Tag Archives: economist

Zuma’s empty election promises causing unrest

AWB was better than ANC poster

The Economist has an article on Zuma, South Africa, and the recession.


  • The current recession means that many of Zuma’s grand campaign promises are falling aside
  • This is causing serious problems among the impatient poor masses
  • It is also causing problems among his powerful left leaning COSATU and communist allies
  • The fact that Tito Mboweni is leaving (suspiciously timed) suggests that perhaps Zuma is giving in to pressure
  • It will be crucial to see if Zuma is able to “hold his left-wing allies in check” during the recession

In short, my take is this:

South Africa is full of poor people (40% of our population is below the poverty line).

These poor masses are impatient to improve their lot. They also believe that this is their right and will happen fast.

  • Many believe their current situation to be the direct result of past injustice
  • They have all been promised quick and drastic change by the ANC

With good governance and hard work their lot should improve – but only over time.

This is a problem because:

  • We do not have good governance. Especially at the extremely important municipal level we often have shockingly bad governance
  • The ANC promises unrealistic and quick results. Zuma made lots of mad promises during the campaign which are now falling by the wayside

So we have an already impatient, poor and jobless population being continually disappointed you surely have a recipe for unrest and possible disaster?

Positive thinking works – but only if you believe it

I believe that a lot of life is a big confidence game.

From sport to public speaking, to work, to relationships I have found that self-belief goes a long way. I call it my confidence trick and it’s worked very well for me.

The Economist has an article outlining experimental results that suggest positive thinking can leave you worse off – if you don’t believe the positive thoughts.

Read the article for details of the experiment, but in short the results were:

  • High self-esteem => benefit from positive thoughts
  • Low self-esteem => worse off because of positive thoughts!

The article goes on to suggest that the positive thoughts clash with the self beliefs of those with low self-esteem thereby reinforcing those negative self-perceptions!

Positive thought - works if you believe itSo, positive thoughts do help – but only if you believe them.

Pott’s confidence trick has experimental support!

Incidentally, I think that this is the reason that religion is beneficial to many. Religion is a positive thoughts believability engine. The problem is that it so often gets co-opted into ignorant or political ends.

Yearbook smiles related to lower divorce rate

The Economist has a very interesting article reporting experiments that show a relationship between smiling in a yearbook photo and divorce later in life.

The Experiment

  • The experimenters got hold of about 700 yearbook photos
  • The smiles in the photos were then rated
  • Smile ratings were then statistically compared with divorce in later life

The Results

  • Never divorced subjects had average smile ratings of 5.9
  • Divorced subjects had average smile ratings of 5.2 (a statistically significant difference)
  • Those who were least smiling were three times more likely to be divorced than those who were most smiling

It seems that statistically significant information can be gleaned from a thin “slice” of information. Smiles really do indicate personality.

Our brains appear to solve problems unconsciously

One day, back when I was a schoolboy, I got stuck with a particularly tricky programming problem. After unsuccessfully puzzling over the problem I decided to take a break and went for a walk with my family.

About an hour later, while chatting about something else entirely, I was suddenly struck by the solution – it just popped into my head. It was an excellent example of the subconscious mind ticking away at a problem.

Since then I have often wondered at how solutions seem to just pop into my mind. When trying to solve a tricky problem or brain-teaser the solution suddenly appears – but from where?

Sometimes I can follow my conscious thought process systematically arriving at a solution – but often it just pops into my consciousness.

The Economist has this fascinating article about an experiment illustrating that the subconscious mind is responsible for at least some problem solving.

Experimental subjects were faced with a brain-teaser had their brains scanned while they attempted to solve the problem.

Several seconds (up to eight) before a subject had a eureka moment his/her brain waves altered significantly.

This seems to show that the test subjects had subconsciously solved the problem several seconds before they consciously realized that they had the solution.

We are hopelessly ignorant of the workings of human consciousness. I truly hope that during my lifetime experiments such as this one will reveal this fascinating miracle.

Economist Summaries – Feb 7 part 1

I love The Economist. I find their articles well written, logical, current, and often fascinating. The problem is that each week there are just too many articles to read them all.

I’ve always wished that there was a site available providing concise summaries of the articles for easier reading. There isn’t one that I can find so I figured I would give it a try. I banged out some notes as I read through this week’s edition.

Here is the first part of my roundup (there are plenty more articles just from this edition)…

Zimbabwe – Wait and see

  • Morgan Tsvangarai has bowed to pressure from Southern African countries and joined a government of national unity
  • The Economist reckons that this is probably not going to do much good – nothing has changed
  • In fact this move may help Mugabe by providing his evil regime with a ‘fig leaf’ of legitimacy
  • The Economist argues that targeted sanctions should continue until there is real change

The world economy – The return of economic nationalism

  • This article argues against the temptation towards economic nationalism
    • In short economic nationalism is anti-trade action taken by a country with the goal of benefiting the local economy (e.g. only buying US products, increasing tariffs, etc)
  • The US stimulus package has a controversial clause that would “press for the use of American materials in public works”
  • The argument is that trade is necessary for recovering from the recession – economic nationalism would damage trade and therefore make it more difficult for everyone to recover
  • The Economist says that Barack Obama should be applying three principles
    • Coordination: The various stimulus plans should be well coordinated for greater effect
    • Forbearance: Don’t go for the quick fix now that will hurt even more later
    • Multilateralism: Work together with the rest of the world to recover

Infrastructure and the stimulus bill – Be careful what you wish for

  • This article discusses the various options available as targets in the public works stimulus bill
  • There is a balance between getting going quickly and taking on really worth while projects
  • In many cases repairs to existing infrastructure would be more useful, and more effective uses of the money

Open government – Track my tax dollars

  • In 2006 Barack Obama and another junior senator called for an online database where people could easily track how government was spending their taxes
  • The bill was initially blocked by dodgy senators but they were revealed and shamed by bloggers!
  • There are now several effective online portals that allow the public to see how dollars are spent

Australia’s economic stimulus – Hey big spender

  • Article describing the Australian stimulus package to try to avoid recession
  • Their package is worth USD27 billion – the biggest in Australia’s history

Ethiopia – A row over human rights

  • This article describes how the Ethiopian government is suppressing human rights
  • Specifically freedom of speech has been completely suppressed

More shocking evolution stats

Numbers like those represented in this graph from The Economist upset me badly. The fact that only about 40% of Americans believe evolution is true is just horrific!

Anyone who knows anything about evolution (it is so fundamental that it should be taught in primary school) should see evolution for what it is – obviously true.

Evolution is so mind-blowingly obvious that I’m often surprised when intelligent friends refute it. I’ve gone to great lengths to understand how intelligent people who are not ignorant of the details can still argue against evolution.


These guys and girls are so desperate to hold onto something that they reject something as fundamental and as obvious as evolution…

Graph showing belief in evolution by country

Wind power is taking off

Despite my own misgivings about wind power it seems to be taking off globally. This is a good thing – the more clean energy the better. I am still not convinced that wind is the ultimate solution, but it certainly does help.

This graph and excerpt from The Economist shows that global wind power production is climbing exponentially. Also, USA has now become the largest wind power producer in the world.

Economist graph showing wind production increasing

Why people procrastinate

The Economist has this article reviewing experimental results that suggest people are more likely to procrastinate when given abstract tasks:

  • Concrete tasks = Act on time
  • Abstract tasks = More likely to procrastinate

The experiments
Three individual experiments were used to test the hypothesis. In each experiment test subjects were offered a reward (a few dollars) to complete a task within 3 weeks. Half were given a concrete task and the other half an abstract task.

The results
In all of the experiments the researchers found that those given concrete tasks were:

  1. Quicker to respond
  2. Far more likely to respond at all

The article itself doesn’t include much in the way of interpretation. I would think it quite obvious.

  • Concrete tasks: If you have confidence in what is required and that the task won’t change then it pays to get on with it
  • Abstract tasks: However, if the requirement is unclear and might change then it pays to hold out. If you get going you may do the wrong thing or the requirement might change.


Economist analysis of the Obama innauguration speech

There are many analyses of Obama’s inauguration speech out there. Predictably, I like the one from The Economist. You can read the transcript of the speech here.

On the tone of the speech:

  • The speech was sobering rather than celebratory or inspirational
  • “By choosing to talk of hardships and sacrifice, the new president has begun the work of preparing voters for prolonged economic malaise, among other difficulties”
  • The tone of the speech also made sense politically: “it was shrewd to emphasise just how dreadful a mess he is inheriting from his predecessor”

On the environment and energy:

  • He stated the need to make use of renewable/cleaner energy sources
  • He wants to restore science to its rightful place

On foreign policy:

  • He rejected the false choice between safety and democratic ideals. In other words no more torture and dodgy “Bush” business in the name of national security
  • He reached out to the Muslim world: “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Wind power: not the solution

wind-millsThe Economist has a long article on the history and details of wind power over the years. Using the wind to generate electricity is beloved of greens because it produces little or no pollution. However, I have never had a good feeling about wind power as a solution.

Here are some of the reasons that I feel wind isn’t the way to go.

1. Not the final solution
Wind energy on Earth is vast, but not unlimited. According to a study quoted in the article wind-energy potential is only 5 times global energy demand. So even if all wind energy was captured (wind turbines all over Earth) we wouldn’t have a solution to meet substantial energy demand growth.

2. I don’t like wind turbines
Wind turbines are massive, expensive, noisy, and damaging to birds (okay that is a little tenuous). In order to make significant inroads into our energy requirements enormous numbers of the beasts would be required. It doesn’t seem like an elegant solution. They are also too expensive to be economical.

3. Winds are irregular and in the wrong places
Not only do you need to find a location for the turbines, but they need to be where the winds are. That is often not where (and when) the winds are so you need to build huge transmission networks to the middle of nowhere.

Conclusion – wind power isn’t the way to go
I just don’t believe that wind power is going to solve our problems. I really like the idea of personal turbines (especially in windy Vredehoek) but wind power is not the solution to the energy crisis!

I believe that solar power is the ultimate solution, but until then nuclear energy is definitely the way to go. Proven technology, not too dangerous, green, economical. Nuclear is the way to go.