Currently covering Labour Markets with my A2 level classes and put together an exercise which tests them on calculating MCL, MRPL etc and also showing why MCL = MRPL is the number of workers a firm should employ. There is an exercise for both Perfect and Imperfect Labour markets – see ‘Word’ document. The excel document is a model answer showing the data in a table and a graphical format. Hope it is of use.
Amongst the extensive coverage of the Olympic Games from Rio, the start of the Football season in Europe has slipped under the radar. Michael Cameron’s blog post on footballer salaries was timely and in particular his discussion around the difference between the superstar and tournament effects.
Superstar effects – this is where a player is rewarded with a higher salary than his/her team mates for generating higher revenues for their club.
Tournament effects – this is the situation where wage differences are based NOT on marginal productivity but instead upon relative differences between the individuals. Ultimately each player only needs to be a little bit better than the second best player in order to ‘win’ the tournament.
Michael Cameron looks at the salaries of Ronaldo and Messi and states that it is unlikely that either of these players would generate more than twice as much value as the others on the graph below. Therefore the difference in salaries must be generated by something other than just superstar effects; that is, tournament effects.
In contrast, the difference in average salaries in England between Premier League footballers (£1.7 million) and League Two footballers (£40,350) is likely to be a mix of superstar effects (Premier League footballers generate more value for their employers than League Two footballers) and tournament effects (there’s a limited number of places for Premier League footballers, so slightly worse players end up in lower divisions paying less). See graph below.
One last point: It’s been argued (I saw this argument first in Tim Harford’s book The Logic of Life) that the size of the ‘prize’ for a tournament will be larger the more luck is involved. That is, if the difference between the tournament ‘winner’ and the others is mostly luck, the size of the bonus for working hard to win the tournament must be high in order to sufficiently incentivise the worker to work hard. So, if you buy that the difference in the graph above is mostly a tournament effect, does that mean that the earnings difference between Ronaldo and Messi at the top, and Neymar in third, is mostly down to luck?
Source: Michael Cameron
Conspicuous consumption was introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. It is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status.
Economists and sociologists often cite the 1980’s as a time of extreme conspicuous consumption. The yuppie materialised as the key agent of conspicuous consumption in the US. Yuppies didn’t need to purchase BMWs or Mercedes’ cars for example; they did so in order to show off their wealth. This period had its origins in the 1930’s with Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Fredrick von Hayek – the latter being the author of “The Road to Serfdom”, in which he said that social spending rather than private consumption would lead inevitably to tyranny. Margaret Thatcher (UK Prime Minister 1979-1990) and Ronald Reagan (US President 1981-1989) believed in this ideology and cut taxes and privatised the commanding heights in a move to a free market environment.
So-called Veblen goods (also as know as snob value goods) reverse the normal logic of economics in that the higher the price the more demand for the product – see graph below
Over the last three decades conspicuous consumption has accelerated at a phenomenal level in the industrial world. Self-gratification could no longer be delayed and an ever-increasing variety of branded products became firmly ingrained within our individuality. The myth that the more we have the happier we become is self-perpetuating: the more we consume, the less able we are to tackle the myth.
The Economist 1843 bi-monthly magazine had a very good article on Hermès’s Birkin handbag (named after Jane Birkin, an Anglo-French actress who spilled the contents of a overfull straw bag in front of Jean-Louis Dumas, Hermès’s chief executive) and how it has become one of the world’s most expensive – prices start at $7,000; in June Christie’s Hong Kong sold a matte Himalayan crocodile-skin Birkin with a ten-carat diamond-studded white-gold clasp and lock for $300,168. The rationale for its expense is that it is hand crafted and can take up to 18 hours to complete although the production cost is estimated to be around $800.
One would think that this would be a Veblen Good – a good in which the higher the price the more demanded. However there are a couple of ways that the Birkin handbag is not.
1. The bag is not all that conspicuous as although most people can identify Gucci, Louis Vuitton or Chanel, a Birkin is not so easy to find. In fact it is an inconspicuous but expensive bag. This theory was explained in the article “Signalling status with luxury goods: the role of brand prominence” from the Journal of Marketing (2010). It divided the high income earners into two groups;
Parvenus – who want to associate themselves with other high income groups and distinguish themselves from those who do not have material wealth.
Patricians – who want to signal to other people in their high income bracket and not to the masses. They are of the belief that more expensive luxury goods aimed at them will have less obvious branding than cheaper products made by the same company. This was achieved with smaller logos for more expensive items and larger ones for cheaper goods which are aimed at the masses. People who cannot afford the luxury items will buy the big logo items (louder products) and this is where the counterfeiters have a field day.
2. Normally producers of Veblen goods should raise the price till the point where the demand curve starts to follow it normal shape – downward sloping from left to right. However with Birkin they maintain its exclusivity not by raising the price but by limiting the supply. Unlike other Veblen goods you just can’t walk into a shop and buy a Birkin bag – you have to place an order and wait for it to arrive. But you would wonder why they don’t sell more and make more money? It is a supply constraint – limited availability of high-quality skins and craftspeople to make them – it takes two years training. Hermès suggests, Birkins are mined, not simply made.
Commercial Reasons to limit supply of Birkins
Rationing by supply rather than price does make good commercial sense for the following reasons:
1. It gives Hermès a buffer as if demand drops, sales will not.
2. It creates excess demand for the bags, which overflows into demand for other Hermès products – wallets, belts, beach towels etc.
3. Profitability in the short run would reduce its exclusiveness as the main buyers of the bags would eventually be those concerned with social climbing. Therefore the rich may lose interest in the bags and so will those that aspire to be like them.
However I not sure Hermès actually want you to buy their amazingly expensive bag.
Should we stop consumption?
Geoffrey Miller is his book – Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour – examines conspicuous consumption in order to rectify marketing’s poor understanding of human spending behaviour and consumerist culture. His thesis is that marketing influences people—particularly the young—that the most effectual means to show that status is through consumption choices, rather than conveying such traits as intelligence and personality through more natural means of communication, such as simple conversation. He argues that marketers still tend to use naive models of human nature that are uninformed by advances in evolutionary psychology and behavioural ecology. As a result, marketers “still believe that premium products are bought to display wealth, status, and taste, and they miss the deeper mental traits that people are actually wired to display—traits such as kindness, intelligence, and creativity.
The recent recession has sent out a few mixed messages. Firstly there has been the reduction in consumption as people’s credit lines have dried up but there are those that believe that you should spend more to maintain growth and employment in the economy. With household budgets being very tight smarter consumption rather than less consumption has been advocated by Geoffrey Miller. He refers to this as more ethical consumption where the production of produce does not involve the abuse of natural resources or the exploitation of people or animals.
With summer approaching in the southern hemisphere and the days getting brighter you will be looking to don sunglasses on a more regular basis. Sunglasses come in various styles and brands, eg. Rayban, Oakley, Gucci, Prada, Versace to name but a few, but can be quite expensive when you consider the so-called competition that is in the market which in theory should driving down the price. Sunglasses these days are reasonably homogeneous in that the frames and materials are very similar and it surprised me that 80% of the major sunglass brands are controlled by Luxottica, in a market that is worth US$28 billion.
Luxottica produced the following brands of sunglasses under their name:
Prada, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Bulgari, Vogue, Persol, Coach, DKNY, Rayban, Oakley, Sunglasses Hut, LensCrafters, Oliver Peoples, Pearle Vision, Target Optical and Sears Optical.
This list of brands is fairly comprehensive and by controlling 80% of the market you have a monopoly and dictate the price consumers have to pay for each specific brand since the industry isn’t competitive. Therefore they are Price Makers. But Luxottica also dictate what goes in the shops as they own Sunglass hut, Oliver peoples and Pearle Vision where consumers shop for sunglasses. This makes it very difficult for a brand outside one that is produced by Luxottica to compete as you can’t get your product into those shops. So not only do they have a monopoly in the production but they also control the distribution of sunglasses. See monopoly graph below.
In the clip below from ’60 Minutes’ they mention Oakley’s dilemma when their sunglasses became more popular than those produced by Luxottica. When this happen Luxottica proceeded to hold fewer Oakely sunglasses in their Sunglass Hut shops causing Oakley’s stock to plunge. Then in 2007 Oakley was left with no choice but to merge with Luxottica.
Last Thursday it was no real surprise that the RBNZ cut the official cash rate to 2%. With this cut you would have expected some fall in the value of the $NZ but instead it appreciated. So why did the $NZ appreciate? Graeme Wheeler was interviewed by NZ Herald reporter Liam Dann and explained to him that we live in a phenomenal situation. Global interest rates have been incredible low especially in countries like Japan, the UK and Australia – see table below. Add to that the impact of quantitive easing since 2009 and negative interest rates in countries which account for 25% of world GDP and you have a very unusual situation.
Some key assumptions from the RBNZ are that:
The global economy will start to pick-up which will mean that there will be less pressure on the NZ$ as investors look to other currencies to invest in. Remember that the NZ$ is the 10th most traded currency in the world and at uncertain times in the global economy it is seen as safe place to ‘park’ your money. This therefore increases the demand for NZ$’s appreciating its value.
Also the growth of the domestic economy with GDP expanding by 2.4 percent over the year ended in the March 2016 quarter, could mean a rise in inflationary expectations which should bring the inflation rate closer to the 2% mid point method in the policy target agreement. However this is a drop from 3.2% from the previous year.
According to Stephen Toplis of the BNZ
Clearly, the NZD is already higher than anticipated and inflation expectations could well be constrained for longer as annual headline inflation falls, potentially, sub-zero. It was also interesting that the RBNZ did not repeat its upside scenario for interest rates due to higher house prices. This reaffirms the Bank’s easing bias.
All things considered then, and noting there is still significant uncertainty as to the exact way ahead, we can reasonably comfortably conclude that:
– There will be at least one more rate cut;
– The balance of risk is for even more;
– The cash rate is going to be at least as low as it is now for a long time;
– Inflation is likely to continue surprising to the downside in the near term;
– Only when the rest of the world plays ball will the NZD wilt.
We discussed Contestable Markets in my A2 class today and I used this clip from Commanding Heights to show how regulated the US airline industry was during the 1970’s. Regulations meant that major carriers like Pan Am never had to compete with newcomers. However an Englishman named Freddie Laker was determined to break this tradition and set-up Laker airways to compete on trans-atlantic flights. He offered flights at less than half the price of what Pan Am charged. Alfred Kahn was given the task by the then President Jimmy Carter to breakup the Civil Aeronautics Board (the regulatory body) and he wanted a leaner regulatory environment in which the market was free to dictate price. There is a piece in the clip that shows how ludicrous some of the regulations were:
When I got to the Civil Aeronauts Board, the biggest division under me was the division of enforcement – in effect, FBI agents who would go around and seek out secret discounts and then impose fines. We would discipline them. It was illegal to compete in price. That means it was illegal to compete in the discounts you offer travel agents. So we regulated travel agents’ discounts. Internationally, since they couldn’t cut rates, they competed by having more and more sumptuous meals. We actually regulated the size of sandwiches. Alfred Kahn
When the CAB was closed down competition was the rule and the industry had vastly underestimated the demand for air travel at lower prices – a very elastic demand curve – see graph below.
In the A2 course contestable markets is a popular essay question and is usually combined with another market structure.
What is a contestable market?
• One in which there is one firm (or a small number of firms)
• Because of freedom of entry and exit, the firm faces competition and might operate in a way similar to a perfectly competitive firm
• The threat of “hit and run entry” from new firms may be sufficient to keep the industry operating at a competitive price and output
• The key requirement for a contestable market is the absence of sunk costs – i.e. costs that cannot be recovered if a business decides to leave a market
• When sunk costs are high, a market is more likely to produce an price and output similar to monopoly (with the risk of allocative inefficiency and loss of economic welfare)
• A perfectly contestable market occurs only when entry and exit into and out of a market is perfectly costless
• Contestable markets are different from perfect competitive markets
• It is possible for one incumbent firm to dominate the industry
• Each existing firm in the market produces a differentiated product (i.e. goods and services are not perfect substitutes for each other)
There are 3 conditions for market contestability:
• Perfect information and the ability and or legal right to use the best available technology
• Freedom to market / advertise and enter a market
• The absence of sunk costs
• Liberalisation of the US Airline Industry in the 1970’s and the European Airline Market in late 1990s
• Traditional “flag-flying” airlines faced new competition
• Barriers to entry in the industry were lowered (including greater use of leased aircraft)
• New Entrants – easyJet- Ryanair
Below is a great animation from RSA in which Ha-Joon Chang (South Korean institutional economist specialising in development economics) explains why every single person should know some basic economics. He pulls back the curtain on the often mystifying language of derivatives and quantitative easing, and explains how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel. He mentions the nine schools of economic thought which are Austrian, Behaviourist, Classical, Developmentalist, Institutionalist, Keynesian, Marxist, Neoclassical and Schumpeterian. Furthermore, he makes the point that given the complexity of the world and the partial nature of all economic theories, you should be humble about the validity of our own favorite theory. Therefore keeping an open mind about its usefulness in society.
A lot of what he talks about is in his excellent book entitled “Economics: A User’s Guide”.