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?
For years, Britain has suffered a decline in its manufacturing base relative to many of its competitors. In part this was the result of the success of the financial sector and the accompanying high exchange rate. But, with the problems of the financial sector since 2007 and the subsequent recession, attention has increasingly turned to ways of stimulating manufacturing capacity and the competitiveness of the export sector generally.
In other words, attention has turned to the supply side of the economy.
But what should be the features of a successful supply-side policy? Should it encourage competition and focus largely on deregulation and removing ‘red tape’ to encourage market forces to operate more efficiently and effectively? Or should it be more interventionist?
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been in the headlines for criticising his own government’s policy and arguing for a more active supply-side policy – one that is more interventionist. The following podcasts, the second of which is an interview with Dr Cable, look at the arguments for a more active supply-side policy and the forms it could take. The articles look at some of the arguments in more detail.
Industrial strategy ‘lacking in the UK’ BBC Today Programme, Mariana Mazzucato (6/3/12)
Government ‘getting behind’ industry BBC Today Programme, Vince Cable (6/3/12)
Cable urges long-term plan for industry Financial Times, George Parker (12/2/12)
Cable defends concern over lack of vision Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby and George Parker (6/3/12)
Vince Cable leaked letter: in full The Telegraph (6/3/12)
Rusting Britain threatens recovery The Telegraph, Alexander Baldock (4/3/12)
Vince Cable is Right: we “lack a compelling vision of where the country is heading” Birmingham Post, David Bailey (6/3/12)
Rebuilding Britain’s economy: the hunt for an ‘industrial strategy’ Citywire Money, Chris Marshall (29/2/12)
Companies must stop hoarding cash and start investing instead Observer, Will Hutton (19/2/12)
Britain needs to shape an industrial strategy Observer, Editorial (4/3/12)
- Distinguish between the terms ‘industrial strategy’, ‘market-orientated supply-side policy’ and ‘interventionist supply-side policy’
- Identify some ways in which innovations and productivity growth can be supported by government.
- Does interventionist supply-side policy inevitably involve the government spending more?
- If the government wishes to encourage a more entrepreneurial country, should this involve a careful mix of intervention and market liberalisation and, if so, what should the mix look like?
- Summarise the arguments in Vince Cable’s letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
- What are the lessons of Silicon Valley for the UK and other European countries?
- How important is successful demand-side policy for a successful supply-side strategy?
- Comment on the following quote from the Will Hutton article above: “British companies are running a cash surplus of some 6% of GDP, again the largest in the world, but are refusing to spend that cash on investment or innovation, preferring to hoard it, preserve profit margins or buy back their own shares. Business investment as a share of GDP is thus the lowest among large industrialised countries.”
One of the key problems faced by all countries over the past three years has been a lack of consumer demand. Firms face demand from a number of sources and when the domestic economy is struggling and domestic demand is weak, a key source of demand will be from abroad. By this, we are of course referring to exports. However, it was not just one country that plunged into recession: the global economy was affected. So, when one country was suffering from a weak domestic market, it turned to its export market and hence to other countries for demand. However, with these economies also suffering from recession, the export market was unable to offer any significant help. In order to boost exports, governments have tried to make their export markets more competitive and one method is to cut the value of the currency. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Columbia and Taiwan are just some of the countries using this strategy.
Following these interventions, the Brazilian finance minister has commented that a new trade war has begun. Speaking to a group of industrial leaders in Sao Paulo, Mr. Mantega said:
‘We’re in the midst of an international currency war. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.’
As more and more governments intervene in the currency market in a bid to boost exports, those refraining from intervening will suffer. Furthermore, interest rates throughout the developed world have remained low, as central banks continue their attempts to boost economics. However, this has led vast amounts of money to be transferred into countries, such as Brazil, where there is a better supply of high-yield assets. This has worsened the state of affairs in Brazil, as the Brazilian currency is now thought to be the most heavily over-valued currency in the world. This adversely affects Brazil’s export market and its trade balance. The following articles look at the lastest developments in this new ‘war’.
Currencty ‘war’ warning from Brazil’s finance minister BBC News (28/9/10)
Brazil warns of world currency war Telegraph (28/9/10)
Brazil warns of world currency ‘war’ Associated Press (28/9/10)
Brazil defends exporters in global currency battle Reuters (15/9/10)
Kan defends Japan’s intervention in the currency markets Associated Press (25/9/10)
US and China are still playing currency Kabuki Business Insider, Dian L. Chu (21/9/10)
How to stop a currency war The Economist (14/10/10)
What’s the currency war about? BBC News, Laurence Knight (23/10/10)
Exchange rate data
Exchange rate X-rates.com
Statistical Interactive Database – interest and exchange rates data Bank of England
Currencies BBC News
Currency converter Yahoo Finance
- Demand for a firm’s products comes from many sources. What are they? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- Why is a weak currency good for the export market?
- How will a country’s trade balance be affected by the value of its currency?
- Explain the process by which investors putting money into high-yield assets in countries like Brazil leads to currency appreciation.
- What are the options open to a government if it wants to devalue its currency? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method?
Walk down any street in the country, and you’re bound to see a Sky dish. With subscribers still increasing, a viewing target of 10 million by 2010 and revenue increasing to £1.4 billion, it seems that Sky TV is hardly suffering from the current ‘challenging conditions’ besetting so many firms.
Enter Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK’s communication industries that has been investigating the UK Pay TV industry since 2007. A consultation was published on the 26th June 2009 in which Ofcom indicated that BSkyB should be forced to make its premium sports and film channels available to rival broadcasters in a bid to ‘promote choice and innovation’. The articles below look at this conflict.
Sky may have to share TV channels BBC News (26/6/09)
Ofcom may set Sky’s wholesale prices Digital Spy, Andrew Laughlin (25/6/09)
Ofcom proposes measures to improve competition in pay TV Ofcom (26/6/09)
Pay TV Phase three document: Proposed remedies Ofcom Consultation (26/6/09)
BSkyB in war of words with Virgin Media and BT Guardian, Leigh Holmwood (24/6/09)
BSkyB keeps Premier League rights BBC Sport, Football (3/2/09)
Sky will fight Ofcom over Premium TV Tech Radar, Patrick Goss (26/6/09)
Pay TV market investigation: Consultation document Ofcom (18/12/07)
Sky asked to open up Premium sports and movies Times Online, Peter Stiff (26/6/09)
All believers in a competitive market must back Ofcom to take on Sky Telegraph, Neil Berkett (26/6/09)
Ofcom: Sky not playing fair with premium content Tech Radar, Patrick Goss (26/06/09)
- How well does BSkyB fit into a monopoly position for its premium content?
- What are the regulatory options open to Ofcom?
- How does Ofcom aim to introduce more competition and fairer prices into the Pay TV market?
- Why is it argued that competition is in the public’s best interest? Do you agree with this, or should BSkyB be allowed to carry on as it is?
- What has enabled Sky to become such a dominant force?
- How do you think the collapse of Setanta will affect this debate?
- Sky TV has seen its profits continuing to grow. Given that we’re in a recession, what does this tell us about Sky and the type of good or service that it supplies?
The current financial crisis had led to Keynesian theory coming back into fashion. Governments all around the world have put in place a significant fiscal and monetary stimulus to try to mitigate the impact of the downturn. But is this really Keynesian policy at work? Keynes argued for permanent and tough controls on the financial sector to allow the government to pursue a policy of full employment. It would be difficult that current policies are therefore pure Keynesian policies, so is there an economic theory vacuum with market economics discredited, but Keynesian economics not really taking its place? The article below looks at how economic theory has changed in recent months and considers whether we need a ‘new’ Keynes.
Wanted: the Keynes for our times Guardian (22/12/08)
- Explain the difference between classical and Keynesian beliefs with respect to government intervention in the ecoomy.
- Analyse the extent to which the recent policy stimulus has been Keynesian in nature.
- Discuss the changes that have taken place in economic policy during 2008/9 in the context of economic theory.