A simple model in economics is that of demand and supply. Through the price mechanism, signals are sent between consumers and producers and this interaction results in an equilibrium market price and quantity. However, what happens when the market for a good or service is in disequilibrium?
When a market is in equilibrium, demand equals supply. However, as we discussed in a previous blog concerning baby milk in China (see Milking the economy), markets are not always in equilibrium. If demand exceeds supply, a shortage will emerge and to eliminate this, the price must rise. If, on the other hand, supply exceeds demand, there will be an excess supply and thus the price must fall to restore equilibrium.
The market in question here is toilet paper in Venezuela! A severe shortage of this product has emerged in recent months, with shops running out of supplies. In a bid to relieve this shortage, the country’s Minister of Commerce has received approval for a $79 million credit, which can be used to import this basic product in short supply. Fifty million rolls will be imported to help fill the shortage that has emerged. The shortage is not just a problem for toilet paper, but also across a range of basic consumer goods. The article from Reuters comments that:
The government says the toilet paper shortages, like others, are the results of panicked buying and unscrupulous merchants hoarding the goods to artificially inflate prices.
Opposition critics say the problem is caused by the currency controls, created a decade ago by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and years of nationalizations that weakened private industry and left businesses unwilling to invest.
With shortages across a variety of products, the President has begun to work closely with business leaders to address this situation. The following articles consider this basic market, the intervention and consequences.
Venezuela hopes to wipe out toilet paper shortage by importing 50m rolls The Guardian (16/5/13)
Venezuela ends toilet paper shortage BBC News (22/5/13)
With even toilet paper scarce, Venezuelan president warms to business Reuters, Eyanir Chinea (22/5/13)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela to end after lawmakers back plans to import 39 million rolls Huffington Post, Sara Nelson (22/5/13)
Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage ended; 3 other basic goods that went scarce in the country International Business Times, Patricia Rey Mallen (22/5/13)
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how equilibrium is determined in a free market.
- Illustrate the shortage described in the aticles on your above demand and supply diagram. How should the price mechanism adjust?
- What types of government intervention have led to the shortages of such basic consumer goods?
- How have currency controls created a problem for Venezuela?
- With an increase in imported products, what impact might there be on Venezuela’s exchange rate and on its balance of payments?
Increases in the cost of living over the past few years have put many families under financial pressure. One of the main factors that has been hurting households is the price of petrol and diesel. Road fuel duty was due to be increased last August, but the Chancellor delayed it in June. However, a planned 3p rise in duty by the Coalition, which has faced rebellion from numerous MPs may now be delayed further, following a hint from the Treasury.
The government has said that it will do everything it can to support struggling families with the cost of living and this has led many to conclude that in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor will delay the planned 3p rise. Labour was defeated in its efforts to force a delay of the proposed 3p duty rise, as Tory bankbenchers were given this hint that the Treasury would decide to delay the increase anyway. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that fuel duty is part of the government’s strategy to help cut the cost of living. He commented that fuel duty was 20% lower in real terms compared to March 2000, when it was at its peak.
If we had continued with the policies of the previous government, quite simply prices would be higher, fuel would be 10p more expensive per litre. I know some will call for a further freeze in fuel duty today. I can assure them this government understands the financial pressures hard-working families are facing. Subject to the constraints of the public finances, this government is determined to help families with the cost of living.
A key economic question to consider is why is fuel one of the products that is frequently taxed? When a tax is imposed on a product, its price will rise and as the law of demand tells us, this will cause people to purchase less of it. But, what is so special about petrol? Why do people continue to purchase petrol even when its price rises? The following articles consider the concerns surrounding the 3p fuel duty rise.
Treasury to defer planned increase in fuel duty The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (13/11/12)
Asda chief Andy Clarke urges scrapping fuel duty rise BBC News (15/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Labour to force vote to delay 3p rise The Guardian, Helene Mulholland (12/11/12)
Fuel duty delay called for by Which? BBC News (11/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Government may still axe increase Sky News (13/11/12)
Chancellor heads off fuel duty rebellion Financial Times, George Parker (12/11/12)
Osborne pressed to shelve fuel duty rise Financial Times, George Parker (8/11/12)
Planned 3p petrol increase could be abandonedThe Telegraph, Christopher Hope (11/11/12)
- Why is petrol a good that is taxed so heavily?
- Illustrate the impact of a tax on petrol using a demand and supply diagram. Explain what happens to the equilibrium price and quantity.
- Which factors will make the change in price and quantity relatively larger or smaller? Think about how elasticity is relevant here.
- What other factors have contributed towards the increased cost of living over the past few years?
- Which factors in particular would make a January rise in fuel duty especially painful for many families?
- What are the arguments both for and against delaying the 3p rise in duty?
- According to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, fuel duty is 20% lower in real terms. What does this actually mean?