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(b) Evaluate the possible policies a government might adopt to deal with the above market failure.

The first part of the question: (a) Explain why pollution and congestion caused by cars may cause market failure. [10]

(b) Evaluate the possible policies a government might adopt to deal with the above market failure. [15]

(in this case, externalities, as can be seen in the part (a) answer above) (15)

There are many policies that a government can utilize to overcome externalities in terms of congestion and pollution. This paper suggests policies and highlights their pros and cons. The government can impose congestion charges, such as the Electronic Road Pricing in Singapore (ERP), impose quotas or taxes to control the vehicle population, such as Certificates of Entitlement in Singapore (COE), improve the public transport system, build more roads, and other miscellaneous policies. All these will be explained and then evaluated in this paper.

First, would congestion charges work? They might work as the government is forcing drivers to internalize the externality. In this case, drivers will internalize the negative externality. What does this mean? Internalizing externalities means that the drivers are forced, by the use of the congestion charge, to factor this additional cost into their calculations, hence reducing the number of trips they take and raising the private cost of driving to the drivers. This suggests that congestion charges are an excellent government policy that would have a high chance of working precisely because they makes drivers consider social costs as private costs.

Insert economics diagram. What diagram goes here?

The diagram above demonstrates the core idea of congestion charges, which is to shift q1 to q2 and p1 to p2, which shifts the private cost curve to the social cost curve.

Yet, the problem is that the government may further distort the market instead of getting a desired outcome because of imperfect information. The government may want to know but it cannot. There is no way for the government to know exactly what and where the socially optimum level of driving is because in reality, such data is impossible to find. How much congestion charge should the government charge?

In addition, the government might find it hard to adjust congestion charges because of political reasons. Should the congestion charge be high, possibly solving congestion and pollution, but endangering political success at elections; or should the congestion charge be low, possibly not solving congestion and pollution, but being more acceptable? It seems that theoretically congestion charges tackle the core issue of the overconsumption of car journeys by making drivers internalize the externality, but in practice there are many unaddressed and difficult issues.

Controlling the population of vehicles is another possible solution, where governments target the supply of cars and not the demand for cars. The Singapore government, for instance, uses COEs to control the supply of cars, as whoever wants to drive needs this licence to own a car. The total number of cars can be thus controlled with this kind of quota, which limits the total number to a cap. In comparison with congestion charges, COE does not restrict the use of the car, but reduces car ownership, with the central idea being that there would be less congestion and less pollution with fewer cars around.

Yet controlling the population reduces the total amount of pollution, yet may not reduce congestion. The reason is that congestion depends primarily on usage, which can be thought of as how many cars are out on the road at any given time. During peak hours there would automatically be congestion, even if governments were to reduce the total number of cars. This is because the cars are on the road at the same time. Hence, controlling the vehicle population is a good idea but should be done in conjunction with reducing usage as well.

Improving the public transportation system is yet another solution. This would provide an alternative to using cars as a means of transport, or as we say in economics terms, a substitute. By subsidizing public buses and trains, and making them more affordable and convenient, the use of cars would be lessened, and congestion and pollution would be reduced. For instance, people who would drive will decide to take the bus, and there would be fewer cars on the road.
However, with the exception of trains, buses produce pollution as well, and while reducing congestion would not necessarily reduce pollution if more buses are put on the roads. Also, the cost of improving public transport might be prohibitive, where governments face the opportunity cost of the money forgone for other more pressing uses, and there might also be strong opposition from people who prefer their own cars. All considered, however, improving public transport would still prove to be a good method of reducing congestion and pollution.

Another solution by governments is usually to build more roads, as by building roads, there would be less congestion. However, the issue is that road building does not solve the underlying problem, which is the externality. There would still be many cars on the road, and the decisions made by private individuals would still conflict with the social good. Unlike the other methods discussed earlier, road building does not reduce the usage of cars, and does not reduce car ownership. Hence building roads helps win elections more than it does actually solve congestion or pollution, which are market failures by nature.

Moral suasion and other non economic methods could also be used, but they are short term and still do not address the underlying negative externality. For example, posters and public education are not that effective in reducing overall car usage in Singapore. Therefore, they are also not heavily used in most other countries as well as compared to the methods of reducing car usage and ownership.

In conclusion, a government has many ways of dealing with congestion and pollution, but each policy chosen has pros and cons which must be carefully evaluated. Controlling car usage by the use of congestion charges like ERP make consumers internalize the negative externality because they consider their private costs and not social costs, yet there are political repercussions and informational challenges. Reducing the total number of cars will bring about less congestion and pollution overall but does not solve the problem that car usage is concentrated at certain times. Improving transportation systems would be a good idea if the cost were not too oppressive, as there would be an opportunity cost in terms of other more pressing governmental projects. Building roads and moral suasion might not be sustainable. Therefore, all considered, a mixture of various policies should be used rather than a one size fits all policy that pretends to be a panacea but is not.


JC ECONOMICS ESSAYS Tutor's Comments: This Economics essay is very well written and addresses the question fully. How and why? Think about it. How would you improve this essay, or how could you approach this question slightly differently or alternatively? This Economics paper was also professionally written, jointly with part (a).

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