Tag: market failures

There is a growing consensus amongst the political parties in the UK that something needs to be done to end the huge pay rises of senior executives. According to the High Pay Commission, directors of FTSE 100 companies saw their remuneration packages rise by 49% in 2010. Average private-sector employees’ pay, by contrast, rose by a mere 2.7% (below the CPI rate of inflation for 2010 of 3.3% and well below the RPI inflation rate of 4.6%), with many people’s wages remaining frozen, especially in the public sector. (See Directing directors’ pay.) In 1979 the top 0.1% took home 1.3% of GDP; today the figure is 7%.

But agreeing that something needs to be done, does not mean that the parties agree on what to do. The Prime Minister, reflecting the views of Conservative ministers, has called for binding shareholder votes on top executives’ pay. The Liberal Democrats go further and are urging remuneration committees to be opened up to independent figures who would guard against the cosy arrangement whereby company heads set each other’s pay. The Labour Party is calling for worker representation on remuneration committees, simplifying remuneration packages into salary and just one performance-related element, and publishing tables of how much more bosses earn than various other groups of employees in the company.

So what measures are likely to be the most successful in reining in executive pay and what are the drawbacks of each measure? The following articles consider the problem and the proposals.

Articles
Parties draw up battle lines over excessive executive pay Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt (9/1/12)
David Cameron’s plans for executive pay may not end spiralling bonuses Guardian, Jill Treanor (8/1/12)
Executive pay: what would Margaret Thatcher have done? Guardian Politics Blog, Michael White (9/1/12)
Businesses tell the PM he’s wrong about ‘fat cat’ pay Independent, Nigel Morris (9/1/12)
Directors’ pay is not the Government’s business The Telegraph, Telegraph View (9/1/12)
I’ll end merry go round of bosses’ pay, says David Cameron Scotsman (9/1/12)
Find a place at the table for public interest directors Scotsman, leader (9/1/12)
Cameron vows executive pay crackdown Financial Times, George Parker (9/1/12)
Q&A: Voting on executive pay BBC News (8/1/12)
Will shareholders crack down on executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (8/1/12)
Why didn’t investors stop high executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/1/12)

Report
Cheques With Balances: why tackling high pay is in the national interest Final report of the High Pay Commission (22/11/11)

Questions

  1. Why has the remuneration of top executives risen so much faster than average pay?
  2. What market failures are there in the determination of executive pay?
  3. What insights can the theory of oligopoly give into the determination of executive pay?
  4. Compare the proposals of the three main parties in the UK for tackling excessive executive pay?
  5. To what extent is it in the interests of shareholders to curb executive pay?
  6. Why may it be difficult to measure the marginal productivity of senior executives?
  7. To what extent would greater transparency about pay awards help to curb their size?
  8. What moral hazards are involved in giving large increases in remuneration to senior executives?

You might think that small environmentally-friendly companies would be moving into the green energy market: that setting up a wind farm, for example, would be a perfect business opportunity for a small company. In fact, the big companies are taking over this market. As the Der Spiegel article below states:

Europe’s wind energy sector is currently experiencing a major transformation. New massive offshore wind parks are soon expected to crop up off Europe’s coastline. Big companies like Siemens and General Electrics are increasing their stakes in a market worth billions. But experts warn that a new energy oligopoly may soon emerge.

So what is it about the wind energy market that makes it suitable for an oligopoly to develop? The two articles explore this question.

Winds of Change Der Spiegel, Nils-Viktor Sorge (1/11/10)
GE and Siemens Outpacing Wind Pioneers, Becoming Clean Energy’s “New Oligopoly” Fast Company, David Zax (2/11/10)

Questions

  1. What market failures are there in the wind energy market?
  2. What barriers to entry are there in the wind energy market?
  3. What economies of scale are there in this market?
  4. How are changes in this market affecting the minimum efficient scale of companies?
  5. Would there be room in the market for enough competitors to prevent collusion?
  6. How might the authorities prevent (a) open and (b) tacit collusion in the wind energy market?
  7. Do small wind energy companies have any market advantages?

Student fees are set to rise to between £6000 and £9000 per year from 2012 (see Will students be Browned off?. But I’m sure you know that already! Not surprisingly, there has been considerable debate about the effects on student debt and whether potential students will be put off from applying to university. But there is another issue, explored in the article below. This is the question of the ‘marketisation’ of higher education.

With the exception of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) universities will no longer receive any teaching subsidy from the government. Teaching will have to be funded from student fees. This means that provision will depend on supply and demand. If there is a high demand for certain courses, then the courses will be financially viable for universities. If not, they will have to close (unless the university chooses to cross-subsidise them from other profitable courses).

This might be fine if the market for university places were perfectly competitive and if questions of inequality of access were fully taken into account. But the higher education market is not perfect. The article looks at some of these imperfections and why, therefore, a pure market system will fail to achieve the optimum allocation of university places.

Browne’s Gamble London Review of Books, Stefan Collini (4/11/10)

Questions

  1. What information failures are there in the market for higher education places?
  2. What externalities are involved in higher education and will this lead to an over or underprovision of higher education in a pure market system?
  3. Apart from externalities and information asymmetries, what other market failures apply to the market for student places in HE?
  4. What are the arguments for subsidising non-STEM subjects (as well as STEM ones)? Should these subsidies vary from course to course and from university to university?
  5. What is the best way of tackling the problem of unequal access to higher education?

Until the credit crunch and crash of 2008/9, there appeared to be a degree of consensus amongst economists about how economies worked. Agents were generally assumed to be rational and markets generally worked to balance demand and supply at both a micro and a macro level. Although economies were subject to fluctuations associated with the business cycle, these had become relatively mild given the role of central banks in targeting inflation and the general belief that we had seen the end of boom and bust.

True, markets were not perfect. There were problems of monopoly power and externalities. Also information was not perfect. But asymmetries of information were generally felt to be relatively unimportant in the information age with easy access to market data through the internet.

Then it all went wrong. With the exception of a few economists, people were caught unawares by the credit crunch. There was too little understanding of the complexities of securitisation and the leveraged risk in these pyramids of debt built on small foundations. And there was too little regard paid to the potentially destructive power of speculation and herd behaviour.

So how should economists model what has been happening over the past three years? Do we simply need to go back to Keynesian economics, which emphasised the importance of aggregate demand and the ability of economies to settle at a high unemployment equilibrium? Can the persistence of high unemployment in the USA and elsewhere be put down to a lack of demand or is the explanation to be found in hysteresis: the persistence of a problem after the initial cause has disappeared? Can failures of markets be incorporated into standard microeconomics?

Or do we need a new paradigm: one that emphasises the behaviour of economic agents and examines how people act when there are information asymmetries? These are the questions that are examined in the podcast below. It is an interview with Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz.

Podcast
Joseph Stiglitz: ‘Building blocks’ of a new economics BBC Today Programme (25/8/10)

Articles
Needed: a new economic paradigm Financial Times, Joseph Stiglitz (19/8/10)
Obama should get rid of Geithner, Summers Market Watch, Wall Street Journal, Darrell Delamaide (25/8/10)
This rebel’s heresy is not so earth-shaking Fund Strategy, Daniel Ben-Ami (23/8/10)

Questions

  1. What are Stiglitz’s criticisms of the economics profession in recent years?
  2. What, according to Stiglitz, should be the features of a new economic paradigm?
  3. Is such a paradigm new?
  4. Provide a critique of Stiglitz’s analysis.
  5. What do you understand by ‘behavioural economics’? Would a greater understanding of human behaviour by economists have helped avert the credit crunch and subsequent recession?

To mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the BBC World Service commissioned a survey across 27 countries to gather people’s views about capitalism and whether it is working well. The findings are striking. Only 11% felt that it is working well. “Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary. There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.”

The following articles look at the detailed findings of the poll and consider its implications for the functioning and reform of the world economy.

Global poll: Wide dissatisfaction with capitalism 20 years after fall of Berlin Wall BBC Press Office (9/11/09)
Free market flawed, says survey BBC News, James Robbins (9/11/09)
Wide dissatisfaction with capitalism, years after fall of Berlin Wall Dawn.com (Pakistan) (9/11/09)
Capitalism confronted with growing doubts Global Times (China) (11/11/09)
The fall of the Berlin wall – Pt 1 (video), The fall of the Berlin wall – Pt 2 (video), Al Jazeera (on YouTube), Riz Khan (9/11/09)
Column : Why Berlin was a win for all of us Financial Express (India), Lord Desai (Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics) (9/11/09)
The real lesson of 1989 is that nothing is ever settled Guardian, Seumas Milne (12/11/09)
The Wall fell and hope rose – for a while Otago Times (New Zealand), Andrew Rawnsley (10/11/09)
New name for a new economy? BBC News, Stephanomics (13/11/09)

Questions

  1. What are the alternatives to free-market capitalism?
  2. Do you agree that “however flawed free-market capitalism is, it is still the best of all systems”? Explain your answer.
  3. In what ways does free-market captialism fail to provide the optimum allocation and distribution of resources?
  4. What forms can government intervention take to influence markets?