits start to occur. They get the criticism but not the praise.

Articles
Are big infrastructure projects castles in the air or bridges to nowhere? The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (16/1/17)
Trump’s plans to rebuild America are misguided and harmful. This is how we should do it. The Washington Post, Lawrence H. Summers (17/1/17)

Questions

  1. Identify the types of externality from (a) a new high-speed rail line, (b) new hospitals.
  2. How is discounting relevant to decisions about public-sector projects?
  3. Why are governments often unwilling to undertake (a) new infrastructure projects, (b) maintenance projects?
  4. Is a programme of infrastructure investment necessarily a Keynesian policy?
  5. What accelerator effects would you expect from infrastructure investment?
  6. Explain the difference between the ‘spill-out’ and ‘pull-in’ effects of different types of public investments in a specific location. Is it possible for a project to have both effects?
  7. What answer would you give to the teacher who asked the following question of US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers? “The paint is chipping off the walls of this school, not off the walls at McDonald’s or the movie theatre. So why should the kids believe this society thinks their education is the most important thing?”
  8. What is the ‘bridge to nowhere’ problem? Why does it occur and what are the solutions to it?
  9. Why is the ‘castles in the air’ element of private projects during a boom an example of the fallacy of composition?
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The curse of the bumper harvest

A bumper harvest should be good news for farmers – but not if it drives down prices. This is the position facing many Australian farmers. After a relatively wet summer a year ago and a mild winter this year, crop yields have soared. But the prices farmers can get in wholesale markets have been so low that many have resorted to setting up their own farm shops or selling in farmers’ markets or from the backs of ‘utes’ (utility vehicles, i.e. pickup trucks) or at roadside stalls.

And the supply problem is not just one of increased domestic supply: cheap food imports, often of inferior quality, have been flooding into Australia. Increasing food exports, especially to Asia, would help Australian farmers, but here again there is competition in these markets from other countries.

The problem of increased Australian supply is even more serious for Australian farmers in areas where harvests have not been so good. Australia is a huge country and conditions, although generally favourable this year, have been poor in some areas. Here farmers face the double disaster of low output and low prices.

Australian dairy farmers too are facing problems of falling prices. Price deregulation and the monopsony power of supermarkets have driven down the price of milk and other dairy products. Since deregulation in 2000, the number of dairy farms has halved, as many smaller family farms go out of business and larger ‘industrial-scale’ farms grow.

So are there any solutions? The BBC article looks at things being done in Tasmania to help small farmers, but questions whether small farmers have much of a future more generally in Australia?

Articles
Australia’s small farmers struggling with low prices BBC News, Phil Mercer (31/10/13)
Commodity prices edge lower in October Sky News Australia (1/11/13)
Low prices spoil perfect season for Australian farmers ABC News, Eric Tlozek and Courtney Wilson (18/9/13)
Agri-businesses taking over the farm The Guardian (Australia) (6/11/13)

Data
Commodity prices Index Mundi
Agriculture in Australia Wikipedia
Farm inputs & costs Dairy Australia

Questions

  1. How does the fallacy of composition relate to the ‘problem’ of good harvests?
  2. How price elastic is the demand for specific crops likely to be? Why may individual farmers face an elasticity of demand close to infinity?
  3. Illustrate the problem for small farmers in Australia with a demand and supply diagram.
  4. Is there any way in which farmers, either individually or collectively, can make their demand less elastic?
  5. Comment on the following statement by a sugar cane farmer: “We’ve got that much money tied up (in the business) we just can’t walk away”. Under what circumstances would it make sense to ‘walk away’?
  6. How does the monopsony power of supermarkets influence the prices farmers receive?
  7. Discuss ways in which the federal government in Australia could support farmers.
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Lobster for all?

Over the past few years lobster prices in Maine have tumbled. Eight years ago the price paid to fishermen was around $4.60 per pound. Today it’s around $2.20. The problem is one of booming lobster populations and the dominance of lobster in catches. Last year’s haul was double that of a decade ago and, in some waters, six times higher.

You would think that larger catches would be good news for fishermen. But prices now are so low that they barely cover variable costs. Individual fishermen fish harder and longer to bring in even bigger catches to make up for the lower price. This, of course, compounds the problem and pushes the price even lower.

So what are the answers for the fishermen of Maine? One solution is to diversify their catch, but with lobster so plentiful and other fish stocks depleted, this is not easy.

Another solution is to cooperate. The Reuters article below quotes John Jordan, a lobsterman and president of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Co.:

‘If you had an industry that actually cooperated, you wouldn’t be bringing in more product if you couldn’t sell what you already had, right?’

Restricting the catch would require lobster distributors to cooperate and set quotas for what the fishermen would be permitted to sell. But with over 5000 fishermen, this is not easy.

Another solution is to expand the market. One way is for the distributors or other agencies to market lobster and lobster products more aggressively. For example, this year the State of Maine has established a $2 million marketing collaborative. Another solution is to find new markets.

Jordan’s company and others are frantically seeking new ways to sneak lobster into unexpected corners of the food market, from gazpacho to puff pastries and quiche.

In the meantime, for consumers the question is whether the low prices paid to the fishermen of Maine will feed through into low prices in the fishmonger, supermarket and restaurant. So far that does not seem to be happening, as the final two articles below explain.

Webcasts
US lobster fishermen’s ‘problem of plenty’ BBC News, Jonny Dymond (5/10/13)
Maine lobstermen in a pinch over low prices, record catch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Aljazeera America, Adam May (11/10/13)

Articles
Something fishy is going on in the nation’s lobster capital CNBC, Heesun Wee (1/9/13)
Booming lobster population pinches profits for Maine’s fishery Reuters, Dave Sherwood (25/8/13)
Lobster’s worth shelling out for The Observer,
Rachel Cooke (21/9/13)
Clawback The New Yorker, James Surowiecki (26/8/13)
Why The Glut Of Cheap Lobster Won’t Lower Price Of Lobster Rolls Gothamist, John Del Signore (20/7/12)

Questions

  1. Why have lobster prices paid to fishermen fallen? Illustrate your argument with a demand and supply diagram
  2. What has determined the size of the fall in prices? What is the relevance of price elasticity of demand and price elasticity of supply to your answer?
  3. How is the fallacy of composition relevant to the effects on profits of an increase in the catch by (a) just one fisherman and (b) all fishermen? What incentive does this create for individual fishermen in a competitive market?
  4. What can lobster fishermen do to restore profit margins through collaborative action?
  5. In what ways is there a conflict between economics and ecology in the lobster fishing industry?
  6. How does stored lobster affect (a) the price elasticity of supply and (b) the price volatility of lobster?
  7. How could cooperation between lobster fishermen and lobster processors and distributors benefit all those involved in the cooperation?
  8. Why may restaurants choose to maintain high prices for lobster dishes for ‘psychological reasons’? Are there any other reasons?
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Austerity: yes or no?

Here are a series of videos examining the case for and against austerity policy. Is such policy necessary to re-balance countries’ economies and retain or regain the confidence of investors? Or does such policy harm not just short-run growth but long-run growth too? Does it reduce investment and thereby aggregate supply?

These videos follow on from the news item Keynes versus the Classics: a new version of an old story. In the first video, Mark Blyth, author of Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea, argues that austerity policy has not worked and never can. George Osborne, by contrast, argues that although it has been a ‘hard road to recovery’, austerity policy is working.

International bodies take a more nuanced stand. The IMF, while supporting the objective of reducing the government deficit, argues that the pace of the cuts in the UK should be slowed until more robust growth returns. The OECD, in examining the global economy, is more supportive of countries maintaining the pace of deficit reduction, but argues that the ECB needs to take stronger monetary measures to boost bank lending in the eurozone.

With austerity having increasingly alarming effects on unemployment and social cohesion, especially within certain eurozone countries, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, it is not surprising that there are growing demands for rethinking macroeconomic policy.

There is general agreement that more needs to be done to promote economic growth, and a growing consensus that an increase in infrastructure expenditure is desirable. But whether such expenditure should be financed by increased borrowing (with the extra deficit being reduced subsequently as a result of the extra growth), or whether it should be financed by reductions in expenditure elsewhere, is a continuing focus of debate.

Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea The Guardian, Mark Blyth (27/5/13) (see also)
IMF: UK austerity will be a ‘drag on growth’ BBC News. Hugh Pym (22/5/13)
George Osborne: ‘Hard road to recovery for UK economy’ BBC News (22/5/13)
Economy and austerity BBC News, Sajid Javid and Stephen Timms (1/5/13)
IMF’s Olivier Blanchard urges UK austerity rethink BBC News (16/4/13)
OECD ‘supportive of Osborne austerity plans’ BBC news (29/5/13)
Stimulus vs. austerity measures in EU CNN, Mohamed El-Erian (29/5/13)
‘No time to wobble’ on deficit reduction YouTube, Sir Roger Carr (CBI president) (16/5/13)
Deficit-Cutting: Not If, But When Wall Street Journal Live, David Wessel (8/5/13)

Questions

  1. What are the arguments for maintaining a policy of deficit reduction through tight fiscal policy?
  2. What are the three principles put forward by Mark Blyth for designing an appropriate macroeconomic policy?
  3. How does the fallacy of composition relate to the effects of all countries pursuing austerity policy simultaneously?
  4. Is the IMF for or against austerity? Explain.
  5. Assess the policies advocated by the OECD to stimulate economic growth in the eurozone.
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Keynes versus the Classics: a new version of an old story

The ‘Classical’ Treasury view of the 1920s and 30s was that extra government spending or tax cuts were not the solution to depression and mass unemployment. Instead, it would crowd out private expenditure if the money supply were not allowed to rise as it would drive up interest rates. But if money supply were allowed to rise, this would be inflationary. The solution was to reduce budget deficits to increase confidence in public finances and to encourage private investment. Greater price and wage flexibility were the answer to markets not clearing.

Keynes countered these arguments by arguing that the economy could settle in a state of mass unemployment, with low confidence leading to lower consumer expenditure, lower investment, lower incomes and lower employment. The situation would be made worse, not better, by cuts in public expenditure or tax rises in an attempt to reduce the budget deficit. The solution was higher public expenditure to stimulate aggregate demand. This could be achieved by fiscal and monetary policies. Monetary policy alone could, however, be made ineffective by the liquidity trap. Extra money might simply be held rather than spent.

This old debate has been reborn since the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the subsequent deep recession and, more recently, the lack of recovery. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The articles below consider the current situation. Many economists, but certainly not all, take a Keynesian line that austerity policies to reduce public-sector deficits have been counter-productive. By dampening demand, such policies have reduced national income and slowed the recovery in both investment and consumer demand. This has at best slowed the rate of deficit reduction or at worst even increased the deficit, with lower GDP leading to a reduction in tax receipts and higher unemployment leading to higher government social security expenditure.

Although monetary policy has been very loose, measures such as record low interest rates and quantitative easing have been largely ineffective in stimulating demand. Economies are stuck in a liquidity trap, with banks preferring to build their reserves rather than to increase lending. This is the result partly of a lack of confidence and partly of pressure on them to meet Basel II and III requirements of reducing their leverage.

But despite the call from many economists to use fiscal policy and more radical monetary policy to stimulate demand, most governments have been pre-occupied with reducing their deficits and ultimately their debt. Their fear is that rising deficits undermine growth – a fear that was given weight by, amongst others, the work of Reinhart and Rogoff (see the blog posts Reinhart and Rogoff: debt and growth and It could be you and see also Light at the end of the tunnel – or an oncoming train?.

But there is some movement by governments. The new Japanese government under Shinzo Abe is following an aggressive monetary policy to drive down the exchange rate and boost aggregate demand (see A J-curve for Japan?) and, more recently, the European Commission has agreed to slow the pace of austerity by giving the Netherlands, France, Spain, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia more time to bring their budget deficits below the 3% of GDP target.

Of course, whether or not expansionary fiscal and/or monetary policies should be used to tackle a lack of growth does not alter the argument that supply-side policies are also required in order to increase potential economic growth.

A Keynesian Victory, but Austerity Stands Firm The New York Times, Business Day, Eduardo Porter (21/5/13)
With Austerity Under Fire, Countries Seek a More Balanced Solution Knowledge@Wharton (22/5/13)
Keynes, Say’s Law and the Theory of the Business Cycle History of Economics Review 25.1-2, Steven Kates (1996)
Is Lord Keynes back in Brussels? The Conversation, Fabrizio Carmignani (31/5/13)
Keynes’s Biggest Mistake The New York Times, Business Day, Bruce Bartlett (7/5/13)
Keynes’s Not So Big Mistake The New York Times, The Conscience of a Liberal blog, Paul Krugman (7/5/13)
The Chutzpah Caucus The New York Times, The Conscience of a Liberal blog, Paul Krugman (5/5/13)
Keynes and Keynesianism The New York Times, Business Day, Bruce Bartlett (14/5/13)
Japan Is About To Prove Keynesian Economics Entirely Wrong Forbes, Tim Worstall (11/5/13)
The poverty of austerity exposed Aljazeera, Paul Rosenberg (24/5/13)
Britain is a lab rat for George Osborne’s austerity programme experiment The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/5/13)
Eurozone retreats from austerity – but only as far as ‘austerity lite’ The Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/5/13)
Europe’s long night of uncertainty Daily Times (Pakistan), S P Seth (29/5/13)
Abenomics vs. bad economics The Japan Times Gregory Clark (29/5/13)
European countries to be allowed to ease austerity BBC News (29/5/13)
U.K. Should Restore Growth, Rebalance Economy IMF Survey (22/5/13)
Now everyone is a Keynesian again – except George Osborne The Observer, William Keegan (2/6/13)
Austerity Versus Growth (III): Fiscal Policy And Debt Sustainability Social Europe Journal, Stefan Collignon (30/5/13)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by Say’s Law and its implication for macroeconomic policy.
  2. Why have many governments, including the UK government, been reluctant to pursue expansionary fiscal policies?
  3. What is meant by the liquidity trap? What is the way out of this trap?
  4. In the first article above, Eduardo Porter argues that ‘moral views are getting in the way of reason’. What does he mean by this?
  5. Explain what are meant by the ‘paradox of thrift’ and the ‘fallacy of composition’. How are these two concepts relevant to the debate over austerity policies?
  6. What are the dangers in pursuing aggressive Keynesian policies?
  7. What are the dangers in not pursuing aggressive Keynesian policies?
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A glass half empty or half full?

European wine producers have seen one of the worst grape harvests for decades. With exceptionally wet weather in the northern European growing areas and exceptionally hot and dry weather in the southern ones, yields are well down in most countries.

In France, the world’s largest wine producer, wine production is forecast to be 19% down on the previous year. In Italy and Spain, Europe’s second and third largest producers, production is forecast to be 3% and 6% down respectively. Production in the EU as a whole, which produces some 57% of world output, is expected to be 9% down and at a historically low level. What is more, the past five years in the EU have all seen modest harvests.

And the poor harvests are not confined to Europe. Argentina’s production is some 24% down on 2011, with New Zealand’s 17% down. And despite a few countries expecting an increase, including the USA and Chile, overall world production is expected to be 6% down on 2011 and more than 7% down on the average for 2008–11.

So is this good news or bad? At first sight it would seem to be bad, especially for the countries with large falls in output. It would also seem to be bad news for the consumer, with prices set to rise.

But for some it’s good news. If prices rise, then producers experiencing an increase in output will have a double gain. And a fall in output is only part of the story. For some producers, the smaller yield has been accompanied by an increase in quality. And then there’s the question of stocks. For several years, global production of wine has exceeded consumption. Indeed the gap widened after the financial crisis and recession of 2007–9 as consumption of wine fell. This year’s poor global harvest should help to slow down the increase in stocks or may even lead to a reduction in stocks, depending on the extent to which demand recovers.

Articles
World Wine Output to Fall to 37-Year Low, Depleting Stocks BloombergBusinessweek, Rudy Ruitenberg (30/10/12)
World wine drought after weather ruins harvests The Telegraph, John-Paul Ford Rojas (31/10/12)
Wine Experts: Drought, Cold Bring Worst Harvest in 50 Years Skye (30/10/12)
Wine experts: worst grape harvest in half century Washington Examiner (17/10/12)
Small 2012 harvest sparks supply fears thedrinksbusiness.com, Gabriel Savage (30/10/12)
Wine shortage to follow poor 2012 grape harvest BBC News (31/10/12)
Hot summer cools business prospects for Madrid vintners BBC News, Jaime Gonzales (24/9/12)
World awash in wine, so Europe’s poor grape harvest won’t hit Edmonton goblets just yet Edmonton Journal, Dan Barnes (17/10/12)

Data
Wine in figures Wines from Spain
2012 global economic vitiviniculture data Wines from Spain (Note that the countries in Table 1 have been entered in the wrong order.)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of the global wine harvest on a demand and supply diagram.
  2. Will a fall in grape production of x per cent lead to a rise in the price of wine of more or less than x percent? How is the price elasticity of demand relevant to your answer?
  3. What elements are there in the supply chain from planting vines to consuming wine?
  4. How does the holding of stocks affect (a) the profitability of wine production; (b) the price volatility of wine?
  5. The Greek grape harvest is predicted to be higher in 2012 than in 2011. How will this affect the prices of Greek wines in (a) Greece; (b) outside Greece?
  6. How is the fallacy of composition relevant in assessing the benefits to owners of vineyards of a good grape harvest?
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Olive oil and the fallacy of composition

A bumper olive crop in Spain would seem to be good news for Spanish olive growers. But the effect has been a fall in the prices of olives and olive oil. With 43% of the global supply, Spain is the world’s largest olive oil producer and changes in Spanish output have a big effect on the world price.

Premium extra virgin olive oil has fallen to its lowest level (even in nominal terms) since 2002. Today the price is around $2900 (£1850) a tonne in the wholesale market; in May 2006 it peaked at nearly $5854 – double today’s price.

And while this is bad news for Spanish farmers, for farmers in countries without bumper harvests, the low prices are even harder to bear.

The problem is being exacerbated by a fall in demand in many countries currently suffering recession, such as Greece, Portugal and Italy – all big olive oil consumers. Although olive oil prices have fallen, it is still more expensive than various substitutes. Many people are thus buying these cheaper alternatives, such as sunflower oil, especially for cooking.

What is more, cheaper substitutes for olive oil are increasing in supply. Take the case of rape seed oil in the UK. As the Mail Online article, linked to below, reports:

“UK rape planting is thought to have hit an all-time high this year as British farmers take advantage of the high prices being demanded for rapeseed – base ingredient of many vegetable oils and other edible oils.

Much of the UK crop is used by the local food industry, although some analysts are predicting strong UK yields will give farmers the opportunity to export more to Europe. Because of rising export demand, oil users in the UK claim there is little to indicate the price they are paying for rapeseed oil will drop substantially in the near future.”

The market for olive oil is global. Crop yields in one part of the world, both of olives and of substitute crops, affect global prices and hence growers’ incomes worldwide.

Webcast
Debt hit countries suffer from olive oil price dip Euronews (28/5/12)

News articles
Olive oil price slides as glut hits southern Europe Gulf News, Javier Blas (29/5/12)
Farmers feel squeeze as olive oil price slips The National, Gregor Stuart Hunter (29/5/12)
Olive oil surplus adds to economic pain in Spain The Week (29/5/12)
Olive oil price fall brings further pain for Spain, Italy and Greece The Telegraph (28/5/12)
Pass notes No 3183: Olive oil Guardian (28/5/12)
More Storage Aid for Virgin Olive Oil Olive Oil Times, Julie Butler (17/5/12)
Yellow Britain from the air: Rapeseed’s relentless march across the country pictured in vivid colour as farmers cash in after price of crop’s oil soars Mail Online, Sean Poulter (29/5/12)

Data
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Olive Oil, extra virgin Monthly Price – US Dollars per Metric Ton Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Identify the factors that have contributed to the fall in the price of olive oil. Illustrate the effects on a demand and supply diagram.
  2. Explain what is meant by the fallacy of composition and how it relates to a price taker, such as a farmer.
  3. How do the price elasticities of demand and supply of olive oil help to explain the magnitude of the price fall?
  4. What developments in other vegetable oils are affecting the olive oil market? What determines the magnitude of these effects?
  5. What actions have been taken by the EU to support the olive oil market? Is this the most appropriate policy response?
  6. Why are Middle Eastern olive producers unable to compete on cost with the major EU producing countries?
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The ‘paradox of cuts’

Keynes referred to the ‘paradox of thrift’ (see, for example, Box 17.5 on page 492 of Sloman and Wride, Economics, 7th edition). The paradox goes something like this: if individuals save more, they will increase their consumption possibilities in the future. If society saves more, however, this may reduce its future income and consumption. Why should this be so? Well, as people in general save more, they will spend less. Firms will thus produce less. What is more, the lower consumption will discourage firms from investing. Thus, through both the multiplier and the accelerator, GDP will fall.

What we have in the paradox of thrift is an example of the ‘fallacy of composition’ (see Sloman and Wride, Box 3.7 on page 84). What applies at the individual level will not necessarily apply at the aggregate level. The paradox of thrift applied in the Great Depression of the 1930s. People cutting back on consumption drove the world economy further into depression.

Turn the clock forward some 80 years. On 26/27 June 2010, leaders of the G20 countries met in Canada to consider, amongst other things, how to protect the global economic recovery while tackling the large public-sector deficits. These deficits have soared as a result of two things: (a) the recession of 2008/9, which reduced tax revenues and resulted in more people claiming benefits, (b) the expansionary fiscal policies adopted to bring countries out of recession.

But the leaders were divided on how much to cut now. Some, such as the new Coalition government in the UK, want to cut the deficit quickly in order to appease markets and avert a Greek-style crisis and a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to service the debt. Others, such as the Obama Administration in the USA, want to cut more slowly so as not to put the recovery in jeopardy. Nevertheless, cuts were generally agreed, although agreement about the timing was more vague.

So where is the fallacy of composition? If one country cuts, then it is possible that increased demand from other countries could drive recovery. If all countries cut, however, the world may go back into recession. What applies to one country, therefore, may not apply to the world as a whole.

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail and consider the individual elements of aggregate demand. If there are to be cuts in government expenditure, then there has to be a corresponding increase in aggregate demand elsewhere, if growth is to be maintained. This could come from increased consumption. But, with higher taxes and many people saving more (or reducing their borrowing) for fear of being made redundant or, at least, of having a cut in their incomes, there seems to be little sign that consumption will be the driver of growth.

Then there is investment. But, fearing a ‘double-dip recession’, business confidence is plummeting (see) and firms are likely to be increasingly reluctant to invest. Indeed, after the G20 summit, stock markets around the world fell. On 29 June, the FTSE 100 fell by 3.10% and the main German and French stock market indices, the Dax and the Cac 40, fell by 3.33% and 4.01% respectively. This was partly because of worries about re-financing the debts of various European countries, but it was partly because of fears about recovery stalling.

The problem is that cuts in government expenditure and rises in taxes directly affect the private sector. If government capital expenditure is cut, this will directly affect the construction industry. Even if the government makes simple efficiency savings, such as reducing the consumption of paper clips or paper, this will directly affect the private stationery industry. If taxes are raised, consumers are likely to buy less. Under these circumstances, no wonder many industries are reluctant to invest.

This leaves net exports (exports minus imports). Countries generally are hoping for a rise in exports as a way of maintaining aggregate demand. But here we have the fallacy of composition in its starkest form. If one country exports more, then this can boost its aggregate demand. But if all countries in total are to export more, this can only be achieved if there is an equivalent increase in global imports: after all, someone has to buy the exports! And again, with growth faltering, the global demand for imports is likely to fall, or at best slow down.

The following articles consider the compatibility of cuts and growth. Is there a ‘paradox of cuts’ equivalent to the paradox of thrift?

Articles
Osborne’s first Budget? It’s wrong, wrong, wrong! Independent on Sunday, Joseph Stiglitz (27/6/10)
Strategy: Focus switches from exit to growth Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/6/10)
Once again we must ask: ‘Who governs?’ Financial Times, Robert Skidelsky (16/6/10)
Europe’s next top bailout… MoneyWeb, Guy Monson and Subitha Subramaniam (9/6/10)
Hawks hovering over G20 summit Financial Times (25/6/10)
G20 applauds fiscal austerity but allows for national discretion Independent, Andrew Grice and David Usborne (28/6/10)
To stimulate or not to stimulate? That is the question Independent, Stephen King (28/6/10)
Now even the US catches the deficit reduction habit Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (28/6/10)
George Osborne claims G20 success Guardian, Larry Elliott and Patrick Wintour (28/6/10)
G20 accord: you go your way, I’ll go mine Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/6/10)
G20 summit agrees on deficit cuts by 2013 BBC News (28/6/10)
IMF says G20 could do better BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (27/6/10)
Are G20 summits worth having? What should the G20′s top priority be? (Economics by invitation): see in particular The G20 is heading for a “public sector paradox of thrift”, John Makin The Economist (25/6/10)
Why it is right for central banks to keep printing Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)
In graphics: Eurozone in crisis: Recovery Measures BBC News (24/6/10)
A prophet in his own house The Economist (1/7/10)
The long and the short of fiscal policy Financial Times, Clive Crook (4/7/10)

G20 Communiqué
The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration (27/6/10) (see particularly paragraph 10)

Questions

  1. Consider the arguments that economic growth and cutting deficits are (a) complementary aims (b) contradictory aims.
  2. Is there necessarily a ‘paradox of cuts’? Explain.
  3. How is game theory relevant in explaining the outcome of international negotiations, such as those at the G20 summit?
  4. Would it be wise for further quantitative easing to accompany fiscal tightening?
  5. What is the best way for governments to avoid a ‘double-dip recession’?
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Profiting from a new prophet

As one of his first acts, the new UK Coalition government’s Chancellor, George Osborne, set up an independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) (see Nipping it in the Budd: Enhancing fiscal credibility?. The role of the OBR is to provide forecasts of the economy and the data on which to base fiscal policy.

On 14 June, the OBR produced its first forecast in time for the Budget scheduled for 22 June. It has some bad news and some good news. First the bad news: it forecasts that growth for 2011 will be 2.6% – down from the 3–3.5% forecast by Labour in its last Budget in March. But now the good: it forecasts that the public-sector deficit in 2010/11 will be 10.5% of GDP – down from the 11.1% forecast by Labour; and that public-sector debt will be 62.2%, not the 63.6% forecast by Labour. These forecasts are before any policy changes announced in the Budget on 22 June.

Meanwhile, the accountants BDO have published a survey of business confidence. This shows the largest drop since the survey began. Talk by the government of cuts and worries that this will impact directly on the private sector have caused many businesses to cut investment plans. The worries are compounded by fears of a decline in export demand as countries abroad also make cuts.

So what does the future hold? Should we put any faith in forecasts? And should we be more worried about a double-dip recession or by failure to make sufficient inroads to deficits to calm markets?

Articles
Growth forecast is cut but borrowing improves Guardian, Phillip Inman and Hélène Mulholland (14/6/10)
UK watchdog slashes growth forecasts Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/6/10)
Fiscal watchdog downgrades UK growth forecast BBC News (14/6/10)
OBR UK growth forecast downgraded BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
‘Sorry it is so complicated’ BBC Daily Politics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
Britain’s new economic forecasts: what the analysts say Guardian (14/6/10)
Spending cuts under fire amid new borrowing forecasts Independent, Russell Lynch (14/6/10)
The self-fulfilling deficit spiral Guardian, Adam Lent (14/6/10)
UK business confidence sees ‘record drop’ BBC News (13/6/10)
Britain to avoid double dip but recovery will be weak, CBI warns Independent, David Prosser (14/6/10)
A winding path to inflation The Economist (3/6/10)
Is inflation or deflation a greater threat to the world economy? The Economist: debate (1/6/10)
A question for chancellor Osborne Financial Times, Martin Wolf (11/6/10)
Fiscal conservatism may be good for one nation, but threatens collective disaster Independent, Joseph Stiglitz (15/6/10)
Hawks v doves: economists square up over Osborne’s cuts Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/6/10)

Data and forecasts
Pre-Budget forecast Office for Budget Responsibility (14/6/10)
Pre-Budget Report data Google docs (14/6/10)
Forecast for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury (May 2010)

Questions

  1. How reliable is the OBR’s forecast likely to be? What factors could cause the forecast for economic growth to be (a) an overestimate; (b) an underestimate?
  2. What is likely to happen to aggregate demand over the coming months? Explain.
  3. What is meant by the ‘structural deficit’. Why might the structural deficit fall as the economy recovers? Would you explain this in terms of a shift or a movement along the short-term aggregate supply curve?
  4. Which is the greatest threat over the long term: inflation or deflation?
  5. Do you agree that the debate about cutting the deficit is merely a question of timing, not of the amount to cut?
  6. Why may policies of fiscal tightening, if carried out generally around the world, involve the fallacy of composition?
  7. Is there any common ground between the fiscal ‘hawks’ and fiscal ‘doves’ (see the last Guardian article above)?
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