All 4 entries tagged Economics

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March 25, 2008

Nature of the firm: A historical example.

Listening to this Podcast today I heard of a fascinating historical fact, cited from the paper by Chenung (1983): ‘The Contractual Nature of the Firm’, Journal of Law and Economics.

In old China (few hundred years ago) people use to transport things via the Yangtze River, using labourers (coolies) to pull the barge up the river. These barges were large, and so needed 10-15 people. These group of men acted like independent firms.

However there was a moral hazard problem. When pulling a barge with 14 other men it’s in your best interest to shirk, and only pretend that you are pulling the barge. The other men wouldn’t notice that you are shirking, the barged is still being pulled.

To counter this problem these ‘firms’ would hire a 16th man, who would typically be paid more then the others. His job was to monitor everyone else’s work and whip them if he saw anyone shirking. Just the presence of having him there got rid of the moral hazard problem, thus he didn’t even need to whip people normally.

What we saw hence, merely as a result of free market competition, was a situation where the typically transportation firm consisted of a hierarchical structure. One where at the bottom was 15 low-paid labourers who did all the work, and at the top was a well-paid manager who didn’t actually do anything, except perhaps once in a while use his whip to discipline his subordinates.

January 11, 2008

New Hampshire and the Stock market.

The result New-Hampshire election results seems to imply quite a criticism of the efficiency of the stock market. In particular it affirms Keynes’s speculation that they were controlled by ‘animal spirits’.

What is in-trade?
The in-trade website is basically a political betting website. There are bonds that pay out, say, $100 if Clinton wins the 2008 election and $0 if she doesn’t. These bonds are then traded among market players (with there typically being a volume of thousands in each market). Therefore if the market price for this bond is $23 then this implies that the market believes that Clinton will win the 2008 election with a probability of 23%.

Total Predictive Failure:
In the new Hampshire elections McCain won for the republicans and Clinton won for the democrats. But looking at the history of in-trade market prices for the ‘McCain to win New Hampshire’ and ‘Clinton to win New Hampshire’ shows that these totally shocked the market.
A little more then a month ago the market predicted McCain to win the election with a probability little more then zero. While a week ago the market was clueless over whether Clinton or Obama would win (hence giving them both a 50% rating), and then totally misinterpret the Iowa result and thus leading them to place nearly a zero probability on her winning just days before she won.

McCain’s price history:
Clinton’s price history:

November 21, 2007

Northern Rock: am I missing something?

Many of the front pages of the front pages of yesterday’s newspapers had the following headline: of yesterday’s newspapers had the following headline:

‘Taxpayers could face a multimillion-pound bill for the rescue of Northern Rock, after Alistair Darling refused to give a guarantee that the £24 billion Bank of England loan will ever be fully repaid.’

But what is the big deal?

Northern Rock had a bank run. This meant they lacked the liquidity to give all their depositors their money back. However this doesn’t mean that they didn’t have the assets. The loans that Northern Rock held are still good. Thus then government lent the bank this money in order to provide them with this liquidity, and then when the loans mature the bank will have the money in order to pay their government loan back. No problem

The only circumstance in which the loan couldn’t be paid back was if there was mass defaulting on loans. This could happen if there was a severe recession in the economy or if there was a severe drop in house prices (thus causing people to have negative equity on their homes). Most economists appear to predict a slowdown in growth in coming years; hence the first scenario won’t happen. In the US average house prices has recently fallen by 8%; thus the second scenario is a possibility.

But surely if there is going to be a massive bursting of the house-price bubble this would make a more interesting headline then noting that the government’s loan won’t be paid back?

Indeed what if this ‘giveaway’? In practice all it really will mean is that a lot of government money is, instead of being spent by the government, is being given to the Northern Rock depositors (i.e. a large group of randomly chosen people) so they can spend it instead.

October 09, 2007

Strike out Royal Mail?

As anyone waiting for post will surely know, Royal mail and their Stikeworker’s unions have still failed come to any agreement. Yesterday they went on 48-hour strike, and next Monday the union’s head threatened continuous strike action. This is just the latest stage in the battle between the Royal Mail’s Unions and their bosses. There was another 48-hour strike last week, and in July was a series of staggered strikes. The industrial action of an army of 130,000 postal workers is predicted to cost the company up to £230 M, one can thus deduce that the cost to the greater economy must be much higher.

The cause seems to revolve around the management’s drive towards modernising reforms (such as making the jobs the workers do more flexible, so they may not know what job they are doing one day to the next). However the workers complain that the proposals will cost 40,000 jobs. There are disagreements over the pay increase also.

What should we do, if anything? Does these events acts as a signal justifying the privatisation of the service? If it was privatised then the management would be much more empowered to get the job done, as they wouldn’t be accountable to the government who are in turn accountable to the Unions. They would still be accountable to the democracy of the marketplace; the only difference is that now the wider consumer interest would take precedence over the narrower union interest.

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