Category: Essential Economics for Business: Ch 04

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.

Increasing numbers of firms are offering goods to consumers for free. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, has developed a thesis called freeconomics which postulates that this trend will increase and that firms that don’t join in will go to the wall. “As much as we complain about how expensive things are getting, we’re surrounded by forces that are making them cheaper,” Anderson wrote in a recent article.

The big giveaway Guardian (6/5/08)

Questions

1. Explain what is meant by the term ‘freeconomics’.
2. How can firms afford to make goods and services available for free?
3. “Anderson’s idea is that the internet, by reducing marginal costs, encourages businesses to make their money by offering free goods or services to an extent we have not witnessed before”. Discuss the extent to which doing business over the internet reduces marginal costs.

Shell have announced record profits of $27bn. This is the highest profit ever made by a European company and is only surpassed worldwide by the annual profits of another oil company ExxonMobil at $40bn. These high profits have led to calls for a windfall tax to be imposed on the oil companies and the articles below consider the likely impact of a tax of this nature.

Threat of windfall tax to energy companies is ‘legalised piracy’ Times Online (28/2/08)
Tax uncertainty a sure-fire killer Times Online (28/2/08)
Q&A: Windfall tax on Shell BBC News Online (31/1/08)
The great fuel folly Guardian (5/2/08)

Video

Windfall tax suggested for fuel profits BBC News Online (February 2008)

Questions

1. Using diagrams as appropriate, show the impact on the equilibrium level of price and output of Shell of a windfall tax being imposed on their profits.
2. Discuss the extent to which the high level of profitability of oil companies is determined by the oil price.
3. Analyse whether a windfall tax is an economically efficient form of taxation. What alternatives could a government consider that might be more efficient?

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.