The UK general election is on May 7. In the campaign during the run-up to the election the economy will be a major issue. All parties will use economic data to claim that the economy has performed well or badly and that the prospects are good or bad. As economics students you will, no doubt, be asked to comment on these claims by your friends. So where can you get analysis of the data that is not biased towards one party or another?
One source is the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It is respected by politicians of all parties as an impartial presenter and analyser of economic data. In fact, it is fiercely independent. But at election time, when often quite dramatic claims are made by politicians, the IFS often comments on whether the data support such claims.
An example occurred when David Cameron claimed that if Labour were elected, working families would face a £3028 tax rise to fund the party’s spending commitments. The IFS said that the claim was misleading as, even on the Conservatives’ assumptions, it was was based on the cumulative increase over five years, not the annual increase, and was not per household but only per working household. The IFS also said that the Conservatives’ assumptions were wrong and not in accordance with the Charter for Budget Responsibility, with which the Labour party agreed.
Expect the IFS to criticise more claims as the election campaign progresses: not just by the Conservative party but by the other parties too. After all, the IFS is not partisan and is prepared to challenge false economic claims from whatever party. Expect also that the political parties will cherry pick whatever statements by the IFS seen to favour them or criticise their opponents.
You can also expect political bias in the newspapers that report the campaigns. Even when they present facts, how they present them and which facts they choose to include and which to ignore will be a reflection of their political bias. So even newspaper reporting of what the IFS says is likely to be selective and nuanced!
Why IFS boss Paul Johnson counts in this tightest of general elections The Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/3/15)
David Cameron’s claim that Labour would raise taxes by £3,000 is ‘not sensible’, says the IFS Independent, Jon Stone (30/3/15)
‘tax rise’ is shot down by IFS The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (30/3/15)
We will borrow more if we win the election, Labour admits The Telegraph, Christopher Hope (29/3/15)
Chancellor accused of U-turn on austerity: Top economist says £20bn fiscal boost lurking in Budget is ‘remarkable reversal’ This is Money, Hugo Duncan (19/3/15)
- Distinguish between positive and normative statements. How might politicians blur the distinction in their claims and counter-claims?
- Identify three series of macroeconomic data from at least two independent organisations. For what reasons might the data be (a) unreliable; (b) used by political parties to mislead the electorate?
- In what ways can political parties use economic data to their own advantage without falsifying the data?
- How may public-sector deficit and debt statistics be interpreted in ways to suit (a) the current government’s case that the public finances have been well managed; (b) the opposition case that the public finances have been badly managed?
- Use data to analyse an economic claim by each of at least three political parties and the extent to which the claims are accurate.
- The above links are to articles from four UK national newspapers: The Guardian, the Independent, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail (This is Money). Identify political bias in the reporting in each of the articles.
Business performance is always affected by the economy and we can always look at the economic theory to explain why profits rise and fall. Some companies prosper during recession, whereas others decline and the key is to understand the economics behind the data. This blog takes a look at the performance of a variety of companies and asks you to think about the economic theory behind it.
The world of betting has grown significantly and the profits of companies in this market, while certainly linked to economic performance, is also dependent on sport results. Paddy Power has announced pre-tax profits of €141m for 2013, an increase from €139.2m, despite sporting results causing profit performance to fall. On the part of football clubs, Liverpool FC saw a loss emerge for the 2012-2013 financial year, whereas Newcastle’s profits rose by 900% to £9.9m. What factors can explain the vastly different performance (off and on the pitch) of these two clubs?
In the USA, Radio Shack has been forced to close 1100 stores. This is, in part, as a response to a change in the way we are shopping. More and more consumers are purchasing goods online and Radio Shack is therefore experiencing growing competition from online retailers. Sales fell by 10% last year and even during the fourth quarter sales continued to decline.
Companies based in the largest economy in Europe have also experienced declines in performance, showing that a strong performing country doesn’t imply the same for companies operating in it. RWE, Germany’s biggest energy provider, has not made a loss since 1949. However, in 2013, this company posted its first annual loss in over 60 years: a loss of £2.28bn. With energy being in constant demand and criticism being levelled at UK energy providers for the high profits they’re making, the economics behind these data is important.
In better news for a company, Thorntons has boasted a significant increase in pre-tax profits, with much of this due to strong trading in the months leading up to Christmas and a sensible business strategy, involving selling more in supermarkets. Thorntons has cut its number of stores, but its profitable position has been saved by a good business strategy and this is going to lead to significant investment by the company.
Another strong performance was recorded by Berkshire Hathaway, an investment firm run by Warren Buffett. The company made a profit of £11.6bn in 2013, a significant increase on its 2012 performance. It is the insurance, rail and energy parts of the business that have contributed to the big increase in profits.
These are just some recent examples of data on business performance and your job is to think about the economic theory that can be used to explain the varying performance of different companies.
Liverpool announce annual loss of £50m in new club accounts Guardian, David Conn (4/3/14)
Thorntons makes biggest manufacturing investment for 25 years Telegraph, Natalie Thomas (3/3/14)
Thorntons cashes in on the snowman Independent, Simon Neville (3/3/14)
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sees record profit BBC News (2/3/14)
Newcastle says ‘player trading’ helped increase profits to £9.9m BBC Sport (25/2/14)
RWE posts first annual net loss for over 60 years BBC News (4/3/14)
UK among RWE woes as it posts first annual loss since 1949 The Telegraph, Denise Roland (4/3/14)
Germany’s RWE slides into €2.8bn net loss for 2013 Financial Times, Jeevan Vasagar (4/3/14)
John Menzies profits hit by drop in magazine sales BBC News (4/3/14)
Fresnillo profits drop as gold prices and production falls The Telegraph, Olivia Goldhill (4/3/14)
Glencore 2013 profit rises 20% as copper production gains Bloomberg, Jesse Riseborough (4/3/14)
- In each of the cases above, explain the economic theory that can be used to explain the performance of the respective company.
- To what extent is a change in the market structure of an industry a contributing factor to the change in company performance?
- To what extent do you think a company’s performance is dependent on the performance of the economy in which it operates?
- Are the profits of a company a good measure of success? What else could be used?
GDP is quite a good measure of a nation’s production of goods and services, but it doesn’t include many other factors relating to the standard of living in an economy and for this reason, various other measures of living standards have been developed. However, there is also another issue with GDP and that relates to how best to measure a country’s economic performance. Should we use GDP per head or GDP growth? Population changes can significantly distort economic welfare and so do need to be taken into account. The article below from The Economist looks at these issues in depth and considers the best way to measure economic performance.
Grossly distorted picture The Economist (13/3/08)
|Explain how GDP per head can fall while economic growth is rising.
|Explain why the use of GDP per head as a measure of economic performance may lead to the definition of recession being flawed.
|Assess the principal factors that result in economic growth and GDP per head rising together.