Intro to Econ: Eleventh Lecture – Solutions to Negative Externalities through Taxation

In a previous post I explained why an economic activity that causes negative externalities (some form of harm for others) tend to be done “too much” in a market. With “too much” I mean that, without any other measures in place, the market will not generate a Pareto-efficient situation. Sometimes this is called a “market failure”. In this post and the next one I explain how we can deal with such situations and why this is easy in some cases and rather difficult in others.

Intro to Econ: Eleventh Lecture Aside – Advertising Bans on Cigarettes and Alcohol

In the previous post I explained why it may well be in some cases that companies advertise too much for their common good. I used it primarily as an example to illustrate how the presence of negative externalities can lead to too much of the activity that causes the negative externality (such as driving cars, et cetera). I here just want to point out an interesting direct implication of the advertising example I gave.

In recent years there was a fairly effective campaign in many countries in the world to reduce smoking (which by the way is almost certainly an activity with negative externalities). This was achieved by a mix of policy measures. These included education about the serious consequences about smoking (“you will die soon and horribly” written on the package together with gruesome pictures), banning smoking from many public places, significant price increases (more about this later), as well as advertising bans. Similar measures are now considered in at least the EU to reduce alcohol consumption, which is also often seen as creating negative externalities.

I certainly believe that price increases are effective to reduce the consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. I also believe that enforced bans on smoking or drinking (enforced with fines or prison time) will be effective even if the enforcement is perhaps not always necessarily proportional to the “crime”. A little bit beside the point: I have the feeling that the “education” is not very effective, but I may well be wrong about this.

But the main point I want to raise is this: I have heard the argument that advertising does not so much affect how much people smoke or drink but mostly only what they smoke or drink. If this is true then a ban on advertising will, by the logic of the previous post, only help to raise profits for the cigarette and alcohol producers, without any effect on smoking and drinking levels.

It would be interesting to assess empirically whether this is true or not. This is probably not so easy, as in many countries many policy measures were put in place at the same time, so it is hard to know which of them was effective. This does not mean that a clever empirical design could not address this, though.

Intro to Econ: Eleventh Lecture – Negative Externalities

On Austrian highways you can sometimes find a sign that says “Schnell ist laut!” or “Fast is loud!” in English. The caricature of Homo Economicus (the rational person, often interpreted as highly self-centered) upon reading this would probably react by thinking “Thank you for the warning. But it is no problem. I can just turn up the radio.”

I guess that this is not the reaction that people who placed the sign there were looking for. And I also guess that most people understand perfectly what this sign is asking them to do: Drive more slowly, so that others, i.e., those who live here, don’t have to suffer so much from the noise that you otherwise create. Whether or not this sign makes them slow down is yet another question.

In economic terms, when you drive fast you create an “externality”, in this case harm, to other people not involved in your decision or activity. In this post I want to consider what happens when economic activity imposes negative externalities on others. We will see that this creates problems to the extent that market allocations are no longer even Pareto efficient (recall this post). Continue reading

Intro to Econ: Tenth Lecture Aside – Equal Opportunities

In this post I want to use the model and insight of the previous post to talk about equal opportunities. With this I mean the idea that everyone has the same access to education. I will argue that it is not for fairness but for efficiency reasons why a social planner might prefer a world with equal opportunities. I should also add that this post is a bit fanciful and one could possibly disagree with the way the argument goes. Take it with a grain of salt.

Intro to Econ: Tenth Lecture – The Job Market

There are many ways we can think about the job market. I believe that I said it before that we should build a model of whatever we are studying only after we specify what exactly we are interested in. And when it comes to the job market there are many things we might be interested in. For instance, we could be especially interested in unemployment: What determines whether someone is unemployed? What consequences does unemployment have for other family members? How do unemployed people find a job again? We could also be especially interested in how many members of a household work and how much and how this is decided at the household level. Why do some people work full time and some part time? We could also be especially interested in how people prepare themselves for the job market. How do people decide which career path to choose? How do they decide what to learn? There are so many things we could be interested in and I believe that each different question will need its own model, where one focuses on the salient features of the job market for that particular question.

In this post I am perhaps being a bit eclectic but I want to think about which person gets which job. That is, I want to think about how the job market allocates people to jobs.

Intro to Econ: Ninth Lecture Aside – The Winner’s Curse

For one last time, I want to come back to the problem of whether you get a loan for your project under the assumption that the risk inherent in your project is stochastically independent of other investment risks. So this was our problem (see also here and here):

$\begin{tabular}{c|ccccc} Scenario & Income & Probability & you get & investor gets \\ \hline good & 200.000 & 80\% & 200.000-x & x \\ bad & -50.000 & 20\% & 0 & -50.000 \\ \end{tabular},$

where $x$ is the repayment amount that you pay back to the investor in case of the project being successful. We argued (in a previous post) that the range of feasible interest rates is 12,5% to 200%. Anything outside that will certainly not be accepted by either the investor or by you.

Suppose that you and the investor are close to agreeing to an interest rate of just over 12,5%. Put yourself in the shoes of the investor for a moment. What might worry you in this case?

Intro to Econ: Ninth Lecture Aside – Moral Hazard

I want to briefly come back to the problem of whether you get a loan for your project under the assumption that the risk inherent in your project is stochastically independent of other investment risks. So this was our problem (see also here and here):

$\begin{tabular}{c|ccccc} Scenario & Income & Probability & you get & investor gets \\ \hline good & 200.000 & 80\% & 200.000-x & x \\ bad & -50.000 & 20\% & 0 & -50.000 \\ \end{tabular},$

where $x$ is the repayment amount that you pay back to the investor in case of the project being successful. We argued (in a previous post) that the range of feasible interest rates is 12,5% to 200%. Anything outside that will certainly not be accepted by either the investor or by you.

Suppose that you and the investor are close to agreeing to an interest rate of almost 200%. Put yourself in the shoes of the investor for a moment. What might worry you in this case?

Intro to Econ: Ninth Lecture Aside – Insurance

We can use the previous posts (one, two, three) on how financial markets deal with risk also to talk about insurance. In fact let us talk about a particular insurance problem. Suppose you live and own a house in Graz, or any other town with a river going through it. I believe Graz has not seen major flooding in a very long time, but with climate change all this could change. Also not having seen flooding in a long time does not mean there is no chance of it happening. And of course many towns in the world have fairly frequent and serious flooding events.

Suppose then that you live in one of these cities and are considering buying insurance against flooding. When I say “against flooding” I, of course, mean that the insurance will pay out some money in the event of a flood and that this amount is so that it covers the costs of all repairs that become necessary because of the damage caused by the flood. Suppose furthermore that there is no other insurance already in place (such as the local or national government paying out some emergency funds in such cases). In this post I want to address the following question: Will you have to pay a large risk-premium on your flood-insurance?

Intro to Econ: Ninth Lecture – Risk Premia under Non-Independent Risks

Recall the problem we had in the previous two posts (here and here). You are considering undertaking a worthwhile but risky project and need some startup money in order to do it. Investors give your project an 80% chance of succeeding and a 20% chance of failing. The problem can be summarized in the following table, where $x$ is the repayment amount that you pay back to the investor in case of the project being successful. If it is unsuccessful you pay nothing, because you have nothing. You “default” on your loan in that case. This is the risk the investor takes on when she or he gives you this loan.

$\begin{tabular}{c|ccccc} Scenario & Income & Probability & you get & investor gets \\ \hline good & 200.000 & 80\% & 200.000-x & x \\ bad & -50.000 & 20\% & 0 & -50.000 \\ \end{tabular}$

In the previous post we considered the case that this risk inherent in your project is stochastically independent of the risks in other potential investment opportunities. In this case we figured out that the interest rate you might get for your project might be as low as 12.5% (but certainly not below that). This is so low that, due to the risk in the investment, investors expect actually a zero return on their investment. The actual interest rate would then probably be a bit higher, determined by supply and demand.

All this depends, however, on the fact the risk is stochastically independent of other risks. Expressed differently, one could say that the financial market generates no risk premium on any stochastically independent risk in an investment opportunity. This is because investors can hedge independent risks away by diversifying their investment portfolio. They can invest small amounts in many such independent risks and then, by force of the law of large numbers, actually have no risk in their diversified portfolio.

In this post, which I am now finally getting to, I want to consider how this analysis changes when the risk inherent in this investment opportunity is not stochastically independent of other risks, but is correlated with them.