Tag Archives: Supply and Demand

What determines the prices of goods and services in a market economy?

Basic Economics: Prices are set by supply and demand
Basic Economics: In a free market, prices are set by supply and demand

A few days ago, I posted the meme above on the blog’s Facebook page. The meme makes fun of unionized public school teachers, who feel entitled to the same salary and benefits as doctors, software engineers, etc. in the private sector. I thought that all Americans were familiar with basic economics. But judging from some of the comments to the meme, that is not the case. This post will help.

So, the point of this meme is simple, it’s to point out that the teachers who belong to teacher unions are ignorant of basic economics, specifically, the law of supply and demand. As we’ll see in a minute, this is literally lesson 1 of Economics 101.

When there is more demand for a product or service than there is a supply for it, then prices go up. When there is more supply for a product or service than there is a demand for it, prices go down.

A good place to see this explained is in a book by famous black economist Thomas Sowell. Thomas Sowell has written many books, but he wrote one book in particular for people who have no knowledge of basic economics. It’s called “Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy“. And the first few chapters explain how prices are set by supply and demand:

  1. What is Economics?
  2. The Role of Prices
  3. Price Controls
  4. An Overview of Prices

Most people who commented on the meme had some knowledge of basic economics, and how prices are determined.

Here’s Bruce:

Wages–the prices of labor–are set by free people bidding in an open market for the labor of people willing to work. They are not set by an emperor weighing abstractions. There are 3.7 million teachers working in the US, and only about 5000 professional athletes.

And Chris:

My coworkers and I (we are fintech people with highly specialized knowledge and computer skills) were talking about some computer-related consultants who are so specialized and so good that they command hundreds (if not thousands of dollars per hour). The top of the top cyber security guys, who do presentations at conferences on threats and vectors? Yeah, thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars per hour.

So far, so good. But others argued that the prices of goods and services are determined by a sinister cabal of politicians and other elites, who paid athletes lots of money in order to distract the masses with “bread and circuses”. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How does paying athletes MORE get people to care about sports? It doesn’t. Actually, it’s the (widespread) demand to see the performance of (scarce) elite athletes that causes the wages of those athletes to increase. It’s not a conspiracy – it’s free people making choices about what they want to buy in a free market.

It turns out that there are two views of how wages are set in an economy:

The labor theory of value (LTV) is a theory of value that argues that the economic value of a good or service is determined by the total amount of “socially necessary labor” required to produce it.

LTV is usually associated with Marxian economics… The LTV is central to Marxist theory, which holds that the working class is exploited under capitalism, and dissociates price and value. Marx did not refer to his own theory of value as a “labour theory of value”.

Mainstream neoclassical economics tends to reject the need for a LTV, concentrating instead on a theory of price determined by supply and demand.

Marxists economists believe that the value of a good or service is determined by the social utility of the work produced. But classical (“free market”) economists believe that value is determined by the scarcity of the good or service relative to the demand from consumers.

So, a Marxist economist might say “teaching English is valuable because it is relevant and meaningful”. But, a classical economist would say “conducting a security audit on distributed point-of-sale system is valuable, because few people can do it, but many people want it”.

So, the conspiracy theorists view of economics, which asserts that teachers should be paid more than software engineers and doctors, is actually based on Marxist (atheistic) assumptions. And yet many of the people who hold to the conspiracy view of prices fancy themselves to be Christians and conservatives.

I’ve noticed that school teachers and non-STEM university students and professors are very likely  to hold to the conspiracy theory view of prices and wages. Robert Nozick wrote a paper about why this happens. It turns out that “wordsmiths” (his word) are conditioned by their performance in the classroom to expect success in the free market economy. But when they find that their “brilliance” in English poetry, Medieval history, or lesbian dance theory has no value to anyone else, they fall in with these Marxist assumptions and conspiracy theory views of the economy. It’s a coping mechanism for people who value academic acclaim more than doing something useful for their neighbors.

Consider this article from College Pulse about a survey of 10,590 undergraduate students:

Students with certain majors are far more likely than their peers to approve of socialism. Philosophy majors, in particular, have a positive view of socialism. Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) say they view the economic system favorably, followed by 64% of anthropology majors, and 58% of both English and international relations majors. Accounting and finance majors are least likely to view socialism positively (20% and 22% respectively).

Do you know what accounting and finance students have to study? Basic economics.

I noticed that the practical commenters who were trying to explain why teachers earn less than software engineers all had some experience working for a living in the private sector. A couple of them mentioned how studying economics on their own had led them to a correct understanding of how the economy works. That’s what happened to me, as well.

As soon as I got my first job as a software engineer, and finished my study of Christian apologetics, the very next thing I studied was economics. It was Dr. Jay Richards who got me interested in it, when I heard him speaking about economics in an apologetics lecture for Stand to Reason. I contacted him, and he recommended the works of two famous economists, F. A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell. And that’s what I want to recommend to you, too. Our continued liberty and prosperity depends on ordinary Americans taking the time to educate themselves about basic economics.

Good news: Venezuelan President complains that fracking is “flooding” oil markets

Gas prices vs domestic oil production
Gas prices vs domestic oil production

(Click for larger image. Source)

Why are gas prices so low all of a sudden?

Well, let’s ask the communist President of Venezuela:

The broadcast networks may not want to give credit to hydraulic fracturing for increasing U.S. oil production and lowering global oil prices, but at least one angry world leader did just that.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained that fracking in the U.S. has “flooded” the world market and contributed to lower oil prices, a connection that broadcast networks’ evening news reports barely made recently.

“The oil they’re taking from (shale deposits) and the gas. They’ve flooded the international market to batter the Russian economy …, Iran and to hurt us, Venezuela,” Maduro said in a broadcast on VTV, a state-run TV channel in Venezuela, according to Fox News Latino.

Fracking has been one cause of increased oil production in the U.S. That increased production helped lower oil prices by more than 30 percent since September 29. The decline in oil prices since June has severely impacted Venezuela, since oil exports were a major source of government income. “Some estimates put the break-even price for Venezuela to balance its budget at around $121 a barrel,” CNBC reported on December 7. That’s more than double current oil prices. Oil closed at $59.15-per-barrel on December 11.

As of January 2014, Venezuela’s state-run oil company brought in 96 percent of foreign earnings, according to The Economist. Maduro announced on December 2 that the government would cut spending by 20 percent.

[…]Venezuela was experiencing particular difficulties. That economy was on the verge of collapsing, CNBC said on Dec. 1. If low oil prices continued, Venezuela may face a “game over” situation and “barbarity and people looting.”

Do you know who else is hurt by this? Russia. I sure hope they don’t do anything aggressive to their neighbors while their economy feels the pinch of lower gas prices.

It’s a good thing when villains shake their fists at us, but it’s a better thing when consumers pay less for gas:

Thanks in part to the widespread use of technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, global oil prices plummeted in 2014. Energy experts even predicted the U.S. could be the top oil producer in the next several years.

[…]Fracking and other advanced technologies helped the U.S. nearly double its average daily output of oil, from 5 million barrels in 2008 to an expected 9.42 million barrels in 2015. The huge supply increase was one factor sending crude oil prices down. Crude fell by more than 32 percent, from $93 to $63 just since Sept. 29. This already drove gas prices down to a national average of $2.66 for regular on Dec. 9, according to AAA.

This is great news for consumers and businesses which could save as much as $1.3 trillion worldwide because of lower oil prices, according to Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics in London. Here in the U.S., Americans could save $230 billion if prices remain low for the next year, The Washington Post said on Dec. 1.

The only bad side to this story is that fracking is an expensive way of drilling, so as the price of oil drops, energy companies will be scaling back fracking until it becomes profitable again.

I think this story is important, because it helps to explain what the people who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline are concerned about. They know that there are two results to allowing that pipeline to be built. First, a hell of a lot of jobs will be created, reducing dependency on government. Second, the price of gas at the pump will go down further. That’s what the environmentalists (and their Democrat allies in Washington) are seeking to avoid. They want more government dependency, and higher gas prices.

Doctor shortage: how Obamacare makes it harder to find a doctor

Remember how Obama promised that if you liked your doctor, then you could keep your doctor? It turns out that there is more to making policies than just saying what you’d like to do in a scripted campaign speech. The truth is that some health care policies will make you lose your doctor, regardless of what the President reads off of a teleprompter. Is Obamacare one of these policies? Let’s see.

Avik Roy writes about it in Forbes magazine.

Excerpt:

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, due to Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare Advantage, among other factors, UnitedHealth expects its network of physicians “to be 85 percent to 90 percent of its current size by the end of 2014.” The result? Some retirees enrolled in Medicare Advantage will need to find new doctors. And it’s a trend that could accelerate in future years.

[…]Over the next ten years, Obamacare was designed to spend around $1.9 trillion on expanding health coverage to the uninsured. The law pays for this new spending with $1.2 trillion in new taxes, and $716 billion in cuts to Medicare, relative to prior law.

[…]The private insurers who supply Medicare Advantage plans, like UnitedHealth and Humana, have been responding to the cuts by squeezing out inefficiencies in the way they deliver care. One obvious way to do that is to pay doctors and hospitals less—or kick out the providers who refuse to accept lower reimbursement rates. And that’s what United has done, according to the WSJ report from Melinda Beck.

“Doctors in at least 10 states have received termination letters, some citing ‘significant changes and pressures in the health-care environment,’” writes Beck.

Another one of my favorite health care policy experts is the ex-Canadian Sally C. Pipes, who knows all about the horrors of single-payer health care. It killed her mother! Here’s what she had to say about the doctors shortage in a Forbes magazine article from earlier this year.

The first problem is that we have an aging doctor population and since we do such a poor job of educating our children (public school indoctrination centers) we aren’t making any new ones:

Right now, the United States is short some 20,000 doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The shortage could quintuple over the next decade, thanks to the aging of the American population — and the aging and consequent retirement of many physicians. Nearly half of the 800,000-plus doctors in the United States are over the age of 50.

The second problem is that adding more regulations and burdensome paperwork makes a lot of people not want to be doctors any more:

Obamacare is further thinning the doctor corps. A Physicians Foundation survey of 13,000 doctors found that 60 percent of doctors would retire today if they could, up from 45 percent before the law passed.

The third problem is that the government isn’t reimbursing doctors as much as private insurance companies do, and it makes them refuse to take government-funded patients:

They’ve long limited the number of Medicaid patients they’ll treat, thanks to the program’s low reimbursement rates. According to a study published in Health Affairs, only 69 percent of doctors accepted new Medicaid patients in 2011. In Florida, just 59 percent do so. And a survey by the Texas Medical Association of doctors in the Lone Star State found that 68 percent either limit or refuse to take new Medicaid patients.

Medicaid pays about 60 percent as much as private insurance. For many doctors, the costs of treating someone on Medicaid are higher than what the government will pay them.

These underpayments have grown worse over time, as cash-strapped states have tried to rein in spending on Medicaid. Ohio hasn’t increased payments to doctors in three years; Kentucky hasn’t raised them in two decades. Colorado, Nebraska, South Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, and Arizona all cut payments in 2011.

By throwing nine million more people into the program without fixing this fatal flaw, Obamacare will make it even harder for Medicaid patients to find doctors.

It’s not just Medicaid that’s the problem, either. It’s the government-controlled exchanges.

Healthcare providers are signaling that they may turn away patients who purchase insurance through the exchanges, too.

In California, for example, folks covered by Blue Shield’s exchange plan will have access to about a third of its physician network. The UCLA Medical Center and its doctors are available to customers of just one plan for sale through the state exchange, Covered California. And the prestigious Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is not taking anyone with exchange insurance.

Now I know what you’re thinking – why not just force doctors to work for lower wages, like a good socialist country might? Well, that actually makes the shortage worse, because people don’t like to learn hard things and then work hard for little pay. And doctors work VERY hard – it’s not an easy profession to get into. That will just make all the doctors leave the country for other countries where they can be paid fairly for the work they do.

And in fact that is exactly what happened in a 100% socialized health care system in Venezuela, according to this report from the left-leaning Associated Press.

Excerpt:

Half the public health system’s doctors quit under Chavez, and half of those moved abroad, Natera said.

Now, support staff is leaving, too, victim of a wage crunch as wages across the economy fail to keep up with inflation.

At the Caracas blood bank, Lopez said 62 nurses have quit so far this year along with half the lab staff. It now can take donations only on weekday mornings.

I recommend reading that entire article for a glimpse of where the Democrats are trying to take us. There is not a dime’s worth of difference on policy between the Democrat party and the socialist party of Venezuela, except that the socialists have been in control in Venezuela for longer, and so they are further along the road to serfdom.

In other news, the Washington D.C. insurance commissioner was fired after raising concerns about the “fix” proposed by Obama in his speech last week. That’s also something that you might expect to see in a country like Venezuela. That’s what happens in authoritarian socialist countries. Whistleblowers and critics just disappear.

EPA administrator boasts about crucifying oil and gas firms

Tom sent me this article from CNS News.

Excerpt:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) took to the Senate floor today to draw attention to a video of a top EPA official saying the EPA’s “philosophy” is to “crucify” and “make examples” of oil and gas companies – just as the Romans crucified random citizens in areas they conquered to ensure obedience.

Inhofe quoted a little-watched video from 2010 of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official, Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz, admitting that EPA’s “general philosophy” is to “crucify” and “make examples” of oil and gas companies.

In the video, Administrator Armendariz says:

“I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’ll go ahead and tell you what I said:

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean.  They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.

“Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

“It’s a deterrent factor,” Armendariz said, explaining that the EPA is following the Romans’ philosophy for subjugating conquered villages.

Soon after Armendariz touted the EPA’s “philosophy,” the EPA began smear campaigns against natural gas producers, Inhofe’s office noted in advance of today’s Senate speech:

“Not long after Administrator Armendariz made these comments in 2010, EPA targeted US natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming.

“In all three of these cases, EPA initially made headline-grabbing statements either insinuating or proclaiming outright that the use of hydraulic fracturing by American energy producers was the cause of water contamination, but in each case their comments were premature at best – and despite their most valiant efforts, they have been unable to find any sound scientific evidence to make this link.”

We want to be careful with environmental regulations so that we don’t hurt job creators. We need to work to have money, and we shouldn’t have to give up our prosperity in order to make a few bureaucrats feel as if they are “saving the world”.

How the Obama administration deliberately ships jobs overseas

From the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

This month, one year since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the Noble Clyde Boudreaux—an ultra-deepwater semi-submersible drilling rig—will start operations off the coast of Brazil. Until a few weeks ago it was stationed in the Gulf.

The two events are not unrelated. Moving the Noble out of U.S. waters is one of the adverse consequences of the Obama administration’s overreaction to last year’s Gulf spill.

Despite the president’s repeated claims that he’s been “encouraging” domestic oil production, administration policies have been driving drilling rigs out of the Gulf (six deepwater rigs in addition to the Noble have left the Gulf, with two more possibly on the way out). The overall result has been lower domestic oil production, slower economic growth, job losses and higher energy prices.

In the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, President Obama announced a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling. According to the administration’s estimates, this cost nearly 19,000 jobs in the Gulf states alone—even though federal researchers then cut the figure by an ad hoc factor of 40%-60% to make the results more palatable.

In the months after lifting the ban, the administration slowed drilling permits to a crawl, effectively creating what some have called a “permatorium.” Dismayed by the delays, in February U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman tried to force the administration to act on seven pending permits, calling the inaction on permits “increasingly inexcusable.” Permitting has picked up recently, thanks in part to increasing political pressure, but remains far below pre-spill levels.

In December, the White House reversed course on its own five-year plan to open portions of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Mid-Atlantic and the South Atlantic to offshore exploration. This effectively locks up an estimated 7.6 billion barrels of oil and 36.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Do you know what happens when the supply of a commodity goes down? Prices go up! And when gas prices go up, the price of every consumer good that is shipped using trucks and planes and boats also goes up.

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