Candy Competition

CandyIndustryGraphic.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In class, we discuss how consumers pay higher prices for candy and soft drinks because the U.S. government limits on how much foregin sugar we can import. Sometimes a student will claim that candy companies would not lower prices if the price of sugar declined. And sometimes that issue leads to a discussion of whether the candy industry is competitive.
The graphic above, and the quotation below, provide some relevant evidence.

(p. B1) The global confectionary industry has long lacked a dominant player. The top 10 manufacturers controlled just 47% of the $141 billion market as of 2006, the most recent available data. . . .
. . .
If the Wrigley acquisition is successful, Mars will become the world’s largest confectionary company with about 14.4% of the market, overtaking Cadbury’s 10.1%, based on 2006 figures, the latest available, from Euromonitor International.

For the full story, see:
JULIE JARGON and AARON O. PATRICK. “More Sweet Deals in the Candy Aisle?; Cadbury and Hershey in the Spotlight in the Wake of Mars-Wrigley Linkup.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 29, 2008): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Great Example of Stigler-Kolko Capture Theory of Regulatory Agencies

George Stigler and Gabriel Kolko are associated with the theory that eventually, govenment regulatory agencies come to be captured by the industry that the agency is charged with regulating.
At the time of the exchange documented below, Wendell Willkie was the head of an electric utility, and Lilienthal was one of the heads of the TVA, which was in the process of taking customers away from Willkie’s utility. Willkie’s argument to Lilienthal is consistent with the capture theory. (But that Lilienthal pushed ahead with his plans, might be seen as inconsistent with the theory.)

(p. 182) Lilienthal set up a meeting in early October 1933 at the Cosmos Club in Washington, the club being, in Lilienthal’s words, “about as neutral a ground as we could think of.”
. . .
(p. 183) Willkie tried yet another tack. No one, he argued to Lilienthal, went into government without the intention of going into the private sector later. The private sector, after all, was where the business lived. If Lilienthal was too nasty, then he was not likely to find work at private utilities companies. Lilienthal was, by his own admission, “pretty badly scared” by the time he left the Cosmos.

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

“How the West Grew Rich” is an Elegant and Wonderful Book


Source of book image:

For many years I have wanted to carefully read Rosenberg and Birdzell’s How the West Grew Rich. I am glad I have finally done it, and wish I had done it sooner. It is a tour de force of careful scholarly synthesis of a wide range of issues related to a fundamental question with many implications for policy.
The authors operate within a broadly Schumpeterian perspective, in that they see innovation as the key driver of human progress. One underlying theme is that societies that give more play to experimentation in institutions, are more likely to allow, encourage, and widely adopt, innovations.
Although written over two decades ago, the book only rarely seems dated. (The only instance I can think of is the occasional attention that the authors give to Marxist claims, that are seldom taken as seriously now as they sometimes still were in 1986.)
The writing style is not easy to read, but is rewarding. They write with elegance, and subtlety, and dry wit.

The reference to the book:
Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Stigler on Berle and Means

I remember George Stigler in class making some reference to a book by Berle and Means, and asking if any of us had ever heard of them. None of us had. My memory is that he looked sort of sadly amused.
At least one of Stigler’s important papers had taken on, and refuted, some of the important claims of the Berle and Means book.
Now, decades later, I recently read a wonderful book on the Great Depression called The Forgotten Man. It turns out that Berle was very important in the growth of government in FDR’s New Deal.
I now realize what I did not realize when I took Stigler’s class—that Stigler had done something significant in refuting errors that supported misguided policies that hurt the economy.
It is a sad fact of life that future generations will not remember, or appreciate, the triumphs of the ‘good guys’ because they do not appreciate the impact of the good guys’ adversaries.
Stigler had beaten Berle so fully that the younger generation did not even recognize Berle’s name. And in not recognizing Berle’s name, or his significance, they could not appreciate the value of what Stigler had accomplished.

Book reference:
Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

New York Rent Control Limits Incentives to Build Apartments

NewYorkLoftBuilding.jpg “Tryn Collins, left, and Mary Hill share small quarters at a loft building in Brooklyn that was transformed from a factory.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

New York City has had rent control in effect for decades. Economists predict that one effect of rent control is that incentives are reduced to build and maintain apartments. As a result, those seeking living space, have fewer options. (For example, the WSJ a few years ago ran a front page article explaining how some enterprising New Yorkers were living in abandoned elevator shafts.)
The article quoted below, provides additional evidence.

(p. A1) One “room” is a cramped cubby that measures, in all, perhaps 25 square feet, just enough for a full-size mattress and whatever can be stashed beneath. The first-floor rooms, in the basement, are musty and windowless, like caves. The second-floor rooms have plywood walls but no doors, only cut-out windows that overlook a kitchen cluttered with day-old dishes, a chore wheel and the odd paintbrush.
One of the residents likens her home to a “giant treehouse.” Another says it is like “living in a public bathroom.”
“Where the stalls are just superficial sight lines that block the other person, but you can hear everything they do,” said Robyn Frank, a 23-year-old artist. She had just moved in to the McKibbin lofts in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and sometimes they literally become bathrooms. They are known for their giant, raucous parties; revelers occasionally urinate in the halls.
This is life in what some refer to as the McKibbin “dorms,” a landing pad for hundreds of postcollegiate creative types yearning to make it as artists, and live like them too, in today’s New York.
Newcomers marvel that such a place exists: two sprawling, almost identical five-story former factories filled with mostly white hip young things, smack in the middle of a neighborhood that has little in common with Williamsburg proper, its cocktail-mixing neighbor to the west.
Perhaps 300 people live in each building, which face each other and sit, respectively, at 248 and 255 McKibbin Street. Between one and eight people live in each loft. Few were born before the mid-1980s. Rents can range from $375 for one person to roughly $800 for a space.

For the full story, see:
CARA BUCKLEY. “Young Artists Find a Private Space, Only Without the Privacy.” The New York Times (Weds., May 7, 2008): A1 & A17.

“The Black Hole of Agriculture”: “People Love Free Money”

(p. A17) WASHINGTON — Americans are in sticker-shock over grocery prices, while people in developing countries are rioting over food shortages. And across the heartland, American farmers are enjoying record incomes, but losing sleep over rising expenses and turbulence in the commodity futures markets.
Here on Capitol Hill, though, it is pretty much farm politics as usual.
As Congress works toward final passage of the farm bill, it is poised to continue most of the existing farmer subsidy programs, including about $5.2 billion a year in so-called “direct payments” that will be disbursed even as net farm income is projected to hit a historic high in 2008.
The farm bill, which comes along once every five years and will cost upward of $300 billion, in fact will do little to address many of the most pressing concerns. It will not change biofuel mandates that are directing more corn to ethanol and contributing to a global rise in food prices.
. . .
But even strong proponents of the bill, like Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Agriculture Committee, concede that farm interests are deeply entrenched and that there is little appetite for change among many farm state lawmakers, especially when it comes to the direct payment program.
The direct payments are based on the amount of land that certain farmers own, and Mr. Harkin, who has sought to eliminate the payments, said that many recipients of the money then use it to acquire more land and qualify for more payments.
“It’s like the black hole in space that astronomers talk about: everything gets sucked in and nothing ever comes out,” he said. “This is the black hole of agriculture. It doesn’t make sense, but farmers continue to get it.”
Mr. Harkin said there was not much he could do because “I don’t have the votes,” adding, “People love free money.”

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID M. HERSZENHORN. “NEWS ANALYSIS; Farmers’ Income Rises, as Do Food Prices, but It’s Mostly Politics as Usual.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 24, 2008): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Schumpeterians Lead Ranking of Business Gurus

GuruGraphic.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

The top two business gurus in the WSJ‘s latest ranking, have each written major books that make substantial use of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. (The Hamel book is Leading the Revolution, and the Thomas Friedman book is The Lexus and the Olive Tree.)
Others among the top 20 gurus who have written favorably of the process of creative destruction, include Clayton Christensen, Jack Welch, and Tom Peters.

(p. B1) The guru game is changing.
Psychologists, journalists and celebrity chief executives crowd the top of a ranking of influential business thinkers compiled for The Wall Street Journal. The results, based on Google hits, media mentions and academic citations, ranked author and consultant Gary Hamel No. 1.
But Dr. Hamel is the only traditional business guru in the top five, which includes two journalists, Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell, and a former CEO, Bill Gates. Mr. Gladwell is among three thinkers in the top eight who focus on psychology. His 2005 book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” examined the role of snap judgments in decision-making. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard best known for the theory of “multiple intelligences,” is No. 5, while Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who has written about “emotional intelligence,” ranks eighth.
Thomas H. Davenport, a management professor at Babson College, compiled the ranking, employing the same methodology he used in a 2003 book, “What’s the Big Idea?” Several well-known business gurus fell lower in the updated list, including Michael Porter and Tom Peters, who topped the 2003 ranking and dropped to Nos. 14 and 18, respectively. Harvard’s Prof. Porter noted that his last book was on health care rather than general management, and that “I feel like my recent work continues to have an impact in my various fields.”
Dr. Davenport says the changes show that time-strapped managers are hungry for easily digestible advice wherever they can find it. Today, the most pressing themes include globalization, motivation and innovation. Traditional business gurus writing “weighty tomes” are in decline, he says.

For the full story, see:
ERIN WHITE. “New Breed of Business Gurus Rises; Psychologists, CEOs Climb in Influence, Draw Hits, Big Fees.” Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 5, 2008): B1.

Source of table:
ERIN WHITE. “What Influential Business Thinkers Focus On; Top Gurus Ponder Manager’s Worries, New Approaches.” Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 5, 2008): B6.
(Note: the online version of the article has the title: “Quest for Innovation, Motivation Inspires the Gurus; Leading Thinkers Apply Varied Skills For Global Solutions.”)

Why Most Economists Oppose the Gas Tax Holiday

(p. A31) Most economists oppose the Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday because they can’t see how consumers will benefit. In fact, “most” is an understatement; when challenged to name one economist willing to back her plan, Mrs. Clinton’s response was to disparage the whole profession.
Why are economists so opposed? In the short run, the supply of gasoline is basically fixed; it takes a while to build a new refinery. The demand for gasoline, in contrast, is more responsive to price; we’re already seeing greater use of public transportation and brisk sales of fuel-efficient cars. When you combine fixed supply with flexible demand, it’s suppliers, not demanders, who pocket the tax cut. That’s Econ 101.
. . .
When the public rejects the mundane explanations for high gas prices — big boring facts like rapid Asian growth — politicians aren’t going to correct them. The best we can expect is for Washington to try to channel the public’s misconceptions in relatively harmless directions. We could do a lot worse than the gas tax holiday; in fact, we usually do.

For the full commentary, see:
BRYAN CAPLAN. “The 18-Cent Solution.” The New York Times (Thurs., May 8, 2008): A31.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

For Happiness, “Income Does Matter”

SatisfactionPerCapitaGDPgraph.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C7) . . . , Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argue that money indeed tends to bring happiness, even if it doesn’t guarantee it. They point out that in the 34 years since Mr. Easterlin published his paper, an explosion of public opinion surveys has allowed for a better look at the question. “The central message,” Ms. Stevenson said, “is that income does matter.”
To see what they mean, take a look at the map that accompanies this column. It’s based on Gallup polls done around the world, and it clearly shows that life satisfaction is highest in the richest countries. The residents of these countries seem to understand that they have it pretty good, whether or not they own an iPod Touch.
If anything, Ms. Stevenson and Mr. Wolfers say, absolute income seems to matter more than relative income. In the United States, about 90 percent of people in households making at least $250,000 a year called themselves “very happy” in a recent Gallup Poll. In households with income below $30,000, only 42 percent of people gave that answer. But the international polling data suggests that the under-$30,000 crowd might not be happier if they lived in a poorer country.
. . .
Economic growth, by itself, certainly isn’t enough to guarantee people’s well-being — which is Mr. Easterlin’s great contribution to economics. In this country, for instance, some big health care problems, like poor basic treatment of heart disease, don’t stem from a lack of sufficient resources. Recent research has also found that some of the things that make people happiest — short commutes, time spent with friends — have little to do with higher incomes.
But it would be a mistake to take this argument too far. The fact remains that economic growth doesn’t just make countries richer in superficially materialistic ways.
Economic growth can also pay for investments in scientific research that lead to longer, healthier lives. It can allow trips to see relatives not seen in years or places never visited. When you’re richer, you can decide to work less — and spend more time with your friends.
Affluence is a pretty good deal. Judging from that map, the people of the world seem to agree. At a time when the American economy seems to have fallen into recession and most families’ incomes have been stagnant for almost a decade, it’s good to be reminded of why we should care.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID LEONHARDT. “Economic Scene; Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness. Well, on Second Thought . . . .” The New York Times (Weds., April 16, 2008): C1 & C7.
(Note: ellipses in text added; ellipsis in title in original; the title in the online version was “Economic Scene; Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All.” )


Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

United States Making More Output with Less Physical Input: An Almost Lighter Economy

(p. 492) The long-standing trend away from value produced by manual labor and natural resources and toward the intangible value-added we associate with the digital econnomy can be expected to continue. Today it takes a lot less physical material to produce a unit of output than it did in generations past. Indeed, the physical amount of materials and fuels either consumed in the production of output or embodied in the output has increased very modestly over the past half century. The output of our economy is not quite literally lighter, but it is close.
Thin fiber-optic cable, for instance, has replaced huge tonnages of copper wire. New architectural, engineering, and materials technologies have enabled the construction of buildings enclosing the same space with far less physical material than was required fifty or one hundred years ago. Mobile phones have not only downsized but also morphed into multipurpose communication devices. The movement over the decades toward production of services that require little physical input has also been a major contributor to the marked rise in the ratio of constant dollars of GDP to tons of input.

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.
(Note: italics in original.)