Negative externalities of consumption is where the consumption of a good may have spillover costs or negative externalities for others e.g. passive smoking, drink driving, sugary drinks. If left to the free market goods that have negative externalities of consumption will be under priced (Pm) and over consumed (Qm) compared to the socially desirable price (Ps) and quantity (Qs). At Qm the MSC > MSB therefore the quantity needs to reduce until the MSC=MSB. The government could tax the good, increasing its price and lowering the level of consumption back to more socially desirable levels.
Coke and how much sugar?
The video clip below, although a bit old, is from the BBC Newsnight Programme in which Jeremy Paxman interviews President of Coca Cola Europe James Quincey. How much sugar is in a cup of Coke? A ‘small’ cinema serving is said to contain 23 teaspoons on sugar, while a large contains 44 – ‘each to be consumed in a single sitting.’ You can see the amount of sugar for yourself when Paxman pours out the sachets in each cup. Like with the tobacco industry quite a few years ago, the pressure is now on drink companies to reduce the amount of sugar in drinks because of the negative externalities of consumption that are associated with it.
Externalities on elearneconomics has written answers that allows students to recall information and apply it to assessment style questions. Immediate feedback allows for true student-centred learning and understanding.
One of the biggest threats to world health is that of obesity and sugar is the source of the weight gain amongst many people. It is ironic that sugar consumption was accelerated in the 1980’s after it were introduced into processed foods to deal with the health scare concerning saturated fats. Governments are now becoming more aware of this issue as it starts to absorb their health budget – UK spends £4bn on obesity related health issues. Norway, Mexico and the states of California and Illinois have introduced a tax on full-calorie soft drinks. Taxing sugar drinks does increase the cost of consumption and generates revenue to pay for the health costs that the overweight impose on society. But are there other options that they should be trying? Taxation might reduce some consumption but information about public awareness could be a more efficient option.
Information about sugar – a better solution?
A simple solution to obesity is to eat less and take more exercise. The World Health Organisation recently halved its recommended daily allowance, saying we should have no more than six teaspoons a day – less than one fizzy drink. However much of the sugar we consume is hidden within processed foods – high-fructose corn syrup which is a cheaper alternative to sugar. Food needs to be properly labelled and it is interesting to see the UK government are changing the way foods are labeled to assist shoppers to monitor their intake of harmful food using a simple traffic light system. But it doesn’t help that the US and EU governments still subsidise sugar production. However the real aim of focusing on sugar is that we start to lead healthier lives.