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Posts Tagged ‘public services’

City life

Two surveys have been released looking at the quality of life in cities and the levels of happiness of their residents. The first is a three-yearly Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission focusing on 83 European cities/conurbations. This survey finds that, despite growing concerns about immigration, terrorism and stagnant real incomes, levels of satisfaction have remained stable since the 2012 survey. In all except six cities, at least 80% of respondents say that they are satisfied to live in their city. The highest scores (above 98%) are in the north of Europe.

The second is the 2016 Quality of Life Survey (an annual survey) by the consultancy firm, Mercer. This looks at cities worldwide, particularly from the perspective of employees of multinational companies being placed abroad. The survey found that the top ten cities by quality of life include seven in Europe, and that the five safest cities in the world are all in Europe.

So what is it that makes the quality of life so high in many European cities, especially those in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia? Is it that income per head is higher in these cities? In other words, is the quality of life related to GDP?

The answer is only loosely related to GDP. What seems more important is people’s income relative to other people and whether their income relative to other people is rising.

But people regard the quality of life in cities as depending on other factors than simple relative income. One factor common across all cities is household composition. People are least happy if they live on their own.

Other factors include: a feeling of safety; how well integrated different ethic and social groups are felt to be; the quality of public transport; the cleanliness of the city; health care provision and social services; the quality of schools and other educational establishments; sports facilities; cultural facilities; parks and other public spaces; the quality of shops, restaurants and other retail outlets; the quality and price of housing; the ease of getting a job; trust in fellow citizens; environmental factors, such as air quality, noise, traffic congestion and cleanliness; good governance of the city. The top three issues are health services, unemployment and education and training.

Although cities with higher incomes per head can usually afford to provide better services, there is only a loose correlation between income per head and quality of life in cities. Many of the factors affecting quality of life are not provided by the market but are provided publicly or are part of social interaction outside the market.

Articles
Happiness in Europe The Economist (25/2/16)
Happiness in Europe: What makes Europeans happy? It depends on where they live The Economist (27/2/16)
Rating Europe’s Most and Least Happy Cities CityLab, Feargus O’Sullivan (9/2/16)
Europe’s Nicest Cities Aren’t Its Happiest Ones Bloomberg, Therese Raphael (2/2/16)
Vienna named world’s top city for quality of life The Guardian, Patrick Collinson (23/2/16)
Vienna named world’s best city to live for quality of life, but London, New York and Paris fail to make top rankings Independent, Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith (23.2.16)
The world’s most liveable cities: London and Edinburgh rank in top 50 The Telegraph, Soo Kim (23/2/16)

Reports
Quality of Life in European Cities 2015 Flash Eurobarometer 41 (January 2016)
Quality of Life in European Cities 2015: Individual Country Reports Flash Eurobarometer 41 (January 2016) (This may take a short while to download.)
Quality of life in European Cities 2015: Data for Research Flash Eurobarometer 41 (January 2016)
2016 Quality of Living Rankings Mercer (23/2/16)
Western European Cities Top Quality of Living Ranking Mercer, Press Release (23/2/16)

Questions

  1. Why, do you think, is the quality of life is generally higher in (a) most northern European cities than most southern and eastern European ones; (b) most European cities rather than most north American ones?
  2. To what extent is (a) absolute real income per head; (b) relative real income per head an indicator of quality of living in cities?
  3. Why, do you think, are Italians less satisfied with the quality of life in their cities than residents of other western European countries?
  4. What factors affect your own quality of living? To what extent do they depend on the city/town/village/area where you live?
  5. Look at the list of factors above that affect quality of life in a given city. Put them in order of priority for you and identify any other factors not listed. To what extent do they depend on your age, your background, your income and your personal interests and tastes?
  6. Identify a particular city with which you are relatively familiar and assume that you were responsible for allocating the city’s budget. What would you spend more money on, what less and what the same? Provide a justification for your allocation.
  7. Discuss the following passage from the Bloomberg article: “What is striking is that there appears to be a correlation between those who report high levels of satisfaction and those who view foreigners in their city as an advantage. Conversely, respondents who complained loudest about transportation, public services, safety and other issues tended to view the presence of foreigners far less favorably.”
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Remember, Remember the 30th November

No, bonfire night hasn’t been moved, but the 30th November could certainly be a day to remember. This day has been ‘selected’ by Unions for a nationwide day of action in response to government plans to increase workers’ pension contribution. The action would undoubtedly lead to massive disruption to public services across the UK and if an agreement is not reached with Ministers, we are likely to see further days of industrial action. In the words of the TUC boss, Brendan Barber, if no agreement is forthcoming, there will be ‘the biggest trade union mobilisation for a generation’.

The so-called pensions crisis has been an ongoing saga with seemingly no end in sight. As the UK population gets older, the strain on the state pension will continue to grow. The dependency ratio has increased – there are more and more pensioners being supported by fewer and fewer adults of working age. If the level of benefits is to be maintained, workers must either work for longer or make larger contributions to make up the deficit.

Plans are already in motion to increase the retirement age, but this in itself will not be sufficient. If pension contributions do increase, workers will undoubtedly find themselves worse off – a larger proportion of their gross income will be taken and hence net incomes will be lower. With less disposable income, consumer expenditure will fall, and given that consumption is the largest component of aggregate demand, the economy will take a hit. This is even more of a concern given the pay freezes we have already seen, together with rising inflation. People’s purses will get squeezed more and more, So, while raising pension contributions may help plug the pensions deficit, it could spell trouble for the economic prospects of the UK economy.

In addition to the potential longer term effects, there will also be a significant short term effect, namely, the loss of output on the day of the strike action. If workers are absent, the company will produce less than their potential and in some cases, the lost output can never be regained. If the postal workers go on strike, businesses may find packages go undelivered, customers experience delays, bills are not paid and so on. In all, strike action on the scale that is planned will have an impact on everyone, so it is in the interests of the economy for some sort of agreement to be reached. As Mr. Barber said:

‘If there’s no progress, then potentially we will see very widespread industrial action across the public services’

The following articles look at this conflict.

Unions plan ‘day of action’ over pensions Financial Times, Brian Groom (14/9/11)
TUC: ‘Strikes will be the biggest for a generation’ says Brendan Barber Telegraph (14/9/11)
Unions call for ‘national day of action’ over pensions BBC News (14/9/11)
Unions call collective day of strike action in November Guardian, Helene Mulholland and Dan Milmo (14/9/11)
Ed Miliband to warn trade unions that they must modernise Independent, Andrew Grice (13/9/11)
Trade unions plan day of action over pensions on Nov 30 Associated Press (14/9/11)
Are the trade unions about to save Britain? Telegraph, Mary Riddell (12/9/11)
Pension row unions in day of action The Press Association (14/9/11)
Unions set date for pensions strike as ‘unprecedented ballot begins’ Telegraph, Christopher Hope (14/9/11)
TUC to attack ministers over public sector pensions BBC News(14/9.11)
Secret plan for union strikes to cripple the country Telegraph, Christopher Hope(14/9/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main costs of strike action to (a) the individual going on strike (b) the firms which lose their workers (c) small businesses (d) the economy?
  2. What is meant by the dependency ratio? What action could be taken to reduce it? For each type of action, think about the costs and benefits.
  3. If pension contributions do increase, explain how workers will be affected. How will this affect each of the components of aggregate demand?
  4. Based on your answer to the above questions, what is likely to be the impact on the government’s macroeconomic objectives?
  5. What other action, besides striking, could unions take? Is it likely to be as effective? Do you think strikes are a good thing?
  6. Illustrate on a diagram the effect of a trade union entering an industry. How does it normally affect equilibrium wages and employment?
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Choice – whether you like it or not!

As economists we often argue that choice is a good thing as it will help to create more efficient and dynamic markets. Public-sector reform has tended to focus on the introduction of choice as a way of making public services more responsive to consumer needs. But is choice always a good thing? The article linked to below from the Guardian considers the trade-off between choice and central planning.

We’re getting choice, whether we want it or not Guardian (16/3/2008)

Questions
1. Explain how increased choice helps to make the public sector more responsive to consumer needs.
2. Discuss whether centrally planned provision of public services, such as healthcare, is likely to lead to more or less efficient services.
3. Assess the extent to which increased choice in the provision of health services is likely to make health care more responsive to people’s healthcare needs.
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