Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Ideology and economic thought

by Jaime Bravo

Brenna made a response to my article - see here. She wrote some arguments that were supposed to refute my theories on austerity and public spending. But there are, yet, arguments to be said. She tried to build a model mixing up economics and politics; she even quoted paragraphs of the American Constitution. This is not of my concern in here. But still, I have something to say about what she wrote.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

In Response to Jaime

By Brenna Fisher 
Her author profile can be found below this article.

A few weeks ago, Jaime Bravo wrote an article refuting my stance on reducing the United States’ federal deficit. After reading his article and doing some more research of my own, I stand by my position of reducing the government debt. It is very clear that he is an intelligent young economist and has done ample research into the subjects on which he writes. I respect his opinion and his work; it would be foolish to try and claim otherwise. However, I cannot agree with, or condone, the examples or solutions he poses in response to my article.

First off, I would like to address some of his rebuttals to my points. Jaime seemed to generalize from my article that I believe all government spending is wrong and all debt should be eliminated. He states, “She assumes (by writing this article) that debt is a problem and that therefore, we should cut it.” However, never in my original article did I claim such a thing. Government spending is a crucial component to Gross Domestic Product and necessary to keep a country strong and expanding. Whether it is the federal government or the states individual responsibility to spend money on programs for education, transportation, and technological process is a long debated issue but, in the end, it should not be eliminated permanently, and a moderate amount is healthy. The government deficit should not be entirely eliminated either, but balanced with budget surpluses to create a more evenly equitable budget. Some government debt used to encourage GDP growth is good; 17 trillion dollars worth of debt, of which a majority is being spent on social welfare programs, is not. I have yet to read any concrete evidence of how an exorbitant amount of money spent on welfare programs profits the country in the long run.

Opportunity Cost in the College Decision

By Michaela Miller
Her author profile can be found below this article.

There's another one, an innocent-looking envelope sitting in my lap, just waiting to be opened. I've sorted through all the other mail, the advertisements, the catalogues, the bills (thankfully not mine), trying to forget its presence but to no avail. It taunts me with its computer-generated cursive printing and its happy, fall-colored exterior. "Dream" it says on the front! Encompassed in that simple word are the endless possibilities open to me if I a
ttend Vanderbilt University. The only problem? This is probably the tenth college brochure I've received in the past two weeks, all full of normative statements about the large amount of utility students get from attending the advertised school, all claiming my worth as human capital will be exponentially increased should I attend whichever college the brochure represents. I finally overcome my reluctance and open the packet, only to discover exactly what I knew I would find: yet another potential college further confusing my decision of where I should go.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

How will online education affect demand for traditional colleges?

By Anna Mitchell 
Her author profile can be found below this article.

For decades, the image of an ivy-coated Gothic turret on a perfectly groomed campus has popped into people’s minds when they imagine an ideal education. Colleges are supposed to churn out legions of innovative and intelligent leaders, the people who will change the world with new technologies or policies. Their graduates should be equipped with unique ideas that they could only form thanks to their post-secondary educations. But increasingly, this ideal isn’t depicting reality. A change in the price of a substitute good, online education, has decreased. While online colleges such as the University of Phoenix have existed for years, only in the past two years have online college courses from top schools been offered for free. With this decrease in price of the substitute good, demand for expensive educations, especially from lesser-known schools, may start to decrease. In response, schools may be forced to lower their tuition or improve their product to compete.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Why Lloyd Shapley was Wrong

By Michaela Miller
Her author profile can be found below this article.

Lloyd Shapley (right) won the Nobel prize for economics in 2012 alongside Alvin Roth (left).
Image credits to The Guardian (UK).

Now heading into my eleventh grade year, I can finally begin to appreciate the amount of stress that accompanies students of this age. As if nine classes, the SATs, and a job weren´t enough, it is in this season that I will be forced to think about that dreadful thing they call college. Now don´t get me wrong, I´m excited for college. I want to meet people my age with the same interests and goals, I want to root for the team, and I want to figure out the rest of my life. I´m just not all that excited about the hours of stress involved with the admission process. Why do I have to worry about this now, when my time is a scarce good? If only the process was something a bit more like the 2012 Nobel prize winner Lloyd Shapley´s suggestion... right?

“Walmart is good for you!” Oh, really?

By Stephanie Canavan
Her author profile can be found below this article.

With the holidays approaching, one can hardly turn on the TV without being bombarded by commercials shouting that their store has the best deals and lowest prices. Perhaps one of the loudest culprits of these holiday season adds is Walmart. Long known for its low-price guarantees, Walmart is a front runner in boasting its benefits toward your microeconomic holiday family budgets. But from a macroeconomic perspective, Walmart can have less than positive repercussions for the economy as a whole. I recently read an economically faulty article, written by Tom Van Ripper, entitled “Walmart is good for you” which presented an alternative opinion, supported with scanty facts and jumpy assumptions.

Tom Van Ripper began his argument on a foundation of sand, basing virtually his entire debate on the misguided conclusion of a recent study which stated “between 1985 and 2003, personal income, overall employment and retail employment grew faster in counties with a Walmart than in those without one.” The lousy economist incorrectly placed assumptions that because of this finding, Walmart must be the sole beneficiary force causing these positive economic happenings. In fact, there could be a myriad of other factors that caused this economic growth, such as higher investments in education or monetary policies. Van Rippers article continues with more misused statistical proof by quoting a statement from the Federal Reserve “Nearly 90% of the U.S. population lives within 15 miles of a Walmart store, and two-thirds of all retailers are located within five miles of one, the Fed’s report says.” Simply because the Federal Reserve released this statement does not mean it can be used as evidence towards the economic benefits of Walmart. Conversely, this statement simply shows the vast spread of the Walmart enterprise and how greatly such a behemoth could affect the US economy.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

No, Brenna, the US Should Not Reduce Government Spending

By Jaime Bravo

Brenna Fisher, a partner of mine in this blog, wrote today an article speaking about the possibility of reducing government spending and why it was necessary. Here is her take. After reading it - and I must say that I have been reading about austerity in Europe and in the US for a long time - I cannot agree with her thoughts. Austerity, as we know it in Europe and specially in Spain, has been intellectually defeated. Austerity has been widely used only for ideological and political purposes, that is, the implementation of austerity is good, but only if you are rich - which is exactly what Mark Blyth said a few days ago on The Guardian. So, if austerity has been defeated, why do we still support it in some ways? Because it keeps our political aims alive. Make no mistake, I really respect Brenna's work. I enjoyed her last article on music and recessions and I share my thoughts with her on Twitter - see here. It is just there are some failures on economic assumptions that we still consider as facts. It is not Brenna's problem, it is a problem of economic thought.

Do not follow the European path

Europe is one of the most complex economic experiments of all time. It is not my aim to write about it here but we have to work on a few facts. First, Europe is driving himself into a liquidity trap. I have worked widely on it - you can read my work here; it is in Spanish though. Mario Draghi said a few weeks ago that the ECB is going to low the interest rates at 0,30%. But Europe has a particularity:  members have not the control of their own currency; the US does. So it means that, devaluation is easier in the US than in Europe. Then, you cannot make a proper analysis withouth considering the job the ECB does. You have to assume that the ECB has not the same ideas than the FED: Janet Yellen is an economist who knows how to drive the economic scenario of the US while Draghi is limited by Germany. Austerity has been already used. And it had many effects on the economy. Let's take a look at the next graph, which shows a correlation between austerity and growth in many countries:

How might the US Government Boost the Economy?

By Brenna Fisher
Her author profile can be found below this article.

Credit to CBS News

In this controversial age where Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats daily, debating the politics and economic problems that face America today, it seems like any simple question will receive a long, complex answer. Unsurprisingly, as the United States enters deeper into a economic stagnation, fueling economic prosperity is on everyone’s minds. But just how simple is the answer? Certainly, there are many different opinions, and there is no “easy” button to press and fix the financial turmoil. However, one tactic could solve a majority of the problems, though it wouldn’t be the popular decision.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Effect of Homeschooling on the Economy

By Stephanie Canavan
Her author profile can be found below this article.

I’m sure everyone has heard at least one negative quote from anti-homeschooling politicians or superintendents that belittles home education, claiming it “robs the system of resources” and results in “socially inferior citizens”.  But results are showing that not only is homeschooling saving the government large quantities of funds, but also resulting in a higher quality of education and return on investment, which in turn can significantly benefit economic growth.

Homeschooling is often overlooked in regards to the economy since it is classified under household production in the circular flow diagram. Household production is when a household produces a product or service for itself instead of purchasing it from a firm or other entity and, since there is no market transaction, it is not taken into account when calculating GDP.  Many people may incorrectly assume that this means household production has absolutely no effect on the economy. In fact, it is often thought that homeschooling deprives the economy of resources as it requires a parent to stay home to educate their child instead of entering into the workforce.  However, just because it is not valued monetarily into GDP now does not mean it will have no effect upon the future economy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

To What Extent Does a Rational Economic Man Exist?

By Timur Almazov

Economic theories are meant to represent patterns of the real market, but since we live in a complicated world, economists have to simplify the reality to fit economic models. They have included assumptions into their theories and the idea of rational economic man was one of the most popular ones. Its purpose was to describe the preferences and actions of humans, but to cut long story short, it didn’t do a good job.

The definition of an economic man is: a rational and selfish agent, whose preferences do not change. In this essay and in the longer version I have looked at the assumptions of economic rationality and how close it is in describing us as “rational”. Most economists agree that rational agents are those who have the same constant preferences (usually to make a profit) and make “internally consistent” decisions. This means that rational people follow logical coherence, which does not necessarily have to be reasonable. A rational person can believe in magic as long as all of his or hers other beliefs are consistent with the existence of magic.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Music and Recessions: An Unexpected Correlation

By Brenna Fisher
Her author profile can be found below this article.

Commonly known throughout the world are the economic effects of inflation and recession. Inflation, when increasing at a steady rate is more prosperous, while recession means, to some degree, a financial crisis. However, one of the lesser known facts about inflation and recession is how it affects a country euphonically. A noticeable trend in music occurs during the ups and downs of the economic cycle. During recessions, the popular music tends to be upbeat and positive, while during an inflation, it tends to be melodiously slower and slightly more melodramatic. During the Great Recession from 2007 until 2009, many countries, including the United States of America, was entering into a downturn. Norway however, was entering a period of financial prosperity, as seen in the graph below. Comparing the popular music during this time, it appears that the trend stays true.

2008 was the peak of the recession for America. Over a million employees were out of a job and the labor force was suffering. However, some of the Billboard Top 100 Hits during this period were “So What” by P!nk, “When I Grow Up” by the Pussycat Dolls, and “Pocketful of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield. Despite the economic downfall, these songs emphasized a catchy up-beat tune and lyrics meant to empower. “When I Grow Up” focuses on the future, rather than the present and “So What” is an offbeat piece meant to highlight the general mentality “who cares, it doesn’t really matter anyways.” Natasha Bedingfield’s hit stresses the positive events and the triumphs, encouraging listeners to be optimistic and forget about the bad. It is no coincidence that many of the listeners were having a difficult time actually finding the positives in their life, so they looked to popular music to encourage it.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Some thoughts on the McCallum work (wonkish)

by Jaime Bravo - jbravo@beneficiomarginal.com

Bennet McCallum was a reputed economist who highlighted some of the biggest questions in the economics field. Many of his questions still need to be resolved. It is the case of the gravity puzzle and the equations needed to solve the border puzzle. In the international trade literature, the border puzzle refers to the phenomena committed to study how borders participate of global trade - in the classical scenario, free trade. This theory has been developed by many economists. However, I decided to bring it to here as a part of the McCallum model because of the relevance of a paper published by Professor Anderson from Boston College and by Professor Van Wincoop from the University of Virginia - see references. The authors present that the McCallum model, based on the border puzzle, has some good points. Firstly, it correlates bilateral trade with GDP (Image 1) and with distance and other relevant factors for trade. They take into account, too, the commercial barriers established by modern states.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Quantitative easing? What's that?

by Viva Avasthi

quantitative easing
This diagram shows the first part of the quantitative easing process.
Credit to awadvisors.com

You've probably heard of 'quantitative easing' when listening to the news, or read a bit about it and its implications while perusing various newspapers. It may have sparked your interest, but you might have found that in trying to do a little research on the topic you ended up having masses of technicalities to understand and opinions to wade through. If that's the case, you'll hopefully find this series useful.

The most recent reportage on quantitative easing (also known as QE) involved the US Federal Reserve's announcement in June of this year that it would scale back on its QE, and then its unexpected decision last month to postpone the scaling back. Both announcements (in June and in September) drastically affected markets and the economies of countries outside of the US, most notably India and China. The impact of the use of QE in the US will be explored in more detail in another article; this article will look at how QE works, when and where it was developed, why it's used and what the perceived risks of its usage are.

Although the theory, which I shall explain shortly, is quite straightforward, QE is fairly complex when applied to and analysed in the real world. The reason for this is that it depends upon what Keynes referred to as 'animal spirits', whether other countries are also using QE and how clear the channels which QE works through are, among other factors which can be difficult to predict and influence. That's one of the reasons why predicting the success of QE has been difficult in the past and why many people believe that QE has not been an effective policy tool at all.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Blurred Lines?

by Clemency Flitter 

blurred lines, robert thicke, rape culture
Blurred Lines has been heavily criticised for condoning rape
It is said that in the West we live in an equal and progressive society; but how can that be the case when almost half of men (between the ages of 18-25) believe it is okay to continue to pursue sexual relations with a woman even if she has changed her mind and is no longer giving consent? Perhaps even more worryingly a further 1 in 4 men said that they would have sex with someone they knew was unwilling. These statistics will not be helped by songs such as 'Blurred Lines', heavily criticised for trying to blur the line between consent and rape. This song, which contains the lyrics such as “And that's why I'm gon' take a good girl. I know you want it”, has even been banned from 5 UK universities but this has not stopped it spending weeks as a No 1 hit. How can we call ourselves a progressive and modern society when rape culture is still so pervasive, a big issue, but one people still refuse to address?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Series on Quantitative Easing

by Viva Avasthi

quantitative easing

Over the next week I'll be exploring the ins and outs of quantitative easing (QE), looking at the topic from these perspectives and in this order:

  1. Quantitative Easing? What's that?
    • With explanations of what QE is, why it's used and how it works.
  2. QE in the United Kingdom
    • With a heavy focus on how it works and how successful it has been.
  3. QE in Europe
    • How has the Eurozone handled QE?
  4. QE in the United States of America
    • With a look into how the USA's decisions have affected global markets and other countries.
  5. Quantitative Easing: A Summary

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

'Gun Control' - Does it work?

by Eyrie Clark

11 dead. 10 dead. 26 dead. Every year, over 250 mass-shootings take place in the United States, making an average of almost once per day.

In the wake of so many mass-shootings: Fort Hood, the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and most recently the shooting at the navy yard in Washington, D.C., and finally, the shooting of 13 people in a Chicago basketball court, which included a three-year-old child among the victims, many people not only in the United States, but around the world, are having a serious debate about the merits - or lack thereof - of gun control.
Credit to The Guardian

Many people believe there is no connection between gun control and the rate of violence in a country. For instance, Republican Representative John McCain believes that there is no connection between guns and violence at all. He, along with many other conservatives, persistently speaks out against gun-control laws, attempting to block almost all progress. So let's start out by having some fun and tearing his statement to pieces.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why has Chile become an economic force in South America & will it last?

By Izak Kallumpram

Economic History of Chile

Having come out of a repressive military dictatorship of General Pinochet in early 1990s, Chile opened up as a nation, becoming more of a democracy. By detracting its powers in the country’s economy, the government allowed the free-market orientated economy to push ahead whilst achieving political stability. In past centuries, especially under the Spanish-colonial periods, Chile had been a mainly monopolistic and closed economy. Once the economy did open up to foreign trade it reaped the rewards, becoming the fastest growing economy in South America in the 1990s, undertaking an aggressive privatization process and has weathered recent regional economic instability. With Chile already having free trade ties with the U.S. as well as elsewhere in the world, the tools for success were in place to a capable trading platform.  This coupled with a falling inflation, strong currency and affirmative monetary and fiscal policies meant that Chile was in a robust and stable position approaching the new millennium.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Wall Street Crash of 1929

By Bisade Asolo

The roaring American Twenties, the age of Jazz and of course, the prestigious title of being the wealthiest country in the world. America was the place to be. At one point, the current president at that time, Herbert Hoover stated: ‘America has all but rid itself of poverty.’

In order to understand why The Wall Street Crash of 1929 happened, we must first look at events leading up to the day that has been dubbed 'Black Tuesday'.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

How do you feel about plastic money?

by Karina Shooter

Australian Plastic Banknotes Photo Courtesy of realitypod.com

The Bank of England has announced that plastic banknotes may be introduced in the UK from 2016. The transition would begin with the new Winston Churchill £5 note, soon followed by the new £10 featuring Jane Austen. The Bank has been looking into the possibility of plastic banknotes for the past three years, and is now going into the final stage of the procedure - a roadshow across the UK to find out public opinion on the matter. In December a final decision will be made on whether plastic notes should be introduced. 

So why the sudden change? Plastic notes are a lot more durable than their 'paper' counterparts (which are actually made of cotton pulp combined with linen and other plant fibres). A typical £5 note currently lasts just over 6 months before it is so worn and torn that it is deemed unsuitable for circulation by the Bank of England and is shredded. A polymer note will last for 2.5 times longer, which will reduce money spent on the replacement and disposal of worn banknotes. It will also be more environmentally friendly, as less notes will have to be disposed of on such a frequent basis. 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Can Pigou Refute the (Keynesian) Liquidity Trap?

by Jaime Bravo + (A spanish version of this article can be found here)

Keynesian economists believes that, in the presence of a liquidity trap, a competitive economy may lack automatic market mechanisms that tend to eliminate excess supplies of labor. So, in a liquidity trap, if the interest-rates are so low, there must be some public spending in order to "rebuild" the economic activity. Although Keynes made great points on this issue, the classical economists have something to say. Here enters the Pigou Effect and its relation with the Liquidity Trap. As Paul Krugman said (not exactly quoted): there might be a moment for every economy when markets cannot do anything by themselves as the interest-rates are so low - it means that there is no investment in the country - and, as you can have less than a 0% - in a negative interest rate, the Government would have to pay the investors to invest - you have to make something. The answer for Keynesians is, yes, public spending. The logic behind this asseveration is surprisingly simple: a country - say, Spain - has a lot of people with money, but they do not invest it, they save it because, for example, there's high unemployment and a big uncertainty in the future - the risk of losing all the money is here.  If a Government expands its public spending, it will raise the number of jobs. Considering that Spain - the example taken - has a lot of unemployed people (which is actually true), they will be employed and therefore, they will be less resistant to spending. So debt will increase, yes. But the problem with the debt-obsession - I'm nowadays reading to Reinhart and Rogoff on this issue - is that it is not quite relevant sometimes: if you have 7 million unemployed in a country, debt doesn't matter: the high unemployment rate does.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Youth Unemployment in Europe - What are the effects and how can we solve it?

by Karina Shooter

Photo Courtesy of gkardashev.com

In July, Angela Merkel announced that youth unemployment was a priority in the Eurozone. Many people believe that this decision was far overdue - the youth unemployment rate is now at 58.7% in Greece and 56.1% in Spain. But what is the effect of youth unemployment and what can we do to reduce it? 
The first question which needs to be addressed is why youth unemployment is more dangerous than unemployment in general. The main reason for this is that jobs become easier to get the more experience you have - it is important for young people to get on the 'job ladder' quickly, so they can gain experience and progress to better jobs. If youth unemployment is rife, then a generation of young people gain no experience, so even when the economy stabilises and employers are willing to hire workers again, they are too inexperienced to be offered a job - hence they become 'the jobless generation'. This is a massive waste of skills and resources. The second issue which arises from mass youth unemployment is an ageing population. When youth unemployment is high in a particular country, young people tend to move abroad in order to find work. This means that countries such as Spain and Greece, have lots of older retired people in their country but not enough young working people who pay their taxes so the government can support the citizens - this may, at an extreme, result in poorer quality state education which would lead to under qualified youth and may cause a youth unemployment spiral. 

Redundancy at 17... Yes that's me!

By Krupa Popat

Writing about economics and reading articles as to what is happening to the people around me because of the decisions of others really made me think about how privileged and grateful I should be.

However now, I’m in the position of experiencing the downfalls of the decisions and being on the receiving end… And I can definitely confirm it is not nice!

I worked for a retail company, which is a very large multinational but worked in a very small store, within a store. I worked there for over a year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I met new people and learnt many skills but especially developed my patience and ability to be quick on my feet with customer problems. Something you don’t do on a regular basis without a job.

This has disappointed me in the fact that our economy as been flat lining which made me think that the economy was going to get better and this would increase our confidence as consumers and the confidence of companies to invest. This would then hopefully kick start the growth and rebuild the economy.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Would an Increase of Wages in Bangladesh Destroy Their Economy?

by Jaime Bravo

sweatshop, Bangladesh

 Since a lot of factories in Bangladesh were destroyed, many people wondered whether an increase of wages would destroy the (fragile) economy of Bangladesh. Many people are employed every day in the sweatshops, the factories where they are being turned to slaves by an economic paradigm that does not fit for them. As I argued in my last piece, they are poor but they are not stupid. In fact, since that happened, many people started saying that the benefits from the sweatshops are incredibly great because they provide of higher wages (considering that, if they do not work in factories (with increasing-returns) they will work in the agricultural sector (with constant-returns) and because they let them to save little by little so that they can provide their children with a better education and, in the long-term, with a better future. This is the theory. But the reality isn’t so sweet. Again, economists have something to say about this issue.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Is Latin really making a comeback?

by Viva Avasthi

Ancient Rome

Despite The Economist's conviction that Latin is making a comeback, as described in their article from a couple of days ago, I beg to differ. In fact, I believe that the question is not, "Why is Latin making a comeback?" but rather, "Is Latin really making a comeback?"

I'm afraid the answer is, "Not really, no."

Although it would be brilliant if Latin really were making a comeback, The Economist's argument that Latin is becoming more popular can be refuted in two parts: by observing the ancient language's popularity in young people and by analysing just how popular the Latin-based services the newspaper refers to are. I'll also try to attempt to use ideas from behavioural economics to explain why Latin is not making a comeback any time soon.

What do we (Really) Know From Economic Development? A Random Analysis of Poverty in Some Non-Developed Countries

by Jaime Bravo

  One of the things I have come across recently is the fact that we know very  little about poverty. I mean, really. We have the Millennium Goals, settled by the UN, and, yes, poverty is decreasing in some parts of the world. In a study I made a few weeks ago, I discovered a few facts about poverty in non-developed countries that are really important. I saw that there is a big problem with GDP all across the world. The study was based on a few countries (particularly, Germany, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Argentina, Afghanistan, Colombia and Spain) and there were three different groups.

Firstly, I considered GER and SPA as the completely developed countries; ARG and COL (those from Latin-America) are considered as the upcoming-completely-developed countries among the group. Finally, PAK, AFG and BAN are the less-developed countries included in the study. What I saw was that, even though the less developed  had a lower-income than the others, they were doing significant efforts (for example, the number of children in school in Afghanistan has increased a lot if we compare it with the upcoming-completely-developed economies).

Secondly, I found that the crisis hit harder to developed economies than to non-developed ones (the table I presented included data from Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Kenya, Norway, Spain, Sudan, Thailand, France and Austria) in terms of GDP reduction. It could be because both the GDP and the exports decreased simultaneously. (The table presented considered the data from 2009, one year after the crisis started.) This is quite interesting: while non-developed economies are mainly importers of manufactured-products and exporters of commodities, they didn't stopped exporting commodities but importing manufactured products. The logic behind this is quite simple. Non-developed economies have a lot of unskilled labour and they have a lot of labour-intensive industries. In the other hand, developed economies have some kind of equilibrium between unskilled and skilled-labour and they have a lot of capital-intensive sectors/industries.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Meritocracy: the alternative to Democracy and Communism

by Bisade Asolo

Imagine yourself in a packed, dark hall, surrounded by thousands of people. In the middle of the hall a 
spotlight illuminates a boxing ring. In the ring are two heavy-weights: ‘Democracy’ and ‘Communism’. Both have areas of strengths and weakness. DING! Both ‘Democracy’ and ‘Communism’ swing at each other, resulting in a double knock-out. Silence permeates the hall. "It's a DRAW!" shouts the striped referee. Instantly, the boos of gamblers chorus through the room. Your phone vibrates; information regarding the next bout. Favourable odds are on a talented but lesser-known boxer. In brilliant, black font you read the name 'Meritocracy'.

A lesser-known social system, meritocracy allows people to reach success proportional to their talents and abilities. There are obvious advantages to this social system; one being that everyone has an equal chance of success because a meritocratic society rewards hard-working intellects as opposed to just the wealthy. This would encourage society to work harder in general which can only ever be a good thing. As we know, hard-workers are the driving force of world. Bill Gates, for example, would not be where he is today without hard work and PC users would not have the benefit of various software packages due to his hard work and that of others. Furthermore, in a meritocratic society, the government would comprise of people based on ability. So only the very best would be in positions of power, unlike in a democratic government, in which we often see people in power because of wealth and popularity and not ability.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Book Review: 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf

by Viva Avasthi                                                                                  
                                                                    Rating out of 5: ★★★★★

A Room of One's OwnAfter 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', which I've reviewed here, it was the extended essay entitled 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf (1182-1941) that I got my hands on next. This text is based on a series of lectures delivered by Woolf at Newnham College and Girton College, two colleges of the University of Cambridge. In 1928, when Woolf gave her lectures, both colleges were solely for women; today Girton also admits men.

Despite being based on her lectures entitled 'Women and Fiction' (and being classified as a non-fiction text for this very reason), it is a fictional narrator of no particular name who is the main character in this text. We are encouraged by Woolf's anonymous narrator to call her by "any name [we] please" as it is apparently "not a matter of any importance" - a highly effective way for Woolf to direct her readers towards thinking more closely about the ideas and arguments presented rather than who they are being presented by.

This essay follows the thought processes of the unnamed narrator in trying to establish why it is that up until the point of this essay being published women had not been able to have as much influence in society, and particularly in the field of literature, as men. She travels from the colleges of the fictional Oxbridge University to the British Museum in London to Shakespeare's time (as a thought experiment) to see why "masculine values prevail" and "football and sport are 'important'; the worship of the fashion, the buying of clothes 'trivial'". In a particularly intriguing part of her writing, she imagines what it would have been like for Shakespeare's own sister, had she been a genius, to attempt to display her talents to the world.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Book Review: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

by Viva Avasthi                                                                                  
                                                                  Rating out of 5: ★★★★★

You might be someone who is interested in what others have been reading and what they have learnt from or enjoyed about particular books; in which case you'll be interested in this summer's series of book reviews on this website. This month I've read two novels and a text better referred to as a fictitious extended essay than anything else.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
To keep my account in chronological order, I'll start by mentioning some of my opinions on the first of my reads: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The novel follows the descent of an outstandingly handsome but initially naive man who makes a Faustian bargain, trading his soul for eternal youth. He emerges as a corrupt individual prioritizing beauty over everything else and ruining countless lives including his own.

If you haven't already read this classic, I would highly recommend that you do so - if not for the marvellous prose, then at least for the brilliant storyline. There have been at least six film or television adaptations of this book, and although I have only seen the 1945 film version, I find it difficult to believe that any production could do justice to the book. Filled with vivid descriptions and numerous witticisms on almost every page, this book was such a wonderful read that once I'd finished, I was very tempted to start reading it all over again.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The London 2012 Olympics: One Year On

by Pavandeep Virdee

It seems hard to imagine that it was only last year that people in Great Britain were celebrating the incredible sporting achievements of the Olympics. Whether it be the memorable moments of Mo Farah crossing the finish line, or the much-awaited triumph of Jessica Ennis- I think it’s safe to say that the Olympics brought many intangible benefits, for all of us.
But what about the economic benefits?

Did the Olympics succeed in its expectation to provide economic growth, or did it in fact fail to deliver? Well, with the official report on the economic benefits of the 2012 Games published on the 19th of July this year, the 2012 Games were said to have ‘gone out of their way to show that the Olympics more than paid for itself’; by generating an approximate figure of £10bn- almost £1bn higher than its cost.
The report states that many of the benefits include the additional business that has been secured for UK firms and companies. For instance, some UK companies have won more contracts for other international sporting events, which adds up to the figure of £1.5bn, with £120m of this being business that UK companies have won, to help with the Rio Olympics.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Britain's EU Membership - The Cons

by Karina Shooter

Picture courtesy of studentthinktank.eu
In my previous article, we looked at the advantages of Britain’s EU membership.  Now we are going to consider the alternative point of view – what are the disadvantages?

One of the most common arguments which is used to oppose Britain’s EU membership is the cost. Different estimates on how much EU membership costs Britain per year vary dramatically, for example although the Foreign Office and Commonwealth say that the cost of EU membership is £300 per head, the Bruges (an anti EU group) claim that the cost per head is £873. The argument put forward from Euro sceptics is that we are suffering from an imbalance of payments – the UKs allocation from the EU budget is much less than our contribution in the form of membership payments – therefore we are experiencing a trade deficit.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Whatever happened to the 'F word'?

by Pavandeep Virdee

I can understand that the title above may be a little misleading - so just to clear any confusion, the only ‘F word’ I’ll be using in this article is in fact feminism! I know what you’re thinking: why feminism? Well, it may seem a little strange, but believe it or not, it seems that many young women and girls are more reluctant to talk about feminism; or even simply mention the word in a conversation, than ever before.

But why is this? With regards to feminism itself, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with its cause; it has been at the heart of defending equal political, economic and social rights for women for over 100 years. From the right to vote, all the way to having free access to contraception - the wave of feminism has passed us all. Nonetheless, what is the mystery behind the decline in modern feminism?

The biggest reason for the dislike of feminism amongst recent times, is that feminists are often branded by the media and anti-feminist groups, as being ‘men-haters’, who believe that women’s rights are more important than men’s rights - leading to them being too concerned about the issues of women, whilst forgetting the issues of men too.

Still, is this really the case? The truth is that most feminist groups today do not neglect the issues of men- some have in fact pioneered in promoting global awareness of unspoken issues, like prison rape - which largely affects male prisoners. It can be said however, that feminists do advocate more for the rights of women, but that’s largely because they believe that in comparison to men, women still have many significant issues, which are not always openly addressed by society - such as the lack of rights to contraception and abortion for many women in developing countries.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Field Burning in South Africa

© Travel Pictures Travel, Image Ref 3104447 –
Aerial View Of Sugar Cane Farms
Near Mtwalume. Kwazulu Natal South Coast. South Africa

by Sparshita Dey 
(with Viva Avasthi)

As suggested by the introduction, this is the second of our field burning case studies of countries/states across the world. Our first report was on Brazil - the world's largest producer of sugarcane. This report will focus on the KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa and whether or not there is a market for the Pyroformer™ there.  

Field Burning in the KwaZulu-Natal Province happens mainly on sugarcane fields in order to maintain a continuous harvest throughout the years so that production and profit is generated consistently. This therefore relies on the removal of plant residue from the soil to allow replanting. Furthermore, the burning is also an important way of warding off snakes, dangerous insects and other pests as well as killing or destroying weeds for healthier growth of the sugarcane plants themselves as they have less competition.

^Source: http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/seminar/application/pdf/sem_sup3_south_africa.pdf - “A National Climate Change Strategy for South Africa” 
The above has been taken from the South African National Climate Change Strategy document from September 2004. The highlighted text shows that as part of the strategy, South Africa had highlighted field burning as a key area where greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced in the agricultural sector. This suggests a certain amount of awareness of environmental issues regarding field burning at a government level hinting that the government will be more inclined or interested to fund any projects with the intention of reducing the emissions: like the use of the Pyroformer™. 

Field Burning In Brazil

by Viva Avasthi (with Sparshita Dey)

Following our introduction to our project investigating field burning across the world, we're starting with an overview of field burning in Brazil, with a focus on the state of São Paulo (indicated on the map below by the initials SP).

The situation in Brazil

São Paulo is at the heart of Brazil’s sugarcane industry,
and has set an eco-friendly example for other regions
through its successful ‘Green Protocol’.
Brazil produces the largest quantities of sugar in the world, which could explain why the Brazilian government is so keen to prevent the burning of sugarcane in its fields. 

In 2012, Brazil produced 25% of the world’s sugar and 50% of the world’s sugar exports. The sugarcane sector employed 70,000 growers with the direct employment of 1.18 million people and an annual sector revenue of US$ 28 billion. US$ 16.2 billion of foreign revenue was generated in 2012.

The statistics above illustrate that the sugar industry is an important sector of Brazil's economy. Through eliminating field burning, the government aims for the production of sugarcane in the country to be sustainable so that Brazil can continue to retain its competitive advantage over other producers of sugar. Field burning has occurred in the country’s fields for hundreds of years for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are: to remove sugarcane straw (which consists of the plant’s tops and leaves); to drive out snakes; and to allow the cane to be cut more easily by hand.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Field Burning and the Pyroformer™: An Introduction

by Sparshita Dey and Viva Avasthi 

Copyright © Aaron Joel Santos / NOI Pictures

As part of our work experience, we chose to work at Aston University in Birmingham for two weeks where we are involved in some research regarding “an innovative sustainable energy solution developed by the EBRI (European Bioenergy Research Institute) that could dramatically reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels”. This solution, namely the Pyroformer™,  aims to tackle the problems created through agricultural field burning (also known as 'stubble burning'). 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Britain’s Membership of the EU – The Pros

by Karina Shooter

Photo courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk

Sky News has announced the results of an exclusive survey about Britain’s EU membership. In response to the question: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” 51% voted ‘No’, with 49% supporting the ‘Yes’ option.

The results show that there is no clear consensus on people’s views towards EU membership, and if we take into account the fact that the poll will have a margin of error, it really does highlight how result of the referendum vote could go either way. This means that it is more important than ever to discuss the pros and cons of EU membership. I will look at each side of the argument in separate articles. In this article we will look at the advantages of Britain being a member of the EU, in a subsequent article I will explore the disadvantages. 

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of EU membership is the single market. Europe is the world’s largest single market – it is an economic zone larger than that of the USA and Japan combined and it has a total GDP of around £11 trillion. The single market allows Britain to freely trade good and services between countries in the European Union, without tax or regulations. European markets account for half of the UK’s overall trade and foreign investments. It is said that EU countries currently trade twice as much with each other as they would do in the absence of the Single Market. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Hamilton Young Liberals Summit 2013: Progressivism is NOT Dead in Canada

by Eyrie Clark

"The Liberal Party is dead" is a famous saying which many Canadians have heard before. On Sunday the 23rd of June, I attended the Hamilton Young Liberals Summit, hosted at McMaster University by a small group of their devoted students. I'm here to tell you that the Liberal Party, and thus progressivism as a whole, is very much alive and well in Canada and Canadians.

Me with Ivan Luksic (Left), the Liberal candidate for my riding.
The event was attended by a number of Liberal politicians, from incumbent riding presidents to up-and-coming candidates for the Hamilton area, including the Minister of Community and Social Services Ted McMeekin, who decided to spice up his presentation by bursting out into song, something which can only be described as interesting.

After some brief speeches from each of these figures, including some involved students from the university group, the 'official' summit ended and the exciting part began: networking. After the speeches, they opened the floor to the audience to meet with all of the speakers, talk to them personally, and become acquainted. I personally got to meet a few of the politicians, including Ivan Luksic, pictured above with me. He will be running for the position of Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for my riding. Without delving into too much detail, an MPP is basically a lesser version of an MP; instead of legislating federally for Canada as a whole, MPPs Legislate and have authority in Ontario only.

Monday, 15 April 2013

'This House' - Political Play by James Graham

by Hannah Gent

This House
The National Theatre Play 'This House' by James Graham

"1974. The UK faces economic crisis and a hung parliament. In a culture hostile to cooperation, it’s a period when votes are won or lost by one, when there are fist fights in the bars and when sick MPs are carried through the lobby to register their vote"

'This House' is set between 1974 and 1979, showing the political climate of the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan governments. The Labour Party started out as a minority government in 1974  and only had the majority by a few votes in the second election of that year. Therefore, every vote counted for the Labour Party as they had to fight to pass legislation. In order to do this they had to win over as many of the ‘odds and sods’ as possible. These 'odds and sods' were the MPs from minority parties such as the liberals. With an extremely slim majority the Labour Party need every other vote possible as the vote can be won or lost by just one.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Life of a Legend: the Iron Lady

"Being powerful is like being a lady: if you have to tell people you are, you aren't." - Margaret Thatcher

There are three types of people in the world: people who are for Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness, LG OM PC FRS; people who are against her; and people who are on the fence regarding their opinion of the Iron Lady. Be that as it may, one thing we can all be sure of is that she was a legend whom the world will remember for many years to come.

"Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word."   

          Thatcher was the longest serving British Prime Minister during the 20th century as well as the first and only female to have held office. A Soviet journalist presented her with the nickname "Iron Lady" because of "her uncompromising policies and leadership style."  In fact, Thatcher's time in office was so ground-breaking that her conviction politics, economic and social policies, and political style became commonly known as "Thatcherism."     

"I love argument. I love debate. I don't expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me - that's not their job." 

Despite the ongoing world recession in 1981, Thatcher and Chancellor Geoffrey Howe managed to raise taxes and cut government spending, therefore allowing cuts in interest rates. Economic revival began soon after this. In 1982 Thatcher led Britain to military success regarding Argentina's invasion of Falkland Islands. The Iron Lady continued her winning streak in 1983 due to her re-election in the landslide election.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Reading List

by Viva Avasthi

By the end of this holiday, despite the huge pile of revision I need to get through, here's what I plan to have read:

The Economist: Special Reports

I'll put a tick (✔) next to each text after I have finished reading it. Links have been provided to all of these texts so that if you're interested you can read them too. The books need to be bought or loaned if you wish to read those, but the other texts can be read free of charge by following the links. Enjoy!

Shrinking economy; Increasing waistlines

By Krupa Popat

Britain’s economy is shrinking but  its health problems are certainly not.

With 25.1% of women obese and 32.3% of women overweight, 24% of men obese and a staggering 42% of men overweight, weight problems are amongst the highest costs for the government to fund through the NHS.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, statistics show that between the years of 2006 – 2010 (during some of the hardest times due to the onset of the recession), the most obese were those who had the lowest income. This could be linked to the fact that unemployment was on the rise. As Marx’s theory said, “the reserve army of labour fight amongst themselves for scarce jobs at lower and lower wages”.  Inflation increasing didn't help, as people who are on job seekers allowance or have low disposable income cannot afford the rocket prices of food, which is inelastic. Many people are sacrificing being healthy because they can only eat what they can afford, which is more fatty foods.

 “Obesity is associated with a range of health problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The resulting NHS costs attributable to overweight and obesity are projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9 billion per year (Foresight 2007). These factors combine to make the prevention of obesity a major public health challenge.” http://www.noo.org.uk/slide_sets

As the government is cutting back on spending to save money, it seems like they’re spending just as much because of it…