Each year the BBC hosts the Reith Lectures – a series of talks given by an eminent person in their field. This year’s lecturer is Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England. His series of four weekly lectures began on 2 December 2020. Their topic is ‘How we get what we value’. As the BBC site states, the lectures:
chart how we have come to esteem financial value over human value and how we have gone from market economies to market societies. He argues that this has contributed to a trio of crises: of credit, Covid and climate. And the former Bank of England governor will outline how we can turn this around.
In lectures 2, 3 and 4, he looks at three crises and how they have shaped and are shaping what we value. The crises are the financial crisis of 2007–9, the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis. They have challenged how we value money, health and the environment respectively and, more broadly, have prompted people to question what is valuable for individuals and society, both today and into the future.
The questions posed by Carney are how can we establish what is valuable to individuals and society, how well are such values met by economies and how can mechanisms be improved to ensure that we make the best use of resources in meeting those values.
Value and the market
In the first lecture he probes the concept of value. He explores how economists and philosophers have tried to value the goods, services and human interactions that we desire.
First there is ‘objective value’ propounded by classical economists, such as Adam smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx. Here the value of goods and services depends on the amount of resources used to make them and fundamentally on the amount of labour. In other words, value is a supply-side concept.
This he contrasts with ‘subjective value’. Here the value of goods and services depends on how well they satisfy wants – how much utility they give the consumer. For these neoclassical economists, value is in the eye of the beholder; it is a demand-side concept.
The two are reconciled in the market, with market prices reflecting the balance of demand and supply. Market prices provided a solution to the famous diamonds/water paradox (see Box 4.2 in Economics (10th edition) or Case Study 4.3 in Essentials of Economics (8th edition) – the paradox of ‘why water, which is essential for life, is virtually free, but diamonds, which have limited utility beyond their beauty, are so expensive.’ The answer is to do with scarcity and marginal utility. Because diamonds are rare, the marginal utility is high, even though the total utility is low. And because water is abundant, even though its total utility is high, for most people its marginal utility is low. In other words, the value at the margin depends on the balance of demand and supply. Diamonds are much scarcer than water.
But is the market balance the right balance? Are the values implied by the market the same as those of society? ‘Why do financial markets rate Amazon as one of the world’s most valuable companies, but the value of the vast region of the Amazon appears on no ledger until it’s stripped of its foliage and converted into farmland?’ – another paradox highlighted by Carney.
It has long been recognised that markets fail in a number of ways. They are not perfect, with large firms able to make supernormal profits by charging more and producing less, and consumers often being ill-informed and behaving impulsively or being swayed by clever marketing. And many valuable things that we experience, such as human interaction and the beauty of nature, are not bought and sold and thus do not appear in measures of GDP – one of the main ways of valuing a country.
What is more, many of things that are produced in the market have side-effects which are not reflected in prices. These externalities, whether good or bad, can be substantial: for example, the global warming caused by CO2 emissions from industry, transport and electricity production from fossil fuels.
And markets reflect people’s biases towards the present and hence lead to too little investment for the future, whether in healthcare, the environment or physical and social infrastructure. Markets reflect the scant regard many give to the damage we might be doing to the lives of future generations.
What is particularly corrosive, according to Carney, is the
drift from moral to market sentiments. …Increasingly, the value of something, some act or someone is equated with its monetary value, a monetary value that is determined by the market. The logic of buying and selling no longer applies only to material goods, but increasingly it governs the whole of life from the allocation of healthcare, education, public safety and environmental protection. …Market value is taken to represent intrinsic value, and if a good or activity is not in the market, it is not valued.
The drift from moral to market sentiments accelerated in the Thatcher/Regan era, when governments were portrayed as inefficient allocators, which stifled competition, innovation and the movement of capital. Deregulation and privatisation were the order of the day. This, according to Carney, ‘unleashed a new dynamism’ and ‘with the fall of communism at the end of the 1980s, the spread of the market grew unchecked.’
But this drift failed to recognise market failures. It has taken three crises, the financial crisis, Covid and the climate crisis to bring these failures to the top of the public agenda. They are examined in the other three lectures.
The Reith Lectures
- Distinguish between objective and subjective value.
- If your income rises, will you necessarily be happier? Explain.
- How is the concept of diminishing marginal utility of income relevant to explaining why ‘A Christmas bonus of £1000 means less to Mark Zuckerberg then £500 does to someone on a minimum wage.’
- Does the use of social cost–benefit analysis enable us to use adjusted prices as a measure of value?
- Listen to lectures 2, 3 and 4 and provide a 500-word summary of each.
- Assess the arguments Mark Carney uses in one of these three lectures.
An annual event takes place every October that leads to a large number of frustrated consumers – the sale of tickets for the Glastonbury festival. This year the sale of standard tickets began at 9.00am on Sunday 5th October. Within 27 minutes all of the 120,000 tickets had been sold and it was reported that over a million people had tried to access the website. Social media was full of messages from disappointed fans that had been unable to get a ticket.
The Glastonbury festival has grown in popularity and the organisers adopted a unique way of selling the tickets a number of years ago. They introduced a system that made it impossible for people to purchase tickets unless they had previously registered. Although there is no charge to register, in order to complete the process successfully, people have to submit a clear passport style photograph in Jpeg format. Once registered, customers are allocated a unique registration number which they must submit in order to purchase a ticket when they go on sale. Each buyer can purchase up to a maximum of 6 tickets and must provide a valid registration number for each separate ticket they obtain. Successful applicants receive a personalised ticket, including their photo, which cannot be re-sold. The organisers have been very clear about the rationale for introducing this scheme. They have stated that it is part of their
“on-going efforts to cut out ticket touting”
However a number of people have criticised the ticket sale process. These criticisms tend to fall into two key areas: first, the method used in the initial sale process and second, the constraints placed on resale after a ticket has been purchased.
The tickets are sold by the company SeeTickets and their Head of Business Development stated in an interview in 2013 that:
There is something like 1,100,000 customers registered to go to Glastonbury, and they all want a ticket. It’s a shame but there is nothing you can do about it. The 900,000 people that don’t get to go often come up with the argument, why don’t you just have a ballot? Why don’t we just register and a computer generated ballot just picks the winners? I think they’ve (Glastonbury) always had a view that if you get a ticket to Glastonbury there’s an element of work that you have to do to achieve that and it does reward that commitment. I think there’s a sense that if you use a ballot then maybe you’d get some people who were not as committed.
However responding to these comments a customer commented that:
I’ve been lucky in the past and got tickets within minutes and like this year tried all morning and come away empty handed. Whether I have been successful has nothing to do with hard work but the vagaries of the internet and a bit of luck.
Another customer commented:
No ballot! It’s too random. People who really,really want to go should get the tickets, so the only fair way is regional ticket sales, where you could queue ( overnight if required) to get your ticket. This is the only fair way. Year after year genuine fans miss out. This way fans who are willing to make an effort get the chance, rather than a ballot or the random computer system which they have at present.
Others have criticised the limited ability consumers are given to resell their tickets. The full cost of a ticket for the 2015 festival is £220 plus a £5 booking fee. When the tickets are originally sold in October, the buyers have to pay a £50 deposit and at this point none of the bands playing at the festival have been announced. The remaining balance of £175 is due at the beginning of April by which point some of the bands/acts will have been confirmed. Anyone who decides not to pay the balance or cancel their order before this date is refunded their deposit, minus an administration fee. Those tickets are then put forward for re-sale. The re-sale process typically takes place at the end of April and once again is only open to people who have previously registered. Last year 10,000 tickets were re-sold in just 12 minutes! Once this period in April is over the re-sale of tickets is prohibited even though the complete line-up for the festival may not have been confirmed.
The secondary ticket company Viagogo reported the results from research they had carried out on the 2014 festival. This found that following the relatively late announcement of Metallica as one of the headline acts,78% of people who had bought a ticket said they would have resold it if they’d had the chance.
A spokesperson from Viagogo stated that:
We believe that once you’ve bought a ticket it’s yours and if you want to sell it or give it away, you should be allowed to do so. In this case, with an unpopular headline act announced late, ticket holders lose out because they can’t resell their tickets and Metallica fans lose out because they can’t buy them.
Those people who either did not get a ticket or are left with a ticket they would rather re-sell will no doubt continue to complain about the ticket selling process.
The economics of GlastonburyThe Economist (24/6/14)
Handbag Economics: How much Glastonbury will really cost you Handbag Economics (12/6/14)
Should Glastonbury Festival tickets go to the ballot? Virtual Festivals (8/10/13)
Glastonbury 2014: Four in five fans wanted to resell tickets after Metallica announcement The Independent (26/6/14)
Third of Glasto fans put-off by strict ‘no ticket resale policy’ – but 2015 is still a sell-out The Mirror (6/10/14)
“People wanted to sell Glastonbury tickets!” says ticketing website Bad PR (3/7/14)
The pain of Glastonbury tickets – in two charts The Mirror (6/10/14)
- What is the opportunity cost of going to the Glastonbury Festival? Discuss some of the non-ticket factors you have included in your calculations.
- Draw a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the market for Glastonbury tickets. NB think carefully about the shape of the supply curve in both the short-run and the long run. Is the current price of a ticket at the market clearing level? Explain your answer.
- The sale and re-sale of tickets takes place before the all the headline acts have been announced. Illustrate what will happen to the demand curve for consumers with different preferences once the headline acts have been announced.
- Assess the relative costs and benefits of using a ballot instead of the current system used by the festival organisers to sell of tickets.
- The organisers of the festival introduced the registration process in order to limit the re-sale of the tickets. Analyse the impact of this policy on Pareto and allocative efficiency? Will the policy cause any deadweight welfare loss? What factors will determine the size of any deadweight welfare loss?
- Suggest some reasons why care may need to be taken when using the results from the research carried out by Viagogo.
Imagine that the team you support has made the final of a major competition or a your favourite band is playing a live concert this summer. You desperately want a ticket and are willing to pay the advertised price. They go on sale at 9.00am in the morning and you go on-line at 8.59am but unfortunately the webpage will not load. You keep pressing the refresh button but with no success. Eventually, annoyed and frustrated, you give up at 10.00am!
Tickets for sporting, musical or other live shows are initially sold by people who organise the events in two ways. They may choose to sell some or all of the tickets directly to the customer. For example you can buy tickets for a West End show from the box office in the theatre. With some football games it is still possible to buy tickets on the day at the stadium. Another approach is to sell some or all of the tickets via an authorised ticket agent. These businesses are usually members of STAR (The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers) and the organisers of the sporting, musical or live show provide them with tickets to sell on their behalf. Some of the larger and well known agents such as Ticketmaster, Ticketline and Seetickets usually sell the tickets at face value although some booking fees are often added to the price. This initial sale of tickets by either the event organiser themselves or an agent acting on their behalf is referred to as the primary market.
For example, British Athletics sold all of its 130,000 tickets for its two day Anniversary Games on the 26th and 27th July via its authorised ticket agent in 75 minutes!! However an internet search for this event will quickly reveal that tickets are still available!! Unfortunately in most cases the advertised price will be far greater than the face value of the ticket. How is this possible? The answer is that the internet has helped a thriving secondary market for tickets to develop. The secondary market refers to situations where people who have already purchased tickets through the primary market re-sell them to other members of the public. Prior to the internet the main way of buying a ticket in the secondary market was to visit the venue on the day of the event and hunt for some-one willing to sell. However technology has dramatically reduced these transaction costs and made it much easier for potential buyers and sellers to make an exchange. For example companies such as Viagogo, Seatwave, GetMeIn and Stubhub have created websites that allow members of the public to buy and sell tickets. As Viagogo publish on their webpage:
You are buying tickets from a third party, Viagogo is not the ticket seller. Ticket prices are set by the seller and may be above or below face value.
Why does this secondary market exist? An economist would argue that it can only happen if the quantity of tickets demanded is greater than the quantity of tickets for sale at the price set by the event organiser. If this was not the case then customers would be able to buy tickets through the primary market on the day of the match, concert or show. The puzzle is to explain why prices do not rise in the primary market. If the quantity demanded of any product is greater than the quantity supplied then market forces should put upward pressure on prices. However it would appear that many of the event organisers appear to resist this incentive and consistently set prices below the level that would limit demand to the number of tickets available. This leaves an opportunity for sellers in the secondary market to sell tickets much closer to their market clearing rate. Navin Kekane, the business operations director of Stubhub, stated that
What we do is all about supply and demand, and you can sometimes find tickets at below face value.
Some of these companies in the secondary market have recently established formal partnerships with a number of English Premier League (EPL) football clubs and other major sporting bodies. For example Viagogo have signed deals with 10 EPL clubs while Stubhub have deals with 3 EPL clubs as well as Leicester Tigers and the Lawn Tennis Association.
However some observers have expressed grave reservations about the growth of the secondary market. For example Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, stated that
At the moment if you are fan trying to sell a spare ticket and are not authorised to do so then you face a criminal conviction, even if you sell at the face value.
But secondary ticketing exchanges, because they are authorised, are allowed to do so. Many clubs grant these agencies the right to allow the re-sale of tickets for their matches at above face value. I don’t think that can be right.
Joe Cohen, the founder of Seatwave counters that
Touts is an emotional, dehumanising word. The reality is that they are just speculators. No one likes speculators until you need something from them.
Some have called for more regulation of the secondary market. For example Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, unsuccessfully tried to get a Private Members Bill through Parliament which would have made it illegal to re-sell tickets for more than 10% above their face value.
Secondary ticketing: Inflating sport prices or useful service? BBC News Bill Wilson (13/5/13)
Sold out: Are Rihanna, Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber fans being ripped off by so-called secondary ticket websites? The Daily Mail Adam Luck (19/1/2013)
Olympic anniversary athletics event sells out in 75 minutes The Guardian Owen Gibson (19/2/2013)
Is this a new golden age for ticket touts? The Observer Laura Barnett (14/4/2013)
5 live Investigates: ‘legalised ticket touting’ by Premier League clubs BBC Sport Andrew Fletcher (2/12/2012)
StubHub UK expands into Premier League Ticket News, Jean Henegan (4/9/12)
Football fans lose out on £64m of tickets due to absent season ticket holders Daily Telegraph, (16/8/12)
- Give some potential advantages for a football club or sporting body of using an authorised ticket agent to sell tickets in the primary market.
- Using a demand and supply diagram explain what happens in a market if the price is continually set below its market clearing rate. Illustrate and explain how mutually beneficial trade can take place in the secondary market at prices above those in the primary market.
- Can you explain why it is less likely for a secondary market to exist for cinema tickets than a popular West End show?
- Can you think of any reasons why it might be in the interests of a profit maximising organiser of a sporting or music event to sell tickets below the market clearing rate.
- What non-price methods could be used to allocate tickets for popular events? Consider some of the advantages/disadvantages of using these non-price methods.
- Do you think it is in the interests of society to allow people to re-sell tickets at a price above their face value?
Here’s a question that goes to the heart of economics and the social sciences generally: how desirable is the market system?
Our lives are dominated by markets. Whether in working or consuming, we operate in a market economy in which money is exchanged for goods or services. But also financial and product markets determine much of the structure of society, where most things seem to have a price.
But whilst, as a positive statement, we can say that money and markets are all around us, does that make them desirable? Markets provide signals and incentives; but are the signals the right ones? What are the incentives and how do we respond to them? And are these responses optimal?
You will probably have studied various ways in which markets fail to provide the optimal allocation of resources. But what are the limits of markets as a mechanism for social choices? And is there some more fundamental issue about the morality of a society that is organised around markets?
These are questions considered in the following podcast. It is an episode from BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme, hosted by Andrew Marr, with guests Michael Sandel, Diane Coyle and Grigory Yavlinksy. Here are the programme details:
Andrew Marr discusses the relationship between markets and morals with the political philosopher Michael Sandel. In his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel questions the dominance of the financial markets in our daily lives, in which everything has a price. But the economist Diane Coyle stands up for her much maligned profession, and points to the many benefits of a market economy. The Russian economist Grigory Yavlinksy argues against viewing the world of money as separate from culture and society: he believes the financial crisis was merely a symptom of a wider moral collapse, and that it is time to examine the way we live.
(Links to the three contributors: Michael Sandel, Diane Coyle (see also), Grigory Yavlinsky.)
Michael Sandel on Money and Morality BBC Start the Week programme (21/5/12)
Videos and articles
For a range of videos and articles on the morality of capitalism, see the previous post at:
We need to talk about Capitalism (28/1/12)
- What crises are there in current capitalism?
- What, according to Michael Sandel, is the difference between a market economy and a market society?
- Is the market society a relatively new phenomenon, or does it go back hundreds of years?
- To what extent is the greed expressed through markets and encouraged by markets affecting/infecting society and human relationships generally?
- What is the role of morality and trust in determining the desirability of market relationships?
- To what extent does a market economy allow people, rich and poor, to live separately from each other and not interact as joint members of society?
- What are the value systems promoted by marketisation? Should certain aspects of human life be outside these value systems?
- To what extent is the crisis of capitalism a crisis of economics?
- What policy alternatives are there for rebalancing society?
- What is the role of economists in advising on policy alternatives?
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.”