Economically, we are living in very interesting times, with the record books being rewritten on an almost daily basis: the lowest UK interest rates ever, the largest recorded total for government debt and the US stock market at record levels.
UK employment has never been higher, but the quality of many of the new jobs created is a matter of fierce debate. The recession officially ended in 2009, but try telling that to the millions of families whose living standards have been declining for the best part of a decade. It’s a confusing, and therefore fascinating, picture. Studying A Level Economics might just help you make some sense of it all. As a future worker, consumer and voter that might just be rather useful.
Whilst Economics attempts to analyse the major (macro) trends discussed above, it also offers an insight into effects that are seen on a smaller (micro) scale: How do we explain changes in house prices? Why are so many pubs closing down? Why have sales of pizza increased so much in recent years? By its very nature Economics is very wide-ranging in scope: it would be much quicker to compile a list of topics without an economic aspect!
The A Level course has four themes:
Markets and Market Failure
The key principles of supply and demand determine the price of everything that is traded, from a loaf of bread to a premiership footballer. But these forces don’t always allocate resources efficiently. Translation: leave things to the “free market” and we get excessive carbon dioxide emissions and alcohol consumption but not enough healthcare and education. So the government has to get involved, but how? And might “government failure” be worse than “market failure”?
The UK Economy – Performance and Policies
This theme offers an introduction to the UK macroeconomy. What are economic growth, inflation and the balance of payments? How is unemployment measured and how can it be reduced? What are the causes and effects of changes in interest rates and taxation? Studying this unit will give you an understanding of the challenges that confront the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England.
Business Behaviour and the Labour Market
How do businesses behave in theory and in practice? We will study a variety of market structures from the apparently highly desirable situation of intense competition to the evils of its opposite: monopoly. But might a single producer sometimes be the best outcome? Theoretical ideas will be brought to life by real examples: explaining how Tesco gained over 30% of the UK supermarket market, but is now seeing its profits decline; understanding why Virgin and BA colluded to raise air fares and why Virgin finally decided to report the agreement to the authorities, and discussing whether it is right to let Tango and Orangina be made by the same firm.
We’ll also look at the labour market: what explains the extraordinary difference between the incomes of executives on the top floor of those impressive new buildings in the City and the ‘less than living wage’ paid to the people who clean them. Should we raise the minimum wage and /or introduce a maximum?
A Global Perspective
Here we attempt to get to grips with the phenomenon of “globalisation”, focusing on its causes and effects. How is it cheaper for us to buy a pair of jeans made in China and shipped 5000 miles than trousers produced here in the UK and how does this status as the “workshop of the world” affect China and Britain? Should we protect our industries against cheap imports or should we embrace “free trade”? But the perspective here is not just British: how have some developing countries “made poverty history” for millions of their citizens whilst in others the majority have less than “a dollar a day” to live on. And what can Western countries do to spread prosperity or, in the era of the euro-crisis, maintain it themselves?
Economics is taken with just about every other A level that is on offer. It is a superb bridge between arts and sciences and combines well with Mathematics (particularly statistics), Geography, History (we consider the policy response to the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s), Philosophy (we look at some of the great economic thinkers), Politics and Modern Languages. Numerate skills are developed and used throughout the course. Although you do not need to study A Level Maths to study Economics in the Sixth Form, you might find that lack of Maths restricts your options if you wish to study related subjects at university. The examinations feature a range of multiple choice, data response and essay questions.
Aside from the general benefits of economic understanding outlined above, those who have studied the subject work in industry, finance, government and education at home and abroad.