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I have created a separate blog for your economic assignments run through   This way you can set up your own account and manage your own passwords.

The site is

Setting up your account, if you did not receive the email:

  1. Go to and create an account.  You do not need to create a blog, just a wordpress account.
  2. Email me your wordpress username and I will add you to the blog.
To add a blog post (assignments):
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  3. Click Posts under Caution: Economics Students at Work
  4. Click Add New
  5. Enter your assignment information
  6. Add the correct categories and tags (category would be the assignment you are posting, tags would by your first name and any relevant key words)
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  7. Publish your Journal
I strongly recommend you write your journal in a word processing program first and then copy and paste it into wordpress.  This will allow you to take advantage of the grammar and spell checkers in Word as well as create a back-up of your journal just in case something happens to your post.
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Sample Journal – Level 70%

As I am now in my final year of high school I realize that a student’s main goal in today’s education system is to get high marks and get into the program and university of their choice. While personally, my marks are quite excellent – in fact, they are better than most – I realize that I do not have high enough grades to be accepted into my first choice university. These marks are the only thing standing between me and the post-secondary education I desire. Now I could, as many choose to do, attend a private school in the evenings in order to ameliorate my marks by retaking a few courses. Essentially, I would be paying hundreds of dollars for a course that is much simpler than one I would take in a regular school, and because of this I would get into the university program of my choice. However, this is an option I choose not to take, not because this path had a high cost, but being this path is an unethical one.

Students should not have the ability to pay money in order to make it easier for them to earn credits and higher grades. While it is beneficial to the students who partake in these programs, it has a negative impact on students who chose to work for their grades, as well as society as a whole.

Today, the education system in Ontario is in shambles. Our public schools are overcrowded and underfunded, and many students turn to the numerous private schools who will essentially sell top-notch marks to the highest bidder. These private schools make it very simple to obtain high marks in courses, and don’t even make the students work to earn academic success. These schools, nicknamed “credit mills”, are very beneficial to the students who chose to enroll in these programs. For a relatively small fee, they are able to forgo the stress and long hours which it normally takes to succeed in a course, all while achieving a better end result than those who’ve chosen to weather the storm of academic merit. By giving the students a much easier course, they make it easier for financially well off and morally bankrupt to get into the university programs of their choice. The students have an incentive to shell out money, and line the pockets of those who run these private schools. These students choose to spend their time on other endeavors they deem more important than academics and in effect are allowed more free time to advance themselves that the students in public school as they do not have the constraints given by tests and deadlines.

The use of credit mills to boost up marks in exchange for cash hurts the education system as well as the students who are a part of it. The education system’s allowance of these credit mills to exist communicates a message that they condone the cheapening of hard work, further dragging the decent name of public schools through the mud . The use of credit mills also hurts the students who choose to work for their grades. Students who choose to work for their grades must attend more classes, write more examinations and assessments and put in countless more hours per class than students who attend credit mills. After putting in all this extra effort, a student may still wind up with lower marks than someone who simply paid for their grade, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes time to apply for  universities and scholarships. Credit mills devalue hard work, and by allowing students to pay for grades we are telling them it is acceptable to not put in the required effort so long as you, or in most cases your parents, can afford to pay for your marks.

Credit mills also have a negative effect on society as a whole. By allowing students to pay for credits and grades, we are demonstrating the low value of hard work and the high value placed on buying what it is you want. By allowing students to pay for credits and grades, we are sometimes allowing less intelligent, less qualified, and morally questionable people rise up over those who work hard and are dedicated, which means that the professionals of tomorrow will often be less qualified than those who would have gotten in to the university programs based on merit. As a society which tries to instill the values of hard work, dedication, and integrity into our youth, how can we also allow members of society to do better simply because they are willing to pay more?

While paying for credits and higher marks sure makes things a lot easier for someone like me who would rather pay a bit of money than suffer through the inconvenience of having to work, students should not have the ability to do so. Due to this, private schools offering grades for a fee, also known as credit mills, should not be permitted to exist. They devalue the hard work of the majority of students and have a negative impact on our society. Paying for marks is wrong.

Sample Journal – 98%

                  “Credit mills makes your stress about marks fly away”

Just failed a test?

Your teacher said No to a retest?

Think your life is over?

If the answer to all these questions was “Yes” then be ready to blow away all your worries (that is if you have the money to pay up). Let me introduce you to the world of high school “credit mills”. It is a place where students  usually take a class or two outside their regular school.  So why do students seek to enroll in such private institutions for prices such as $ 7oo per credit while they can gain the same credit from a regular high school?

Well, with the increasing competition for spots in universities, students are very concerned about their marks and hope for their marks to improve. It seems that report card miracles take place in high school credit mills where marks increase substantially.

Provincial inspection reports obtained through interviews with students, teachers and principals, revealed:

  • Grades at some private schools arbitrarily increased upon request
  • Credits granted with less than half of mandatory class hours completed
  • Outdated curriculums, no lesson plans, no course outlines and missing student assessments
  • Difficult questions removed from exams
  • Teachers without proper qualifications and those who “do not understand” evaluation and assessment
  • Students permitted to take courses without the mandatory prerequisites
  • Rewriting of tests for $100
  • Students left to write tests with little supervision and access to the Internet.

After reading this, I would expect two reactions :

1.“This is paradise!!!”

2. “The horror, how is this injustice happening? Why are the teachers and the educational system handing out marks so easily?” ( I really hope this was your reaction)

Well this can be explained through the incentives and opportunity costs that are introduced into the equation by students paying money for their credits. Incentives are used to motivate or prevent people from doing certain  things . There are three types of incentives: moral, social and economic incentives. Economic incentives play an important role in credit mills. These incentives are effective for both parties, the students and the school receive some kind of economic gain. In this case, the schools and teachers handing out marks receive a monetary gain as the fees they collect from the students. In turn, the students receive the desired marks, an economic gain. It has been reported that students who have failed to have even passed the Grade 10 Literacy Test have gone “on to get 91 per cent in Grade 12 English at a private school”.

Moral incentives are another factor that affect the decision making skills of teacher. You would think that the fact, “handing out marks for money is ethically incorrect” is crystal clear. However, it seems the exact opposite thing is taking place. The fact that students are paying large amounts of money for the credit has said to make teachers more sympathetic to their students. Teachers believe that since the student is paying for the mark, the “right” thing to do would be to give he or she the mark in return as well.

Tariq Butt, principal of a private high school in Toronto which was shut down by the province last year said:

“I might, without wanting to, award them slightly higher grades. That is part of the equation . . . This is true across the board, even at schools that I work with.”

These incentives are capable of working miracles in sudden mark boosts and changing people’s behaviour. They use opportunity costs to alter someone’s decisions or actions to those you want. Opportunity cost is the most highly sacrificed alternative. It is basically the value of the “next-best” choice. In this case, the opportunity cost is the actual education student could have obtained by working hard and studying.

The idea of a private high school “credit mill” might sound nice. You might think “why shouldn’t I simply attend one of these high schools that will grab me a spot in the university I want with minimum effort”. Your ultimate goal is to enter university AND graduate from it successfully. The private school might guarantee, you a spot in university but it won’t guarantee you to be successful in university. In fact, it leaves you worst off and sets you up to fail miserable in university. Enrolling in a high school credit mill will encourage you to slack off and not actually work hard for your mark. Simply buying marks will not ensure that you will successfully make the transition from high school to university. Credit mills might give youthe desired marks but by choosing this option, you give up your chance to learn and gain a real education which will be your opportunity costs.

High school credit mills provide a way to grab spots in the desired program and university of one’s choice by giving the mark for the buck. However this brings up the question: Is this system equitable, efficient and equitable?

1. Efficiency

An economy is said to be efficient when it takes all opportunities to make someone better off without making other people worst off. It might seem like credit mills are very efficient on the surface: Students are happy getting high marks which most likely will guarantee them a spot in university and the schools are happy receiving the money.

Looks like everyone benefits, right? You’re WRONG!

Credit mills might get students into universities but with the same speed they get in, they get out. Credit mills give students high marks but not a quality education. Students who pay for these grades are worst off for they will fail in university for lacking the proper foundation and training needed to survive university. The even horrifying part is that the credit mills make students academically deserving worst off. With the competition and cut-offs for acceptances and scholarships in top universities such as McGill increasing every year, students work harder to achieve high grades. The reality is that these deserving students might never get  a chance to enter university for students academically less deserving have stolen their spots through credit mills. In a Toronto Star article, it was stated that “There are kids getting scholarships based on false documents. They take (university spots) they shouldn’t be getting and then flunk out because they’re not ready. It’s undermining the integrity of education”. Credit mills are inefficient.

2. Equality

Equality means that everyone gets his or her equal share. It means that the benefits of resources are distributed equally among the members of society. If credit mills resulted in equal outcomes, each student will have an equal opportunity to receive scholarships and acceptance to universities but that is not the case here. Not every student can afford to pay the high price of $500 to $700 to earn credits at private schools. Students who have the luxury to pay for their mark have a greater chance at getting into university proving that this system creates inequality.

3. Equity

Equity is defined as the benefits of resources being distributed fairly among the members of society. He or she gets a fair share. One might reason that it is fair for a student to receive a high mark since she paid for it. Take a second and think, what are marks supposed to reflect? That’s right, your knowledge and understanding of concepts. How is it fair that a student who studies day and night, does homework regularly receives a 90 in Calculus from a regular high school while a student who skips class, doesn’t hand in assignments still ends up with a 98, an even higher mark in Calculus from a high school credit mill. This system is nothing but unfair.

With all the frustration pent up, one starts to wonder if there are any solutions to this problem. Well…

1. “P” on the transcript

Two years ago, the Ministry of Education tried resolving this issue of grade inflation caused by credit mills by placing a “P” in the school transcript to make university administrators aware that these marks were received from a private school. However, instead of presenting a solution, the “P” on the transcript has only caused more confusion. University officials are unsure of how to distinguish credit mill schools from legitimate private schools such as Upper Canada College. The registrar of University of Waterloo, Ken Lavigne has said that they simply disregard the “P” notation.

By introducing the “P” notation, the Ministry of Education did make it clearer which credits were earned through private schools.  However, the Ministry still needs to keeping working on bring more clarity to which private school, the credit comes from. A renown institution  such as Upper Canada College or a high school credit mill as Toronto Collegiate Institute look the same on a transcript with the “P” notation. A possibility could be that instead of a P, the name of the school could appear on the transcript.

2. STANDARDIZED TESTING: SATs, subject tests

Like subject tests and SATs held in the United States, the idea of standardized testing could be considered as a way to eliminate credit-mills. A standardized test would discourage private schools from handing out marks easily. While the present marking system should continue to exist, universities can use the results from standardized testing to make a better judgement of the student’ performance (equally weighted?). SATs might not be needed to be introduced into the system since Ontario already has a Literacy test and EQAO to test students’ knowledge of English and Mathematics. However, subject tests can be introduced to test the knowledge of specific courses. This would encourage private schools to provide students with a quality education instead of simply handing out marks for the buck.

3. More Inspections: a closer eye on private schools

The Ministry of Education should boost the frequency of provincial inspections. The inspections should not only deal with the health and safety of the learning environment but also the quality of learning presented at the school. They should monitor schools that are underperforming and have surprise visits. At present, there are 358 credit-granting private schools and only 28 “education officers” charged with inspecting the schools. At this ratio, the frequency of such visits will be really low. The Ministry of Education should try to find the resources, to hire more education officers. However, there remains one force, ever strong that can help: the Media. The Toronto Star press covered many articles last year on credit mills, uncovering the injustice happening. The media should continue exposing schools and the individuals behind this system to the world. Such actions will set a social incentive discouraging credit mills from conducting business ventures in the name of “private schools” in the fear of how society is going to judge them.

BOTTOM LINE: Credit Mills are a BAD thing.

Credit mills tell “you that you are smarter than you think” (TCI’s slogan).  Of course, you are smarter than you think that’s why you aren’t going to sacrifice your valuable education by attending such credit mills.

The Apple iEconomy: A Positive or Negative Development?

The iPod: the new standard.

It used to be cars –even refrigerators or air-conditioning that was the common measure of household standards. Now, with 51% of American households (that’s 55 million homes! ) owning at least one Apple product, it seems that having any device created by Steve Jobs is quickly becoming the new standard.

Since Apple Inc. was first incorporated on January 3rd, 1977 in Cupertino,California, the company has grown to become one of the most powerful and successful companies in the world, achieving a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

Apple’s line of computers and consumer electronics, including the iPhone and the ubiquitous line of iPods, have revolutionized our interaction with technology so much so that the company has been named as the most admired in the world  for the past five consecutive years by Fortune magazine.

The problem with Apple’s success however, is that it seems to be achieving it like many other successful companies: outsourcing labour to the cheaper Asian markets and maximizing profits by cutting expenses to the bare minimum. We’ve heard this story many times before; big powerful company wants lower costs so big powerful company applies pressure to their suppliers who, in turn, exploit their workers.  But what’s Apple’s story?

If anyone was searching for evidence to counter the benefits we have received from Apple’s products, they really could just follow the company’s supply chain, a feat made easier now that Apple has released it’s list of 2011 suppliers.

It all starts when officials from companies around the world arrive in Apple’s Cupertino offices, or invite Apple executives to visit their foreign factories. These companies are all vying for one goal: to become a supplier. The process can be broken down into two parts: suppliers specify the costs of their labour and the parts, and then Apple calculates how much it will pay for each part. Most suppliers are allowed only the slimmest of profits. As a result, suppliers often try to cut corners in order to maximize their profits and keep their lower-cost business model competitive and attractive to Apple. With so many suppliers clamouring for a piece of Apple’s pie, the company has the power to ensure that these suppliers are giving them the lowest price possible, lest they pick another supplier who could offer an better and cheaper alternative.

With its market power and ability to dictate terms to its electronic components suppliers, Apple can be thought of as a monopsonist.

If you merely mention that Apple’s production operates in an imperfectly competitive form, any economist can automatically tell you that the company is not operating in a way that achieves the highest possible gain to society.

Instead of paying for a quantity that would be considered socially optimal, Apple purchases less from its manufacturers than what it need to match the demand for Apple products. At this quantity (Q*), the company should be paying its suppliers at PA, but they instead pay the lowest price they can – P*.

That economically dreaded triangle that forms, called deadweight loss, is the clearest indicator of economic inefficiency; further transactions that could have occurred do not and supplier and buyer welfare is not maximized.

All of this is done because Apple wants to maximize its profits, and since they are preventing mutually beneficial trade with its suppliers from occurring, Apple has generated a market failure.

At this point, I don’t think any of you are clutching your iPods in despair over the deadweight loss that this device has incurred, which makes sense since no one is really going to start a protest accusing the whole institution of impeding the global economy because the company stole its suppliers’ theoretical economic surplus.

If anything has riled up consumers against Apple, it would be the recent string of news regarding chemicals-related injuries, suicides, and factory explosions which have all exposed the public to the troubling practices inside many of Apple’s suppliers.

Fifteen Foxconn workers threatened a mass suicide in order to protest the working conditions of the factory.

If you own an Apple product, chances are it got its start  in one of the Chinese factories owned by Foxconn, a Taiwanese tech company who work closely with Apple to assemble the iPhone, the iPad, and various Macintosh computers.

Compared to our standards, conditions in these factories are dismal. The 230,000 employees often work 12 hour days, 6 days a week. The average worker earns less than $17 a day, and over a quarter of these employees live in the cramped company barracks. As workers fulfill their various jobs, assembling the numerous i-gadgets or cleaning screens, aluminum dust fills the air. The lack of proper ventilation only adds to the health problems of the workers, and was the reason behind the two aluminum dust explosions in Foxconn and another Apple supplier.

To Apple’s credit, they are doing some part to deal with these issues. They recently launched a supplier responsibility initiative, which is why the list of suppliers was released in the first place. This initiative involves the implementation of their supplier code of conduct which details standards on labor issues, safety protections and other topics. Apple audits its suppliers regularly and when abuses are discovered, the company demands corrections.

According to the company, these audits have found consistent violations of Apple’s code of conduct. In 2007, two-thirds of the thirty-six plus audited suppliers indicated that employees regularly worked more than 60 hours a week. In extreme cases, 15 year-olds were hired, and records were falsified. Over the next three years, Apple conducted more than 300 audits, and each year, more than half indicated that employees were working extended overtime. Last year, of the 229 audits conducted, 93 facilities still had workers exceeded the 60-hours-a-week work limit.

Notice a pattern? This lack of change might be explained by a former executive involved in Apple’s supplier responsibility group: ”Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time.”

For the suppliers, following Apple’s supplier’s code obviously means higher expenses. Since the code isn’t enforced strongly, there’s no incentive for suppliers to change their ways except maybe for the sake of morality. Oftentimes in business, that’s hardly a strong enough incentive. ”The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper,” states an executive at one company that helped bring the iPad to market. ”And then they’ll come back the next year, and force a 10 % price cut.” This only perpetuates the working conditions as companies replace expensive chemicals with cheaper and more toxic alternatives, and force employees to work faster and longer.

Working conditions aren’t the only underlying issues with Apple’s supply chain system.  For Americans, it’s the fact that, of all the people needed to engineer, build, and assemble Apple’s products, barely any of them work for the United States since they are all outsourced to the cheaper Asian factories like Foxconn. For the U.S., that’s 700,000 jobs  that could alleviate its job crises and high unemployment levels.

But does all this information and statistics actually show that Apple has done more harm to the global economy than it has done good?

The benefits that Apple has provided to the world and its economy is more obvious than the drawbacks. We can not deny that Apple has transformed our relationship with technology. The multi-functioning aspects of Apple’s products have given its consumers greater convenience and functionality, raising our standards for what we expect from any of our electronic devices. Music and media interaction has evolved into a whole other level; iPods and iTunes have changed the way in which we listen to music by adding the feature of instant access. Visual communication production was changed when the Mac computers allowed typesetting, retouching, illustration, and film editing to become available to the average consumer.

Apple’s innovations and designs have paved the way for further technological development –either through the competition generated or the firm’s own motivation to outdo themselves, that has benefited society as a whole. These spillover benefits created indicate that there are not enough Apple products out in the market to meet the amount that society wants. 

With all that’s said and done, we still demand more of their products because they’ve truly made our lives better. The cheap labour and the pressure placed on suppliers where the biggest criticism of Apple lies? That sounds an awful lot like what other companies such as Walmart is doing), and the millions of Walmart’s daily consumers are all snapping up the lower-cost products without consideration for any of the implications. In terms of Apple’s manufacturing process, the company also doesn’t stray to far from its less mighty, but still successful competitors. It’s estimated that 40% of the world’s consumer electronics are produced in Foxconn’s factories, including products from brands such as Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung. So why are we all so hung up on Apple’s misgivings? Maybe the answer is because Apple is good for the economy. So we expect it to do better; in short, we expect Apple to achieve maximum greatness for the world.

With recession-proof annual earnings of $108 billion, all of Apple’s success seems to oblige them to do even more, especially for their home economy. That’s because Apple is “the quintessential example of the Yankee magic that everyone from Barack Obama to Michele Bachmann insists will pullAmerica out of its job crisis.”

Apple may be a technological pioneer, but that doesn’t mean it’s holding the key to saving the American economy, waiting for the perfect moment to release the ultimate iSolution, perhaps through a press conference in San Diego.

First off, just as the previous graph indicates, the positive externalities generated from the firm’s products means Apple needs to supply more of its gadgets, and they are already having trouble meeting that current demand. Given that Asia, with it flexible labour and environmental rules, and bountiful population of unskilled workers can’t churn out enough suppliers or workers to meet up with the demand, there’s not much to be said about the U.S.  Even if Apple was able to find hundreds of thousands of workers willing to work a low-skill job, the only logical move in opening some manufacturers in the U.S. is to move the entire supply chain there, which is not easily replicable in the short-run. A supply chain in America would increase labour and production costs, which would ultimately jack up the price of any Apple product. Now, you’ll actually have a protest accusing the whole institution of impeding the global economy.

Since we’re evaluating Apple’s contribution to the world’s economy, it actually doesn’t matter that there’s a lot of foregone job possibilities in the U.S. Other countries have those jobs and opportunities, and that benefits the global economy through theirs instead. Of course, conditions at most of these manufacturers are far from ideal, but this negative development can’t be entirely blamed on Apple. Other companies employ either the same factories, or other manufacturer that use similar tactics. Apple’s fault does not lie in the fact that they are mistreating their workers, it’s more because they are not using their full market power to make other companies, like their suppliers, change their ways. At the end of the day, no matter how an Apple product is created, the output from these suppliers still contribute something to the economy, even if some of these conditions are less than ideal.

As the iPod travels through its production & supply chain, it attributes value to each of the countries that its 451 parts come from. When the research was conducted, the $299 U.S. retail value of the iPod can be broken down like this: $73 from Toshiba’s hard drive, $20 from the display module, $13 for the video/multimedia processor and controller chip, and the assembly at $4. Countries where any of Apple’s devices are created and assembled, like Japan,China, and Korea, all have extra value added into their economy because of Apple. The U.S. benefits the most from this; with the iPod, $163 of its value was captured by Apple’s conception and design of the product, and the distribution, retail, and domestic components from other American companies and workers.

If that value-added wasn’t enough and the U.S. still wants to complain about the fact that Apple hasn’t been an effective driver of job growth at home, they should look at it this way: Apple has still generated 46,000 direct jobs in their home country. Indirectly, the iOS app economy has created about 210,000 jobs. Add in the figures from the huge number of accessory manufacturers that have sprung up in theU.S., and the employment impact is even greater.

So really, if you combine their technological innovations, employment generation, massive sales, and you know, the fact that they have allowed you to listen to music without hauling a boombox on your shoulder (a reduction in muscle strain injuries does benefit the economy in some form), Apple has been a positive development for the world.

We may be holding on to the negative aspects of Apple’s growth because we consider Apple the modern variation of the American dream, just reformatted into a glossier, sleeker, and cleaner package. The Apple logo conjures up an image of thinkers and entrepreneurs that have used innovation to propel us further into the future than we ever thought possible. And because of this idea, we also expect them to champion a human rights labour movement and reconstruct the American manufacturing industry. Whether they do so or not, you can’t deny that they have impacted our lives and the economy at a greater degree than any of the negative developments the company is associated with. And that’s clearly the anodized-aluminum case with the iPod you pop in your earphones to listen to music with.

Asbestos, Definitely Not Best For Os

Imagine being winded by a half block walk, fighting to catch your breath as your lungs slowly harden, gasping for air against a disease that will eventually suffocate you. Pretty scary right? Welcome to the world of asbestosis, a disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres, and a disease for which there is no cure. Asbestos, when it was discovered in 1879, was called “white gold,” today, it is banned in 50 countries. The World Health Organization has identified asbestos as being amongst the most dangerous occupational carcinogens in the world, causing diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, in addition to asbestosis. Knowing this, it comes as little surprise that Canada has effectively banned asbestos for domestic use. What is surprising, and perhaps shocking, is that next to Russia, Canada is the second largest exporter of asbestos to Asia. What do you do when you have lots of a carcinogenic substance that nobody is willing to use at home? Export it, of course; to countries like India where the health standards are much lower. This is exactly what Canada is doing, and so the question becomes whether Canadian companies should be allowed to mine, market and sell asbestos.

Asbestos is, without a doubt, a very useful substance. Asbestos was once a global commodity that was known as a “magic mineral” because of its insulating and fire resistant properties. The usefulness of the substance is seen by the fact that at one point, asbestos was everywhere, you could find it in houses, cars, factories, and thousands of both household and industrial products. It was used in all kinds of insulation and was in practically everything ranging from brake pads, paint, cement, sidings, shingles, pipes, ceiling and floor tiles, and clutch facings, all the way to crayons. In fact, asbestos was considered so valuable at one point that the American military planned to defend the Quebec mines if Germany ever gained control of Canada. Asbestos cement was also used to make Winston Churchill’s bunker during World War II. It is evident that asbestos is an extremely useful and versatile substance, both durable and relatively cheap, so why should we be banning it?

This question can be answered by three words: asbestos, causes, cancer. The banning of asbestos exports was never a question of its usefulness, the problem is the massive market failure associated with it. Namely, negative externalities. For all its benefits, the use of asbestos is also coupled with extreme negative impacts. As mentioned before, exposure to asbestos, a carcinogen, leads to the diseases asbestosis and mesothelioma. People often express concern for the people working in asbestos factories, but simply improving conditions at asbestos factories only solves part of the problem, because the negative externalities don’t end there. The primary exposure is not to factory workers; it is to people such as construction workers, masons, plumbers and electricians, whose job it is to do things like cutting through asbestos pipes, sheets and tiles all day. Not only that, people working in buildings made with asbestos are exposed to it each and every day. And if that isn’t bad enough, the families of those working in asbestos factories are also exposed to the fibres that are brought back to the house. A girl named Cavanagh Matmor’s grandmother died of exposure from fibres her husband, who worked in a Toronto factory with asbestos, brought into the house with him. The World Health Organization reports that each year more than 100, 000 people die from diseases due to asbestos exposure, and more will continue to die, as 125 million people are exposed to asbestos at work each and every day. Those are some pretty scary numbers, and the failure of asbestos is summed up pretty well by Dr. Amir Attaran’s description of asbestos use in his country, “It’s a scientific failure, a clinical failure, and a social and moral failure of India. It is a failure of culture and science.”

That’s a pretty fancy suit you got there! Wait…why doesn’t the other guy have one?

The negative externalities associated with asbestos exposure are obvious, so why does demand for it continue to exist in developing nations such as India and Indonesia? After all, you can’t really say it’s our fault if they know what they’re getting into but keep asking for more right? Well, first off, the negative externalities may not be so obvious to the workers in these nations because their employers hide that information from them, and they do not have the education to read the English warnings on the bags they carry. There are two major reasons why the demand for asbestos in these countries continues to exist, and even grow: lax limitations on control and use, and the fact that the people are poor. With limited regulations, there is nothing to stop companies from using asbestos, so they don’t stop. Banning asbestos in Canada and selling it abroad is basically saying “we don’t care who dies from asbestos, just as long as it isn’t us.” In Canada, buyer’s preferences have shifted completely away from asbestos now that people are aware of the health risks, so much so that the government has banned its use, but that hasn’t prevented Canada from shipping it out to other nations with poorer regulations. In these places, a worker might have cloth tied over their face as safety equipment at best. Durai Swami, who worked with asbestos for 24 years has the right idea when he says, “In Canada, you have all these safety measures. In my country, they’ve left us to carry it and die.” Yet they continue to work because the economic incentive of even a meagre wage outweighs the potential health risk. To them, asbestosis or no asbestosis, they need a job and the industry employs 100, 000 people directly, and a further 300, 000 indirectly. These countries also have many people, and many poor people. India, with a growing population of 1.2 billion, presents a huge number of buyers creating demand for the product. It isn’t difficult to understand why people in these nations continue to use asbestos, considering that asbestos cement sheets are both durable and cheap, costing half as much as roofing made of galvanized steel or tin, and lasting twice as long. An economic incentive that great becomes difficult to pass up, which explains why Asia’s share of the world’s asbestos use went from 14% during 1920 to 1970, all the way up to 33 percent from 1971 to 2000, and currently sits at 64%. However, there will be a huge price to pay, as Dr. Arthur Frank, Chairman of Environmantal and Occupational Health at Drexel University explains, “What we can expect is very predictable – an absolute catastrophe of death and disease.”

It is understandable why people in India continue to use asbestos, what is less understandable is how Canada can continue to justify these exports to its population. We know what is happening with our asbestos once it gets to other nations, we know the damaging impacts it has, the statistics are right in front of us. So if we think and know it is wrong, why doesn’t the population force the government to ban exports? One possibility is that the Canadian asbestos is mined in Quebec. Because of the cultural and language differences, Quebec’s affairs are somewhat separated from the rest of Canada, as if they were practically two separate nations. Without the rest of Canada as involved, there isn’t as much pressure on the federal government, and so the key to Canada’s asbestos lies with the Quebec government. This is because without the $58 million loan guarantee from the Premier, the industry will have to cease operations. However, whether from Quebec or the rest of Canada, Canadian asbestos is all the same to workers in India and Indonesia, and the damage is done to Canada’s reputation as a whole. The only way politicians such as Stephen Harper and Jean Charest will make changes to Canada’s position on asbestos is if there is sufficient pressure from the public, and so even if the population is opposed to it, perhaps the isolation of the industry in Quebec is preventing that pressure from building.

It’s plausible that the isolation of asbestos mining to Quebec prevents public pressure in Canada from building up to a great extent, but that doesn’t explain how Canada as a nation can justify exporting a carcinogen on a global scale. After all, the conservative government just decided to block an international agreement that would include asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention watch list of hazardous materials. Bernard Coulombe, owner of the Jeffrey asbestos mine, said, “We don’t want to be on a banned list, that would bring shame for us.” Obviously exporting a carcinogen that you won’t touch yourself to developing nations, simply because they are poorer and have lower regulatory standards, isn’t shameful at all. The Canadian Cancer Society said it was an “unethical decision” and that it was left “shocked and embarrassed.” Canada’s decision certainly didn’t help its international reputation as a fair dealer, but that doesn’t mean it was baseless either. Believe it or not, Canada does have some legitimate justification for its asbestos. Canadian chrysotile is supposed to be of higher quality and safer than other forms of asbestos, and is valued as the industry standard. “Chrysotile” is the recent rebranding of Canada’s white asbestos, which seems suspiciously like slapping a new name on the same product so as to move away from the damaged name of asbestos. In any case, John Nicodemus, an executive director of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association of India says, “Canadian fibres are amongst the best in the world – that is why most companies prefer Canadian fibres first.” Conservatives and the mining industry contend that chrysotile is less harmful than the much more toxic blue and brown asbestos other countries produce, and that it is safe if handled properly. And they are correct, Canada’s asbestos is the best out there, so if they’re going to use asbestos anyways, may as well give them the best. However, the key words to note here are “less harmful” and “if handled properly.” “Less harmful” just means that Canada is the best, the best of the worst that is, which doesn’t make it good, as WHO has stated that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Moreover, “if handled properly” is a very big if, considering activists in India argue that there is no such thing as safe use in the country because occupational safety isn’t practised, regulations aren’t enforced, workers’ health isn’t monitored, and there is severe poverty.

The Conservatives try to defend their chrysotile, and the difference in quality is a legitimate argument, to some extent, but no matter what quality asbestos, it certainly isn’t helping Canada’s international reputation. So what reason does the government have to swallow the damage to its status? The answer seems to be entirely political. Taking on asbestos exportation is difficult for the Conservatives, or any political party, because of the industry opposition. The Conservatives are very firm in their support of the asbestos industry, and it may just be a play on their part to win as many seats as they can. In the past election, the NDP swept up in Quebec with 59 Mp’s elected, leaving the Conservatives hanging on to just five ridings south of the St. Lawrence, which is mostly made up of the asbestos region. For the government, the decision on asbestos became a balancing act of social incentives. Ban asbestos and please health organizations, along with maintaining Canada’s international reputation, or support asbestos, and keep the support of its regional base in Quebec. Ultimately, it seems that on the social incentive scale the side that gets Harper votes is the one that wins out. Not an admirable decision by any means, but it is an understandable one; after all, the goal of any government is to get votes and stay in power, especially holding on to its established ridings. However, Harper certainly knows what’s wrong with asbestos, planning to begin a $1 billion renovation project to clean asbestos from the parliamentary buildings, so perhaps it is time for our government to suck it up and ban asbestos for good, because it’s the right thing to do.

The right thing to do, that’s what this issue ultimately boils down to. Developing countries have the economic incentive to go on using the cheap and durable asbestos, and profits for Canada provide the incentive to go on selling it. The Conservatives have the opposing social incentives of global reputation and its Quebec region support. However, it is not the economic incentives that are most important, nor are the social incentives; what must be considered first and foremost is the moral incentive. Is allowing Canadian companies to mine, market, and sell asbestos, not domestically, it’s banned here, but export it, the right thing to do? As Frank, a public health expert at Drexel University says, “Canada is the world’s biggest hypocrite when it comes to asbestos. It is taking it out of Parliament buildings but willing to sell it overseas.” The government should know that asbestos is a carcinogen. The government should know that asbestos-related diseases kill an estimated 107, 000 people worldwide each year. And so, the government should know what it must do. An Indian named Ragunath Manwar asks Canada, “Doesn’t you government feel a moral responsibility that what they are doing is killing us?” It certainly should, and it is about time for Canada to stop exporting death.

Journal Prompt #1- Hsin-Yen Liu

What determines a student’s mark? Knowledge? Intelligence? Effort? Sure. But apparently there’s one more thing: money.

In 2011, The Toronto Star published an article revealing the issue of students paying for grades.  Basically, certain private secondary schools, known as “credit mills,” allow students to earn easy and inflated marks for a fee of $500 to $980 per course. Below are some of the findings on credit mills:

  • Grades at some private schools arbitrarily increased upon request
  • Credits granted with less than half of mandatory class hours completed
  • Missing student assessments
  • Teachers without proper qualifications and those who “do not understand” evaluation and assessment
  • Rewriting of tests for $100
  • Students left to write tests with little supervision and access to the Internet.

Most people, I assume, would frown upon the idea of paying to get good marks. If students can exchange paper bills for better marks, then what would become of the meaning of marks? Wouldn’t marks become a measure of wealth, not ability? However, as questionable as this credit-mill business may seem, it exists, and it seems quite successful.

The question is: why?

Incentives and Opportunity Costs
We can use incentives and opportunity costs to explain why private schools are willing to sell “A-credits,” as well as why some students are willing to pay large amounts of money for higher marks.

For the credit mills, it is clear why they want to give easy marks to students: economic incentives (money). By allowing students to get high marks effortlessly, the schools attract desperate students who will pay $500 to $980— as mentioned earlier—for each of the courses that they take. This makes a lucrative business that the schools would definitely not want to miss out on. So basically, for the credit mills— which have nothing to offer (they obviously don’t offer good education if they have unqualified teachers) except easy marks—

Now, how about the students? Why would some students want to obtain their credits from credit mills? Well, we can analyze the opportunity costs— the values of the next best choice.

If the students choose to go to regular schools, their opportunity cost would include the higher marks that they could have gotten from the credit-mills. This could very well translate into getting into the desired university programs and receiving scholarships. Also, perhaps less importantly, the opportunity cost would also include some extra time; if they have gone to the credit-mill schools, they would have gotten their credits with less than half of the mandatory class hours, as well as fewer assessments to spend time worrying about.

On the other hand, if the students choose to buy easy marks, their opportunity cost would include the $500 to $980 that they spend on each of their courses, as well as “proper” education. What do I mean by proper education? Well, education with qualified teachers, enough class hours, and reasonably difficult tests during which the Internet is not allowed —none of which you can find in the description of a credit-mill class. By not receiving proper education, it is obvious that the students do not study or learn as much as they would have in a regular class.

Evidently, for the students who are choosing to get their credits from credit-mills instead of regular high schools, the latter is costlier. That is, they place more value on getting higher marks (and more free time) than on the course fees and a proper high school education. As a result, they choose to sacrifice their money and their high school education so that they don’t miss out on higher marks and free time. Why? Some of them may know/feel that the only way for them to get to into their desired university programs is to pay for the required admission marks. Since getting into the “right” university programs is so important, nothing — not even bad high school education or high financial costs— will stop them from doing whatever they can to ensure their placements in the programs. Or, they might just have “screwed up” very badly in public school, to the point where buying their marks seems to be their only solution.

So here we go. We have private schools that are willing to supply good marks at high prices, and students who are willing to pay those prices to get better marks. This is why the credit-mill industry is successful.

Credit Mills: Good or Bad?
Hmm, so perhaps credit mills are not that bad after all. Some students get the marks that they need, and the credit mills get to pocket large amounts of money. It’s a voluntary trade, and everyone seems happier. However, this is only a superficial observation. If we compare the efficiency and and equity of two school systems—one with and one without credit mills—we will see that credit mills are indeed bad.

Efficiency: one system is more efficient than another if some people are better off and no one is worse off. So, in the short term, it may seem more efficient to have credit mills— some private schools are better off with more money, certain students are happier with paid high marks, and the remaining students are just getting the marks that they normally get. Some people are better off, and the others are not worse off.

However, on the long run, having credit mills is definitely not more efficient. The private schools are still better off with more money, but many of the students are worse off. According to the Toronto Star article, students who pay for grades “are beating out more academically deserving teens for university spots and lucrative scholarships.” This makes the “more academically deserving teens” worse off. In addition, the students who pay for grades will eventually “flunk out because they’re not ready.” So they are worse off too.

In the end, the credit mill industry only benefits the credit mills, and it harms many students. Thus, a system with credit mills is definitely not more efficient. However, this is not to say that a system without credit mills is more efficient, because it makes the private schools worse off.

Equity: According to research fellow Harry Jones from Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, equity means that people are treated as equals, and it concerns three major areas:

1. Equal life chances: There should be no differences in outcomes based on factors for which people cannot be held responsible.
2. Equal concern for people’s needs: Some goods and services are necessities, and should be distributed according solely to the level of need.
3. Meritocracy: Positions in society and rewards should reflect differences in effort and ability, based on fair competition.

It is quite clear from the above criteria that it would be inequitable if students can pay for grades; credit mills create unequal life chances. Students who are born to poorer families are at a disadvantage because of a factor for which they are not responsible— their parents’ income. Also, if one student is getting a better mark than another student because they (or most likely, their parents) have paid for it, clearly that does not reflect “differences in effort and ability,” does it? It would not be a fair competition if students can pay for grades.

On the other hand, if credit mills did not exist, a difference in marks would be a more accurate reflection of the differences in effort and ability. The outcome would be much fairer and much more equitable. So from this perspective, credit mills should definitely not exist.

To sum it up, credit mills do not make a school system more efficient, for even though they benefit the private schools, they make many students worse off. Also, credit mills make the school system a lot less equitable and fair. Seeing as a school system should aim to benefit the students, there is really no reason why credit mills should exist.

Students should not be able to pay for grades.

Now that we have established that credit mills are bad, how can they be eliminated?

Actually, back in 2009, the school ministry attempted to reduce the problem by flagging every private school credit with a “P” on the transcript. They did it in the hopes that universities would disregard the undeserved high marks, and thus lowering the opportunity cost for obtaining credits the regular way (the high marks bought from credit mills will then have little value).  However, many universities, such as Wilfred Laurier University, University of Toronto, and University of Western Ontario, still take the approach of “a grade is a grade is a grade.” The “P” tells nothing about the nature of the marks except that they are earned from private schools, but not all private schools are credit mills. In other words, the extra “P” did nothing to change the opportunity costs for students.

An inexpensive improvement on the existing “P” would be adding the names of the private schools onto the transcripts. This could perhaps give universities a better idea of whether the marks are legitimately earned or not. However, Jennifer Yang, the author in this Toronto Star article, feels rather pessimistic about it; she questions whether universities would take the trouble to create a ranking system for all the private schools.

I believe that the solution lies in getting to the root of the problem—identifying and doing more about the schools that are selling marks. As Yang has mentioned in her article, there should be better inspections: suspicious schools should be inspected more to ensure that they are doing everything properly. And to avoid an increase in spending, schools with good records should be inspected less often.  Also, once identified as being credit mills, private schools should face more consequences. Currently, schools can get their credit-granting authority revoked if is found that they have problems. However, they can re-open as soon as one year after the they are shut down! Clearly, there should be a change in policy to increase this waiting time, so as to discourage schools from doing wrong.

The ministry should add negative economic incentives too: if they fine credit mills large amounts of money for selling grades, then the opportunity costs for doing the business would increase significantly. Not only only would the schools be shut down (for a while), they would also lose the profits that they have earned in the previous year(s). If the fines are large enough, the opportunity costs for selling grades would rise to a level at which credit-mills would find it more desirable and less costly to run their schools properly (to offer real education, not just marks).

A (Not So) Brief Recap
To sum everything up, there exists a problem in our education system where students are able to pay for easy grades by going to certain private schools known as “credit mills.” They pay something in the range of $500 and $980 for each course, and in return they get high marks that require almost no effort.

The credit-mill industry is successful because the private schools want to earn money, and students value high marks. However, being successful doesn’t make it good: not only does it make some students worse off (thereby not making the school system more efficient), it also makes the school system less equitable.

To eliminate credit mills, more inspections should be done so that the problem-schools can be better identified. Also, credit mills should face worse consequences once they are identified. They should have to wait for more than one year before they can re-apply for their licenses, and they should be fined (heavily). With proper incentives, the opportunity cost for selling marks could be increased to a point where it is actually costlier than that of not selling grades.

Paying for grades is a serious problem, but not one that cannot be fixed.

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