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Should governments always intervene when free markets fail to allocate resources efficiently? [15]


It should be recognized that free markets often fail due to allocative inefficiency, and there are various ways where governments can intervene to improve the outcome of resource allocation. However, governments should not always intervene as there are instances where intervention results in a less desirable outcome. This essay thus aims to analyse the pros and cons of the various ways of government intervention, and instances of government failure.
Yes, governments should intervene to improve the efficiency of free markets. Firstly, government policies to bring down the output level to the socially optimal output level can be divided into two categories, one market-based and another of direct control. A per unit output tax of the good raises production cost, thus reducing the output to the socially optimal outcome when there are negative externalities or demerit goods.

[Insert diagram for tax]
By imposing a per unit tax equivalent to MEC, MPC shifts to the left, thus bringing the output level down to Qs, coinciding with socially optimal output level. Hence, there should be intervention as it allows allocative efficiency to be achieved. 
On the flipside, an output subsidy would lower production costs, thus raising production to an output level coincidental to the socially optimal outcome, bettering the situation where there are positive externalities or merit goods.

[Insert diagram for subsidy]
By giving an output subsidy equivalent to MEB, MPC is shifted to the right, thus bringing the output level forward to Qs, the socially optimal level. Thus, allocative efficiency is similarly achieved.
While controlling output directly is a faster and more straightforward method, some may argue for the use of emission charges in the case of negative externalities as it advocates specific actions to cut down on the externalities which seem to some as a more long term solution. For example, in the case of pollution, emission charges induce firms to directly reduce pollution by the addition of a filter or the switch to less polluting production methods. However, there are limitations to such a policy as it gives high administrative costs due to the difficulty faced in monitoring emissions as compared to output.
When market-based policies fail to work, it may be sensible for the government to intervene with direct controls. An output ban could be used to forcefully bring down the output level to the socially optimal one. 

[Insert diagram on total ban]
An output ban will be advisable in the case where MEC is so large that the socially optimal output occurs at Qs = 0. In this case, a ban will be allocatively efficient. However, it should be noted that in a case where the MEC is relatively small, government intervention is not advisable as the outcome is even more allocative inefficient. As seen in the diagram above, when the government does not intervene, the area of welfare loss is smaller than when the government chooses to impose a total ban where quantity will be brought to zero. Hence, output bans are very extreme and thus governments should only intervene with a ban if MEC is large.
Another form of direct control would be direct free provision by the government to bring the output level to one that is socially optimal.

[Insert diagram on free provision]
For free provision, the MEB is so large that the socially optimal outcome occurs at Qs. Thus output has to be subsidized to such a large extent that the price of the good effectively becomes zero.
However, just like an output ban, free provision is very extreme and should only be used when the extent of MEB is very large. 
Where MEB is relatively small, MPC needs to be shifted to the right in order for socially optimal outcome to be achieved. Therefore, if the good was to be provided for free, the good will be over-consumed, resulting in a deadweight loss, implying that the outcome is worse than before intervention. Hence government should not intervene. 
In conclusion, despite substantial pros brought about by government intervention, the government should not always intervene as there will bound to be cases of government failure when the extent of intervention required is wrongly judged as seen from the examples above. Furthermore, the extent of administrative costs of some of the methods of intervention outweighs their benefits, translating to the view that the government should not always intervene.

JC Economics Essays - H1, H2, H3 Economics Essays - tutor's comments: While there is a lot of good economics material in this generally well written essay, the main problem is that it could have addressed the examination question more directly and targeted the answer better to the economics question specifically. Having said that, there are some saving graces to this economics essay. There is great use of varied economics diagrams, a lot of explanation, solid economic reasoning, and generally good application of economic principles and ideas, concepts, and logic. These save the essay quite a lot. However, better use of essay technique and more direct answering of the question would be great and would raise the grade achieved - also, lots of economics examples should also have been used. What other ways could be used to improve this essay? Think of how you could make this economics paper even better than it already is. 

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