Notice of AGM 

The UQ Economics Society hereby gives notice of its 2014 Annual General Meeting to be held from 6:00pm, October 7 2014 in the Prentice Building, Room 115. At the AGM, it is intended that the Society will vote on any proposed significant changes and will vote in the 2015 Executive. There will also be pizza!

If you would like further information about nominating for a position, please consult the AGM Guide below. An AGM Information session will also be held on Thursday 25th September 2014 at 12:00pm in the Priestley Building, Room 342.

If you have any further questions or require more information, please contact the Secretary, Rachel Stowasser, at r.stowasser@uqes.com.au

Download the AGM Guide here.

The Neoclassical Nightmare: John Maynard Keynes 

It’s the 1930’s, and mainstream economic circles are ringing with cries of “Humbug!” and “Balderdash!”, as monocles burst asunder from the faces of Neo-classicalist’s everywhere. The source of this orthodox outcry? John Maynard Keynes. The powerhouse of post-war policy. The monster of multiplicative effects. His intellect, passion, and unparalleled ability to apply theoretical concepts to the real world brought about a revolution in how governments tackle economic adversity, the ideology of which dominated the policies of capitalist governments around the world for most of the 20th century. However, too often in this post-GFC climate we merely associate the name Keynes with “recessions means spend, boom means save”, which is a gross oversimplification of the work of a man who fundamentally changed an entire field of study.

Firstly, I feel that it is important to address one issue. I know why you are all reading this. You have opened the article, with the simple pretense of reading the history of a man who made some of the most significant contributions to economics since Adam Smith. But I know the truth. You want to know who he hooked up with. Thus, I believe that if we get this out of our system early, we can progress to some serious discussion of economic history. As such, a list of some of his confirmed lovers is given below:

  • Daniel Macmillan (brother of future British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan)
  • Dilly Knox (a World War 1 code-breaker, who was instrumental in brining the US into the war by assisting in decrypting the Zimmerman Telegram)
  • Arthur Hobhouse (the man largely responsible for the current National Park system in England and Wales)
  • Duncan Grant (another member of the influential Bloomsbury Group, most famed for his post-impressionist artistic style)
  • Ray Strachey (a prominent member of the women’s suffrage movement, and one of Keynes’s earliest heterosexual love interests)
  • Lydia Lopokova (a Russian ballerina, whom Keynes married in 1925)

It should be noted that the above list is not comprehensive, and merely lists the most notable of his interests. Now that the trivialities have been covered, we can get on with what is truly interesting…economic history… right?

In his formative years, Keynes followed the educational structure of so many of the last centuries great intellectuals that it almost sounds cliché; born in Cambridge, schooled at Eton (on a scholarship, of course) and later attended Kings College. Aside from a brief stint in the now defunct India Office, he rose quickly from clerk, to member of a Royal Commission and then, in 1915, to the Treasury. His performance during the time he spent there garnered him international notice; for example, his decision to sell the limited supply of Spanish Pesetas he had worked so hard to obtain, instead handing them over to the British government (and thus risking the wrath of a vengeful Secretary of the Treasury) resulted in a sharp depreciation of a currency that up until that point, the Treasury had been struggling to find a continued source of.

Keynes’s actions (or rather, lack thereof) at the Versailles Peace Conference showed the man behind the mathematician, through his ardent opposition of reparation payments that were set to beggar the German people (those most prominently representing Britain during discussions were given the moniker of the Heavenly Twins, as the reparations they intended to demand from Germany were “astronomically high”).  Keynes suggested writing down German debts, to the benefit of not only Germany but other impoverished European nations (through maintaining strong export demand and international trade). He was overshadowed however, largely due to extremely anti-German post-war sentiment, and the fact that the US was the largest creditor at the time. Keynes was disgusted by the outcome of the conference, going so far as to write that the resulting policies were “…reducing Germany to servitude”.  Perhaps I am being too generous to Keynes; a harsh peace would surely deter future aggression? I can’t seem to recall any particular conflicts arising in Europe after World War 1…

In the years following the Versailles conference, Keynes continued to publish a number of influential works, notable among them A Treatise on Probability and Treatise on Money. It was The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, however, which would become his most famous work. Recall how, in opening this article, I expounded upon the offended sensibilities of Neo-Classicalists everywhere? This piece of work alone would be enough to have self-respecting neo-classicist calling for Menger to come and save them. A strong, theoretical justification for government intervention, and the absolutely radical suggestion that maybe, just maybe, workers will not reduce the price for which they will supply their labour until firms can employ them once again (price stickiness, which today appears perfectly acceptable, seemingly went against classical rationality assumptions).  

Following his death in 1946, Keynes’s ideas continued to gain traction, dominating policy decision until it began to fall from favour during the 1970’s (due, in no small part, to the critiques of Milton Freidman). It was not until the GFC that his suggestions for expansionary policies were again embraced by the global community, in Australia particularly (as to their effectiveness, one could debate for hours). Though whether or not you agree with his economic and mathematical contributions, there’s no doubting that he’s been one of the most influential figures of the 20th century… Or if you’re not entirely academically inclined, you’ve got to agree that he was an absolute player. 

The Microeconomic Analysis of Bar Tab Mechanisms 

A few weeks ago was the time of year that many of us were waking up in roadside bushes with a throbbing headache and naked from the waist down. Yes, the time of society launch parties had come around again with their gilded offer of free liquor.

With a guarantee of a good night for even the most socially declining person, no one doubts their nights were fun. But were they optimal?

In concise terms, bar tabs create socially suboptimal behaviours through a massive change in incentives. Two large moral hazards are created due to the fact that what was once expensive; is now free. Firstly, due to the limit of the tab, consumers are likely to drink more alcohol, more quickly. People, though probably subconsciously, actually compete in a game like structure against the other patrons, where drinking as quickly as possible gives the highest individual return.

Secondly, the issue of hoarding drinks is created. Consumers are more likely to order the maximum number of drinks allowable; even if there is a large probability they won’t be imbibed. As there is no additional cost in ordering more drinks than normal, the incentive is to order as much as possible, reducing the resources of the bar tab in a typical tragedy of the commons type problem.

Both these issues lead to the following.

·         The tab running out much faster than optimal.

·         Drinks being left untouched or only partially drunk.

·         Overly drunk party goers from people going too hard and too fast in the beginning.

But now, don’t fret; there are solutions to the madness. Let’s have a look at some ways we can use economics to try and ease the problems of excess.

Embargoes

The first possible solution is to run a staunch protectionist regime and implement an embargo on trade at the bar. By limiting the amount of drinks available to a single person to a much smaller number (say 1 or 2) it is possible to partially control the speed of which the bar tab runs down.

This partially removes the problem of hoarding by implementing a new cost of time to get the marginal drinks. The embargo forces hoarders to line up in the bar line to get the extra drinks, pricing some consumers out of the market.

This is not a perfect system though as it has erroneous consequences that can impact those who were earnestly ordering extra drinks. Getting a round for your mates becomes illegal in this system, which could overall reduce net social benefit by having a lot of pissed off people at your party.

Trading credits

Another solution to the madness could be to introduce transferrable trading credits, upon entry, in the form of a drinks card. The drinks card would entitle the holder to a certain number of drinks, which gives a more equitable distribution of the bar tab.

By assigning a consumer individual responsibility over their drinks, consumers will act a lot more optimally in regards to the timing and quantity of their drinks.

These drink credits would be freely transferrable which gives an indirect bonus to us economics nerds as we watch the market for drink credits develop throughout the night.

The downfall of this system is the uncertainty of the number of consumers in the market. For the system to work optimally, the organiser would need perfect information on how many people will require drink credits on the night. An incorrect assumption of people attending will lead either too many or little credits being distributed. The former leading to pissed off sober people, the latter leading to the same original problems of a normal bar tab. Of course, the market, on a long enough timeline will correct this but it is unlikely there will be time enough for the market to reach equilibrium in one night.

Subsidies

The final solution considered here would be that of host society subsidising consumers’ drinks. For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll consider the scenario where the society sets its subsidy equal with the amount of tax paid per drink. This leads to a market where consumers are paying the price that they normally would in a free market.

This will definitely slow down the rate at which people buy their drinks, especially at the start of the night. However, we also have to assume that the level of the tab is finite so there will still be elements of the game where people compete to receive as much as the bar tab as possible. So, close, but not perfect.

With the issue of hoarding drinks, this solution is closest to optimal as we can assume. The free market price of the drink should lead to the optimal amount of drinks being purchased at any one time. Again the issue of the finite bar tab playing on incentives slightly will change incentives but it is likely the effect will be minimal.

An interesting consequence of this subsidy is that the host society is essentially transferring a lump sum to the government in order for them to have this party. On a micro level looking at each consumer’s purchase, the tax can seem justifiable by constructively changing their behaviour. On a macro level, looking at this transfer from the society to the government (with the bar as the middle man) seems a little…wrong.

Anyway, we’ve had a look at some potential new ways for societies to run their launch parties from here on out. None of the three were perfect, though most looked to improve on the current situation. Either way, I know I’d be happy to keep increasing my sample size, trying to find that perfect bar tab structure until the university finally forces me to graduate.

UQ Economics Society Ball 2014 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't miss your chance to attend the ball of the season! Tickets go on sale Friday 18th July for the UQES Ball at the Novotel on August 15. Visit our Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/542795755825483/