If we are faced with simple and limited choices, we may make careful decisions based on a number of criteria: in other words, we will identify various characterisitics we are looking for and see how well the various alternative products or activities meet our criteria. When we have lots of choice, however, we may be less careful or get confused.
In this Guardian podcast, the panelists discuss complex choices between many products and/or characteristics. Are people being ‘rational’ when making such choices? Is being less careful simply a rational use of scarce time? Do people really want lots of choice or would they prefer more limited choice? Can experiments where people are given choices help us to understand how people choose and how much choice businesses or government should give people? Then there is the question of producers/suppliers of products. Does choice promote competition and product development and is there an optimum amount of choice to achieve this?
The Business: Choice Guardian Podcasts, Sheena Iyengar, Julian Glover and Andrew Lilico in conversation with Aditya Chakrabortty (1/9/10)
- Are people ‘rational’ when they make choices? For what reasons may they not be rational?
- Can you make rational choices if your information is imperfect?
- Is there an optimum amount of choice and how would you set about establishing that optimum?
- How useful are experiments in understanding the process of choice? What are the weaknesses of such experiments?
- Should people be limited in the amount of choice they are given over medical treatment and schools?
- What are the advantages to other people of giving people more choice?
- How much does culture influence our attitudes towards choice?
Skin cancer is on the increase in the UK. Calls are thus being made by both retailers and cancer charities for a cut in VAT on sun cream.
At present the VAT rate on sun cream in the UK is the standard rate of 17.5%, which is due to increase to 20% in January 2011. But would cutting the rate to 5%, as is being proposed, be effective in cutting skin cancer rates? What information would you, as an economist, need to assess this claim?
Government urged to cut VAT on sun cream amid skin cancer fears Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (27/7/10)
Brits Get Burned By Vat Rise On Suncream PRLog (7/7/10)
Why we still think bronzing is tan-tastic Irish Independent, Susan Daly (27/7/10)
Evidence on sun creams
Sun creams Cancer Research UK
- What would determine the incidence of a cut in VAT on sun creams between consumers and retailiers?
- If there were a 50:50 incidence of a VAT cut between consumers and retailers and the VAT was cut from 17.5% to 5%, what percentage fall in the retail price would you expect?
- Assume that the price elasticity of demand for sun cream is –1 and price elasticity of supply is +1, how much would sales of sun cream rise if the VAT rate fell from 17.5% to 5%? Are these realistic values for the price elasticity of demand and supply?
- Under what circumstances may promoting the use of sun creams encourage the development of skin cancer?
- Are people being rational if they choose to expose themselves to the sun for long periods in order to receive a ‘fashionable’ tan? How are time preference rates (personal discount rates) relevant here?
- What market failures are involved in the tanning industry? If the use of sunbeds contributes towards skin cancer, should they be banned?