Economics lessons in British schools

According to BBC news the government’s clamp-down on junk food in schools has led to a black market in the playground:

Ring leaders are buying bars of chocolate and packets of crisps in bulk, and making small profits by surreptitiously selling on to sugar-craving classmates.

Even if the school started selling these things again, we’d still buy from these boys as they’re not so expensive 16-year-old school girl  "You can get a good deal from the boys selling sweets," says a 16-year-old pupil at a respectable comprehensive in south London. "They sell them cheaper than the tuck shop used to."

She claims that three boys in her year are selling junk food to fellow pupils. And it seems that they are cartelising the market: one boy sells crisps, another chocolate, and the third sweets – "chewy sweets and hard sweets and things like that," says the pupil, who asked not to be identified.

"Our school has a healthy eating policy, so the shop and the canteen stopped selling crisps and things. Not long after, these three boys kind of took things over. Now we all know where to go if we want something like that to eat."

You shouldn’t laugh, really – selling sugar to kids is no funnier than selling other addictive and harmful drugs to vulnerable people.   But it is encouraging to hear that an entrpreneurial spirit is flourishing among the British youth.

After all, what are schools for if they don’t teach economics? In today’s lesson, we have learned that markets will generally find a way to close an artificially-created gap between supply and demand; and Government regulations rarely have the effects that the policy-maker intended.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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3 Comments

  1. My brother used to do exactly the same thing at primary school – buy from the cash and carry, using my membership card, and sell in the playground. Which I guess proves that some of the laws of economics aren’t just observable, but immutable too.

  2. And it seems that they are cartelising the market

    It’s certainly a good thing that they’re learning how free markets actually operate, before being told how they theoretically operate.

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