Academic research is encouraged by universities. Indeed, the number and quality of research publications is the most important criterion for promotion in many universities.
Periodically university research in the UK is publicly assessed. The latest assessment is known as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and will be completed in 2014. Most research that will be considered by the REF is published in peer-reviewed journals. Most of these journals are subscription based. Universities pay large amounts of money in subscriptions.
In recent years there has been much criticism by both academics and universities about the high cost of such subscriptions. In a movement dubbed the Academic Spring, pressure has mounted for journal articles to be made available free of charge – i.e. on open access.
The government too has been concerned that the results of publicly-funded research has been disappearing behind ‘paywalls’ and hence not available free to people outside the universities which subscribe to such journals. Indeed, no single university can afford licences for all the 25,000 peer-reviewed journals currently being published. As a result, the government set up a committee under the chair of Professor Janet Finch to examine alternative ways of making research more accessible. The committee has just published its report.
It advocates an expansion of open-access journals:
The principle that the results of research that has been publicly funded should be freely accessible in the public domain is a compelling one, and fundamentally unanswerable…
Instead of relying on subscription revenues provided by or on behalf of readers, most [open-access journals] charge a fee to authors…before an article is published. Access for readers is then free of charge, immediately on publication, and with very few restrictions on use and re-use.
Under this model, universities would essentially pay to have their academics’ articles published rather than paying to purchase the journal. Alternatively, research councils could fund the publication of articles based on research already funded by them.
Many people go further. They argue that authors ought to be able to have their published research in any journal made freely available, after an embargo period, through their university’s website.
So is the current pricing model the best for encouraging research and for disseminating its findings? Or is open access a better model – and if so, of what form? Or would it discourage publishers and lead, in the end, to less being published or to a less rigorous peer review process? The questions are ones of pricing, incentives, choices and investment – the questions that economists are qualified to consider.
Open access may require funds to be rationed Times Higher Education, Paul Jump (21/6/12)
Set science free from publishers’ paywalls New Scientist, Stephen Curry (19/6/12)
Scientists must make research an open book Independent, Martin Hickman (18/6/12)
Report calls on government to back open access science BBC News, Pallab Ghosh (19/6/12)
Open access is the future of academic publishing, says Finch report Guardian, Alok Jha (19/6/12)
Open access to science – its implications discussed in UK raport ZME Science (19/6/12)
UK move to ‘open access’ in publishing Phys.Org, Justin Norrie (20/6/12)
Finch Group Report: Overview Research Information Network (June 2012)
Finch Group Report: Executive Summary Research Information Network (June 2012)
Finch Group Report: Full Report Research Information Network (June 2012)
- Explain the difference between the ‘gold’ and ‘green’ models of open-access journal article publishing?
- What externalities are involved in journal publication? What are the implications of this for socially efficient pricing?
- How could journal publication be made profitable under an open-access system?
- What are the incentive effects for (a) academics and (b) universities of ranking journals? Does the REF, whereby research articles are judged on their own merits, overcome problems of ranking journals?
- Does the existence of journal rankings allow the top journals in each discipline to maintain a position of market power? How is this likely to impact on journal or article pricing?
- How would university finances be affected by a move towards gold open access journals (a) in the short term; (b) in the long term?
- Would it be in universities’ interests to produce their own open-access journals?
No market is perfect and when the market mechanism fails to deliver an efficient allocation of resources, we say the market fails and hence there is justification for some government intervention. From a monopolist dominating an industry to a manufacturing firm pumping out pollution, there are countless examples of market failure.
The Guardian is creating a guide to climate change, covering areas from politics to economics. The problem of climate change has been well documented and this blog considers a particular issue – the case for climate change or the environment as a market failure. In many cases just one market failure can be identified, for example an externality or a missing market. However, one of the key problems with climate change is that there are several market failures: externalities in the form of pollution from greenhouse gases; poor information; minimal incentives; the problem of the environment as a common resource and the immobility of factors of production, to name a few. Each contributes towards a misallocation of resources and prevents the welfare of society from being maximised.
When a market fails, intervention is justified and economists argue for a variety of policies to tackle the above failures. In a first-best world, there is only one market failure to tackle, but in the case of the environment, policy must be designed carefully to take into account the fact that there are numerous failings of the free market. Second-best solutions are needed. Furthermore, as the problem of climate change will be felt by everyone, whether in a developed or a developing country, international attention is needed. The two articles below are part of the Guardian’s ultimate climate change guide and consider a huge range of economic issues relating to the problem of environmental market failure.
Why do economists describe climate change as a ‘market failure’? Guardian, Grantham Research Institute and Dunca Clark (21/5/12)
What is the economic cost of climate change? Guardian (16/2/11)
- What is meant by market failure?
- What are the market failures associated with the environment and climate change? In each case, explain how the issue causes an inefficient allocation of resources and thus causes the market to fail? You may find diagrams useful!
- What is meant by the first-best and second-best world?
- What does a second-best solution aim to do?
- Using diagrams to help your explanation, show how a tax on pollution will have an effect in a first best world, where the only market failure is a negative externality and in a second best world, where the firm in question is also a monopolist.
- What solutions are there to the problem of climate change? How effective are they likely to be?
- Does the need to tackle climate change require international co-operation? Can you use game theory to help your explanation?!
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the UK Treasury will face a shortfall of £13bn in motoring taxes within a decade. Although car usage continues to rise putting increasing pressure on the road infrastructure, the greener and more fuel efficient cars being produced are driving down the tax revenues generated from motoring.
A report by the IFS has put forward the case for replacing the existing system of taxes on cars and fuel by a new road charging system. If no such change occurs, the IFS has forecast that with more electric cars and hence lower revenues raised from fuel and vehicle excise duties, the shortfall facing the Treasury would require an increase in fuel duty of some 50%. Instead of this, the solution could be to charge individuals for every mile of road they use, with the ‘price’ varying depending on the degree of congestion. For example, at peak times the price would be higher, where as for those in the countryside where roads are traditionally much quieter, charges would be lower. The IFS said:
‘Such a move would generate substantial economic efficiency gains from reduced congestion, reduce the tax levied on the majority of miles driven, leave many (particularly rural) motorists better off, and provide a stable long-term footing for motoring taxes without necessarily raising net additional revenue from drivers.’
Government policy across the world has been increasingly focused on climate change, with targets for emissions reductions being somewhat ambitious. However, many car manufactures who were told to reduce emissions significantly are on the way to meeting these targets and this success is a key factor contributing towards this new road ‘crisis’ that could soon be facing the government. The following articles consider the possibility of a road charging scheme.
The road ahead for motoring taxes? Institute of Fiscal Studies (link to full report at the bottom of the page) (May 2012)
Compelling case for UK road charging, IFS study says BBC News (15/5/12)
Fears tax shortfall may lead to road tolls Sky News (15/5/12)
Who’s going to pay to update Britain’s infrastructure? Guardian Business Blog (15/5/12)
Motoring taxes: a future headache for the Chancellor Channel 4 News (15/5/12)
For whom the toll bills – less traffic hurts M6 toll road owner Guardian, Ian Griffiths and Dan Milmo (14/5/12)
Charge motorists per mile, says IFS Independent, Nigel Morris (15/5/12)
Green cars to drive down tax receipts Financial Times, Mark Odell and John Reed (15/5/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on petrol. What happens to the equilibrium price and quantity?
- Despite fuel duty pushing up the price of petrol, why has there been such a small decline in the quantity of petrol individuals use?
- Evaluate the case for and against a road charging scheme.
- Why are tax revenues from motoring expected to decline over the next decade?
- Climate change has become an increasingly important focus of government policy. To what extent is the current road ‘crisis’ a positive sign that policies to tackle climate change are working?
- If a road charging scheme went ahead and prices were varied depending on traffic, time etc, what name would you give to this strategy?
- Why would it be possible to charge a higher price at peak times and a lower price for cars using country roads?
- Is there an argument for privatising the road network? Is it even possible?
Binge drinking is a problem that has seen much attention, especially with regards to minimum price controls. However, in this blog, we consider attention in this sector concerning taxation on beer.
Alcohol is widely considered to be a de-merit good with negative externalities imposing external costs on society. This is one of the reasons why taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages. By increasing production costs to the firms providing these drinks, prices rise and hence the policy aims to discourage consumption.
During the recession, many businesses have seen demand fall and one sector hit particularly hard because of this and very high tax rates has been the local pub community. Duty on beer has increased since 2008 by some 42%. As such, many rural and suburban communities have seen their local watering holes close down and this has led to a campaign by CAMRA to force a debate in Parliament, as a means of protecting ‘one of Britain’s oldest and best loved institutions’. Data suggests that 12 pubs per week are closing down, thus the future of the industry is now under threat. This may also have further damaging effects on local communities, as it may adversely affect the social aspect of communities. Camra’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner said:
‘Whether situated in a small village, city high street, or on the edge of a housing estate, pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.’
According to a study, pubs in Lancashire and the West Midlands have been hardest hit by the pub closures. If pubs don’t pass the tax increase on to consumers in the form of higher prices, then they must bear the burden. If they do pass the tax rises on to consumers then the larger chain firms can increase their market share by selling at a lower price. They are also facing growing pressure from the supermarket industry, which are able to sell cheap alcohol, also contributing to going to the pub becoming an ‘unaffordable activity’. The following articles consider this industry.
Pub closures spark beer tax plea The Press Association (30/4/12)
A dozen pubs close each week Telegraph, James Hall (30/4/12)
Calls for beer tax rethink as 12 pubs shut every week BBC Radio 1, News Beat, Steve Holden (30/4/12)
Pubs in the West Midlands hit hardest by pub closures ITV News (30/4/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a product such as beer.
- In this market, would the tax be more likely to be borne by the producers or consumers? Explain your answer and illustrate on the previous diagram why this is the case.
- Why are supermarkets able to compete local pubs out of the alcohol market? Do you think a minimum price will have any effect?
- What is a de-merit good? Illustrate the concept of a negative externality on a diagram.
- Explain how a de-merit good causes the market to fail. To what extent does the tax on beer solve the market failure?
- Why are there likely to be adverse effects on local communities? Could this have an adverse effect on economic activity in the area?
With the fall of communism in eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991, many hailed this as the victory of capitalism.
Even China, which is still governed by the Chinese Communist Party, has embraced the market and accepted growing levels of private ownership of capital. It is only one or two countries, such as North Korea and Cuba, that could be described as communist in the way the term was used to describe the centrally planned economies of eastern Europe before 1990.
But whilst market capitalism seemed to have emerged as the superior system in the 1990s, may are now questioning whether the market capitalism we have today is fit for the 21st century. Today much of the world’s capital in the hands of big business, with financial institutions holding a large proportion of shares in such companies. And the gap between rich and poor is ever widening
The market system of today, is very different from that of 100 years ago. In fact, as John Kay agues in his article “Let’s talk about the market economy” below, it would be wrong to describe it as ‘capitalism’ in the sense the term was used in the debates of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, the term is still used and generally refers to the market system we now have. And it is a market system that many see as failing and unfit for purpose. It is a system that coincided with the bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s, the credit crunch of 2007–9 and the recession of 2008/9, now seeming to return as a double-dip recession
With the political and business leaders of the world meeting at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland on 25–29 January 2012, a central theme of the forum has been the future of capitalism and whether it’s fit for the 21st century.
Is there a fairer and more compassionate capitalism that can be fostered? This has been a stated objective of all three political parties in the UK recently. Can we avoid another crisis of capitalism as seen in the late 2000s and which still continues today? What is the role of government in regulating the market system? Does the whole capitalist system need restructuring?
It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to talk about capitalism. The following webcasts and articles do just that.
Webcasts and podcasts
Davos 2012 – TIME Davos Debate on Capitalism< World Economic Forum (25/01/12)
Can capitalism be ‘responsible’? BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (19/01/12)
Capitalism ‘nothing to do with responsibility’ BBC Newsnight, Eric Hobsbawm (19/01/12)
Are there alternatives to capitalism? BBC Newsnight, Danny Finkelstein, Tristram Hunt and Julie Meyer (19/01/12)
America Beyond Capitalism The Real News on YouTube, Gar Alperovitz (27/12/11)
The future of capitalism CNBC, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (12/11/09)
Capitalism Hits the Fan (excerpt) YouTube, Richard Wolff (2/1/12)
Panel Discussion “20 years after – Future of capitalism in CEE” Erste Group on YouTube, Andreas Treichl, Janusz Kulik, Jacques Chauvet, and media Adrian Sarbu (24/2/11)
The Future of Capitalism: Constructive Competition or Chaos? YouTube, Nathan Goetting, Tony Nelson, Craig Meurlin and Judd Bruce Bettinghaus (24/1/11)
Capitalism in Crisis Financial Times, Various videos (24/1/11)
Bill Gates: Capitalism a ‘phenomenal system’ BBC Today Programme, Bill Gates talks to Evan Davis (25/1/12)
Capitalism (See also) BBC The Bottom Line, Evan Davis and guests (28/1/12)
Meddle with the market at your peril Financial Times, Alan Greenspan (25/1/12)
The world’s hunger for public goods Financial Times, Martin Wolf (24/1/12)
When capitalism and corporate self-interest collide JohnKay.com, John Kay (25/1/12)
Let’s talk about the market economy JohnKay.com, John Kay (11/1/12)
A real market economy ensures that greed is good JohnKay.com, John Kay (18/1/12)
Seven ways to fix the system’s flaws Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/1/12)
To the barricades, British defenders of open markets! The Economist, Bagehot’s Notebook (26/1/12)
Community reaction to doubts about capitalism in Davos CBC News (26/1/12)
Capitalism saw off USSR, now it needs to change or die The National (UAE), Frank Kane (26/1/12)
Words won’t change capitalism. So be daring and do something Observer, Will Hutton (22/1/12)
A political economy fit for purpose: what the UK could learn from Germany Our Kingdom, Alex Keynes (20/1/12)
Debate on State Capitalism The Economist (24/1/12)
- How has the nature of capitalism changed over recent decades?
- Can capitalism be made more ‘caring’ and, if so, how?
- What do you understand by the term a ‘fair allocation of resources’? Is capitalism fair? Can it be made fairer and, if so, what are the costs of making it so?
- Can greed ever be good?
- How does the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model of capitalism differ from the European model?
- What do you understand by the term ‘crony capitalism’? Is crony capitalism on the increase?
- John Kay states that “Modern titans derive their authority and influence from their position in a hierarchy, not their ownership of capital.” Explain what this means and what its implications are for making capitalism meet social goals.
- In what ways can governments control markets? Have these instruments and their effectiveness changed in effectiveness over time?
- What are the costs and benefits to society of the increasing globalisation of capital?
- To what extent was the financial crisis and credit crunch the result of a flawed capitalist system and to what extent was it a failure of government intervention?
- Why is it important for the success of capitalism that companies should be allowed to fail? Consider whether this should also apply to banks. How is the concept of moral hazard relevant to your answer?