The future is now

It is a truism that Western economies face a demographic problem: more older people and fewer working-age people will mean a higher dependency ratio. This future problem, we are told, requires action now, Now, NOW! We must prepare for the future by raising the retirement age and reducing superannuation payments.

Except that the future is already here, and no one has pushed the panic button. Continue reading

What’s this ‘we’ stuff?

Alex Tabarrok posted at Marginal Revolution about sticky wages. It’s an interesting bit of mathematics. I can see his point, that sticky wages for employed people can keep the labour market from adjusting. Because the unemployed are a minority of the labour force, even large reductions in the wages they are willing to accept have a small impact on the total wage bill.

My reaction to this bit

If all employed workers accepted a 5% pay cut (or if the government ordered such a cut) and the Fed kept targeting inflation, we’d experience rapid economic growth.

was, ‘What’s this “we” stuff?’. Continue reading

Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds

NZIER (where I work) has just published a new Insight on the next steps for water policy. The Royal Society recently published an issues paper on ecosystem services. Natural capital and the value it creates for the economy is clearly topical. Continue reading

Double taxation doublespeak

I generally stay out of tax debates. I don’t know the economic theories, and valid comparisons are difficult to make.

This comparison by Rodney Hide (via Kiwiblog) bothered me, however:

A business generates $100 a year. The going discount rate is 10 percent. The value of the business is $1,000. That’s if there’s no tax.

Introduce a tax of, say, 30 percent, and the business now yields only $70 a year. The business is worth only $700. The tax liability is capitalised into the value of the business. Continue reading

Tim Harford – reviews

Tim Harford, columnist for the Financial Times and author a new book, Adapt, will be delivering the opening keynote address at the NZAE conference on 29 June in Wellington. The main idea (apparently – I’m waiting until the conference to buy a copy) is that we need to adapt through trial and error, rather than relying on experts to design grand solutions. Continue reading

Small business is personal

It started out as a simple question: is a $75,000 liquidator’s fee for the $117,000 sale of a small shop appropriate? Thus I enter the disreputable world of business deaths and promises not met. One online search leads to another and I start to question whether my combing of court liquidation records is proving informative or simply entertaining (a type of schadenfreude). Continue reading

The nuclear power option

There has been a lot of attention given to nuclear power given Fukushima. I don’t know what the real story is, but there are alternative viewpoints to consider. For illustration, here are a few links suggesting difficulties in measurement and comparison of options, and the possible sensationalisation of the current crisis. Continue reading

Initial Christchurch earthquake impact on spending

Nationwide spending through the Paymark electronic payments network dropped 6% from year-ago levels on Tuesday 22 February, the day of the second major Christchurch earthquake, mostly due to a 33% spending drop in the Canterbury region. Subsequent to this there has been only partial recovery in Canterbury and some shift in spending to South Canterbury, but spending beyond these two regions has resumed at the faster-than-of-late 6% p.a. witnessed earlier in February.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

We all like success. But do we really understand why some succeed and others do not? Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a superb book offering some insights. Just as importantly, it is readable. Gladwell is a story-teller. He has purposely pitched the book at the ‘popular audience’. He is doing something right judging by the book topping overseas best-seller lists recently.

Not surprisingly success is a combination of ability, effort and timing. It is the last two factors on which Gladwell focuses, suggesting for example that 10,000 hours of ‘practice’ was a huge part of the success of Bill Gates and the Beatles, as well as fortunate timing. Another interesting statistic is the prevalence of March quarter birthdays amongst top Canadian ice hockey players, suggestive that a 1 January cut-off for children’s sports teams has biased the chances of sporting success later in life.

The New Zealand Listener recently ran an extensive review of these themes, including a check on the birthdates of the All Blacks. And, yes, the same bias appears to be present.

Gladwell also explores the role of communication. Communication matters, especially in the cockpit of a commercial plane. You will be pleased to know that New Zealand pilots score well in terms of a “power distance index”. In plain terms, we are willing to speak up, even if the message will upset our supposed superiors. But don’t get too complacent: we don’t score so well when it comes to numbers – for a very logical reason, it turns out.

The stories and insights just keep on flowing, building a fascinating picture of success as a legacy. The popular myth is that of overnight success but more likely success builds gradually. So you are right, in part: it was your parents’ fault all along. But think again. Buried in your past are the seeds of your own success, be it a work ethic or an attitude or a stubbornness or merely some chance acquaintance.

The major criticism of the book appears to be ‘so what?’ The stories are entertaining but the key message is hardly new. That may be the case. But that does not disempower the book. To me, reconsidering what determines my likely success, and considering under what conditions I might succeed, is well worth the time.

You will probably enjoy this book if you liked: Black Swan, another recent top-seller jammed with wonderful stories by Nassim Taleb.