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Posts Tagged ‘inelastic demand’

A taxing pint of beer

Binge drinking is a problem that has seen much attention, especially with regards to minimum price controls. However, in this blog, we consider attention in this sector concerning taxation on beer.

Alcohol is widely considered to be a de-merit good with negative externalities imposing external costs on society. This is one of the reasons why taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages. By increasing production costs to the firms providing these drinks, prices rise and hence the policy aims to discourage consumption.

During the recession, many businesses have seen demand fall and one sector hit particularly hard because of this and very high tax rates has been the local pub community. Duty on beer has increased since 2008 by some 42%. As such, many rural and suburban communities have seen their local watering holes close down and this has led to a campaign by CAMRA to force a debate in Parliament, as a means of protecting ‘one of Britain’s oldest and best loved institutions’. Data suggests that 12 pubs per week are closing down, thus the future of the industry is now under threat. This may also have further damaging effects on local communities, as it may adversely affect the social aspect of communities. Camra’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner said:

‘Whether situated in a small village, city high street, or on the edge of a housing estate, pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.’

According to a study, pubs in Lancashire and the West Midlands have been hardest hit by the pub closures. If pubs don’t pass the tax increase on to consumers in the form of higher prices, then they must bear the burden. If they do pass the tax rises on to consumers then the larger chain firms can increase their market share by selling at a lower price. They are also facing growing pressure from the supermarket industry, which are able to sell cheap alcohol, also contributing to going to the pub becoming an ‘unaffordable activity’. The following articles consider this industry.

Pub closures spark beer tax plea The Press Association (30/4/12)
A dozen pubs close each week Telegraph, James Hall (30/4/12)
Calls for beer tax rethink as 12 pubs shut every week BBC Radio 1, News Beat, Steve Holden (30/4/12)
Pubs in the West Midlands hit hardest by pub closures ITV News (30/4/12)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a product such as beer.
  2. In this market, would the tax be more likely to be borne by the producers or consumers? Explain your answer and illustrate on the previous diagram why this is the case.
  3. Why are supermarkets able to compete local pubs out of the alcohol market? Do you think a minimum price will have any effect?
  4. What is a de-merit good? Illustrate the concept of a negative externality on a diagram.
  5. Explain how a de-merit good causes the market to fail. To what extent does the tax on beer solve the market failure?
  6. Why are there likely to be adverse effects on local communities? Could this have an adverse effect on economic activity in the area?
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Fury at fuel prices

Whilst perhaps not an essential in the sense of needing it to live, petrol is about as close as you can get to a ‘non-essential necessity’ these days. Most families have a car (many have more than one) and despite the hikes in petrol prices we’ve seen across the UK, demand for petrol has remained high: it is a prime example of a good with a highly inelastic demand.

Over the past few years many families have chosen to forego their holidays abroad and instead have taken to summer vacations across the UK in a bid to save money. However, with the summer season approaching and families beginning to think about where to go or plan their trips, one thing that should be considered is the cost of travel. Petrol prices across Europe have risen faster than those in the UK over the past year and this may pose a significant cost and possibly deterrent to European travel. As Sarah Munro of the Post Office said:

‘The high fuel price increases in Europe mean that UK holidaymakers should plan their routes carefully in advance to cut costs’.

Petrol prices were found to be the lowest in Luxembourg at 128p per litre and the highest in Norway at 182p – a definite deterrent to filling up your tank in Scandinavia. Despite motorists’ constant exclamations of the price of petrol in the UK, of the 14 countries surveyed the UK came in as the 4th cheapest at 136p. It also had the smallest increase since 2010 of 14p, compared to the average of the countries surveyed of 27.8p.

Although the higher fuel prices have been fuelled (no pun intended) by rising wholesale oil prices, when crude prices started to fall, petrol prices didn’t decline to match. This has sparked an inquiry into petrol prices, with demands for more transparency into the price setting behaviour of firms. The British Petrol Retailers’ Association is planning on referring its concerns to the Office of Fair Trading. So the moral of the story: petrol prices are high in the UK, but if you’re going on holiday this summer, you’ll probably find that many other countries across Europe have even higher prices, so planning is essential.

Holiday hike: European petrol prices soar by up to 35 per cent Daily Mail Online, Sarah Gordon (10/6/11)
UK holidaymakers ‘face high petrol prices’ BBC News (10/6/11)
Petrol prices are 35% higher in Europe than last summer Mirror, Ruki Sayid (10/6/11)
Motoring coalition calls on EU to investigate soaring price of petrol Telegraph, Rowena Mason (10/6/11)
Motoring groups demand petrol price investigation BBC News (30/5/11)

Questions

  1. How are European petrol prices set?
  2. Why does the exchange rate against the dollar have a big impact on oil prices?
  3. Why have petrol prices in the UK not increased by as much as other European countries over the past year?
  4. Why is there likely to be an investigation into how prices are set? Which factors do you think will be considered?
  5. The Telegraph article talks about the sport market. What is this and how does it affect how petrol prices are set?
  6. Why does petrol have such inelastic demand?
  7. If a higher tax is imposed on petrol, why is it that much of the cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of a higher price? Illustrate this on a diagram.
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