“52 things I learned in 2019” – A summary of a fantastically interesting list:

 
#9 Placebos are so effective that placebo placebos work: A pain cream with no active ingredients worked even when not used by the patient. Just owning the cream was enough to reduce pain. [Victoria Wai-lanYeung]
 
#27 Spotify pays by the song. Two three minute songs are twice as profitable as one six minute song. So songs are getting shorter. [Dan Kopf]
 
#41 Disco, a Japanese high tech manufacturing company, has introduced an internal billing and payment system, where every cost is charged back to workers. Renting a conference room costs $100. “People really cut back on useless meetings,” says one staffer. [Yuji Nakamura & Yuki Furukawa] -> Haha!!! Useless meetings are the harbinger of the apocalypse.
 
#33 According to WaterAid research, women spend 97 billion hours a year looking for a safe place to go to the loo. That equals 46 million working years, which is the same workforce as Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world. [Caroline Criado Perez via Tanya Gold]
 
#42 A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]
 
#29 Three million students at US schools don’t have the internet at home. [Michael Melia & co] -> Why Trevor is so passionate about internet delivery. Such a critical problem…
 
#3 Emojis are starting to appear in evidence in court cases, and lawyers are worried: “When emoji symbols are strung together, we don’t have a reliable way of interpreting their meaning.” (In 2017, an Israeli judge had to decide if one emoji-filled message constituted a verbal contract) [Eric Goldman]
 
#4 Harbinger customers are customers who buy products that tend to fail. They group together, forming harbinger zip codes. If households in those zip codes buy a product, it is likely to fail. If they back a political candidate, they are likely to lose the election. [Simester, Tucker & Yang]
 
#7 At least three private companies have fallen victim to ‘deep fake’ audio fraud. In each case, a computerised voice clone of the company CEO “called a senior financial officer to request an urgent money transfer.” [Kaveh Waddell, Jennifer A. Kingson]
 
#15 People hate asking sensitive questions. However, it turns out that people don’t hate being asked sensitive questions. So talking around difficult questions in research interviews is a waste of time and money. [Hart, VanEpps, Schweitzer]
 
#18 Mechanical devices to cheat your phone pedometer (for health insurance fraud or vanity) are now all over AliExpress. [Matthew Brennan]
 
#19 In 2017 Google and Facebook lost $100 million between them to one scammer who sent them fake invoices. [Jeff John Roberts] [found by TomBot*]
 
#20 Teenagers with acne get higher marks, are more likely to complete college and, if female, eventually get paid more than people without teenage acne. [Hugo M. Mialon & Erik T. Nesson]
 
#32 In 2018, the Nigerian government spent more on subsidies for petrol than on health, education, or defence. [Andrew S Nevin]
 
#36 At least half of the effort of most AI projects goes on data labelling, and that’s often done in rural Indian villages. [Anand Murali]
 
#44 Some blind people can understand speech that is almost three times faster than the fastest speech sighted people can understand. They can use speech synthesisers set at at 800 words per minute (conversational speech is 120–150 wpm). Research suggests that a section of the brain that normally responds to light is re-mapped in blind people to process sound. [Austin Hicks & R Douglas Fields]
 
#46 SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]
 
#50 Six reluctant Chinese hitmen who hired each other to carry out a murder went to jail when their outsourcing scheme collapsed. [Eric Cheung] – explained more in the Planet Money podcast “WHITWELL: So this one is a guy hired a hitman to kill somebody else. That hitman said, I’m not doing that. He gave half the money to somebody else. He said, I’m not doing that. He gave half the money to someone else. Went all the way down the chain. The last guy was getting paid so little money, he said, this isn’t worth my while to do it. He went back to the victim and told him what had happened and said, we should split the money. Instead, the victim called the police, and all six of them went to prison.”
 
#52 Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk. (Many more good tips in this thread. [Jacqueline Antonovich]
 
And also covered by Planet Money podcast episode:

End Plastic Waste

To end plastic waste simply make fossil fuel plastic more expensive than recycling plastic. QED

No more plastic bag bans, no more plastic garbage everywhere, reduce or eliminate plastic in our food chain, improve impoverished nations, etc. There are a lot of advantages.

Total cost to consumers on a soda bottle is a quarter of a cent to half a cent.

Full TED talk here “A radical plan to end plastic waste”:

Add your name to the #NOPLASTICWASTE petition:

NPR “The Indicator”: How Temperature Affects Workplace Productivity

Men like it cold, women like it hot – it’s a zero sum game. At 80F (27C) women get a 10% productivity boost while men lose 3%. Men prefer high 60s (20/21C).

The ideal temperature for 50% male/female office? 75F (24C)

AHHH!!! SAVE US ALL! (men) In a 75F office, men will be dressing in tank tops and mini skirts.

“The Battle For The Office Thermostat” https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=730438603&fbclid=IwAR0072qm0VvmXNQdssnH1X2V_HVB_0OhGDjE4UkrJFGdqiS35wNSXvkoMx4

The Gender Pay Gap Explained

Education and Experience explained only 8% of the gender pay gap according to the “Progress on the Gender Pay Gap 2019” study. Occupational differences, e.g. the career that was chosen, explains 56%. Not “who you know” or specifically targeting women. “I think what’s important to recognize there is that women and men don’t randomly sort into occupations, partly because of influences early on: what kind of jobs get taught to people as being a male job or a female job. And some jobs, frankly, just aren’t friendly to family lifestyles.”

The kind of jobs with a large part-time pay gap are generally in areas where it’s harder to divide up hours and be flexible. Any job where relationships need to be maintained with clients are especially bad; e.g. careers in sales, lawyer, banker, etc. There are jobs that pay a part-time premium and these tend to be jobs where it’s easy for people to swap shifts or work as a team. E.g. Nursing, waiters/waitresses

“When an occupation pays less money per hour to its part-time workers than to its full-time ones, it’s known as the part-time penalty. That penalty tends to be higher when occupations have less flexible hours. Here’s the catch: the jobs that tend to be more flexible — and ones that many women and mothers gravitate towards — pay less.”

So how can the gap be reduced? “…[E]ither men would also have to increasingly choose those flexible occupations or the rigid, inflexible occupations would have to become less rigid and inflexible so that women and mothers could join them, perhaps by, you know, embracing more of a team approach at work.”

Sources:

“Where The Gender Pay Gap Is Widest”

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/04/29/718389455/where-the-gender-pay-gap-is-widest

“Progress On The Gender Pay Gap 2019” study

https://www.glassdoor.com/research/studies/gender-pay-gap-2019/

Source: “Jobs Friday: The Part-Time Penalty”

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/03/720122267/jobs-friday-the-part-time-penalty

How To Measure Happiness

Happiness is elusive but it helps focus an individual with their life design if they consider what metrics contribute to happiness. These metrics might be in error, but at least they are something. The 6 measures, as explained by NPR’s “The Indicator” podcast, are:

These measures have been found to be highly correlated with people’s overall happiness. Of these measures social support and GDP per capita are the most important. But at some point, GDP per capita stops mattering; the Easterlin paradox. “It’s the idea that wealth adds to people’s happiness only up to a point. And at some point, for some reason, getting richer stops making you happier.” There are many working theories and here are some of the more prominent ones:

  • GDP per capita (a rough idea of how wealthy people are in a particular country),
  • healthy life expectancy,
  • how much people trust the government and businesses in their country (is corruption a problem in the government? In businesses?),
  • social support (do you have somebody to count on in times of trouble?),
  • generosity (has a person been generous in the last 30 days to others) and
  • freedom (did you feel a sense of freedom to make your key life decisions?).
  1. (India #141, China #94) Social support has declined even though GDP per capita is rising. Stuff like moving into cities, decline of the extended family.
  2. (USA #19) “People overestimate the happiness they’re going to get from more income or a bigger house. And they underestimate the happiness they would get from more time with the family and less time spent commuting. So, they end up finding themselves in circumstances where they’ve chosen to go for too high an income, too much consumption, not enough time to spend with family and friends. And they end up being anxious, harried, stressed.”
  3. It could just be that the measurements are wrong.

Regardless, the researcher shares that he’s changed his behaviour as a result of this research and recommends “…[T]o start conversations with strangers, to smile at people in the streets, to assume the best rather than the worst about them is a win-win situation. And so, I do it more than I used to. And that’s improved my happiness. And I hope it’s improved somebody else’s, as well. …”

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/04/08/711132741/how-to-measure-happiness

https://worldhappiness.report/

Canada is #9, Finland #1. Excel file with the data is here (“Chapter 2 – online data ‘Figure2.6’ worksheet):

https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2019/Chapter2OnlineData.xls

Canada is just 6% behind Finland and USA is 12.72% behind (5.6% behind Canada). South Sudan, #156, is 272% behind Finland. Surprisingly Australia is at #11 with all it’s sunshine and most goods being locally sourced.

Easterlin Paradox:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easterlin_paradox

Plastic single use bags – the economics

Planet Money explains in “Are Plastic Bag Bans Garbage?

“…sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned…So about 30% of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags…. On top of that, cities that banned plastic bags saw a surge in the use of paper bags, which she estimates resulted in about 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year. paper bags are actually worse for the environment. … They require cutting down and processing trees, which involves lots of water, toxic chemicals, fuel, and heavy machinery. … the huge increase of paper, together with the uptick in plastic trash bags, means banning plastic shopping bags increases greenhouse gas emissions. That said, these bans do reduce non-biodegradable litter.”

Organic cotton tote bags need to be used 20,000 times before its use is better than a plastic grocery bag. “…the best reusable ones are made from polyester or plastics like polypropylene. . Those still have to be used dozens and dozens of times to be greener than plastic grocery bags, which have the smallest carbon footprint for a single use.”

“As for bag policies, Taylor says a fee is smarter than a ban. She has a second paper showing a small fee for bags is just as effective as a ban when it comes to encouraging use of reusable bags. But a fee offers flexibility for people who reuse plastic bags for garbage disposal or dog walking. … The best policy, Taylor says, imposes a fee on both paper and plastic bags and encourages reuse.”

15Apr2019 update: Another economics podcast on plastic packaging (Cellophane). It presents the data and decisions that have made the modern plastic world and illustrates nicely the counter-intuitive conclusions that come up all the time in plastic packaging.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz2w3

“A Christmas Carol” – The Economics Behind It

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was an attack on some of the then big minds of the “political economy” movement (now called Behavioural Economics). So ya, it was an economics novella. How cool is that!? Planet Money covers the economic history behind the famous yearly tradition.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/12/21/679213648/episode-883-a-very-planet-money-christmas-carol

Planet Money Talks Trade Wars And The Batman Problem

https://blog.forumias.com/protectionism-and-trade-war/Instead of a trade-war which impacts the global economy and hurts everybody, why not just use anti-currency manipulation to address the trade deficit? As explained by Planet Money’s “indicator” podcast it’s practically free. What it doesn’t do is buy politicians votes… The world economy just might be suffering in order for a politician to get re-elected…

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/07/18/630265851/trade-wars-and-the-batman-problem

People on opposite sides of the globe with the same income level live very similarly

Visit dollar street to find how income affects how people live. Also startling… everyone in a 1st world nation is considered RICH! And unfortunately we take a lot for granted; like having a toothbrush. Bill Gates introduces the Dollar Street site here.  Explore Dollar Street in full here.

(11Sep2018 edit) The book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling describes the 4 levels of income groups and explains the kind of life these people have (similar to Dollar Street). Explore these income groups (which replaces the concept of developing vs developed world): https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Factfulness

 

Regulatory Capture is to Blame – Reducing RC starts with Education

What’s to blame for slower growth and rising inequality? Regulatory capture. And who practices Regulatory Capture? EVERYONE “Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. When regulatory capture occurs, the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss for society. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies””. This is an issue that is a “bipartisan blind spot” and affects politicians from any political view.

“…[I]t’s ultimately the duty of the governors to make sure that the rules are in the public interest, rather than in the narrow interests of the various clamoring claimants who come before them.” The first step to eliminating regulatory capture is to recognize that it happens.

One of the reasons the public tolerates regulatory capture is that special interest groups use a positive policy image which creates a natural blind spot in the public’s eyes. An example used by Planet Money is teeth whitening and North Carolina’s Dental Board. The public feels that dentists help people so when the NC Dental Board lobbied to get a regulation to stop non-dentists from offering simple tooth whitening services the dentists initially won. Teeth whitening is more like a pedicure for your teeth rather than a dental procedure and anyone can do one. In fact, these days, people can buy teeth whitening kits at the grocery store. It had to go to the supreme court for the regulation to be removed. While waiting for all the legal trials to settle the issue stifled competition (natural market forces): teeth whitening service costs were artificially inflated (bad for consumers) and non-dentists were put out of business. Planet Money explains a few more examples and including one where homeowners practice regulatory capture.

 

Sources:

Planet Money’s story called “Rigging The Economy” https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=592376568

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/whats-to-blame-for-slower-growth-and-rising-inequality/2017/11/22/97bb9e6c-b805-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dddf9ae2c60b

https://marketbusinessnews.com/financial-glossary/regulatory-capture-definition-meaning/