What makes a good Extended Essay question in Economics?

This series of posts will breakdown the six different components of the Extended Essay in Economics. This first post provides a little guidance on finding a good question and helps you reflection on three key questions… is your topic viable, feasible and personally desirable?

Find a topic that sparks a passion

Choosing a topic that is personally desirable is the essential goal. Choose topic that you’re not interested in, or perhaps one that your teacher suggests and the next 6 months will be a chore. Find something that connects with you personally or links to your community and it will be a far more interesting and rewarding process.

In Economics, we have such a huge range of possible real world focuses. A good first approach is explore implications of a change in policy that might have occured in your local area. This often makes it more interesting, relevant and data more accessible. You might find examples where local councils, government, your school or even technology has created a change. This opens a window where you can compare impacts before and after and see changes.

Suppose your local public transport offered free transport if you travelled before 7:30am to reduce peak. How might this impact ridership and influence travel behaviour?

The trick is finding a natural experiment which connects to some interesting economic theory and to avoid topics which could be too descriptive. Below is a list of possible ideas from a Singapore context.

Policy changePossible economic connection
Local public subway transport offered free transport if you travelled before 7:30am to reduce peakHow might this impact ridership and influence travel behaviour? Is demand inelastic and is congestion reduced?
The rapid influx of hire bikes and apps
How did this influence demand and supply and illustrate aspects of monopolistic competition
Government subsidising the introduction of hybrid / electric carsHow did this influence the demand for cars and possible lead to a reduction of externalities in the long term.
Introduction of rent controls on local housingHow might this impact quality and availability of housing for low income families?
Increases in minimum wage for certain industries and workers (cleaners, security guards)How has this impacts the demand for labour? has this lead to more capital intensive production or changes to costs in production?
One-off income tax rebatesHow might this influence consumer spending and aggregate demand via the multiplier effect. Are households likely to spend or save?
Development initiative to provide micro-credit to rural families. How did the provision of microcredit lead to the increases in farming productivity

Is this essay topic even viable?

Before you get carried away your topic you need to carefully consider how you might collect information to answer your question. Some topics might be commercially sensitive and nearly impossible to find suitable data and therefore not viable. Some macro-economic questions are hard to research and isolate the effect of a policy change. For instance did a specific fiscal policy to a change in variable x ? Can you find sufficient macroeconomic data to analyse? The next post in this series will explain more about primary and secondary research in-terms of and EE in Economics.

You also need to avoid topics where you survey people about hypothetical choices or decisions that they are never likely to make. For instance should you survey your parents friends about decisions to buy a hybrid car, or should you find actual potential buyers at the car showroom?

Can I feasible tackle this in 4,000 words?

Some topics are far too broad in their scope to tackle in 4,000 words and some economic theory is too far beyond our IB Diploma Syllabus. Some topics veer into the field of Business Management or Psychology and you would be disadvantaged choosing these as a focus for an Economics EE. Some of these topics would be more suited to a multi-disciplinary approach of World Studies and combining Economics and Psychology.

You also need to be cognisant that this is a project where you should spend around 40 hours. For some topic it would be impossible to survey enough interested people, without giving up your entire summer vacation.

Finding sufficent academic rigour and complexity?

A common issue is committing to a topic which connects to area of the syllabus with sufficient complexity so you can demonstrate your ability to critically evaluate and analyse like an economist. Lots of questions will look too shallow at first but a best technique to test this is to work with your supervisor to tease out the related sub-questions which will guide your research.

Some of these sub-questions will be likely be descriptive (which is ok) but you need to ensure there is scope for sufficient analysis of research and critical evaluation of sources, data and the economic theory. Below are two examples which should give you some ideas. If your sub-questions all seem to descriptive then try find another topic.

Main RQ – To what extent have the French tourism industry and wider economy been impacted by the 2015 Paris Attacks?

  • Using data of tourist arrivals compare the impact of arrivals and tourist spending in Paris vs a typical small French town.
  • Comparing impact of terrorist attacks on the number of French domestic tourists versus international tourist arrivals
  • Comparing the spending patterns of local vs domestic tourists. How much do they spend per day? How long do they typically stay?
  • Estimating the multiplier values for tourist spending and how this might differ in Paris vs a typical French town.
  • Looking for academic research to estimate the value of a tourist spending multiplier.
  • What estimate does this give you for impact on Gross Domestic Product?
  • How does this compare to other terrorist attacks, Sept 11 in New York or London Bus attacks?

Main RQ – To what extent does the private car hire industry of Singapore represent an oligopolistic market structure?

  • How do we define the ‘private car hire industry’
  • Has demand changed overtime, and what factors are driving this?
  • Can we classify this market in relation to the characteristics of market structure? To what degree is there perfect competition?
  • How are firms using price or non-price competition. Are they able differentiate their product?
  • Which firms has gained market share and what is the concentration ratio?

Overall I feel these types of market structure questions are too shallow and often formulaic. However you can easily spin the question slightly to add more scope for evaluation: Perhaps, Should the government attempt to de-regulate the taxi industry to increase the level of competition in Singapore?

Finding a questions that is both feasible, has some viable sources of data and that is personally interesting is tricky, but I hope this helps with the process. Just remember once you commit to the question stick with it !!

Experiment with something a little different

Some of the most intellectually interesting topics conduct experiments or run simulations. If you have read into the work of Richard Thaler and Behavioural Economics you will know that we as humans seldom think and act in rational ways. Because rationality is founding principle of economics where individual supposably maximise utility, lots of our policies, decisions and outcomes are flawed.

There might be areas where you can observe behaviour and look to responses which are irrational. Why do people not save enough for their retirement when they can estimate how much saving they will likely need?

For instance, I have seen students use a rigged Monopoly game to simulate money supply, by introducing borrowing and interest rates. Games and simulations are great because you can repeat them, have blind test groups to test your theory.

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