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Posts Tagged ‘technological progress’

Up in the cloud

Cloud computing is growing rapidly and has started to dominate many parts of the IT market. Cloud revenues are rising at around 25% per year and, according to Jeremy Duke of Synergy Research Group:

“Major barriers to cloud adoption are now almost a thing of the past, especially on the public-cloud side. Cloud technologies are now generating massive revenues for technology vendors and cloud service providers, and yet there are still many years of strong growth ahead.”

The market leader in cloud services (as opposed to cloud hardware) is Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon. At the end of 2016, it had a market share of around 40%, larger than the next three competitors (Microsoft, Google and IBM), combined. AWS originated cloud computing some 10 years ago. It is set to have generated revenue of $13 billion in 2016.

The cloud computing services market is an oligopoly, with a significant market leader, AWS. But is the competition from other players in the market, including IT giants, such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, enough to guarantee that the market stays competitive and that prices will fall as technology improves and costs fall?

Certainly all the major players are investing heavily in new services, better infrastructure and marketing. And they are already established suppliers in other sectors of the IT market. Microsoft and Google, in particular, are strong contenders to AWS. Nevertheless, as the first article states:

Neither Google nor Microsoft have an easy task since AWS will continue to be an innovation machine with a widely recognized brand among the all-important developer community. Both Amazon’s major competitors have an opportunity to solidify themselves as strong alternatives in what is turning into a public cloud oligopoly.

Articles
While Amazon dominates cloud infrastructure, an oligopoly is emerging. Which will buyers bet on? diginomica, Kurt Marko (16/2/17)
Study: AWS has 45% share of public cloud infrastructure market — more than Microsoft, Google, IBM combined GeekWire, Dan Richman (31/10/16)
Cloud computing revenues jumped 25% in 2016, with strong growth ahead, researcher says GeekWire, Dan Richman (4/1/17)

Data
Press releases Synergy Research Group

Questions

  1. Distinguish the different segments of the cloud computing market.
  2. What competitive advantages does AWS have over its major rivals?
  3. What specific advantages does Microsoft have in the cloud computing market?
  4. Is the amount of competition in the cloud computing market enough to prevent the firms from charging excessive prices to their customers? How might you assess what is ‘excessive’?
  5. What barriers to entry are there in the cloud computing market? Should they be a worry for competition authorities?
  6. Are the any network economies in cloud computing? What might they be?
  7. Cloud computing is a rapidly developing industry (for example, the relatively recent development of cloud containers). How does the speed of development impact on competition?
  8. How would market saturation affect competition and the behaviour of the major players?
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Evolving capitalism: technology and the rise of the sharing economy

The articles below examine the rise of the sharing economy and how technology might allow it to develop. A sharing economy is where owners of property, equipment, vehicles, tools, etc. rent them out for periods of time, perhaps very short periods. The point about such a system is that the renter deals directly with the property owner – although sometimes initially through an agency. Airbnb and Uber are two examples.

So far the sharing economy has not developed very far. But the development of smart technology will soon make a whole range of short-term renting contracts possible. It will allow the contracts to be enforced without the need for administrators, lawyers, accountants, bankers or the police. Payments will be made electronically and automatically, and penalties, too, could be applied automatically for not abiding by the contract.

One development that will aid this process is a secure electronic way of keeping records and processing payments without the need for a central authority, such as a government, a bank or a company. It involves the use of ‘blockchains‘ (see also). The technology, used in Bitcoin, involves storing data widely across networks, which allows the data to be shared. The data are secure and access is via individuals having a ‘private key’ to parts of the database relevant to them. The database builds in blocks, where each block records a set of transactions. The blocks build over time and are linked to each other in a logical order (i.e. in ‘chains’) to allow tracking back to previous blocks.

Blockchain technology could help the sharing economy to grow substantially. It could significantly cut down the cost of sharing information about possible rental opportunities and demands, and allow minimal-cost secure transactions between owner and renter. As the IBM developerWorks article states:

Rather than use Uber, Airbnb or eBay to connect with other people, blockchain services allow individuals to connect, share, and transact directly, ushering in the real sharing economy. Blockchain is the platform that enables real peer-to-peer transactions and a true ‘sharing economy’.

Article
New technology may soon resurrect the sharing economy in a very radical form The Guardian, Ben Tarnoff (17/10/16)
Blockchain and the sharing economy 2.0 IBM developerWorks, Lawrence Lundy (12/5/16)
2016 is set to become the most interesting year yet in the life story of the sharing economy Nesta, Helen Goulden (Dec 2015)
Blockchain Explained Business Insider, Tina Wadhwa and Dan Bobkoff (16/10/16)
A parliament without a parliamentarian Interfluidity, Steve Randy Waldman (19/6/16)
Blockchain and open innovation: What does the future hold Tech City News, Jamie QIU (17/10/16)
Banks will not adopt blockchain fast Financial Times, Oliver Bussmann (14/10/16)
Blockchain-based IoT project does drone deliveries using Ethereum International Business Times, Ian Allison (14/10/16)

Questions

  1. What do you understand by the ‘sharing economy’?
  2. Give some current examples of the sharing economy? What other goods or services might be suitable for sharing if the technology allowed?
  3. How could blockchain technology be used to cut out the co-ordinating role carried out by companies such as Uber, eBay and Airbnb and make their respective services a pure sharing economy?
  4. Where could blockchain technology be used other than in the sharing economy?
  5. How can blockchain technology not only record property rights but also enforce them?
  6. What are the implications of blockchain technology for employment and unemployment? Explain.
  7. How might attitudes towards using the sharing economy develop over time and why?
  8. Referring to the first article above, what do you think of Toyota’s use of blockchain to punish people who fall behind on their car payments? Explain your thinking.
  9. Would the use of blockchain technology in the sharing economy make markets more competitive? Could it make them perfectly competitive? Explain.
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The rise of the machines

What will production look like in 20 years time? Will familiar jobs in both manufacturing and the services be taken over by robots? And if so, which ones? What will be the effect on wages and on unemployment? Will most people be better off, or will just a few gain while others get by with minimum-wage jobs or no jobs at all?

The BBC has been running a series looking at new uses for robots and whether they will take people’s jobs? This complements three reports: one by Boston Consulting one by Deloitte and an earlier one by Deloitte and Michael Osborne and Carl Frey from Oxford University’s Martin School. As Jane Wakefield, the BBC’s technology reporter states:

Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2025, up to a quarter of jobs will be replaced by either smart software or robots, while a study from Oxford University has suggested that 35% of existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.

Jobs at threat from machines include factory work, office work, work in the leisure sector, work in medicine, law, education and other professions, train drivers and even taxi and lorry drivers. At present, in many of these jobs machines work alongside humans. For example, robots on production lines are common, and robots help doctors perform surgery and provide other back-up services in medicine.

A robot may not yet have a good bedside manner but it is pretty good at wading through huge reams of data to find possible treatments for diseases.

Even if robots don’t take over all jobs in these fields, they are likely to replace an increasing proportion of many of these jobs, leaving humans to concentrate on the areas that require judgement, creativity, human empathy and finesse.

These developments raise a number of questions. If robots have a higher marginal revenue product/marginal cost ratio than humans, will employers choose to replace humans by robots, wholly or in part? How are investment costs factored into the decision? And what about industrial relations? Will employers risk disputes with employees? Will they simply be concerned with maximising profit or will they take wider social concerns into account?

Then there is the question of what new jobs would be created for those who lose their jobs to machines. According to the earlier Deloitte study, which focused on London, over 80% of companies in London say that over the next 10 years they will be most likely to take on people with skills in ‘digital know-how’, ‘management’ and ‘creativity’.

But even if new jobs are created through the extra spending power generated by the extra production – and this has been the pattern since the start of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago – will these new jobs be open largely to those with high levels of transferable skills? Will the result be an ever widening of the income gap between rich and poor? Or will there be plenty of new jobs throughout the economy in a wide variety of areas where humans are valued for the special qualities they bring? As the authors of the later Deloitte paper state:

The dominant trend is of contracting employment in agriculture and manufacturing being more than offset by rapid growth in the caring, creative, technology and business services sectors.

The issues of job replacement and job creation, and of the effects on income distribution and the balance between work and leisure, are considered in the following videos and articles, and in the three reports.

Videos
What is artificial intelligence? BBC News, Valery Eremenko (13/9/15)
What jobs will robots take over? BBC News, David Botti (15/8/14)
Could a robot do your job? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (14/9/15)
Intelligent machines: The robots that work alongside humans BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (14/9/15)
Intelligent machines: Will you be replaced by a robot? BBC News, John Maguire (14/9/15)
Will our emotions change the way adverts work? BBC News, Dan Simmons (24/7/15)
Could A Robot Do My Job? BBC Panorama, Rohan Silva (14/9/15)

Articles
Technology has created more jobs in the last 144 years than it has destroyed, Deloitte study finds Independent, Doug Bolton (18/8/15)
Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data The Guardian, Katie Allen (18/8/15)
Will a robot take your job? BBC News (11/9/15)
Intelligent Machines: The jobs robots will steal first BBC News, Jane Wakefield (14/9/15)
Robots Could Take 35 Per Cent Of UK Jobs In The Next 20 Years Says New Study Huffington Post, Thomas Tamblyn (14/9/15)
The new white-collar fear: will robots take your job? The Telegraph, Rohan Silva (12/9/15)
Does technology destroy jobs? Data from 140 years says no Catch news, Sourjya Bhowmick (11/9/15)

Reports
Takeoff in Robotics Will Power the Next Productivity Surge in Manufacturing Boston Consulting Group (10/2/15)
Agiletown: the relentless march of technology and London’s response Deloitte (November 2014)
Technology and people: The great job-creating machine Deloitte, Ian Stewart, Debapratim De and Alex Cole (August 2015)

Questions

  1. Which are the fastest growing and fastest declining occupations? To what extent can these changes be explained by changes in technology?
  2. What type of unemployment is caused by rapid technological change?
  3. Why, if automation replaces jobs, have jobs increased over the past 250 years?
  4. In what occupations is artificial intelligence (AI) most likely to replace humans?
  5. To what extent are robots and humans complementary rather than substitute inputs into production?
  6. “Our analysis of more recent employment data also reveals a clear pattern to the way in which technology has affected work.” What is this pattern? Explain.
  7. Why might AI make work more interesting for workers?
  8. Using a diagram, show how an increase in workers’ marginal productivity from working alongside robots can result in an increase in employment. Is this necessarily the case? Explain.
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The end of globalisation?

The period from the end of the Second World War until the financial crisis of 2007–8 was one of increasing globalisation. World trade rose considerably faster than world GDP. The average annual growth in world GDP from 1950 to 2007 was 4.2%; the average annual growth in world merchandise exports was 6.7%.

And there were other ways in which the world was becoming increasingly interconnected. Cross-border financial flows grew strongly, especially in the 1990s and up to 2007. In the early 1990s, global cross-border capital flows were around 4% of world annual GDP; by 2007, they had risen to over 20%. The increasing spread of multinational corporations, improvements in transport, greater international movement of labour and improved communications were all factors that contributed to a deepening of globalisation.

But have things begun to change? Have we entered into an era of ‘deglobalisation’? Certainly some indicators would suggest this. In the three years 2012–14, world exports grew more slowly than world GDP. Global cross-border financial flows remain at about one-third of their 2007 peak. Increased banking regulations are making it harder for financial institutions to engage in international speculative activities.

What is more, with political turmoil in many countries, multinational corporations are more cautious about investing in such markets. Many countries are seeking to contain immigration. Fears of global instability are encouraging many firms to look inwards. After more than 13 years, settlement of the Doha round of international trade negotiations still seems a long way off. Protectionist measures abound, often amount to giving favourable treatment to domestic firms.

The Observer article considers whether the process of increased globalisation is now dead. Or will better banking regulations ultimately encourage capital flows to grow again; and will the inexorable march of technological progress give international trade and investment a renewed boost? Will lower energy and commodity prices help to reboot the global economy? Will the ‘Great Recession’ have resulted in what turns out to be merely a blip in the continued integration of the global economy? Is it, as the Huffington Post article states, that ‘globalization has a gravitational pull that is hard to resist’? See what the articles and speech have to say and what they conclude.

Articles
Borders are closing and banks are in retreat. Is globalisation dead? The Observer, Heather Stewart (23/5/15)
Is Globalization Finally Dead? Huffington Post, Peter Hall (6/5/14)

Speech
Financial “deglobalization”?: capital flows, banks, and the Beatles Bank of England, Kristin Forbes (18/11/14)

Questions

  1. Define globalisation.
  2. How does globalisation affect the distribution of income (a) between countries; (b) within countries?
  3. Why has the Doha round of trade negotiations stalled?
  4. Examine the factors that might be leading to deglobalisation.
  5. What are the implications of banking deglobalisation for the UK?
  6. Are protectionist measures always undesirable in terms of increasing global GDP?
  7. What forces of globalisation are hard to resist?
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Divided we stand

Divided we stand is the title of a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its sub-title is “Why inequality keeps rising”. The report shows how the gulf between rich and poor has widened in most countries, both developed and developing. As the introduction states:

In the three decades prior to the recent economic downturn, wage gaps widened and household income inequality increased in a large majority of OECD countries. This occurred even when countries were going through a period of sustained economic and employment growth.

The report analyses the major underlying forces behind these developments. Its conclusion is that inequality looks set to continue widening, especially with the worldwide economic slowdown and rise in unemployment. However, the report says that “there is nothing inevitable about growing inequalities. Globalisation and technological changes offer opportunities but also raise challenges that can be tackled with effective and well-targeted policies.”

So just what is the extent of inequality? How has it changed over time? And what can be done to reduce inequality? The webcast produced by the OECD to accompany the report looks at the problem, and the report and articles look at what can be done about it.

Webcast
Record inequality between rich and poor OECD (5/12/11)

Articles
Governments need will to fix growing inequality Times Colonist (Canada), Paul Willcocks (8/12/11)
Capitalism defies the laws of gravity Sydney Morning Herald, (7/12/11)
UK pay gap rises faster than any rich nation – OECD The Telegraph, (5/12/11)
The Income Inequality Boom: It’s Real and It’s Everywhere The Atlantic, Derek Thompson (6/12/11)
Income inequality growing faster in UK than any other rich country, says OECD Guardian, Randeep Ramesh (5/12/11)
OECD inequality report: how do different countries compare? Guardian datablog (5/12/11)
Inequality in Britain: faring badly in an unfair world Guardian (5/12/11)
OECD calls time on trickle-down theory Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (5/12/11)
Wage inequality ‘getting worse’ in leading economies BBC News, Adam Fleming (5/12/11)

OECD Report and Documents
Governments must tackle record gap between rich and poor, says OECD OECD Press Release (5/12/11)
Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising – Introduction by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, at Press Conference OECD (5/12/11)
Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising – 4-Page Summary of Report (5/12/11)
An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries: Main Findings OECD (5/12/11)

Questions

  1. Why may inequality be seen as a ‘bad thing’ for society as a whole and not just the poor?
  2. Does it matter for the poor if rich people’s incomes grow at a greater rate than those of the poor so long as the incomes of the poor do indeed grow?
  3. Explain what is meant by the Gini coefficient. What has happened to the Gini coefficient over the past few years across the world?
  4. Are there any common explanatory features in the economies of those countries where income inequality is growing rapidly? Similarly, are there any common explanatory features in the economies of those countries where income inequality is not growing, or growing only very slowly?
  5. What are the causes of rising inequality?
  6. Identify policies that can be adopted to tackle growing inequality.
  7. What problems arise from policies to reduce inequality by (a) reducing inequalities in disposable income; (b) providing more free services to all, such as healthcare and education? How might these problems be mitigated?
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Landline Levy

For many people, internet access is something we take for granted and if you can’t afford to connect, you might be seen to be in relative poverty. Whilst you can afford food, clothes, housing etc, other goods and services are increasingly being seen as necessities. Everyone should be able to afford a mobile phone, a television, the internet. These are all factors that contribute towards a feeling of social inclusion, which is something the government has promoted since its election in 1997.

Although internet access is the norm for most people, in the UK our internet speeds are actually significantly slower than those in other industrialised countries. All this could be about to change, with Labour’s proposal for a 50p monthly tax on households’ landlines to fund super-fast broadband across the country. However, this plan has been condemned by some influential MPs, who argue that the tax is regressive.

“We believe that a 50 pence levy placed on fixed telecommunication lines is an ill-directed charge. It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge.”

More important, they argue, is to make sure that everyone has internet access, rather than that everyone has fast access, which is not needed at the moment. When there is a demand for high-speed access from the masses, the market will provide it. However, the government argues that high-speed access is crucial to our economic growth, as it allows access to huge social, economic and health benefits. On the other hand, could such a tax reduce growth, by limiting technological innovation? The Conservatives have promised that if elected, they will scrap this broadband levy and instead aim to fund high-speed internet access by providing ‘BT’s rivals with regulatory incentives to roll out new telecoms networks’. This highly contentious issue is discussed in the articles below.

The Broadband tax: dead in the water? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (23/2/10)
Broadband tax plan condemned Press Association (23/2/10)
Social tariff users need to be made aware of broadband tax exemption Broadband Expert (17/2/10)
Broadband tax could dissuade technology innovation Broadband (27/1/10)
Tories pledge rise in broadband speed Financial Times, Andrew Parker and Ben Fenton (9/2/10)
Fast broadband: an election issue? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (3/2/10)

Questions

  1. What will be the effect of a tax on landlines? Illustrate this on a diagram and think about who will be affected. What type of tax does it represent: direct, indirect, specific, ad-valorem, etc?
  2. Is the tax fair? Why is it argued to be regressive?
  3. How will the Conservative party’s aim to provide regulatory incentives to BT’s rivals allow them to provide high-speed internet access? Is their solution better than Labour’s proposal?
  4. Why might the provision of high-speed internet access (a) stimulate economic growth and (b) constrain economic growth?
  5. Use a growth model to illustrate the importance of technological progress in achieving high levels of economic growth.
  6. How will a tax affect households? Consider the impact on income and consumption and hence on aggregate demand.
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Malthus – the false prophet

The Reverend Thomas Malthus argued that while population grows at a geometric rate, food supplies grow at an arithmetic rate. This led him to the controversial conclusion that if population grows unchecked society will run out of food. The article below argues that despite recent food price growth and food shortages, the ideas of the Reverend Malthus are as wrong as ever.

Malthus, the false prophet The Economist (15/5/08)

Questions
1. Explain the theory expounded by the Reverend Malthus in relation to population growth.
2. Assess the principal factors that affect population growth..
3. Discuss whether the ideas of the Reverend Malthus have any relevance in a modern age.
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Upwardly mobile in Africa

Research has indicated that communications technology can be a significant driver of GDP growth. In Africa it is possible that mobile phones and networks can provide opportunities for economic development and members of the GSM Association are proposing to invest £25bn in sub-Saharan Africa in the next five years.

Questions
1. Explain how improved communication technology can help create a higher level of economic growth.
2. Assess the extent to which more extensive mobile networks will help to alleviate poverty.
3. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of foreign direct investment in mobile technology for sub-Saharan Africa.
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