Is a little economics dangerous?

meme-warsA few weeks ago I had a brief exchange on Twitter with @unlearningecon about the possibility of introductory economics instruction going beyond teaching the neoclassical model of perfect competition and exploring alternatives. If I remember correctly our exchange didn’t get much beyond me saying that to do so is quite a challenge. Students can find it difficult enough to grasp the standard model, let alone alternatives to it. The challenge is compounded because some of the alternatives, at micro-level at least, are not as well worked through as the standard model. @unlearningecon didn’t feel it was so difficult.

Of course, I’ve no idea upon what @unlearningecon is basing his/her view. Our exchange was no more extensive than that. We didn’t pursue the issue. The view might be underpinned by plenty of experience. All I can say is that, in that case, the experience is different from mine.

For quite a while I have been thinking about what students should be introduced to when they are introduced to economics. The issue has become somewhat more high profile following the global financial crisis and the questioning of established economic paradigms. [Read more…]

Is nudging enough?

Rene Kinzett, one of my fellow contributors over at Dale & Co, posted Nudging or Nannying last weekend. The argument was perhaps a little cryptic, but the point was that relying on the subtlety of trying to “nudge” behaviour in the right direction is not an adequate policy response to certain types of problem. His example of treating rickets among young women who for cultural reasons do not have enough exposure to sunlight is an interesting one. He referred to minimum alcohol pricing, a policy being introduced in Scotland, and banning smoking in cars carrying children, a policy being introduced in Wales, as more conventional regulatory policy that will help those on the edges of society, when nudges are judged inadequate.

A couple of commenters took Kinzett to task for this argument. One made the point that nudge theory is being preferred for developing policy at the moment because it has been shown to be more effective than traditional regulatory approaches. It was also arguing that no one is suggesting that nudge can be used in isolation and should be combined with other mechanisms to deliver better social outcomes.

It seems to me that these comments miss the mark in at least a couple of ways. [Read more…]

Housing demand – a role for status concerns?

Housing is a complex commodity. Economists think about the demand for housing as having both a consumption and an investment component. Trying to integrate the two components is a challenge. But is this approach sufficient? Economists differ in their views on the success of conventional approaches to understanding housing markets, particularly in the light of the recent experience of the house price crash. There is enough debate to suggest that exploring new angles could be valuable. More specifically, does the analysis of housing demand need to embrace social status concerns?

Interest in status concerns as a driver of demand is by no means new or novel. It is most likely self-evidently important for those interested in the sociology or anthropology of consumption. Even in the economics community it is an issue that has recurrently, albeit intermittently, attracted attention. [Read more…]

Can we be nudged towards a Big Society?

The report in today’s Guardian that Windsor and Maidenhead council are exploring “reward points” as a means of encouraging locals to engage in “Big Society” activities is intriguing. This comes shortly after news of the possibility of importing a version of the Japanese system of time-banking for voluntary adult social care. One of the imponderables of the Big Society agenda is how you animate civil society to step into the void created if and when the State withdraws from service provision. Has Windsor and Maidenhead hit on a potential solution? I think we need to be cautious. [Read more…]