Tag: productivity

“There are ‘incredible economies of scale in cloud computing’ that make it a compelling alternative to traditional enterprise data centers.” According to the first article below, cloud computing represents a step change in the way businesses are likely to handle data or use software. Rather than having their own servers with their own programs, they use a centralised service or ‘public cloud’, provided by a company such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon Web Services. The cloud is accessed via the Internet or a dedicated network. It can thus be accessed not only from company premises but by mobile workers using tablets or other devices and thus makes telecommuting more cost effective.

There are considerable economies of scale in providing these computing services, with the minimum efficient scale considerably above the output of individual users. By accessing the cloud, individual users can benefit from the low average costs achieved by the cloud provider without having to invest in, and frequently update, the hardware and software themselves.

In the case of large companies, rather than using a public cloud, they can use a ‘private cloud’. This is hosted by the IT department in the company and achieves economies of scale at this level by removing the need for individual departments to purchase their own software and servers. Of course, the costs of providing the cloud is borne by the company itself and thus the benefits of lower up-front IT capital costs are reduced. This is clearly a less radical development and is really only an extension of the policy of many companies over the years of having centralised servers holding data and various software packages.

In autumn 2010, EMC Computer Systems commissioned economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (cebr) to quantify the full impact that cloud computing will have over the years ahead. According to the report, The Cloud Dividend:

The Cebr’s research calculates that €177.3 billion per year will be generated by 2015, if companies across Europe’s five largest economies continue to adopt cloud technology as expected.

The Cebr found that the annual economic benefit of cloud computing, by 2015, will be:
• France – €37.4 billion
• Germany – €49.6 billion
• Italy – €35.1 billion
• Spain – €25.2 billion
• UK – €30.0 billion

Will the ability of cloud computing to drive down the costs of IT mean that a new revolution is underway? Just how significant are the economies of scale and are they likely to grow as cloud providers themselves grow in size and experience? The following articles look at some of the issues.


Reports and information


  1. What specific economies of scale are achieved through cloud computing?
  2. Why might the minimum efficient scale of cloud computing services be above the level of output of many companies?
  3. What are the downsides to cloud computing?
  4. How would you set about assessing the statement that we are on the brink of a fundamental revolution in business computing?
  5. Why are customer-heavy sectors, such as financial services, utilities, governments, leisure and retail, expected to buy into the concept fastest?
  6. How can product life cycle analysis help to understand the stages in the adoption of cloud computing?

The Labour government’s investment in education has been widely publicised since its rise to power in 1997 and there has been a significant increase in funding to match its ‘50% participation in higher education’ target. However, at the university level, this looks set to change. More than 100 universities face a drop in their government grants as a consequence of £450 million worth of cuts. 69 universities face cuts in cash terms and another 37 have rises below 2 per cent. Furthermore, increased funding is now going to those departments where research is of the highest quality, which means that whilst some universities will not see a cut in funding, they will see a reallocation of their funds.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of Hefce, said: “These are very modest reductions. I think it is quite likely that universities will be able to cope with these without in any way undermining the student experience.” Despite this reassurance, there are concerns that, with these spending cuts and growing student numbers, class sizes will have to increase, the quality of the education may fall and ultimately, it may mean a reduction in the number of places offered. The Conservatives have estimated that 275,000 students will miss out on a place. UCAS applications have grown by 23% – or 106,389 – so far this year, but the number of places has been reduced by 6000. This policy of cutting places is clearly contrary to the government’s target of 50% participation.

With the average degree costing students over £9000, it is hardly surprising that students are unhappy with these spending cuts and the fact that it could lead to a lower quality education. With the possibility of rising fees (in particular, as advocated by Lord Patten, who has called for the abolition of a “preposterous” £3,200 cap on student tuition fees) and a lower quality degree, this means that students could end up paying a very high price for a university education.


Universities fear research funding cuts Financial Times (18/3/10)
More students but who will pay? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
University cuts announced as recession bites Reuters (18/3/10)
How about $200,000 dollars for a degree? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
Liberate our universities Telegraph (17/3/10)
Universities should set own fees, say Oxford Chancellor Patten Independent, Richard Garner (17/3/10)
University budgets to be slashed by up to 14% Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (18/3/10)
Universities face cuts as Hefce deals with first funding drop in years RSC, Chemistry World (17/3/10)
University cuts spell campus turmoil BBC News, Hannah Richardson (18/3/10)
Universities told of funding cuts Press Association (18/3/10)
100 universities suffer as government announces £450 million of cuts Times Online, Greg Hurst (18/3/10)


HEFCE announces funding of £7.3 billion for universities and colleges in England HEFCE News (18/3/10)


  1. Why is there justification for government intervention in higher education? Think about the issues of efficiency and equity and why the market for education fails.
  2. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against allowing universities to set their own tuition fees?
  3. Why is the government planning these substantial cuts to university funding, when it is still trying to increase the number of students getting places at university?
  4. Is the ‘50% participation in higher education’ a good policy?
  5. What are the benefits of education? Think about those accruing to the individual and those gained by society. Can you use this to explain why the government has role in intervening in the market for higher education?
  6. Is it right that more spending should go to those departments with higher quality research? What are the arguments for and against this policy?
  7. What are the costs to a student of a university education and how will they change with funding cuts and possibly higher tuition fees?

The happiness literature has established that, in the developed countries, increasing affluence has not increased well-being in recent decades. We seek an explanation for this in terms of conspicuous consumption, a phenomenon originally identified by Veblen.

This is from the abstract of an article in the Economic Journal, ‘Well-being and Affluence in the Presence of a Veblen Good’ by B. Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran. The authors argue that while increased affluence of the rich may bring a small amount of extra benefit to them, it actually reduces the well-being of others who crave after things that they cannot afford. As the first article below states:

[The authors] believe their work shows that as a nation becomes wealthier, consumption shifts increasingly to buying status symbols with no intrinsic value – such as lavish jewellery, designer clothes and luxury cars. But they warn: “These goods represent a ‘zero-sum game’ for society: they satisfy the owners, making them appear wealthy, but everyone else is left feeling worse off.”

… There is another downside. As people yearn for more status symbols they have less time or inclination for helping others. This, the authors argue, damages “community and trust”, which are vital to an economy because they ensure the smooth running of society.

But do the super wealthy generate more jobs and more prosperity? Do we need to pay vast salaries and bonuses as incentives for executives to take risks: to invest in new products and processes, and drive technological advance and productivity increases? According to the second article, ‘Too few of the world’s billionaires can claim to be honest-to-God productive entrepreneurs who have enlarged the economic pie by dint of hard work, imagination, risk taking and innovation – although thankfully a useful proportion do populate the list.’

So is the ever widening gap between rich and poor necessary if the economy is to grow? Or is it something of very little value to society, except, perhaps, for the super rich themselves?

More money makes society miserable, warns report The Observer, Jamie Doward (14/3/10)
Don’t celebrate these billionaires, be horrified by their existence The Observer, Will Hutton (14/3/10)

For the latest Guardian survey of executive pay, see: Executive pay survey, 2009
For data on UK incomes and income distribution, see: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) Office for National Statistics
For data on the distribution of wealth in the UK, see Distribution of Personal Wealth HM Revenue and Customs


  1. Explain what is meant by a ‘Veblen good’.
  2. What is meant by the diminishing marginal utility of income? What implications does this have for the effects of income distribution and redistribution on social well-being?
  3. Why may a rise in GDP make society worse off if it is accompanied by growing inequality?
  4. To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the salaries and other rewards of the wealthy?
  5. Using the data below, examine the extent to which the gap between rich and poor is growing.
  6. Explain why increasing conspicuous consumption by the wealthy might be a zero-sum game for society or even a negative-sum game.
  7. What factors cause a rise in productivity?
  8. How might greater entrepreneurship be encouraged in the UK?

The large bonuses received by bankers, often amounting to more than a million pounds, have been contentious for many years. With the banking crisis and subsequent recession, and with both public and government outrage at the size of the bonuses, many thought that the days of such bonuses were over. But such is not the case. “There has been public disquiet that leading banks – which have been seen as a major cause of the financial crisis – have been receiving taxpayer funds, but are not prepared to change their traditional culture of awarding big bonuses to key staff.”

The following articles look at what has been happening to senior bankers’ remuneration in recent months. But what are the market conditions that allow such rewards to continue? Are they a reflection of the marginal productivity of bankers or of their market power, or what?

RBS to keep paying bonuses despite 1bn first-half loss Telegraph (7/8/09)
Lloyds chief plans bonuses for ‘spectacular job’ in making £4bn loss Telegraph (6/8/09)
CS toxic bonuses are up 17%, but gains can’t be realised for four years eFinancial Careers (7/8/09)
Banks: Look, don’t touch Guardian (8/8/09)
Analysis: The plan’s the thing Times Online (7/8/09)
Cutting our bonuses would hit the taxpayer, says RBS Citywire (7/8/09)
France targets bankers’ bonuses BBC News (7/8/09)
Sarkozy weighs into debate over banker bonuses after BNP Paribas compensation sparks anger Los Angeles Times (7/8/09)
Knotting the purse-strings The Economist (6/8/09)
Pay and politics The Economist (6/8/09)


  1. Explain why many senior bankers have continued to receive huge bonuses. To what extent is oligopoly theory relevant to your explanation?
  2. To what extent do the size of the bonuses reflect senior bankers’ contributions to (a) the productivity and (b) the profits of their bank?
  3. If bankers are to be paid bonuses, what is the best form for these bonuses to take? Consider the incentive effects in your answer.
  4. Should bankers’ bonuses be regulated and, if so, what criteria should regulators use for determining the acceptable size of bonuses?