Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Advertisements: one 'd.' Therefore 'ads,' not 'adds.' 'Adds' is the present tense third-person singular of 'to add.'

Dear Morrison's supermarket,

What the hell is the point of selling mince pies in a nice Christmassy box, when the use-by date is some time in late November?

Trickle-down economics: the theory that the vast and ever-expanding reservoirs belonging to the extremely rich might one day overflow a little bit. (more…)

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A Watched Pot

Hutton's posted again, this time on the general theme of priorities. (Y'know, I think he may actually have been reading some of my critiques of his posts! Not comprehending, mind—that might be too much to ask, and would probably prove a god exists, by way of being an actual documented miracle in its own right.)

He begins with a little anecdote which, by coincidence, kind of ties in with a few other bits and bobs I've read, watched programmes about and talked about offline lately:

Some weeks ago I witnessed a person get very angry because a kettle had been filled up and boiled for one person. This was a "waste of money". Strictly speaking, it is slightly (very slightly) more expensive to boil a full kettle than a part one (and of course, we mustn't forget the ozone layer, must we!) but what is a few pence compared to eternity?

Forgetting the eternity question for the moment… (more…)

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This began life as a comment at Barb's Gift Of Gab. It kinda grew, though, beyond the sort of word-length considered normal for comments. So I put it here, instead.

So, your company is polluting the planet. How can you defend that? You can't.

Your company is using sweat-shop labour. How can you defend that? You can't.

Your company is dodging taxes to the tune of millions or billions of dollars per year. How can you defend that? You can't.

Your company contributed, directly or indirectly, to the current financial crisis by dodgy dealing and fostering an attitude of 'To hell with the consequences, as long as we make a buck.' How can you defend that? You can't.

So what do you do? Do you, perhaps, admit your "mistakes" and buckle down to correct them? Don't be silly. Maybe you publicly deny them, but quietly work to correct them, in hopes that no one will notice? Well, maybe, but you'll still lose make less money, so on consideration … nah.


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A Hair’s Breadth

Recession news stories regularly talk about billions and trillions of dollars these days, unfortunately on the wrong side of the balance sheet. Popular TV shows about science describe unimaginably small particles along with equally unimaginably large numbers of stars, galaxies, distances and possible life-bearing planets. Young earth creationists espouse a thousands-of-years history instead of billions, often with no apparent sense of just how much they're shortening the life-span of the universe by. The latter, if we take the current estimate of the age of the universe as 13.75 billion years and the creationist claim of a six thousand year old universe, means that they're claiming the universe is just 0.00004% as old as it actually is. For those who prefer fractions, that's 41,000,000. If we're talking about the age of the Earth, they're closer to correct but still wrong by several orders of magnitude. They're claiming the planet to be just 0.0001% or 110,000 its actual age.

I sometimes wonder if, just maybe, an inability to grasp the sheer length of time that geology and cosmology give evolution to work with—how much time is allowed for tiny, minuscule changes to accumulate—doesn't play a small part in biblical literalists' easy denial of evolution. This post isn't about religion or creationists, though, and they're certainly not the only ones to have a hard time grasping very big and very small numbers.

An example.


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Orders Of Magnitude

When I was a kid, annual government budgets, world spending on this-and-that, and such were discussed in millions and billions. Nowadays we get trillions rolled out regularly. You get the impression, though, that few people have any emotional grasp of just how huge a trillion actually is. Think of it this way:

Take a look at an ordinary (metric) ruler. Specifically, look how small one millimetre is.

  • 1,000 (1 thousand) mm = 1 metre (3' 313" )
  • 1,000,000 (1 million) mm = 1 kilometre (0.6 miles).
  • 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) mm = 1,000 (1 thousand) kilometres (621 miles).
  • 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) mm = 1,000,000 (1 million) kilometres (621,371 miles).

So a trillion is to a billion, what a metre is to a millimetre.

The old British system gives them slightly more intuitive names; a modern/American billion is one thousand million. A modern/American trillion would have been called a billion, but could be expressed as one million million! Kinda puts the figures into perspective, don’t it.

Oh, and to give some sense of scale to this; the circumference of the Earth at the equator is 40,075 kilometres. At a dollar a millimetre, 1 trillion dollars would take you around the world just under 24,953,213 times.

Here’s the thing, though. With international debts now being expressed in cumulative trillions, yet world population being expressed in very low billions, it would seem that, on average, every person on the planet has debts—personally or via their representative governments—to the tune of thousands of dollars. Is it just me, or have we reached the point where, at a personal level, that kind of finance leaves me wondering just who in hell, given the interconnectedness of word-markets and such, we owe all this seemingly conjured-from-thin-air money to?

Here’s some rather depressing figures:

  • Worldwide military spending: $1.6 trillion.
    (Cost of nuclear weapons—which have only been actually used in warfare twice, in 1945—worldwide per year: $100 billion).
    (Cost of one M1 Abrams tank: $621 million. Around 9,000 of this model of tank alone, have been produced and sold.)
  • Worldwide governmental spending on medical research seems amazingly hard to find a figure for. Seems to be in the ballpark of $100-$200 billion, though.
  • Cost of drilling a well to supply water for an average-sized community in sub-Saharan Africa: $3,000.
  • Worldwide spending on space exploration: $35 billion.

I spent half an hour trying to find figures to work out how much revenue would be made if churches paid the same taxes as any other organisation, even taking charitable work into consideration. I gave up. If the figure wasn’t in the high billions or low trillions, though, I’d be very much surprised.

Note how expensive, by an order of thousands of times its nearest rival, the most expensive item on that list is. I’ll leave you, gentle reader, to dwell on that rather unpleasant picture of the human race’s priorities…

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