Olen niin iloinen

For those of you who do not speak Finnish, a clue to the meaning of the words above might be found in the following questions.

What happens on 20th March 2018?

Answer – UN has declared it to be World Happiness Day

What do Norway and Burundi have in common?

Answer – they both dropped in the UN World Happiness Report. Burundi dropped to bottom place while Norway dropped out of the top slot to be replaced by Finland – hence the Finnish comment “I am so happy”.

The Report ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, and, this year, it also looked at 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants, with Finland coming top in both rankings.

The top and bottom 10 are recorded below. A sample in each country are asked to score their happiness on a scale of 10 (most happy) to 1 (least happy) with Finland scoring 7.6 and Burundi 2.9. In order to identify the reasoning behind the score, the report also looks at economic strength (measured in GDP per capita), social support, life expectancy, freedom of choice, generosity, and perceived corruption. The biggest loser was Venezuela, dropping 2.2 on the scale, which is little surprise considering the state of their economy. This year the study also looked at the happiness of migrants,

It is worth a warning note about the numbers – the difference between the top 6 countries is only 0.191 on the 1 – 10 scale.

The world’s happiest – and least happy – countries 2018 World Happiness Report
Happiest Least happy
1. Finland 147. Malawi
2. Norway 148. Haiti
3. Denmark 149. Liberia
4. Iceland 150. Syria
5. Switzerland 151. Rwanda
6. Netherlands 152. Yemen
7. Canada 153. Tanzania
8. New Zealand 154. South Sudan
9. Sweden 155. Central African Republic
10. Australia 156. Burundi

New insights into GDP

A new book “The Growth Delusion” by David Pilling, a Financial Times journalist, provides interesting insights into our obsession with economic growth and how we measure it. This blog highlights only some of his key points which are relevant to A’level and IB economics. The book is definitely worth a read. Modern GDP statistics (“the value of goods and services produced in a given period”)  have their origin in the USA around the 1930s with the work of Kuznets, who produced the first national income data to see the impact of the Great Depression on the US economy. They became more important during the Second World War when the UK government, prompted by Keynes, and the US government needed to be able to manage the war effort to maximum effect while still providing enough resources for consumption.

Pilling points out the many failings of GDP as an economic indicator such as the way it takes no account of what is produced, merely its value. Thus he points out that  wars can be good for GDP if they involve countries producing more tanks, weapons and aircraft. Similarly, two forks are, in GDP terms, as useful as a knife and fork, but less useful in reality when trying to spread jam on toast or cut one’s steak.  He is also scathing about the use of averages and points out that while a rich country might have a high average GDP, and therefore, according to economists, a high standard of living, if this is held by a very small number of people, the standard of living of the majority might be below that of a country with a lower average of GDP.

Measurement of GDP is difficult since it is impossible to measure every transaction and therefore relies on surveys e.g. the Living Costs and Food Survey for about 5,000 households and monthly surveys of approximately 45,000 businesses. The development of technology has made the measurement of GDP more difficult. The UK Government set up an inquiry under Charlie Bean – OB and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England – who made comments similar to those expressed by David Pilling in terms of activities which are now much harder to measure and value such as using Google Maps rather than buying a paper OS map or streaming films rather than buying or renting DVDs. Another problem is that many things have become cheaper and better – my new recorder is easier to use and records more than a previous DVD recorder  but, in GDP terms, it is less valuable because it is cheaper.

There have been many debates over what should be included in GDP and although these might seem largely irrelevant, they matter when trying to compare countries’ GDP. In the past certain things, such as the sale of cannabis in cafes in Holland were legal and therefore recorded while a similar purchase in Romford would not be counted. However Eurostat wanted consistency among its members and decided that all transactions for goods or services involving money were to be recorded, whether they legal, illegal, good or bad. Therefore, in a purely numerical way, those who argue in favour of increasing GDP as being a key government objective, could argue that encouraging the sale of drugs or prostitution is as valid as increased spending on education or health – something even an economist would find hard to justify! More relevantly sales of guns in the UK  are part of the shadow economy but in the US they are legal, widespread and contribute to their GDP.

Pilling also considers the problems of measuring GDP in developing countries where a significant percentage of production takes place in the shadow economy; for example in Zimbabwe only 6% of the is formally employed. Similarly, my purchase of bottled water from Waitrose  is counted in the UK’s GDP, but the effort of a African villager who spends hours walking to and from a stream or well to collect “free” water has no value according to GDP statistics. He describes the way lights at night are used to indicate economic activity in different areas with increases in intensity over time indicating growth. Such methods indicate that the proportion of economic activity occurring in villages, and not always measured, is more significant than thought and therefore the GDP of many developing countries is, similarly, larger than previously calculated.

The dangers of saying goodbye to globalisation

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Trump is keen to “put America first” and move manufacturing back to the United States and he has already had dealings with US companies thinking of moving production overseas. He has also talked of moving away from free trade has about re-writing NAFTA (the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico).

However it is worth reflecting  about the Argentinian experience. Cristina Kirchner was elected President of Argentina in 2007 and announced that Argentina needed to manufacture far more of the goods it consumed, rather than importing. In order to achieve this, she imposed  import tariffs of between 30% – 40% and banned the import of certain goods, in the hope that foreign companies would move production to Argentina. In 2011 one such banned good was the cell phone. Apple refused to produce in Argentina but Blackberry agreed. (It is worth noting that at this time Blackberry was the most popular and fashionable mobile phone in the country with sales of over $100m). The Blackberrys previously imported into Argentina had components from Asia and were assembled in either Mexico or Uruguay.

The Argentinian Government specified the place where the factory was to be built and selected Tierra del Fuego, a remote small island with poor roads and few flights at the southern tip of Argentina. In fact the main streets of Tierra del Fuego look more like  the set of a spaghetti western, with sheep grazing in the fields and tumbleweed (almost) blowing down the street, than a major manufacturing area. The establishment of the factory and recruitment of workers, who had to be paid three times the normal wage to persuade them to move down, took two years and there was much celebration in 2013 when the first Blackberry rolled off the production line.

Unfortunately, as a warning to anti-free-traders, because it took so long to bring the factory into production that the phones produced were two year old models and, because of high labour costs, the phones sold for almost twice as much as later models on sale elsewhere in the world. A new industry – the smuggling of Blackberries into Argentina from the USA – quickly grew and demand for the Argentinian-made phones fell, leading to redundancies in Tierra del Fuego. Those in favour of free trade cite the principle of comparative advantage and suggest that Argentina should have put more resources into the sector sit is best at, such as wine and beef.



UN’s ban on child labour is a ‘damaging mistake’ | World news | The Guardian

Academics say policy ignores benefits and reflects western prejudice

Source: UN’s ban on child labour is a ‘damaging mistake’ | World news | The Guardian

Interesting piece ‘criticising’ a ban on child labour. It is somewhat difficult to immediately think of the merits of children missing school to work, but this article does produce a cogent argument. One benefit sees employers setting up schools for child employees who may otherwise not been able to pay school fees. Worth a read, if nothing but to provide an alternative perspective to a moral dilemma.


Nigeria’s dollar crunch adds to fuel crisis — FT.com


Refinery woes, currency controls and militant attacks combine to prolong acute shortage

Source: Nigeria’s dollar crunch adds to fuel crisis — FT.com

Inadequate infrastructure means that, despite being Africa’s top oil exporter, Nigeria has to import fuel putting downward pressure on the value of it’s currency, the Naira (see Chart 2 below). Value-added increases when oil is refined to become something more useful, in this case fuel, so the $’s received for each barrel of oil Nigeria exports is worth less than the $’s Nigeria has to pay for the same volume of refined oil, leading to a reduction in foreign exchange reserves (see Chart 1 below).

It is difficult to see how this cycle will end. If the value of the Naira continues to fall, the price of refined oil in Naira terms will continue to rise, further depleting foreign exchange reserves and accelerating the Naira’s depreciation.

There are several solutions, central bank intervention to revalue the Naira, but they need, already dwindling, foreign exchange reserves in order to manipulate the market price for the Naira. Investment in infrastructure, a fiscal supply-side policy, to reduce the reliance on refined oil imports is an alternative, but oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria’s export revenue and, subsequently, a significant proportion of government revenue. The price of oil has collapsed and with it government revenue, a classic example of the dangers of over-reliance on a primary commodity, prone to price volatility. The fall in foreign exchange reserves, the value of the Naira and an increasing budget deficit will make lenders nervous and will lead to an increase in the yield on government borrowing, put simply, the interest rate on government bonds will have to rise to offset the greater risk, increasing government expenditure on debt repayments.

Clearly, these options are not presently viable, but the second should have been enacted when the oil price was high and export earnings plentiful, however, corruption, some $16bn in government oil receipts is unaccounted for in the last year alone, has meant that infrastructure remains undeveloped.

A further consequence of the falling value of the Naira is that despite global oil prices falling, Nigerians have to pay more for petrol at the pump. To combat rising petrol prices the Nigerian government have imposed price controls, however, this has resulted in several-hour long queues and a rise in hidden market activity. Subsequently, Nigerians either face having to pay extortionate prices or waste valuable time queueing. Ultimately, output is lost and Nigeria’s economy suffers.

Nigeria’s relatively new president has a tough task on his hands.

Chart 1

Chart 2


India 1 China 0?

Does the economic rise of India make it the country to watch instead of China?

There has been much talk of the BRICs [Brizil, Russia, India and China] and then the  MINTs [Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey] –  newly-industrialised countries which were going to be instrumental in driving the world economy. Of these, Russia and Brazil have suffered from slow growth and falling commodity prices and the MINTs also seem to have faded from the economic horizon and so only China and India remain.

Last month China’s growth fell and India’s GDP growth rate overtook it. Previously China had consistently outpaced India so that China’s average income per head which was approximately equal to India’s in the 1970s is now four times as high. Although the change in relative growth rates is currently more to do with a slowdown in China than an increase in India’s growth, the future is bright for the latter country. China is currently facing up to the need to look after a rapidly aging population while India has a much younger population and so will not face the burden of dealing with an aging population for some time.


Dollar Street

Source: Dollar Street

An innovative visualisation of how sustained economic growth, rising per capita incomes, and increased consumption can help to improve standards of living.