Category: Economics for Business: 8e Ch 03

The following article by Will Hutton looks at the relative efficiency of private- and public-sector organisations. The public sector is typically characterised as inefficient and providing a poorer level of service and poorer quality products than the private sector. After all, the private sector is driven by the profit motive, where providing a good service would seem to be a key ingredient in making more profit.

Yet when you look around you, this portrayal can be seen as far too simplistic. On the one hand, much of the public sector has been forced to be efficient, following many years of tight budgets. At the same time, many in the public sector are keen to deliver a good service, not only because that is required by their employers, but because they are motivated by a sense of public duty and professionalism. On the other hand, there are many market failings in large parts of the private sector, where monopoly power, asymmetric information and externalities are rife. Read the article and see if you agree with Will Hutton’s analysis.

These money-grubbing companies make the public sector look good Observer (1/11/09)

Questions

  1. What are the incentives to encourage either private-sector companies or public-sector organisations (a) to be efficient in the sense of cutting out waste (X-efficiency); (b) to be allocatively efficient; and (c) to provide a high quality of service to customers / clients / patients / students, etc.?
  2. What market failures may prevent private-sector companies from achieving (a) to (c) above?
  3. What organisational failures may prevent public-sector organisations from achieving (a) to (c) above?
  4. How is Goodhart’s Law relevant to the setting of performance targets in both the private and public sectors?

Many industries are struggling in the current climate and, in particular, car sales have been at an all time low. General Motors was the biggest car company in the world, but recently we have seen them becoming the biggest industrial bankruptcy, which will have consequences for many car manufacturers around the world. UK car sales were 25% lower in May 2009 than at the same time last year and Chrysler will sell most of their assets to Fiat when they form a strategic alliance in a bid to help them exit bankruptcy protection.

The troubles of the carmakers have passed up the production chain to automotive suppliers, component manufacturers and engineering firms, and down the chain to the dealerships at a time when consumer confidence has taken a knock. The following articles look at some of the recent developments in the car industry and consider their likely economic impact.

UK new car sales 25% lower in May BBC News (4/6/09)
Creditors cry foul at Chrysler precedent The Wall Street Journal, Ashby Jones, Mike Spector (13/6/09)
The decline and fall of General Motors The Economist (4/6/09)
GM pensioner’s fears for future BBC News (1/6/09)
Opel staff face wait for job news BBC News (2/6/09)
From biggest car maker to biggest bankruptcy BBC News (1/6/09)
GM sales executive lays out company’s direction Chicago Tribune, Bill Vidonic (14/6/09)
Chrysler and Fiat complete deal BBC News (10/6/09)
Fiat gambles on Chrysler turnaround Telegraph, Roland Gribben (1/6/09)
Obama taskforce faces Congress over car industry rescue Times Online, Christine Seib (10/6/09)
Has pledge of assistance revved up the car industry? EDP24, Paul Hill (10/6/09)

Questions

  1. What is a strategic alliance and how should it help Chrysler?
  2. What are some of the methods that governments have used to help stimulate the car industry? Consider their advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Think about the consequences beyond the car industry of the decline of General Motors. Who is likely to suffer? Will there be any winners?
  4. General Motors was established in 1908. How were they able to expand so quickly and what do you think are the main reasons for their current decline?
  5. The article in The Economist suggests that, despite the current problems in the car industry and the global recession, selling cars will never really be a problem. What do you think are the reasons for this?

China, in a contentious new law, has given its people additional private property rights and protection of private assets. Many were worried that this eroded fundamental socialist principles, and it can be argued that this moves China further towards becoming a market economy.

China announces new property law BBC News Online (9/3/07)
China passes new law on property BBC News Online (16/3/07)

Questions

1. Examine the implications for the Chinese economy of the new additional property rights.
2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the new law giving additional private property rights.
3. Assess the extent to which this moves China closer to being a free market economy.

Recent economic history has led many commentators to believe that a free-market capitalist economy is the only efficient method of allocating resources. The transition of former Eastern Bloc economies has furthered this perception. In the article from the Guardian linked below, Andrew Murray considers this argument and argues that capitalism may not be the be all and end all of economic organisation.

No, capitalism is not the only way to order human affairs Guardian (8/3/07)

Questions

1. Discuss the arguments for and against using a free-market economy as the principal method of resource allocation.
2. Assess the principal reasons for the transition of planned economies to market economies over the past two decades.
3. Examine the validity of the arguments raised by Andrew Murray in his article.