Category: Economics 10e: Ch 07

The EU has imposed a record £680m fine on Microsoft for imposing unreasonable prices on their rivals for access to the Windows code that they required to be able to build complementary software. The record fine is a drop in the ocean for Microsoft, representing just two weeks cash flow, but they hope that this marks an end to the dispute with the EU. They argue that new working practices will help improve interoperability and that they have already begun to offer better access to code for their competitors.

Microsoft hit by 899m euro fine for failure to comply with EU ruling Times Online (28/2/08)
EU fines Microsoft record £680m ‘to close dark chapter’ in fight against monopoly Guardian (27/2/08)
The EU’s frustration with Microsoft Guardian (27/2/08)
Ten years of legal wrangling between Microsoft and EU Guardian (27/2/08)
Pity the big, bad wolf Guardian (27/2/08)

Questions

1. Explain why the EU Competition Commissioner has ruled that Microsoft has behaved anti-competitively.
2. Describe the role of the EU’s Competition Commissioner in improving the competition in markets.
3. Examine other options available to the EU’s Competition Commissioner to improve the competitive situation in European markets.

In the article linked to below from Slate magazine, Tim Harford, the author of the Undercover Economist, looks at how newspapers are approaching the pricing of online versions of their newspapers and articles. Why is it that all the articles we link to in these news items are free for you to read? How is this sustainable for the newspapers?

Why you didn’t pay to read this MSN Slate (27/11/07)

Questions

1. Explain the different pricing models that are available for newspapers when pricing the online versions of their papers.
2. Discuss the extent to which a newspaper website is a complementary product to the printed version.
3. Assess the extent to which competition between newspapers has driven the pricing strategies they have adopted for their websites.

Transfer pricing is a technique used by multinational companies to avoid tax liabilities in countries they regard as having high levels of taxation. The articles below from the Guardian give the results of an investigation by Guardian journalists into the elaborate structures that have been created by multinational companies in the banana industry to funnel their profits through tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. In some cases they have paid an effective tax rate as low as 8% when the tax rate in their home country is 35%.

Revealed: how multinational companies avoid the taxman Guardian (6/11/07)
Bananas to UK via the Channel islands? It pays for tax reasons Guardian (6/11/07)
‘I get up at 4am, work to 6-7pm – it doesn’t feel like a life’ Guardian (6/11/07)

Questions

1. Define the term ‘transfer pricing’.
2. Explain how multinational banana companies use transfer pricing to reduce their tax liabilities.
3. “The trend in the last 30 years has been to shift the burden of tax away from companies on to the consumer and labour. Capital is increasingly going untaxed.” Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in the method of taxation.

Passenger groups have reacted angrily to the raising of off-peak fares by South West Trains by around 20% on many journeys. The train company has increased unregulated fares significantly where there is little competition, but appears to have limited the increases on journeys where there is competition. Is this an abuse of their monopoly position?

Train firm accused of abusing monopoly Times Online (8/5/07)
Price hike angers train watchdog BBC News Online (8/5/07)


Questions
1. Discuss the extent to which South West Trains has a monopoly on its rail journeys.
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show the reasons why South West Trains has chosen to increase off-peak prices by as much as 20%.
3. Discuss the likely value of the price elasticity of demand for off-peak rail journeys. To what extent will this have influenced South West Trains’ pricing decision?

In what is being heralded as a historic deal, the EU has reached agreement with the USA on what is termed an ‘open skies’ deal. This will allow EU-based airlines to fly from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in the USA and US carriers can operate to any European destination. So what will this deal mean for travellers, the environment and the airlines. The articles below look at the issues and also at the detail of the agreement, which still maintains many of the previous limitations on airlines and their ownership.

EU backing for ‘open skies’ deal BBC News Online (22/3/07)
Q&A: Open skies BBC News Online (22/3/07)
EU agrees open skies deal Guardian (22/3/07)
Open skies: Q&A Guardian (22/3/07)
Transatlantic fares set to tumble after ‘open skies’ deal Times Online(22/3/07)

Questions

1. What criteria should be used to assess the success of the ‘open skies’ deal?
2. Assess the extent to which the ‘open skies’ deal will increase the level of competition in the transatlantic market for air travel.
3. Discuss the options available to the EU to increase competition further in the market for air travel.