Category: Economics 10e: Ch 10

Since Labour has been in power the gap between rich and poor has remained more or less unchanged – a fact that might be surprising given a Labour government and fiscal policies that have become increasingly redistributive in nature. In fact income distribution in the UK has not changed since 1991 according to Office for National Statistics figures. Economists measure income distribution in various ways, but two of the key indicators are the Gini coefficient and the Lorenz curve. For more information on income distribution and some useful data, you may like to download an income data spreadsheet from the IFS (zip file). If you are interested in where you fit into the income scale, then you may also like to try the Institute for Fiscal Studies interactive income model. Why not try a range of different scenarios to see where different levels of income fit into the overall income scale.

UK income gap ‘same as in 1991’ BBC News Online (16/12/08)

Questions

  1. Define the terms (a) Gini coefficient and (b) Lorenz curve.
  2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show how the Lorenz curve will change when income distribution becomes (a) more equal and (b) less equal.
  3. Explain how the value of the Gini coefficient will change as income distribution gets more equal. With reference to the IFS spreadsheet (linked to above) descibe how the Gini coefficient has changed in recent years.
  4. Discuss reasons why income distibution in the UK has stayed the same since 1991 despite a series of redistributive measures adopted by the Labour government since 1997.

In a remarkable turn around, the current financial crisis has seen mentions of Karl Marx and Marxism creeping their way back into the economic media. Whilst no-one expects a resurgence of Marxist economics, the current financial crisis has led people to wonder whether his work may have some relevance in trying to analyse the current instability in the capitalist and financial system. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has argued that Karl Marx was right in his assessment of capitalism. So is Marx turning in his grave, or is he due for a revival of fortunes?

Banking crisis gives added capital to Karl Marx’s writings Times Online (20/10/08)
The red Archbishop? Guardian (25/9/08)
Marx is dead: don’t resuscitate him Guardian (27/9/08)

Questions

1. Summarise the key tenets of Marxist economics.
2. Step 5 of Karl Marx’s ten essential steps to Communism was “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state…..“. Assess the relevance of this as a possible solution to the current financial crisis.
3. An over-expansion of credit can enable the capitalist system to sell temporarily more goods than the sum of real incomes created in current production, plus past savings, could buy, but in the long run, debts must be paid”. Discuss the extent to which this quote from Marx is relevant in the analysis of the current financial crisis.

The article linked below looks at the extent to which economic downturn and rising inequality are likely to affect crime levels in the UK. Traditionally the view has been that an economic downturn will raise crime, but is it necessarily the downturn that is causing the increased crime?

Consumed by crime Guardian (24/9/08)

Questions

1. Explain why an economic downturn may lead to increased levels of crime.
2. Discuss the extent to which deregulation of markets may have exaggerated the relationship between crime and the level of economic growth.
3. Assess the view espoused in the article that “a culture obsessed with material goods” and “competitive individualism” have led to stronger link between crime and economic growth.

The article linked to below from Evan Davis’s blog starts with the following multiple choice question:

“What effect do you think it has, if a British bus company employs a bus driver from overseas?

a) it takes away the job of a British bus driver?
b) it increases the number of bus drivers we have?
c) it undercuts the wages of British bus drivers?
d) it reduces bus fares for British passengers?”

What is your answer?

On the buses BBC News Online (5/11/07)

Questions

1. Explain what is meant by the phrase “lump of labour fallacy”.
2. Assess the extent to which the most appropriate answer to the multiple choice question is “(e) all of the above”.
3. Discuss the extent to which the answer to the above multiple choice question may differ in a perfectly competitive and imperfect labour market.

Al Gore’s contribution to the global climate change debate is not in question and he has, along with the IPCC, been awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in raising awareness. If you haven’t seen his film “An inconvenient truth” then do get hold of the DVD – it may just be the most interesting PowerPoint presentation you will ever see! However, does he really understand the nature of the debate? The article below suggests that he has not yet taken account of the most fundamental trade-off in dealing with climate change – the trade-off between our own quality of life and that of our descendants in the future.

Save the earth in six hard questions MSN Slate (22/10/07)

Questions

1. Explain what is mean by a trade-off “between the quality of our own lives and the quality of our descendants’ [lives]”.
2. What is meant by the term ‘risk-averse’ and how is this relevant in the climate change debate?
3. Consider the questions raised by the article. Discuss how relevant the conclusion reached is in the light of these questions.