Todays article on the evil of oil. This one asks the question, why do nations with natural resource wealth tend to be so poor?
Michael Ross, at the University of California at Los Angeles, argues that oil-rich countries do far less to help the poor than do countries without resources. He points to evidence that oil and mineral states fare worse on child mortality and nutrition, have lower literacy and school-enrolment rates and do relatively worse on measures like the UN's “Human Development Index”. Any possible way to stop this from occuring? How about transparency?
Why? Economics offers some answers. Unlike agriculture, the oil sector employs few unskilled people. The inherent volatility of commodity prices hurts the poor the most, as they are least able to hedge their risks. And because the resource is concentrated, the resulting wealth passes through only a few hands—and so is more susceptible to misdirection.
This misdirection points to another explanation for the oil curse that is gaining favour: politics. Because oil money often flows directly from Big Oil to the Big Man, as Africa's dictators are known, governments have little need to raise revenues through taxes. Arvind Subramanian of the IMF argues that such rulers have no incentive to develop non-oil sources of wealth, and the ruled (but untaxed) consequently have little incentive to hold their rulers accountable.
An analysis by Paul Collier of Oxford University suggests that for any given five-year period, the chance of a civil war in an African country varies from less than 1% in countries without resource wealth to nearly 25% in those with such riches.
The good news is that international initiatives are starting to shine a cold light on the murky business of oil. Tony Blair is promoting the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary effort involving governments and oil majors. George Soros is backing the “Publish What You Pay” campaign, which demands more aggressive disclosure. Even big oil companies, long accused by activists of propping up dictators with bribes, are joining the transparency bandwagon. via The Economist
The World Bank now seems keen: “Countries have no justification for secrecy,” insists Rashad Kaldany of the bank's International Finance Corporation. “All of these agreements will be made public in future.” And the IMF is already leading the charge: it required Equatorial Guinea, Angola and other recalcitrant countries to open up their oil accounts or risk ostracism.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Todays article on the evil of oil. This one asks the question, why do nations with natural resource wealth tend to be so poor?
Fascinating article on wheat over at The Economist.
Besides learning that wheat has 5 times as many base pairs of DNA as humans, that in real terms wheat was most expensive in 1815 at $3 a bushel; that in the mid 1800s the bird droppings became so valuable that battles were fought over it; that the green revolution in India was held up by the Watts riot in LA; that virtually every variety of wheat you see growing was produced by "mutation breeding" caused by thermal neutrons, x-rays or ethyl methane sulponate; I was left with this nugget of fat knowledge:
Today nearly half the nitrogen atoms in the proteins of an average human being's body came at some time or another through an ammonia factory.That's the last time I throw out a bottle of ammonia. We are practically cousins.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
I find it funny that American's are so opposed to "socialized medicine", and yet have no issues with adding a drug benefit to Medicare. As this article in The Economist points out:
Add together Medicaid, Medicare and other publicly financed health care, such as that for ex-servicemen, and the public sector already pays for 45% of American health care. (The total is nearer 60% if you include the tax subsidies.)So we are already around 50% "socialist" already. And if you look at the graph, in the US public spending as a % of GDP is larger than the OECD average. It is just that we end up paying a ton more in private spending than any other country. And this graph is in % of GDP. Since the US has the largest GDP/capita, if this were in dollars it would be even worse. Why don't we just take the plunge and go to universal coverage?
Also notice how "socialized" medicine countries they still have private spending on medicine (on average about 3%). And which country in the world has the most private market/capitalistic medical system? One where when you go to a hospital, there is a board that lists the price of each service available, and you have to pay upfront? Oh, that would be "Communist" China. Gotta love the labels.
And you have to love The Economist's take on what the US needs to do:
In the longer term, America, like this adamantly pro-market newspaper, may have no choice other than to accept a more overtly European-style system. In such a scheme, the government would pay for a mandated insurance system, but leave the provision of care to a mix of public and private providers.and what it doesn't:
Mr Bush's health-care philosophy has a certain political appeal. It suggests incremental change rather than a comprehensive solution. It reinforces existing industry trends. And it promises to be pain-free. Unfortunately, it will not work. The Bush agenda may speed the reform of American health care, but only by hastening the day the current system falls apart.via Economist.com
The Bus Bike is a regular city bus equipped with 16 stationary bicycles. For about $30 a session, you can hop aboard, choose a machine, and pedal away while enjoying a scenic tour of the city.Can I express how stupid I think this idea is? You are riding a stationary bike inside a bus to get a view of the city? Do they not get the whole concept of what a bike is?
You would think this is just another bad American idea to allow us to use even more oil, except it is Brazil. Oh well, maybe it runs on ethanol.
Nicholas Eberstadt writes about the Yardstick the US government uses for poverty and why he thinks it is broken.
In the Labor Department's latest Consumer Expenditure Survey (2003), the average reported income for the bottom fifth of households was $8,201, while reported outlays came to $18,492 - well over twice that amount. Over the past generation, that discrepancy widened significantly: back in the early 1970's, the poorest fifth's reported spending exceeded income by 40 percent.
The poverty rate has always been derived from reported household income. (Exigency played a role here: at the start of the war on poverty 40 years ago, those income numbers were already available from the Census Bureau.) But a better gauge of a household's material deprivation is not what it earns, but what it spends. When we look at spending patterns, we immediately see a huge discrepancy between reported incomes and reported expenditures for low-income Americans.The figures he is looking at come from this table which come from the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
Unfortunately, economists and statisticians have yet to come up with a clear explanation for this gap (which is not explained by in-kind payments like food stamps or other assistance). The divergence may be in part a measurement problem: partly a matter of income under-reporting, partly a consequence of increasing income variability in our more "globalized" economy.
I think trying to minimize poverty is very important. But, in order to do so effectively, we need good statistics to help us understand the extent of the problem, and to allow us to measure how we are doing. Understanding the discrepancy between the income and expenditures is crucial to understanding this problem. One thing he didn't mention that seems likely is debt, be it credit card or mortgage. I would think the expenditures rather than income is the better way of judging poverty, but without understanding the reason for the discrepancy, it is hard to say for sure.
One way to measure poverty is to do so relatively. If you are in the bottom 15% of income you are poor. But, ironically, doing so makes it impossible to reduce poverty, for whatever you do, you always have 15%. So it makes sense to base it on the material goods you need, such as food, shelter, clothing and medicine. If you have those goods, or if you have enough money to buy those goods, then you aren't poor. Maybe instead of trying to measure the money, we should measure the actual material things people need.
As the previous post talked about, the "poor" in the US would be materially "rich" in most 3rd world countries. Living in a trailer with cable TV, enough food to get fat, and having a beat up car that works would be living like a king in many 3rd world villages.
There is also the non-material side of poverty. The poverty of knowledge, poverty of respect, the poverty of self-esteem, the poverty of addiction, the poverty of health, and the poverty of security. These can't be solved with income redistribution or food stamps. I would argue that this is the more important of the two, as I would much rather be poor in material goods that poor in non-material ways.
I am not sure how you would measure this type of poverty. To fight it, instead of helping others, we need to help others to help themselves.
via The New York Times
Friday, January 27, 2006
I was curious about how Americans spend their media hours and dollars. I found this post at DarrenBarefoot which lead me to Freedom to Tinker which lead me to this totally money census doc (.pdf). If you check out Table 1116, you will get a good feel for how much time and money Americans spend on Media/Entertainment. And really, if you want to know what someone's values are, what better to look at then how they spend their time and money.
Tables and Analysis after the jump.
Here is the data for 2003. I added a couple of interesting columns.
hrs/yr hrs/day $/yr $/hr market
Total 3,663 10.04 777.73 .21 225.54 Television 1,745 4.78 234.65 0.13 68.05 Broadcast TV 769 2.11 Network stations 704 1.93 Cable & Sat 975 2.67 234.65 0.24 68.05 Basic 809 2.22 181.09 0.22 52.52 Premium 167 0.46 53.56 0.32 15.53 Radio 1,002 2.75 0.37 0.00 0.11 Box office 13 0.04 39.00 3.00 11.31 Home video 70 0.19 151.94 2.17 44.06 Interactive TV 3 0.01 3.82 1.27 1.11 Recorded music 184 0.50 48.72 0.26 14.13 Video games 69 0.19 29.78 0.43 8.64 Consumer Internet 176 0.48 96.35 0.55 27.94 Daily newspapers 171 0.47 53.68 0.31 15.57 Consumer books 108 0.30 89.68 0.83 26.01 Consumer magazines 121 0.33 41.24 0.34 11.96
The first amazing thing is that in 2003, the average American has broken the 10 hours of media a day mark. That is amazing! If you get 8 hours of sleep a night, that means 5/8 of your day is spend consuming media. Even if you take out the radio and music (which I usually consume while doing something else), you are still at almost 7 hours a day.
If there are 290 mil Americans, that works out to over a trillion hours of media consumed a year!
The $/yr column is consumer spending per year. I took that column and divided it by the hours/yr column to get $/hr. This is very interesting. It allows you to see how much people spend per hour they spend consuming the media. This doesn't take into account commercials on radio and TV (and to a lesser extent magazines and newspapers). For all media, people average $.20/hr. That is dirt cheap.
Movies at the theater are the most expensive at $3/hr, with home video trailing at $2.17. Maybe this explains why the quality of movies is so much better than TV. Or maybe it is just because Americans consume over 21 times more hours of TV than movies.
For people with cable, TV comes in between $.13 and $.24 an hour. Really, the number I want here is how much broadcast TV is watched by cable subscribers to figure out the exact value.
On the reading front, newspaper and magazines are in the low $.30s while books are at $.83 an hour. Don't know if this reflects the advertising difference (without advertising maybe newspapers and books would be around $.83) or if it has to do with higher quality/time spent creating books or what.
I wish I knew how much advertisers "pay you per hour" to watch their ads. Number must be out there somewhere. If anyone knows of it, please leave a comment. You could almost look at it as a part time job for most Americans. If 1/3 of TV time is commercials, that works out to 11 hours a week of commercial watching (for those who don't have TiVo and don't go to the bathroom).
The "market" column just multiplies the spending per year by 290 mil Americans. It does not take into account advertising or other revenue streams.
The Economist compares the lives of a mountain man in eastern Kentucky and a surgeon in Africa that are both living on around $600 a month.
Why juxtapose the lives of a poor man in a rich country and a relatively well-off man in a poor one? The exercise is useful for two reasons. First, it puts the rich world's wealth into context. A Congolese doctor, a man most other Congolese would consider wealthy, is worse off materially than most poor people in America. That, in itself, is striking.The whole article is solid, a worthy read.
The second purpose of the exercise is to shed light on some ticklish questions. What is the relationship between wealth and happiness? And what is the significance of relative poverty? Mr Banks makes $521 a month in a country where median male earnings are $3,400 a month. Dr Kabamba earns $600 a month in a country where most people grow their own food and hardly ever see a bank note. The two men's experiences could hardly be less similar. But which of the two would one expect to be happier?
What do Dr Kabamba's wages buy? He has a four-bedroom house with a kitchen and living room, which would be ample if there weren't 12 people under his roof. His home would be deemed unacceptably overcrowded in America. Even among the 37m Americans officially classed as poor, only 6% live in homes with more occupants than rooms.
Having seen how doctors live elsewhere, Dr Kabamba would quite like running water and a regular power supply. His family fetches water in jars and the electricity comes on maybe twice a week. Air-conditioning would be nice, but “that's only for VIPs,” says Dr Kabamba. In America, three-quarters of poor households have air-conditioning. A typical poor household in America has two televisions, cable or satellite reception and a VCR or a DVD player.
Dr Kabamba earns enough to feed his children, but not as well as he would like. The family eats meat about twice a month; Dr Kabamba calls it “a great luxury”. In America, poor children eat more meat than the well-to-do. In fact, they get twice as much protein as their government says is good for them, which is why the Wal-Mart near Mr Banks sells such enormous jeans.
“Poverty” describes two quite different phenomena: utter penury, of the sort experienced by the billion or so souls who subsist on $1 a day or less; and the situation of people in rich countries who are less well off than their compatriots.
And some point, as the world population grows and our consumption of goods grows, the Earth will run out of natural resources. Will that be anytime soon? This article looks at copper.
Copper is used in everything from automobiles to ordnance. Copper is relatively scarce compared to other metals like iron or aluminum that make up a good portion of the earth itself. So copper serves as an excellent metallic bellwether for potential future resource scarcity. Based on current discovery rates and existing geologic surveys, the researchers estimated that 1.6 billion metric tons of copper exist that could potentially be brought into use.At our current consumption rate, we will run out of copper a little before 2100. Probably not something my generation needs to worry about, but the generation after that will.
The researchers went on to examine per capita use of copper in the U.S. and other developed countries. While some theorists had predicted that metal use would decline as economies advanced beyond building metallic infrastructure, the teams' data showed that overall copper use in the U.S. climbed to a high of 238 kilograms per person by 1999. Declines in areas like manufacturing and railroads were more than offset by increases in areas like motor vehicles and domestic devices. In fact, residents of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. required an average of 170 kilograms of copper per person. Multiply that by overall population estimates of 10 billion people by 2100 and the world will require 1.7 billion metric tons of copper by that date--more than even the most generous estimate of available resources.
Via Scientific American.com
Monday, January 23, 2006
Finally figured out how to do the expandable post in Blogger. Since, it took me so long to do, I am taking full advantage. You only get the rest of the scoop if you click on the Read More link.
Don't know why Blogger doesn't build this functionality in as people really want it. Maybe when you get bought out by Google and the stock hits $400, you get a little lazy.
Blogger throws down a couple of hacks, for the DIY crowd here and here.
Problem is, they both suck. One is inline, which is lame, and the other tosses the "Read More" on every page regardless if there is more to read or not. That just won't cut it. What do they suggest to only show the Read Me when needed?
Modifying this feature is left as an exercise for the reader.Thanks, jackass. This basically means I need to do a Google search, which is where I was before I read the article.
I found this one by Radical Russ which was good, except to use it, I would need to retrofit all of my old blog entries. So, I took a look at how many posts I have done. Wow, I have over 300 posts! That is some serious blogorrhea. No way I am changing that many posts.
Then I found this one by thurbroeders, which was ok, except you manually needed to set the BlogItemPermalinkUrl, which is doable, but not ideal. Also, not down with looking at the sweat stained shirt of the Marlboro Man.
Anyway, that is what I am going with. Should make it easier to browse the front page.
Update: With the new blogger I am using a new technique.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Mr. Friedman talks of the flat world, where we all countries can compete with each other. Ironically, the one thing you need to enter the flat world is good broadband access, and that is quite different based on where you live.
In California, Comcast cable broadband provides top download speeds of 6 megabits a second for a little more than $50 a month. That falls well short, however, of Verizon's 15-megabit fiber-based service offered on the East Coast at about the same price. But what about the 100-megabit service in Japan for $25 month? And better, much better: Stockholm's one-gigabit service - that is, 1,000 megabits, or more than 1,300 times faster than Verizon's entry-level DSL service - for less than 100 euros, or $120, a month.How in the hell do the Japanese get 100Mb at $25 a month? I remember being in Japan in 2000 and there internet access was way behind the US. They were a cellphone society. Now they are kicking our asses with the fixed access as well.
For all the talk about the costs of lives and treasure in the Iraq war, the largest cost may be the opportunity cost of going. The two tools the US needs to upgrade to compete in the 21st century: speedy broadband and health care for all, are not even being talked about on the national level.
Via New York Times
Saturday, January 14, 2006
David Brooks talks about the social stratifications that are setting in as the information age matures.
As Ross Douthat notes in The Atlantic Monthly, a child growing up in a family earning over $90,000 has a 1 in 2 chance of getting a college degree by age 24; a child in a family earning $35,000 to $61,000 has a 1 in 10 chance; a child in a family earning under $35,000 has a 1 in 17 chance.This is a grand challenge and I agree it is very important. How do we allow all American's the opportunity to succeed in life?
The main problem is not that poor students can't afford college. This country has oceans of financial aid sloshing around. As William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil and Eugene Tobin note in their book, "Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education": "The number of students who are currently prevented from enrolling by a straightforward inability to pay is small."
Nor is the main problem that these poorer students don't have access to college. Over the last few decades, the share of young Americans who enter college has shot upward.
The problem is that students who enter college often find they are unable to thrive there. As enrollment rates have shot up, completion rates have actually drifted down. And it is students from less-educated families who are dropping out most.
The new inequality is different from the old inequality. Today, the rich don't exploit the poor, they just outcompete them. Their crucial advantage is not that they possess financial capital, it's that they possess more cultural capital.
The forces driving cultural inequality are powerful, and maybe insurmountable. But each generation of Americans seems to be challenged in its own way to provide its children with an open field and a fair chance. This is our challenge.
via New York Times $elect
Friday, January 13, 2006
Tenzin Gyatso, aka the Dalai Lama, throwing down some fat wisdom about religion and science.
If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.With the huge amount of effort that Christian leaders in the US are fighting evolution, it is nice to see a religious leader spewing a philosophy that makes sense.
So what then is religion's role with science?
I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.Think there is any chance his Hollywood buddies could convince him to stay here and replace Pat Robertson on the 700 Club?
Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.
Via New York Times
The vlogs/video podcasts are starting to take off. NY Times writes about RocketBoom.
In case you're wondering, it has occurred to Mr. Baron and Ms. Congdon that they just might be sitting on a gold mine. At a cost of about $20 an episode, they reach an audience that some days is roughly comparable in size to that of, say, CNN's late, unlamented "Crossfire" political debate show. They have no background in business, but Jeff Jarvis, who tracks developments in technology and culture on his blog, BuzzMachine.com (and who has served as a consultant to The New York Times on Web matters), pointed out to them that they might be able to charge $8,000 for an interactive ad at the end of the show, which would bring in about $2 million annually.It appears vlogs are where blogs were 3 years ago. With the video iPod to watch on the go, and TiVo to watch on the tube, these are going to explode. The advertising model for blogs came from Google's AdSense, to serve up ads. Who will find the way to monetize the vlogs? Actually, I would bet on Google. And once they figure that out, how long until they are determining the ads I watch on all my TV shows?
The financial opportunity here has occurred to others, too. TiVo, which can now be used to watch Web video on home television sets, just signed a deal to list Rocketboom in the TiVo directory - making it as easy to record as conventional television programs like "60 Minutes" and "Monday Night Football." Giving up no creative control, Ms. Congdon and Mr. Baron will get 50 percent of the revenue from ads sold by TiVo to appear before and after their newscast, and their show will gain access to more than 300,000 TV sets connected to those new TiVo boxes.
Via New York Times
The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism. It’s petrolism.I totally agree, and yet another reason for everyone to be cognizant of the ammount of oil they use, and do everything to reduce it. I think we need to rerun those "if you buy drugs you support terrorists" ads, and replace drugs with oil.
Petrolism is the politics of using oil income to buy off one’s citizens with subsidies and government jobs, using oil and gas exports to intimidate or buy off one’s enemies, and using oil profits to build up one’s internal security forces and army to keep oneself ensconced in power — without any transparency or checks and balances.
When a nation’s leaders can practice petrolism, they never have to tap their people’s energy and creativity; they simply have to tap an oil well. And therefore politics in a petrolist state is not about building a society or an educational system that maximizes its people’s ability to innovate, export and compete. It is simply about who controls the oil tap.
In petrolist states like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Sudan, people get rich by being in government and sucking the treasury dry — so they never want to cede power. In non-petrolist states, like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, people get rich by staying outside government and building real businesses.
No matter what happens in Iraq, we cannot dry up the swamps of authoritarianism and violent Islamism in the Middle East without also drying up our consumption of oil — thereby bringing down the price of crude. A democratization policy in the Middle East without a different energy policy at home is a waste of time, money and, most important, the lives of our young people.I was against this whole Iraq war thing from the beginning for this reason. If oil corrupts, then Iraq is the 2nd hardest place in the world to bring democracy (as it has the second highest proven oil reserves). With $100 billion a year in potential Iraqi oil money, that is a lot of reasons for Sunni insurgents to keep fighting for a larger share of the pie. I wonder how many people at the top of this insurgency, the ones who fund it, look at it as "venture terrorism". Idea being that you spend a couple million in funding the Islamic wackos to keep fighting, hoping that your investment pays of in higher oil revenues that flow to the Sunni region and you.
Via Kansas City Star (Really this is an NY Times $elect article, but they don't let the people view it for free. In fact I think they would throw the beat down on the Kansas City Star if they knew they were showing it for free. So lets keep this our little secret for now, ok?)
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Cy, short for Cyclopes, a kitten born with only one eye and no nose, is shown in this photo provided by its owner in Redmond, Oregon, on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005. The kitten, a ragdoll breed, which died after living for one day, was one of two in the litter. Its sibling was born normal and healthy.Wow, what a picture! The armchair geneticist in me hopes they do a DNA test on the cat to figure out what caused it. If we could create animals with 1 eye (or maybe 3 eyes), that would be too cool. Who wouldn't want a cyclopes cat?
Via Yahoo! News
Monday, January 09, 2006
So Google announced they are getting into the Video Store biz. Seems that everyone is getting into this business now. Not sure how good a fit that is for Google, which appears to want to be in every business these days, but glad to see them there none the less.
The thing about most of the content that is being released for download, is that I don't want to watch it on the small video screen of an iPod or a computer screen. I want to watch it in all its HD glory on the big TV screen. Things like Lost, or CSI, or NBA basketball really gain a lot by being on the big screen. So until they are selling an HD form (and at a couple of Gigs an hour, that isn't going to happen for a while), I am not interested.
That is why I was excited to see that Charlie Rose had signed up for the program as well. Charlie Rose gains nothing by being on a fancy TV. Actually, sometimes I wonder if he wouldn't be just as good if he was on radio. He also has a large library that doesn't really lose anything with age. If someone was on his show 5 years ago that interests you, that is still a valuable show to watch.
Put another way, each night Charlie broadcasts an interview with a person I might or might not like. Now, I have the choice between watching it, or going through the library and finding my favorite people he has interviewed over the last 10 years and choosing to watch that. I can select from all the shows he has ever done and watch only the people who interest me.
Another interesting thing that is now possible is to watch how people change. Charlie interviews Bill Gates and Andy Grove every other day (well alright, it just seems like that). It would be interesting to watch all of the Andy Grove shows back to back and see how he has changed over time.
Other content comes from independent film provider Greencine, TV network ITN and the producers of The Charlie Rose Show, which is offering older shows for 99 cents each. The Charlie Rose content is not copy protected and can be moved to portable devices and Google Video Player for offline viewing. All the other available content is copy protected and users will not be able to share it with other devices, according to Chane.I love this. Instead of the $2.00 an episode, he is going with $.99 and not screwing around with lame-ass copy protection. Big props to Charlie and his team for deciding to go this route. Make the price low enough that it isn't worth the effort to try and steal it.
There have been times that I have seen a great show and known of someone that I knew would have loved it. Now I can just forward a link to the show, and my friend can pay the buck to watch it.
I think Charlie Rose is the perfect fit for the current downloadable video technology. And with their price and lack of copy-protection, this seems like a winner to me.