Friday, December 14, 2007

Scarlet and Gray (And a Little Green, Too)

I don't know what I did to deserve such good fortune, but for some reason, God saw fit to allow me to be born in the state of Ohio. Growing up a Buckeye, you learn early in life that blue is a four-letter word (maize might as well be also), and that all good things come packaged in red sweater vests.

It is also my good fortune that Ohio State will be playing the college football national championship game in New Orleans this January, as I will be in town attending the ASSA meetings*, and thus will naturally be attending the game shortly thereafter.

The teams are set: OSU vs. LSU. The only big question left is—what will I pay for the privilege of watching them duke it out? I'm not counting on getting a ticket from the lottery drawing, so I plan to buy a ticket from a reseller. For your typical fan, buying tickets from resellers is the norm for big games like this. It is not uncommon for these tickets to be sold for 5 to 10 times their face value in the resale market.

Some games are unexpectedly good (see Browns vs. Bills this Sunday in an unlikely battle for a playoff spot, or the recent Missouri vs. Kansas game as #1 and #2). With these games, it's easy to see why the resale market would dominate—most tickets were sold cheaply early in the season before anyone realized the game would be so meaningful. When demand rises, so do prices.

The explanation isn't so straightforward, however, for games that are guaranteed to be important (like the national championship). In this article, ESPN writer Gregg Easterbrook discusses some reasons why tickets are still sold by sports teams at face value, regardless of expected market rates.

*A big economics conference. There is a good chance your professor is going. Maybe they'll buy you a hat.

Discussion Questions

1. Fairness is always an issue with pricing decisions. Easterbrook calls it a “public relations move” to keep prices standard. Might raising prices for important games create resentment that could extend forward into the months and years to come?

2. In his autobiographical Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby writes that club owners would be daft to raise prices beyond what their rabid fans can readily afford, since the marginal fan comes to games as much to see and experience these crazed fans as to see the action on the field. How would raising the price affect the demographics of those who could attend? Do rabid fans confer a positive (or negative) externality on the rest of the crowd?

3. Last Monday night, Michael Vick and the Falcons took on Reggie Bush and the Saints in an epic battle for the NFC South. Oh, wait, nevermind—neither of these once-great teams is likely to even smell the playoffs this year, and neither of those players were even on the field to try and help the cause (Bush is injured, Vick is in prison). How might setting prices upfront allow teams to capture more total revenue on games that turn out to be duds?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Honduras: Hosed by Sock Tariffs

In 1984, the U.S. government gave Honduras unfettered access to the American sock market. The move was the first of several trade deals that would ultimately unravel Fort Payne, Alabama's status as the sock capital of the world. Fort Payne's sock factories struggled to compete with the likes of Honduras, China, and Pakistan when it came to the labor-intensive step of seaming sock toes. American workers receive approximately 2 cents per seam (at about six seconds per sock, a good hour would bring in $12), but foreign workers sew for half of that. The labor savings add up over millions of socks. The cost disadvantage forced many Fort Payne sock mills to shutdown and lay-off workers.

Keep in mind that many people benefited from U.S. openness to trade in socks and other goods. Americans gained access to a wider variety of less-expensive goods—socks included. American firms and workers in U.S. export industries benefited from access to foreign markets. A cosmopolitan view also acknowledges the gains to firms and workers in developing countries. The Honduran sock industry thrived on access to the American market, generating more jobs and higher wages for workers. Of course, none of this is of much solace to a laid-off sock worker in Fort Payne.

A number of Fort Payne sock mills managed to hang on, but much of the town's industry consists of relatively new ventures, like bridge building and label making, with no relation to hosiery. As a recent two-part story (here and here) from NPR's Adam Davidson illustrates, Fort Payne's dynamic economy absorbed its losses from international trade—creating new, often better-paying jobs for many of the workers initially displaced by globalization. Even as Fort Payne's economy moved on, the political clout of the sock industry remained strong. Alabama congressman Robert Aderholt struck a deal with President Bush in 2005—Aderholt would support the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) if the president agreed to re-impose tariffs on socks from Honduras. The president agreed; CAFTA moved one step closer to full implementation; and the administration gave itself a deadline for resurrecting the sock tariff—December 19, 2007. Read Davidson's report to learn more about the potential impact of rolling back free trade with Honduras.

Discussion Questions

1. How did sock tariff removal initially impact Fort Payne? How does the economy in Fort Payne look today? Would you characterize it as a sock dependent town?

2. How will the re-imposition of the sock tariff affect the historically small number of sock mills and sock workers in Fort Payne? How will the tariff affect sock mills and workers in Honduras? How will the removal of duty-free status for Honduras impact other developing countries, such as China, that currently face higher U.S. trade barriers than Honduras?

3. The president acceded to representative Aderholt on sock tariffs for Honduras in order to get a vote for CAFTA--a wide reaching agreement that has the potential to reduce trade barriers among multiple countries. Was the deal worth it?

4. Fort Payne's economy adapted to life with open trade, but not all workers experienced a smooth transition from the sock-based economy. According to Davidson's story, how have workers had to adapt to the new labor market in Fort Payne? What, if anything, is the appropriate role for government in easing the adjustment to globalization in towns like Fort Payne?

5. Think about the local, regional, or national economy. How would life be different today if everyone, everywhere were producing the same stuff that they were 30 years ago?

Labels: , ,