Run run run… leisure?

Yesterday morning I took part in the Reading Half Marathon. Safely ensconced back home, you may be blissfully unaware of this event, which wormed its way through the university campus. We entered via the Pepper Lane entrance, took a right through the various science buildings, then back up between Park House and Chemistry past Maths and taking a left just behind the Library up the hill, then a right and out via The Queen’s Drive. If you run, you should certainly consider the Reading Half Marathon before you leave the university.


Picture found online of runners running very close to the economics department during the half marathon

But what is a Half Marathon? It’s a LOT of people (estimates at around 16,000) running a relatively LONG way (13.1 miles, or 21.2 kilometers). It’s thus a huge logistical exercise, with many road closures all around the town, a huge number of volunteers to set up the facilities at the start and finish (lots of portaloos, and also dotted around the course). It’s also a great opportunity for sponsorship, with Garmin’s name dotted all over various parts of the course, and Lucozade handing out hundreds of thousands of bottles at numerous drinks stops around the course. Buses diverted from their usual Sunday morning activities to shuttle thousands of runners from the railway station and other focal points to the race start/finish, and so on. Photographers dotted around the route trying to get the best photos in order to convince runners to buy pictures of themselves, organisers handing out free T-shirts to “Finishers” replete with sponsoring company names, and the organisers trying to sell additional “technical” shirts sufficiently attractively that people part with their cash for them (I didn’t).

It’s thus a huge event, and occurs once a year during the Easter vacation. Other colleagues have run the race in the past, as have students. Did you? Is it macroeconomic? It’s hard to argue given the vast number of different markets referred to in the last paragraph that it’s microeconomic – there are huge co-ordination issues between these various different markets that come together each year for the event. But even though it’s macroeconomic, can we really learn anything that might help us to think about the things we learnt on Intro Macro last term?

The Leisure Industry

Take a drive in the countryside anywhere in the country (but particularly, it seems, in the hills), and you’ll end up seeing many a cyclist. Bike stores are thriving, and Britain appears more active – a point that this BBC article makes.

The roots of this revival in cycling is traced back to the terrorist attacks in 2005 when the London Underground was closed, forcing many to commute on their bikes. This seems a rather London-centric interpretation, and others might focus on the Cycle To Work government scheme which began in 1999 allowing people to buy bikes tax free. Additionally, investment in cycling surrounding various sporting events (Olympics in London, but before that the Commonwealth Games in Manchester), and subsequent success appears to have inspired many.

Do we care, as economists? We have to; from a public policy perspective a more active population (probably) costs the state less – fewer weight-related problems being treated on the National Health Service. Governments are increasingly interested in what is called “nudge economics”, the application of behavioural economics to public policy in order to increase the effectiveness of policy. What policy lessons might be learnt from the cycling craze that could be applied more generally to encourage more folk into becoming more active?

Cycling, of course, isn’t the only boom area in physical activity – triathlons and their constituent parts – cycling, running and swimming, all appear to be enjoying a surge in popularity. As the linked article, a more business orientated approach, makes clear: people doing sport need to buy equipment. They also like to enter events, such as races.

An interesting associated phenomenon is the parkrun, which began back in 2004 as a few runners in a park in London, and now has events all of the country and in multiple countries around the world, with over 60,000 people running per week in 2014. It’s a free timed 5k run in a local park at 9am on a Saturday morning, and hence is supported by volunteers and sponsors, given the price is zero hence the organisation makes no revenue that way.

This is all micro more than macroeconomics, but hopefully in light of New Year Resolutions, which we’re all inclined to break, it’s a very interesting application of what you’re learning whilst you’re studying economics with us. Happy New Year!

What’s wrong with a bit of corruption?

One bit of news over the last few days has been another bunch of Fifa officials being arrested for corruption. You may, of course, be tempted to shrug your shoulders, particularly if you don’t like football much. Maybe if you like it, you may have already got corruption fatigue in light of all the high-profile (and long overdue) arrests thus far.

It might be worth thinking about what exactly is wrong with corruption? What even is corruption? Casting it in an economic light, it’s a mis-allocation of resources, where the means of re-allocation has a criminal element to it.

Thinking even more strongly in economic terms, corruption is rent seeking behaviour. That is, it is behaviour that does not create new wealth (such as producing a new widget that can be sold), but instead that extracts wealth from others. For example, a corrupt official may solicit bribes from those around him (or her); those bribes do not create anything, they simply reallocate wealth to the corrupt official.

Hence we can think that, absent of corruption, there might be a very different distribution of funds and activities in Fifa – some of the vast amounts of money that move around the game might get to grass roots endeavours around the world, in some of the poorest and needy parts of the world, rather than in the pockets of officials of football associations in some of those countries (and other ones).

So, even if we don’t care about football itself, we ought to care about corruption – and we ought to be trying to ensure that in all areas of economic life resources are going where they ought to be going, rather than into the hands of corrupt officials…

Immigration and Sport

At a time when public sentiment regarding immigration has perhaps never been more negative (in recorded times at least), the Rugby Football Union has just started a global search for its new head coach. Apparently South African Jake White is favourite. The appeal is obvious, as White won the World Cup as South Africa coach in 2007. The explanation also, of course, is straight forward in terms of the apparent contradiction: we don’t mind skilled foreigners coming here, it’s the non-skilled ones we apparently have an issue with, and the illegal ones.

This is, of course, labour economics, and feeds into macroeconomics as one of the key macroeconomic variables we’ll spend some time looking at is unemployment. We’ll also spend time thinking about globalisation, too. Unemployment, most simply, is an excess supply of labour: more people looking for work than there are firms looking for workers – at the current market price.

This simple description covers over a multitude of complexities; different types of work have different supplies of labour – hence governments worry about skills shortages, which are insufficient levels of the supply of labour in particular industries. Most people support the idea that we should allow immigration in areas where skills shortages are most acute, and one could quite easily make the case that in elite sport management, that is the case. In football, no Englishman has won the Premier League since its conception in 1992, and in rugby we all know the abject failure of the England team at their World Cup in the last few months.

However, even this is debatable. Some would (and do) argue that English candidates could still do a perfectly good job; after the last non-English football manager, Capello, the Football Association felt compelled to search only for an English candidate. It may well be true: the labour market is one characterised by huge uncertainties: will somebody do well in this job? Can those looking to fill positions necessarily identify the best workers for those roles?

Faced with all these difficulties even at the firm level, it seems very optimistic to think that at an industry level it’s possible to know whether there’s a skill shortage or not?

All sorts of questions you can start to think about asking as you study economics…

Micro: Football and Sackings

Sherwood and Villa in happier times (from the Telegraph)

You’re studying microeconomics at the moment, which by and large looks at individual markets. While you eagerly anticipate macro for next term, here’s some more microeconomic stuff that shows how we can apply what we’re learning to all sorts of situations.

Those who follow football, in particular in the West Midlands, will be reflecting on the end of yet another managerial tenure at a local football club. Tim Sherwood on Sunday was sacked as manager of Aston Villa. A manager is an employee at a firm, most fundamentally; a firm that competes in a marketplace with other firms.

Football is an interesting economic case study, as it’s not immediately obvious where we should focus: should we focus on football teams, or football leagues? Indeed, Walter C. Neale pondered this in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1964. Sports teams compete with each other, but teams will always populate leagues; whether the leagues exist is what matters, and sports leagues have come and gone over the years.

Nonetheless, football teams must operate on a day-to-day basis without going bankrupt. Teams like Aston Villa face the very real threat of being relegated from the Premier League. The Premier League is a sports league which is hugely lucrative for the teams who compete within it; relegation to the Championship, the league below, has huge financial implications – massively lower income levels, not to mention reduced prestige. However, the hugely lower income levels (mainly television money, we all like watching the Premier League) are what matter: without income, expenses become unaffordable, and losses will be made.

With a defeat on Saturday, Aston Villa dropped to the bottom of the Premier League, and the three teams finishing lowest are relegated. As such, the decision to sack the manager was taken with the purpose of avoiding relegation. The club will have weighed up the potential cost of relegation, the likelihood of suffering it with Tim Sherwood as manager, the likelihood of suffering it with another manager in charge, all against the cost of sacking the manager (some pay-off will be necessary), and have decided, in their estimation, that sacking Sherwood is their best option.

It’s all economics…