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(a) Explain why pollution and congestion caused by cars may cause market failure [10]

(a) Explain why pollution and congestion caused by cars may cause market failure. [10]

Pollution and congestion may cause market failure because they are forms of negative externalities, which distort the socially optimal workings of the free market. Externalities are third party spillover effects, and can be categorized as positive and negative. Whether positive or negative, externalities cause market failure as they distort the socially optimum output to society because of a discrepancy between the social costs and benefits and private costs and benefits. Market failure can be defined as the failure of free markets to allocate resources in a socially efficient manner. This paper discusses why negative externalities cause market failure in the context of congestion and pollution, and demonstrates there is a deadweight loss to society when drivers consider only private costs and benefits and not social costs and benefits.

A negative externality occurs when motorists fail to consider the social costs of their journeys. The individual motorist only considers his private costs and benefits, and hence only his private marginal cost matters to him. For instance, fuel costs are part of his private costs and he factors them into his calculations. However, by driving on the roads, a motorist inflicts external costs on others, namely congestion and pollution. Congestion is a third party external cost because other drivers have their speeds reduced as a result and pollution is a third party external cost because pedestrians and motorcyclists suffer from irritation and perhaps even health problems. Hence, the motorist who considers only his private costs and benefits fails to take into account the external costs that he imposes on others.

These results can be seen in the following diagram…

Insert diagram

The diagram demonstrates that the socially optimum level of car journeys should be at q2 at a price of p2, yet the private market, which does not take externalities into account, produces q1 car trips at a cheaper price of p1. This means that the negative externality results in more car trips being taken at a lower price than what is socially efficient. Since the number of car journeys is underpriced and overprovided there results a deadweight loss to society. The socially optimum level should be at p2 and q2, not p1 and q1.

Therefore, pollution and congestion caused by cars are likely to cause market failure.

In conclusion, there are many types of market failure: imperfect markets, the failure of Adam Smith’s free market to produce public goods, and above all externalities. In the case of cars, causing congestion and pollution, the market failure in question is externalities – and in particular, negative externalities, where third parties suffer negative spillover effects such as congestion and pollution when others drive.

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