The Future of Everything

March 23, 2012

Male crisis

Filed under: World Finance column — Tags: — David @ 6:22 pm

From World Finance

Is the world of finance too male?  The recent subprime, credit-crunching, sovereign-defaulting global crisis obviously had many causes, but one fact seems unavoidable: nearly everyone involved, at least at a senior level, was a guy.

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January 25, 2012

Vilfredo Pareto and the Occupy movement

Filed under: World Finance column — Tags: — David @ 9:22 am

From World Finance

One of the founders of neoclassical economics in the late 19th century was the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto. It might seem that the musings of a neoclassical economist over a century ago would have little in common with the concerns of the Occupy protestors who recently set up camp in cities all over the world – but his work dealt with similar preoccupations, such as wealth distribution, social stability, ideology, and the role of protest.

Pareto, who was the son of an exiled Italian aristocrat and civil engineer, trained as an engineer in Turin (his dissertation on “The Fundamental Principles of Equilibrium in Solid Bodies” would later inform his thinking on equilibrium in the economy). He went on to become director of a railway company, then a steel company, but was also involved in liberal politics. A dedicated democrat, he attacked the Italian government for corruption and corporatism, and railed against excess regulation.

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Paying for parking

Filed under: World Finance column — Tags: — David @ 9:15 am

Money that pays negative interest … just what the world needs? From World Finance.

When we deposit money in the bank, we usually expect to receive interest in return. But would it be better for the economy as a whole, if instead we had to pay to have our money looked after?

The cost of keeping money, known as demurrage, has been a feature of some currency systems since ancient times. In fact any currency based on commodities will have associated storage costs. For gold, there is the cost of protecting it; for wheat, there is loss due to spoilage.

Those expenses seem like a disadvantage. But just as parking fees make the allocation of parking spaces more efficient, so currency charges can make money more efficient.

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January 5, 2012

Truth and beauty

Filed under: World Finance column — Tags: — David @ 4:12 pm

Latest World Finance column on the relationship between economics and aesthetics.

In a 2009 New York Times article entitled How Did Economists Get It So Wrong? Paul Krugman wrote that “The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.”

Most non-economists, or even economists, would not associate economics with beauty. But a sense of aesthetics plays an important role in many branches of science. Bertrand Russell wrote that “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.” The same kind of beauty is sought and appreciated by researchers in more applied areas as well – not just for its own sake, but because it often seems to indicate that one is on the right path.

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November 2, 2011

Where’s the puck?

Filed under: World Finance column — Tags: , — David @ 7:39 am

Latest World Finance column is on the science of prediction. And hockey.

The Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Businesses and societies try to perform a similar trick, through forecasting. We seem to have a genetic urge to look into the future, to see around the corner, to guess where the puck is going. In fact even simple bacteria have genetic networks that are used to predict the location of food, and move towards it.

Traditionally the domain of religions, astrologers, and mystics, the role of prognosticator-in-chief has now passed to scientists, who use highly complex mathematical models to predict the weather, the spread of diseases, the economy, and much else – positioning ourselves better for whatever is coming up.
Unfortunately, their track record is less impressive than Gretzky’s.

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