Tag: social efficiency

Ministers are considering introducing a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol on all drinks sold in England and Wales. The Scottish government has already passed legislation for a minimum price of 50p per unit in Scotland. This, however, is being challenged in the Scottish courts and is being examined by the European Commission.

As we saw in a previous blog, Alcohol minimum price, the aim is to prevent the sale of really cheap drinks in supermarkets and other outlets. Sometimes supermarkets sell alcoholic drinks at less than average cost as a ‘loss leader’ in order to encourage people to shop there. Two-litre bottles of strong cider can be sold for as little as £2. Sometimes they offer multibuys which are heavily discounted. The idea of minimum pricing is to stop these practices without affecting ‘normal’ prices.

The effect of a 45p minimum price per unit would give the following typical minimum prices (depending on strength):

Strength Size Minimum price
Wine 12.5% 750ml £4.22
Beer/lager (normal) 4.5% pint (568ml) £1.15
Beer/lager (strong) 7.5% pint (568ml) £1.92
Beer/lager (normal) 4.5% 2 litres £4.05
Beer/lager (strong) 7.5% 2 litres £6.75
Cider (normal) 5% pint (568ml) £1.28
Cider (strong) 8% pint (568ml) £2.04
Cider (normal) 5% 2 litres £4.50
Cider (strong) 8% 2 litres £7.20
Whisky 40% 700ml £12.60
Vodka 37.5% 700ml £11.81

The hope is that by preventing the sale of really cheap drinks in supermarkets, people will no longer be encouraged to ‘pre-load’ so that when they go out for the evening they are already drunk.

But how successful will such a policy be in cutting down drunkenness and the associated anti-social behaviour in many towns and cities, especially on Friday and Saturday nights? The following articles discuss the issue and look at some of the evidence on price elasticity of demand.

Articles
Alcohol minimum price plan to be unveiled BBC News, Dominic Hughes (28/11/12)
Multi-buy alcohol deals face ban under minimum price plans The Telegraph, James Kirkup (28/11/12)
Alcohol at 40p, 45p or 50p a unit to be Cameron choices for minimum price The Guardian, Juliette Jowit (25/11/12)
Minimum price plan to end cheap alcohol sales BBC News, Nick Triggle (28/11/12)
Minimum pricing having a difficult birth in Scotland BBC News, James Cook (28/11/12)
Cameron to set minimum price for alcohol Independent, Brian Brady (25/11/12)
Minimum Alcohol Price: Doubts Measures Will Cut Binge Drinking Huffington Post (25/11/12)
An industry divided: Pubs set against brewers and retailers in battle for cheap booze This is Money, Rupert Steiner (26/11/12)
A minimum price per unit of alcohol BMC Public Health, Adam J Lonsdale, Sarah J Hardcastle and Martin S Hagger (23/11/12)

Home Office alcohol policy
Alcohol strategy (23/3/12)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram to illustrate the effect of a minimum price per unit of alcohol on (a) cheap cider; (b) good quality wine.
  2. How is the price elasticity of demand for alcoholic drinks relevant to determining the success of minimum pricing?
  3. Compare the effects of imposing a minimum unit price of alcohol with raising the duty on alcoholic drinks? What are the revenue implications of the two policies for the government?
  4. What externalities are involved in the consumption of alcohol? How could a socially efficient price for alcohol be determined?
  5. Is imposing a minimum price for alcohol fair? How will it effect the distribution of income?

A campaign to introduce a tax on disposable plastic bags in England has been launched by various pressure groups, including The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. Plastic bags, they maintain, litter streets and the countryside and pollute the seas, where they cause considerable damage to marine life.

They propose a tax of 5p per bag, which would be passed on to consumers. Such a levy has already been introduced in Wales in October 2011. As a result, plastic bag use in Wales has dropped dramatically (see also the full report from the Welsh Government). The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly are also planning introducing similar charges.

Many other governments have introduced taxes, charges or bans on plastic bags and many more are considering introducing such measures. Ireland introduced a 15 euro cent charge on single-use plastic bags as far back as 2002 and saw a 94% reduction in plastic bag use (328 per person per year to 21). The charge was raised to 22 euro cents in 2007 after bag use rose to 30 per person.

Other countries have banned plastic bags altogether: some, such as Rwanda and Somalia have banned all plastic bags; others, such as China and South Africa have banned very thin bags; others, such as Italy, have banned non-biodegradable ones.

In the USA, various states or districts have introduced levies and in the EU, where more than four billion bags are thrown away each year, the European Commission will soon publish proposals for limiting the use of plastic bags.

So what are the arguments for limiting the use of plastic bags? Why is it not enough to leave things simply to the market? And if the use of plastic bags is to be reduced, what’s the most efficient way of doing so? Are there any problems with alternatives to plastic bags? The following articles and reports consider these questions?

Articles
England urged to pick up Wales’ plastic bag levy businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (1/8/12)
Wales’ plastic bag charge yields massive green savings businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (5/7/12)
Supermarkets ‘should charge £1 a bag’ BBC Today Programme, Samantha Harding and Judith Holder (2/8/12)
Environmentalists team up to push for bag tax in England Plastics News, Anthony Clark (1/8/12)
Break the Bag Habit Keep Britain Tidy (1/8/12)
Plastic bag use ‘up for second year running’ Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (5/7/12)
Plastic bag use in Wales plummets due to 5p charge, figures show Guardian, Adam Vaughan (4/7/12)
Carrier bag charge ‘effective and popular’ figures reveal ITV News (4/7/12)
What should be done about plastic bags? BBC News Magazine, Chris Summers (19/3/12)
Irish bag tax hailed success BBC News, Chris Summers (20/8/02)
The Big Fix The Math Behind Sacking Disposable Bags Atlantic Cities, Nate Berg (26/9/11)
Fremantle moves to ban plastic bags ABC News, Lucy Martin (23/7/12)
Bans Plastic Bag Ban Report, Ted Duboise (updated)
Vote With Your Dollars, and Also Vote New York Times, Gernot Wagner (30/7/12)

Reports
Evaluation Of The Introduction Of The Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge In Wales: Attitude Change And Behavioural Spillover, Wouter Poortinga, Lorraine Whitmarsh and Christine Suffolk Report to Welsh Government by Cardiff University (June 2012)
Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrierbags: a review of the bags available in 2006 Environment Agency, Joanna Marchant (25/7/11)
Stakeholder consultation on options to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags … EC Environment (19/3/12)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram demonstrating the externalities involved in the use of plastic bags. Show the marginal private and social costs and benefits and the socially efficient level of consumption.
  2. How would you set about establishing the amount of consumer surplus from the use of plastic bags at a zero price?
  3. Compare the relative social efficiency of a tax on plastic bags with a ban on plastic bags.
  4. Would education be an effective alternative to taxing plastic bags?
  5. Why might it be difficult to get supermarkets and other retailers to agree to a voluntary ban on giving out free plastic bags?
  6. Why might it be extremely difficult in practice to establish the socially efficient price for plastic bags?

The following article by Will Hutton looks at the relative efficiency of private- and public-sector organisations. The public sector is typically characterised as inefficient and providing a poorer level of service and poorer quality products than the private sector. After all, the private sector is driven by the profit motive, where providing a good service would seem to be a key ingredient in making more profit.

Yet when you look around you, this portrayal can be seen as far too simplistic. On the one hand, much of the public sector has been forced to be efficient, following many years of tight budgets. At the same time, many in the public sector are keen to deliver a good service, not only because that is required by their employers, but because they are motivated by a sense of public duty and professionalism. On the other hand, there are many market failings in large parts of the private sector, where monopoly power, asymmetric information and externalities are rife. Read the article and see if you agree with Will Hutton’s analysis.

These money-grubbing companies make the public sector look good Observer (1/11/09)

Questions

  1. What are the incentives to encourage either private-sector companies or public-sector organisations (a) to be efficient in the sense of cutting out waste (X-efficiency); (b) to be allocatively efficient; and (c) to provide a high quality of service to customers / clients / patients / students, etc.?
  2. What market failures may prevent private-sector companies from achieving (a) to (c) above?
  3. What organisational failures may prevent public-sector organisations from achieving (a) to (c) above?
  4. How is Goodhart’s Law relevant to the setting of performance targets in both the private and public sectors?

In October 2004, the USA brought a complaint to the WTO that Airbus had received illegal subsidies from the UK, French, German and Spanish governments. One of these subsidies was the so-called ‘launch aid’, which the US government argued was a form of export subsidy. In a counter-complaint to the WTO made on the same day, the EU maintained that the US government had provided illegal support to Boeing in the form of subsidies, legislation, regulations and other administrative measures.

On 4 September 2009, the EU and the USA were handed the confidential preliminary findings by the WTO panel in the first of the two disputes. This found that some of the support measures by the EU countries violated WTO rules. However, some two thirds of the complaints by the USA were dismissed.

Despite some progress in its deliberations, the WTO is unlikely to give a final judgment in the first case for several months and not even a preliminary report has been issued on the second case (the EU’s complaint against the USA). But can any conclusions be drawn at this interim stage? The following videos and articles look at the findings and their implications.

Videos
Airbus violated trade laws msnbc news (4/9/09)
WTO issues report on Airbus-Boeing dispute AlJazeera (4/9/09)
Update – Boeing vs. Airbus Bloomberg (4/9/09)

Articles
Airbus Loans Toward A380 Jumbo Faulted in WTO Ruling Bloomberg (4/9/09)
World trade body ruling reflects pre-crisis time Boston Globe (Associated Press report) (5/9/09)
WTO rules that Airbus benefited from E.U. subsidies MarketWatch (4/9/09)
Boeing wins first round in trade battle with Airbus Independent (5/9/09)
WTO rules on huge plane dispute BBC News (4/9/09)
Boeing and Airbus: Round one to Boeing The Economist (4/9/09)
Partial US victory on Airbus funds Financial Times (5/9/09)

Questions

  1. What sanctions does the WTO have to enforce its rulings? (see the WTO site.)
  2. What sanctions do individual governments have for ensuring that countries abide by the WTO rulings?
  3. How could strategic trade theory be used to justify support to aircraft manufacturers? Do such arguments apply to Airbus and Boeing?
  4. Do airlines and airline passengers gain or lose from the behaviour of Airbus and Boeing? Should the WTO take this into account?

One of the key Budget measures was a change in the car tax regime. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, introduced a new banded system annual vehicle excise duty (VED) based on the level of emissions of the vehicle. The cars with the lowest levels of emissions will be exempt from VED, but at the other end of the spectrum, the highest polluting vehicles will face an annual VED of around £440. However, this will be substantially higher in the year of purchase of the vehicle and this so-called ‘showroom tax’ will raise the tax level to £950 in the first year of purchase.


Gas guzzlers hit with higher taxes
Guardian (12/03/08)
New taxes on gas-guzzlers will raise an extra £1.2bn Guardian (13/03/08)
Spared at the pumps – but hit in the showroom Guardian (16/03/08)
Q&A: Showroom tax BBC News Online (12/03/08)
Gas guzzlers set to face £950 tax BBC News Online (12/03/08)

Questions

1. Explain how the highest polluting vehicles affect the socially optimal equilibrium in the market for car travel.
2. Using supply and demand diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the likely impact of the new car tax regime in 2009-10 on the equilibrium in the market for car travel. What is the significance of the concepts of price elasticity of demand and consumer surplus in your analysis?
3. Discuss the likely effectiveness of the new banded car tax regime at reducing the average level of emissions from cars. Would raising the tax on petrol and diesel be a more efficient method of achieving the same goal?