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Essay writing

The idea of setting essays is to offer you the chance to make a longer, more complex argument. Nonetheless, in the model we recommend, the fundamentals remain the same. In each paragraph, a flow of main idea (thesis) – explanation / reasoning (justification) – evidence / example (support) is an excellent structure to use. If you read through academic writing, you will find this structure over and over. The same is true for professional writing. There are of course other structures, however this one always works and makes you sound concise and clear.

An essay has conventional sections that it is wise to follow. These are an introduction, main body and a conclusion. The ‘LSE’ essay structure can be described as ‘say what you’re going to say (intro), say it in detail (main body), say what you’ve said (conclusion)’. Although this may appear repetitive, it offers the reader great clarity. Also, if you think about the executive summary, background, analysis and conclusions / recommendations sections of a business report, you can see that a similar structure holds.

In your essay, try to follow this structure for your essay sections.


        Statement about the context of the question – explain why the question in important (either in the ‘real’ world or for the discipline of economics)

        Give you answer to the question

        Summarise your argument in support of this answer – this summary should match the order of your paragraphs

Main body

        Decide on the most logical order of your paragraphs – this might be importance, chronology or causation, but the basic flow should be simple and clear

Start each paragraph with a sentence that clearly addresses the question itself – this will be your thesis for the paragraph and if a reader only read these opening sentences, they should make sense one after the other and provide a summary of your argument

Follow the opening ‘topic’ sentence with your reasoning and evidence for why this opening statement is valid. Be specific, not general. The more detail you can bring in, the more expert you will sound and the more persuasive your argument will be

ConclusionSummarise your argument again – as you did in the intro (different words though!)

        Restate your answer to the essay question

        So what? – say what the significance of your answer is either in the ‘real’ world or to the discipline of economics


        List the books / articles you read while researching your answer

Below you’ll find two essays written by students last year. Bearing the above in mind, decide which one makes the clearer argument and which, therefore, got the higher mark.

Essay 1

In the year 2000, there were auctions of spectrum rights for third generation mobile telephones in several European countries. These auctions generated very different amount of revenue in different countries. How can this be explained?

Auction theory as a very useful brunch of game theory is of the great interest of modern economists. Among other reasons of its popularity stands direct importance of its ideas to modern businesses and governments. Nowadays any business sector is more or less competitive, which requires all it’s participants to be dynamic and creative. Modernization and expansion is a vital part of modern business world. Governments, as owners of resources that allow businesses to expand and modernize, are always ready to sell those resources as it will eventually help businesses and certainly bring revenues.

The best way for government to sell available resources is to declare an auction. That’s where auction theory comes into play. Modern auction theory is a very powerful tool for designing auctions of very profitable kind. Proper auction design will rise maximum amount of money for the government and provide companies with resources they need. However actions that maximize profits for the government have a direct influence also on the life of the citizens, as Dixit puts it: "…because of significant contributions the budget, auctions affect important macroeconomic magnitudes, such as interest rates".

So, auctions held by government, and to be more specific properly designed actions directly influence the life of modern country. In this essay I would like to make a kind of short review of auctions of spectrum rights for third generation mobile phones held in Europe in year 2000. The peculiarity of these auctions lies in the fact that revenues that were generated by European governments are different as a result of differently designed actions they held. This fact allows as to trace features of the auctions that were successful and resulted in relatively high revenues for the government.

There were 6 European countries to held spectrum right auctions in 2000. They were: United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland. Let’s start with United Kingdom as it was the first country to hold such kind of auctions.

Strategy that United Kingdom had chosen was selling 5 licenses during classical ascending auction. Auction resulted in huge revenues: 650 euros per capita. Firstly it should be said that auctions as any normal business activity should be competitive in order to be effective. UK spectrum auction was relatively competitive attracting 13 participants. There are several reasons why this action attracted so many participants. Firstly, UK was the first country in the world to hold spectrum rights auction. Participants were not completely aware of the usefulness of 3G cell phones, but were eager to get competitive advantage in the new generation mobile communication technology. Secondly, UK sold 5 licenses to the market with 4 major phone operators. This fact attracted new entrants, since at least one of the licenses can be potentially won by new entrants to the market. Both this facts generated highly competitive auction environment and limited possible collusions. Result of the auction was a huge success for UK government.

The next country to run spectrum rights auction in 2000 was Netherlands. This auction raised 170 euros per capita. Reason of such flop, comparing to the British result was lack of competition. When auction were run there were 5 major phone operators for 5 licenses to be sold. Few entrants decided to participate in the auction, since everybody was sure that 5 licenses will be distributed among market leaders. Another factor that made things even worse was the fact that that was an ascending auction. In this case with few participants there is a risk of collusion among market leaders. Netherlands would have generated much more money if they would some how encourage competition and change the action design in such a way that it would be possible for participants other than market leaders to place bids independently of each other to reduce collusion (sealed bid).

Italy generated 240 euros per capita and attracted 6 participants. Italy intentionally reduced amount of participants by imposing a requirements that participant of the auction must satisfy. Such situation combined with the fact that Italian auction was ascending could result in possible collusions among competitors. As a result wrong auction design resulted in low revenues.

Swiss auction was a real flop. They generated only 20 euros per capita. Here amount of participants was also artificially limited by allowing participants to join into the groups. And the price that government accepts was also reduced for some reason. Number of participants was sufficient to run profitable auction, but combination of officially permitted collusions and low reserve price resulted in absolutely insufficient revenues.

German and Austrian auctions were similar. Number of participants in both countries’ auctions was low, which means that there were risks of collusion. Both countries sold licenses in blocks, allowing "number of winners be determined by bidders". Additionally Austrian government set a very low reserve price. Germany and Austria generated 615 and 100 euros per capita in revenue respectively. Germany designed auction in such a way that bids of two main market players were rationalized in a way that it resulted in high revenues.

Generally, the main difference in revenues generated from spectrum rights auctions can be explained by the difference in chosen auction design. Different auction design results in different amounts of money in revenues. Countries that tried to facilitate competitive bidding and limited the possibilities of collusion enjoyed high revenues.

Klemperer say that what really matters in auction design is "robustness against collusion and attractiveness to entry". Exactly the combination or lack of one of this factors resulted in the difference in the revenues generated by European countries. Any country that wants to increase revenues from auction must try to facilitate the competition among bidders by trying to make participation in auction as attractive as possible and eliminating any barriers for participation. There should be no cooperation between participants, as it will result in lower bids and as a consequence in low revenues. Countries should not choose auction design that facilitates collusion, as ascending auction in our case.

Of course there are several other reasons for difference in revenues, among them there is a fact that UK as a country that run the first spectrum rights auction in the world, might have enjoyed high revenues simply because participants were new to the licenses and had no idea of their true value. Overall economic situations in the counties as well as political might also result in differences in revenues. But the main reason for difference in profitability of the spectrum licenses auctions is difference in auction designs which were effective in some countries and not in the others.


A.K. Dixit and S. Skeath, Games of Strategy, 2nd edition, Norton, 2004

Paul Klemperer, Auctions: Theory and Practice Electronic version of book on http://www.paulklemperer.org/index.htm

Essay 2

In the year 2000, there were auctions of spectrum rights for third generation mobile telephones in several European countries. These auctions generated very different amount of revenue in different countries. How can this be explained?

In the year 2000, European auctions of 3G mobile telecommunication licenses raised over 100 billion euros in government revenues. The countries that participated were United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. There was a big differential between revenues raised in each country with United Kingdom leading at 650 euros per capita and Switzerland coming in last at 20 euros per capita. The reasons for this big discrepancy in revenues is likely due to poor auction designs and the sequence in which the auctions took place.

When it comes to auction design, the two crucial components are attracting entry and preventing collusion. Ascending auctions encourage bidders to act collusively and deter weaker potential bidders as they know that the stronger bidder will always out bid him. On the other hand, (first-price) sealed-bid auctions act in the opposite direction from ascending auctions. It does not give bidders a chance to collude and encourages weaker bidders to participate. However, the disadvantage of using a sealed-bid auction is that it is more likely to lead to inefficient results than an ascending auction. The reason for this is that sometimes bidders with a lower value may beat opponents with a higher value. Hence, there is no perfect auction design and they must be customized to suit different environments and targets.

United Kingdom was the first to hold the auctions and they are a good example of how a well-planned auction design and good marketing strategies can lead to a favourable outcome. As there were five licenses and 4 incumbents, they had an ascending auction. To prevent collusion, each license could not be shared and each bidder was allowed no more than one license. Also, the fact that at least one license was available to new entrants lead to fierce competition from nine new entrants. To top it all off, UK had a solid marketing strategy which was planned over three years (1997 – 2000). All this helped contribute to UK raising 39 billion euros and being the most successful out of all the countries that took part in the 3G auctions.

Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland made the mistake of following UK and carrying out an ascending auction when a sealed-bid auction would have served them better. This resulted in revenues less than that achieved by UK.

In the case of Netherlands, they had five licenses and five incumbents. This deterred new entrants as well as facilitated collusion. For example, Deutsche Telekom colluded with local incumbents to bid for a 3G license. A sealed-bid would have worked better as this would have discouraged joint bidding, raise higher revenues as well as give new entrants a glimmer of hope.

Italy had their auction next but failed to learn from Netherlands and UK. Their auction design was not robust and failed to adapt to the environment in Italy. They adopted the UK design but had the additional rule that if bidders did not exceed licenses, the number of licenses would be reduced. They did not realize that having one more bidder than license does not assure that the outcome will be competitive. Also, Italy had failed to anticipate that firms would react differently to those in Netherlands and UK as they now had more information. Hence, weaker bidders were discouraged by previous auctions and did not bother to participate and since the participation rate was low, it made it easier for the strong bidders to collude. A bad auction design that was not tailored to the Italian environment and a low reserve price resulted in Italy only earning less than 25 billion euros.

Switzerland was the most unsuccessful amongst all the countries that held the auctions. It raised only 20 euros per capita in its ascending auction and this can be attributed to an unfeasible auction design, badly formulated rules and an absurdly low reserve price. Since the beginning, weaker bidders were deterred by the auction form. They felt that they did not stand a chance against the strong bidders and hence did not bother participating. This resulted in little competition. Furthermore, The Swiss government committed auction suicide when they permitted last-minute joint-bidding! This resulted in nine bidders colluding to become just four. The last mistake that the Swiss government made was to set a reserve price that was way too low. Since there were four licenses and four bidders, bidders ended up paying only the reserve price.

Germany and Austria chose a more complicated auction design.

Germany’s auction design was an ascending auction of twelve blocks of spectrum from which bidders could create four three-block licenses or six two-block licenses. Germany’s auction design was very susceptible to collusion and deterring new entrants but they were lucky and managed to earn high revenues.

Austria, on the other hand, adopted Germany’s auction design but was not so lucky and only earned 100 euros per capita. The reason for this was that there were 6 bidders competing for 12 blocks of spectrum and a very low reserve price (one-eight of the reserve price in Germany). So instead of trying to get three blocks of spectrum, the bidders divided the 12 blocks of spectrum equally and paid the reserve price. This reason lead to Austria earning less per capita revenue than UK and Germany.

The other factor that affected the amount of revenue earned by each country was the sequence in which the auctions took place. Looking at the results of the 3G auctions held in 2000, it can be seen that the most successful auctions were the first of their type (United Kingdom and Germany). The reason for this is that between auctions, bidders learnt from previous auctions, came up with new strategies and learnt more about their rivals. However, the auction designs remained almost the same and were unable to keep up with the new ideas the bidders had come up with. This resulted in the later auctions not being as successful as the first.

In conclusion, the reason for the different revenues earned amongst the countries that took part in the 3G auctions is due to the auction designs and the sequence in which they took place. Revenues depend on how well the auction design is able to attract entry and prevent collusion. Also, it has to be able to adapt to new environments. For example, a good auction design takes into account the information bidders have and the knowledge they have gained from previous auctions. A sensible reserve price is of high importance as well and should not be overlooked like in the case of Switzerland and Germany. Lastly, auction design is not "one size fits all" and the failure of the government to design an auction that suited the country’s environment lead to different revenues being earned.


A.K. Dixit and S.Skeath, Games of Strategy, 2nd edition, Norton, 2004

Professor Kenneth Binmore, "Economic Theory Sometimes Works"

Essay 1 Essay 2

Writing for Economics



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Practice exam questions

Chinese Economy Exemplar Student Essay

  • Levels: A Level, IB
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC
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Between 2011 and 2013 China poured 6.6 gigatons of cement – more than the amount used by the USA during the entire 20th century. That single statistic encapsulates both the successes and failures of 21st Century China.

On the one hand you have the unprecedented levels of supply side investment building up the capital stock and fueling growth. Yet on the other hand you have the excess that has lead to serious concerns.

One fundamental success of the modern Chinese story has been growth. Since 2009 alone its economy has more than doubled in size, and it has increased 11 times over since 1998 to grow to $11.01 trillion in 2015. It is claiming an increasing share of world output (as measured by GDP). Adjusted for purchasing power parity, China has overtaken the USA to account for a 17.65% share, the worlds largest. The nation has accounted for 1/3 of global growth this millennium.

China’s centrality to the global economy consequently gives it huge influence around the world; it has a big voice in institutions like the UN (as a permanent member of the Security Council) and the World Bank, and also has significant leverage when brokering trade deals – access to Chinese markets and capital is increasingly attractive. China is currently negotiating 9 different bi-lateral trade deals with countries from the Maldives to Norway and existing deals with dozens of others. This is one example of the positive multiplier effect of growth, as these trade deals lay the foundations for further growth.

You can evaluate this by saying that this growth has come at a cost – China has some of the worst environmental problems in the world. According to the world bank 53 billion tonnes of untreated industrial and household sewage make there way into China’s waterways, 70% of which are affected. The situation has gotten so bad that China will face water scarcity by 2030 unless serious interventions are undertaken, with 300 million people already without access to safe water. Substances from cadmium to arsenic have been found in river water. Although anti-pollution laws exist, in many regions they are lightly enforced with businesses often given significant leeway due to their economic importance.

In response China has committed $625 billion to better managing the environment, but considering the range of issues it faces this may not be enough. To water scarcity, you can add; desertification, overgrazing, soil salinization, soil erosion a loss of biodiversity and air pollution. Many of these challenges have arisen due to increasingly intensified farming practices that are required to feed China’s ever-growing population., particularly the middle classes that are now demanding far more meat than the Chinese agricultural system was ever expected to produce. As animal farming is far more land and water intensive than crop farming, these problems are more likely to get worse than better.

Air pollution is a particularly salient issue in China. It is home to 16 of the worlds 20 most polluted cities and leads the world in smog-related respiratory and cardio-vascular disease deaths. 25.5 million tonnes of acid rain falls every year, thanks to the sulfur dioxide and black carbon that pours out of China’s thousands of coal fired power stations (provide 70% of total power) and steel/chemical plants. More people own a car in China than ever before and that has been the major contribution in the last two decades, with exhaust emissions added to an already toxic mess. Beijing suffered major public relations damage in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics over concerns surrounding the Beijing smog, and air quality concerns could become a road-block to further events of this magnitude. The contribution to global warming is also of great concern, as is the burden of the pollution related disease on the economy.

As the Chinese economy ages, its workforce will become sicker and it does not need the extra burden of workers missing days and needing hospital care.

It is also leveraging this growth into broadening its soft power. It has the third most voting power in both the World Bank and the IMF – evidence of the dividends of this is the decision by the IMF to make the renminbi a part of the Special Drawing Rights basket of currencies, a major step in the renminbi’s rise to global reserve currency status. Not satisfied with influencing existing institutions, China has founded the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which many have touted as a rival to the World Bank. With the combined weight of 21 Asian nations behind it and free from US or UN influence, the bank has attracted western support from the likes of the UK and the USA.

The bank fits neatly into the Chinese Governments biggest project ‘The New Silk Road’ which is designed to increase trade with Eurasia and Africa. China has been investing billions in East Africa over the last 20 years, with $26 billion spent in 2013 alone, mostly in resource exploitation, but returns are limited by the poor capital stock of the region. The same Is true across much of central Asia. China is more familiar than any country of the power of supply side investment, so is happy to lend money and expertise, safe in the knowledge that they would share directly in the benefits of improved access and smoother supply chains, as well as closer ties with grateful governments. Perhaps the best indicator of China’s soft power success was the USA’s refusal to join the AAIB, perhaps out of wariness of China’s increasing sway.

Another, perhaps under-appreciated success of modern China has been the major rise in living standards. Relative to the USA, China was on a par with India in the early 1990s with just 5% of US GDP per capita (PPP). It is now overtaking Brazil, the one-time darling of development economists, and is approaching the 30% mark, a significant improvement in such as short space of time. Through large scale urbanization and growth China has reduced the poverty rate (measured as living on less than $1.25 a day) from 85% in 1981 to 27% in 2004, emancipating over 600 million people, with millions more escaping poverty since.

This increased wealth is most apparent in the 300 million strong middle class that could double by 2021. A larger middle class means that China has begun to rebalance its economy away from the cheap unit labour cost exports of the past, into a powerful tertiary sector founded upon domestic demand. The future of China looks less like FoxConn and more like Baidu.

Statistic: China: growth rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) from 2010 to 2021 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Whilst total poverty may have fallen, relative income inequality has in fact worsened. A rising tide may lift all boats, but is does not lift them equally. The One-Child policy reinforced existing gender inequality, with men still having a significant advantage over women through all stages of life. Rapid urbanization has also created a growing gap between rural and urban populations, with government investment on infrastructure and services focused on population centres. The differences between Shanghai and an interior farming region are now extremely acute, which in the long run could lead to social and political tension. China’s Gini coefficient has risen far and fast, from 0.3 in the 1980s to 0.53 2013. The continued health of the one party system could be called into question if growth falters and the middle and working classes see their living standards stop rising,

Finally, China in recent years has made big progress in diversifying its economy as it matured. The image of China as low quality manufacturing hub filled with sweatshops is now woefully outdated. Thanks to the agglomeration effects of the Special Economic Zones first created in the 80’s, China has become a centre of innovation and economic complexity. It is at the forefront of mobile technology, with brands like Huawei and China Mobile recognised the world over. These corporations have huge international presence with Huawei alone investing $1.5 Billion in Africa over the last 20 years.

By becoming a more multi-faceted economy that was less dependent of exporting cheap manufactured goods to the West, China is better placed to absorb exogenous shocks. It was notable that China did not suffer as badly as many other major economies during the 2008 financial crisis (admittedly in part due to a strong fiscal stimulus plan).

While private companies may be thriving in the new China, state-owned enterprises are not doing as well. Like many SOEs, they struggle with x-inefficiency and without a profit motive they do not contribute to the innovation that would provide China with a competitive advantage in global trade. This is arguably seen in the well-earned reputation of SOE’s for having no respect for foreign intellectual property laws, as the SOE’s cannot develop their own ideas. Consequently, they hold back the economy, cornering parts of the economy the private sector could take further, as well as capturing the skilled workers in secure, well payed government jobs when their talents would be better exercised in a more competitive environment. It is also true that returns to investment are falling in China as the economy becomes steadily more leveraged. Areas of rapid growth are becoming fewer and further between (hence the expansion into East Africa) and household debt to GDP has more than doubled in ten years. The shock of the Shanghai stock crash of 2015 has lead to growing fears that Chinese economy is more fragile than previously thought. Its latest boom certainly bears the hallmarks of a crash waiting to happen; a large housing bubble and an overleveraged population.

In the short run, China appears to be a great success; combining rapid growth with poverty reduction, political stability and increased global standing. Yet in the long run its challenges are at risk of overwhelming it. The burden of an ageing, unbalanced population, the risk of the middle income trap, environmental issues and an over-leveraged economy is a potent cocktail of problems that threatens the long-term economic success and political stability.

Johnny Wallace

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  • Economics

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Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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