The following articles look at a recently published book by George Akerlof of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Shiller of Yale. They examine the role of what Keynes called ‘animal spirits’ and is the title of the book.
The motivation to make economic decisions (to buy, to sell, to invest, etc) may not be ‘rational’ in the sense of carefully weighing up marginal costs and marginal benefits. Rather it can be one of over-optimism in good times or over-pessimism in bad times. Just as individuals have ‘mood swings’, so there can be collective mood swings too. After all, confidence, or lack of it, is contagious. This motivation that drives people to action is what is meant by animal spirits.
But are animal spirits a blessing to be nurtured or a curse to be reined in? Should governments seek to constrain them?
An economic bestiary The Economist (26/3/09)
Good Government and Animal Spirits Wall Street Journal (23/4/09)
Irrational Exuberance New York Times (17/4/09)
Animal Spirits: A Q&A With George Akerlof Freakonomics: New York Times blog (30/4/09)
- Describe what is meant by ‘animal spirits’ and their effects on human behaviour.
- Why may animal spirits make economies less stable?
- How may animal spirits help to explain exchange rate overshooting?
- Discuss whether governments should seek to constrain animal spirits and make people more ‘rational’? Also consider what methods governments could/should use to do this?
In an earlier news item we saw that the global recession has hit the demand for organic produce. The same is not true for Fairtrade products as a global survey published on 17/4/09 shows (see). Awareness of Fairtrade products continues to grow as do sales. The articles below look at the findings of this survey and at the explanations behind it.
UK: Fairtrade Flows Against Economic Tide Namnews (20/4/09)
The government must act on fair trade now Public Service Review: International Development Issue 13 (20/4/09)
Fairtrade a hit with shoppers as demand rises despite credit crunch Glasgow Daily Record (17/4/09)
Link to short videos from the Fairtrade Foundation; Link to facts and figures on Fairtrade Fairtrade Foundation
- Consider the reasons why Fairtrade sales have increased while sales of organic produce have declined.
- Does purchasing Fairtrade products mean that consumers are not seeking to maximise their consumer surplus?
- What economic challenges face Fairtrade producers? How should governments help the Fairtrade movement?
- Is the liberalisation of trade in the interests of Fairtrade producers?
British Airways has been fined £270m for their part in a price-fixing cartel. Fines were levied by both the US Department of Justice and the UK Office of Fair Trading following an agreement between British Airways and Virgin to fix the level of surcharges charged to passengers as a result of rising fuel prices.
Where’s Branson’s apology? BBC News Online (Robert Peston blog) (7/8/07)
BA’s price-fix fine reaches £270m BBC News Online (1/8/07)
OFT defends ‘snitch’ policy Guardian (5/8/07)
BA boss speaks out over price fixing Guardian (3/8/07)
How arch rivals colluded to hike up cost of air travel Guardian (2/8/07)
||Define what is meant by the term ‘price-fixing cartel’.
||Explain the characteristics of a market that are most likely to result in a cartel.
||Discuss policies that the government could put in place to prevent this kind of price-fixing arising in the future..
Dutch brewers including Heineken and Grolsch have been fined a total of nearly £185m between them for stifling competition and sharing price information with the intention of fixing prices. This cartel was discovered by EU investigators and the fine has been imposed by the EU competition commission.
Dutch brewers fined over cartel BBC News Online (18/4/07)
Beer makers fined in Dutch price probe Business Week (18/4/07)
EU fines Heineken for fixing beer prices Business Week (18/4/07)
Heineken and Grolsch fined for price-fixing Guardian (18/4/07)
Heineken fined 219m euro for fixing beer prices Times Online (18/4/07)
||Explain the conditions required for a cartel to develop.
||Explain the methods used by the brewing firms to fix prices in the beer market.
||Evaluate two policies that could be used by the EU competition commission to try to prevent cartels reemerging in the future in the brewing industry.
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)
||What criteria should be used to assess the success of the ‘open skies’ deal?
||Assess the extent to which the ‘open skies’ deal will increase the level of competition in the transatlantic market for air travel.
||Discuss the options available to the EU to increase competition further in the market for air travel.