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Black History Month: Economics Essay Competition

January 18, 2022 03:04pm

During this years Black History Month, Year 13 students participated in an economics essay competition.

All students who participated provided fantastic responses that showed genuine thought and research that was beyond the requirements of their courses. They all showed the ability to link concepts taught in class to real world issues and discussions that occur in the wider world. Well done to everyone and especially Adam and James who won the competition!

The winners essays are displayed below:

Overall Winner

Adam Goodwin Year 13 for his response to the following question:

Positive discrimination through subsidies for black students attending Oxbridge could be seen as a misallocation of resources.  Is it okay to over allocate resources in an attempt to make up for lost past opportunity?

It is a misallocation of resources to over allocate resources in an attempt to make up for lost past opportunity. I, however, do not think that positive discrimination through subsidies is an attempt to make up for lost past opportunity, but an attempt to achieve a certain degree of equalisation of outcomes, to avoid the loss of current opportunity. Granted, black students can now enter formerly white-only institutions, but to benefit from this equal opportunity provided to them, they require the capabilities to make use of it.

Free-market economists would argue that when the only thing that guarantees survival is efficiency, there is no room for racial prejudice in market transactions. Milton Friedman, in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, gave the example of a consumer purchasing bread. Whoever buys the bread is entirely unaware of the ethnicity of the person who grew the wheat that makes the bread. He then argued that through these market forces, racist employers would be outperformed by those more open-minded, that would recruit employees regardless of ethnicity. Clearly, Friedman argued, the free market would eradicate, or at least severely decrease, racism. If this way inclined, one could use this same argument in relation to Oxbridge admissions: if the institutions consistently discriminated against ethnic minorities, and only took in white students, despite their potential intellectual inferiority, companies would just begin to prefer graduates from other institutions. Sooner or later, Oxbridge would have to change their ways. Free marketeers may then conclude that when given equality of opportunity, through market forces, the competitive mechanism will eliminate racial prejudices, and subsequently, the positive discrimination, through subsidies, is a misallocation of resources, as the free market would do it anyway. I, however, disagree.

I do not advocate for equality of outcome, far from it (the agricultural failures under Mao Zedong serve as justification), but I do not think that it is enough to just have equality of opportunity: “When some people have to run a 100m race with sandbags on their legs, the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair”. An individual’s socio-economic environment does restrict on what they can do, and even what they want to do.

Of course, Oxbridge want the best students, and this quality is mainly caused by pure persistence and drive, but it is irresponsible to not consider the socio-economic restrictions that effect these factors, that are put disproportionally more onto black students. Positive discrimination, through subsidies, could mitigate, if not eradicate, some, if not all, of the economic restrictions placed upon black students.

A misallocation of resources is when resources are not allocated to the socially optimum level. The social gain from subsidising black students attending Oxbridge is inherently unquantifiable, which makes it difficult to argue numerically, but given the government’s recent spout of crony contracts, I find it difficult to imagine subsidising the education of disadvantaged individuals being the highest concern of the way that our tax revenue is being spent.

Highly commended

James Oddy Year 13 for his response to the following question:

The slave trade was a horrific and exploitative measure for developed white societies to improve their own economic outlook at the expense of others. Is this behaviour inevitable?

Stemming from basic human nature, an element of ‘divide and conquer’ has evidently played its part in history: whether it be compared with socio-economic or ethnic background, one segment of society has continually managed to preach its own figment of superiority in order to indoctrinate another for their own economic gain, perhaps illustrating that greed will fuel, or even disguise, clearly immoral conduct.

Even in spite of more prominent pluralist societies in the world’s economic leaders, exploitation remains an issue. The encouragement of free markets has unarguably offered consumers unprecedentedly low prices whilst still reflecting a good quality of product; all at the expense of cheap labour in foreign provinces where offshoring is relied upon by large firms. Apple has most notably been criticised after one of its manufacturing plants reported a disturbingly high suicide rate amongst its employees, urging the factory occupiers to go as far as implementing safety nets to ensure suicide would no longer prove problematic. It is entirely incontestable that this is simply a modern format for economic powerhouses to exploit segments of our global society to benefit financially. Unfortunately, this recurring issue highlights a trend of exploitation, possibly hinting that, to some extent, slavery could be inevitable. What’s worse is that, in regions such as China and India, economic influencers including the Government, set objectives to maintain a weak currency so that export costs remain low in order to encourage foreign direct investment and outsourcing by trans-national corporations. This in turn, ‘bricks in’ the factory workers since the economy as a whole becomes somewhat dependent on their ability to offer international firms lower unit costs through purchasing economic of scale. Effectively concluding that, whilst it is a common belief that exploitation to this extent is absolutely immoral at the very least, the world leaders will not allow for such provisions to be removed for their own broader financial gain. Particularly in the UK, our ability to offer employee protection legislation and minimum wages on a domestic scale, in compliance with the human rights declaration, outlines our understanding of this moral code, despite our distasteful ignorance to such affairs taking place abroad for public and private gain – out of sight, out of mind?

As such; whilst slavery in its most recognisable form (placing price-tags on human lives and brutally enforcing productivity) might not be precisely observed in a modern climate, we must remain vigilant about the manner in which it truly presents itself. Although the abominable cruelty of historic, racially-motivated slavery might not repeat itself, we face a new kind of evil as the world claws at a justification for treatment of workers in line with a degree of exploitation that can be overlooked by some.