Demand and supply analysis can be applied to a multitude of markets. When there is a disequilibrium in a market, prices will tend to adjust to eliminate any shortage or surplus. But, what of road space? There is a demand and a supply of road space and when there are too many cars for the road space available, congestion is the consequence.
When an additional car enters the road network, there is a cost and a benefit to the driver. However, there are not only costs/benefits to the driver, but there are also costs/benefits to other road-users. When one car drives on the M25 it adds to the number of cars on the road. Once we reach the point where there are too many cars given the road space and thus the flow of cars per minute begins to fall, congestion starts to build up. There is a negative externality involved here – the actions of one person (the driver) impose an additional cost on other drivers (the congestion). It takes every other road user a little bit of extra time to get from A to B the more cars there are on the road.
Congestion is a problem in many parts of the country and various solutions have been suggested. Policies to reduce demand will help the congestion problem by reducing the number of cars on the road. Numerous strategies have been tried, such as restrictions on parking; improvements in public transport; an integrated transport policy; higher parking charges; work place parking levies; higher taxes on petrol, higher car taxes and congestion charging schemes.
Alternatively, building more roads will directly increase the supply of road space, but this can (and has) simply led to more cars using the additional road space and thus the problem of congestion remains. Bus/taxi lanes are in use across the country and allow the users of public transport to benefit from faster journey times, thus encouraging them to forgo their cars and use buses. However, does this add to the congestion for other people?
In Liverpool, a nine month trial is taking place, where bus lanes will be removed to find out if they have a positive effect on reducing congestion. By increasing the amount of road space available to all road users, Liverpool City Council will be able to see if directly increasing the supply of road space will help to meet the existing demand. The possibility, however, is that by increasing the supply of road space, more individuals will choose to use their cars, thus fuelling demand. Many argue that this trial is a step backwards and will add to congestion, reduce the appeal of travelling by bus and impose further costs on the environment. The following articles consider the debate surrounding congestion.
Liverpool City Council will scrap bus lanes for nine months BBC News (27/9/13)
Liverpool bus lanes plan criticised by government Liverpool Daily Post (9/10/13)
Calls for single 30% income tax rate BBC News (21/5/12)
Liverpool scraps bus lanes in trial BBC News (including video) (21/10/13)
Government warning over Liverpool council plans to axe bus lanes in the city Liverpool Echo (9/10/13)
- Explain why congestion is a negative externality. What other externalities exist with regard to car usage?
- Using a diagram, show the point at which congestion occurs and explain why there is a difference between the marginal private and marginal social cost.
- What will happen to the difference between the marginal private and social cost curves before and after congestion sets in?
- Think about the different solutions to the problem of congestion. In each case, explain whether it is a demand-side or supply-side solution and how it will aim to combat congestion. You should also consider whether it is a short or long term solution and how feasible it actually is.
- How will the abolition of bus lanes aim to reduce congestion?
- There are supporters for bus lanes and supporters for the abolition of them. Justify the arguments on each side of the debate. You should consider the wider implications as well as the impact on congestion.
The environment has been a growing part of government policy for many years. With the Kyoto Protocol and Europe’s carbon trading system, effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions. Part of UK policy to meet its emission’s target requires substantial investment in infrastructure to provide efficient energy.
Details of the government’s Energy Bill sets out plans that will potentially increase average household energy bills by about £100 per annum, although estimates of this vary from about £90 to £170. This money will be used to finance much needed investment in infrastructure that will allow the UK to meet its carbon emissions target. With this extra cost on bills, energy companies will increase bring in something like £7.6bn. The benefit of this higher cost is that investment today will lead to lower energy bills tomorrow. Essentially, we’re looking at a short-term cost for a long-term gain.
The Energy Bill also delayed setting a carbon emission target until 2016. Crucially, this will come after the next election. Environmentalists have naturally criticised this omission. John Sauven of Greenpeace said:
’By failing to agree to any carbon target for the power sector until after the next election, David Cameron has allowed a militant tendency within his own ranks to derail the Energy Bill … It’s a blatant assault on the greening of the UK economy that leaves consumers vulnerable to rising gas prices, and sends billions of pounds of clean-tech investment to our economic rivals.’
One further problem that this lack of a target creates is uncertainty. The energy sector requires significant investment and in order to be encouraged to invest, firms need assurances. Without knowing the target and hence facing a degree of uncertainty, firms may be less likely to invest in building new power plants. And this investment is crucial. The Government has committed to replacing most coal-fired power stations across Britain with low carbon technology at a cost of hundreds of billions of pounds. However, the Chancellor has said “he would not allow saving the planet to come at the cost of ‘putting our country out of business.’”
When this Energy Bill is published, it is claimed that £110bn of spending on different aspects of the National Grid will occur. The suggestion is that this will generate a further 250,000 jobs by 2030 and will be a big step in the right direction towards creating an economy that is more reliant on clean energy.
The following articles consider the wide range of issues surrounding the Energy Bill.
’It’s reasonable to hike energy bills to build wind farms’ says Tim Yeo The Telegraph, Rowena Mason (23/11/12)
Energy Bill to increase prices to fund cleaner fuel BBC News (23/11/12)
Energy deal means bills will rise to pay for green power The Guardian, Juliette Jowit and Fiona Harvey (23/11/12)
Energy Bill Q&A BBC News (23/11/12)
Energy bills to rise by £170 a year to fund wind farms Independent, Andrew Woodcock and Emily Beament (23/11/12)
Energy deal – but no target to cut Britain’s carbon emissions Independent, Nigel Morris (22/11/12)
Davey defends contentious energy agreement Financial Times, Jim Pickard, Pilita Clark and Hannah Kuchler (23/11/12)
Energy bill lacks emissions target Channel 4 News (23/11/12)
- Why does the environment require so much government intervention? Think about the different ways in which the environment as a market fails.
- If household bills rise, is there likely to be an income and substitution effect between consumption of ‘energy’ and other goods? Which direction will each effect move in and which do you think would be the largest?
- Why is uncertainty such a deterrent for investment? Why does a lack of a carbon emissions target represent uncertainty?
- The higher cost of bills today may enable future bills to fall. Why is this? For a household, explain why discount factors could be important here.
- Why do some argue that the extra cost to households set out by the government are likely to under-estimate the actual increase households will face?
- Is the Chancellor right to say that he will not put our country out of business to save the planet?
A key determinant of the length of any phase of the business cycle is consumer confidence. If people have gloomy expectations and confidence of a recovery is low, then a recession that should have lasted 6 months ends up lasting for years. Companies don’t see an end to the recession and keep holding off on investment plans and the public don’t want to go out and start spending, because there’s no guarantee that the economy is on its way back up. The more you worry about your finances, the less likely you are to go out and start spending, even though that could be the stimulus that a shrinking economy needs.
According to the British Retail Consortium, consumer confidence in the UK is on its way back up and currently stands at an 18-month high – which doesn’t actually say much given the past 18-months!! Despite this, job worries still remain and this has been highlighted significantly in the past week, when Britain’s youngest person ever was made redundant: a 13-year old paper boy. Whilst consumer confidence is argued to be returning to the UK, consumer confidence has been going in the opposite direction in the USA, with further fears of job losses. US confidence had been improving but unexpectedly fell in October. Is that what the UK has to look forward to?
So, why is consumer confidence so important? How does it affect the length of recovery and what is expected to happen over the next few months? Read the articles below to find out more.
US consumer confidence takes hit BBC News (27/10/09)
Consumer confidence hits 18-month high The Independent, David Prosser (1/11/09)
Consumer confidence on the rise BBC News (2/11/09)
Confidence boost hints that worst of recession now over The Scotsman, Peter Ranscombe (2/11/09)
US Michigan Sentiment fell to 70.6 this month Bloomberg, Courtney Schlisserman (30/10/09)
Euro-zone Consumer confidence improves The Wall Street Journal, Ilona Billington and Roman Kessler (30/10/09)
Retailers set for a merry Christmas DIYWeek (2/11/09)
Job fears still remain despite biggest increase in consumer confidence in 18 months, says British Retail Consortium Liverpool Echo, Neil Hodgson (2/11/09)
Business and consumer surveys in each of the EU countries and in the EU as a whole can be found at:
Business and Consumer Surveys European Commission
- In what ways does consumer confidence affect economic growth?
- Are there likely to be any adverse consequences of consumer confidence returning to the market?
- What are some of the reasons for the unexpected fall in consumer confidence in the USA? Do you think a similar thing is likely to happen in the UK?
- Expectations are crucial in economics. What is the difference between adaptive and rational expectations? How do they affect adjustment to the short- and long-run equilibrium?
- Can anything be done to improve confidence or is it simply a case of leaving things as they are … and waiting?