Category Archives: communication

When is revenue lost?

In respect for Nelson Mandela’s death and funeral, many retailers closed yesterday for the day. This Business Day article claims a R300m loss for the retail industry as a result.

Except, no. Some fraction of those sales might be permanently lost, but the income hasn’t been spent and the cash still sits in shoppers’ pockets. The R300m is mostly just delayed.

There will be some impact where closed shops sacrifice sales to open shops.

There might even be some small amount of decreased consumption and therefore increased saving. The article headline wasn’t, “Retailers sacrifice means an increase of R300m in personal savings.”

This is part of an ongoing trend (probably for hundreds of years) for journalists, even respected financial journalists working at a respect newspaper, to seek the most impressive headline. It also reflects our very human tendency to ignore second order effects. Which is a pity because that’s where the really interesting analysis lies.

Does being richer make you feel better than being cooler?

Economists (and actuaries) like to measure things.

The easier to measure and the more reliable the measure, the more we like to measure it. This is not unlike the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp because that’s where the light is even if it isn’t where he dropped the keys.

Sometimes the most important things to measure are very difficult to measure reliably. Happiness is one of these things.  Economists have been trying to measure this for decades with interesting, counter-intuitive and sometimes contradictory results.

Recent research suggests that maybe money does make people happier after all.

Three Years of Mumbling

I can’t believe how the same blog post is basically exactly relevant, word for word, 3 years later.

Eskom produces electricity for the country and makes a profit or a loss doing so. This profit or loss goes back into treasury, which, inefficiencies aside, belongs collectively to the citizens of South Africa.

If prices are too low and Eskom makes a loss, this shortfall must be made up through higher taxes or lower government spending. If Eskom is not given additional capital, it will have to stop buying coal and stop investing in new infrastructure.

Read more about Mumbling in the Dark in 2009


If your model has always been wrong

Piet, a reader who comments from time to time on this blog, hasn’t enjoyed what I’ve said about the economy recently. I’ve tried really hard, entirely ineffectively it seems, to answer his points and tease out exactly where his real problems lie.

This post by Paul Krugman talks exactly to “Piet’s views” – the deep-seated emotional views and ideologies that “must” make sense without the careful thought, analysis and model-building required. The same views that have proved almost completely ineffective at predicting anything so far.

Lots of people declared that they “just couldn’t believe” that huge budget deficits wouldn’t drive up interest rates, that “printing” lots of money wouldn’t cause runaway inflation, that slashing government spending wouldn’t have a positive effect on confidence. We know how that has turned out.

Paul doesn’t talk in this post about those who then start changing the facts that don’t agree with their views. “Inflation must be high because the Fed is printing money, but inflation isn’t high, therefore the measure of inflation must be wrong.” – even though multiple independent measures suggest the same level of inflation.

what a difference several years make

The laminated card in the seat pocket of the SAA Boeing 737-800 I’m flying in describes how I can use most devices in “flight mode” once in the air.
It’s dated November 2011, but I’m quite sure I’ve still heard cabin crew telling people off for not having their phones off over the last two months. However late, be it several years or several years and two months, the relaxation of the draconian and relatively unique restrictions on the use of electronic devices in the air has been lifted.
So rather than losing 4 hours of my life with every Cape Town – Joburg trip, I now lose more like 2 hours and get to plough through an embarrassingly large list of unattended emails and arrive with a sense of accomplishment, lower stress levels and hopefully fewer irate colleagues waiting on email replies.
Now I can’t wait for a wifi connection so I can retrieve truncated emails and attachments and communicate in real time. And publish the posts I write while on the plane!

Dangerous information

Land Restitution is an emotional issue.

It’s not really a practical issue since recent history has shown that not all beneficiaries of land restitution ultimately want to work the land. This is also entirely reasonable given the change of our economy from a primary economy to a secondary and tertiary economy over the last 50 years.

So when I read that the SA Institute of Race Relations states that more land could have been returned to black beneficiaries if money was not offered instead, I just wonder what the point is.

If people are accepting cash rather than land, it may well be because they want the cash rather than the land. Given land, I’m not aware that there is a prohibition on selling that land (which would be a poorer form of property right than they originally had so surely can’t be allowed) so we could end up in the same situation.

The danger for me is that the measures of land restitution could so easily, accurately and misleadingly, refer to the amount of land that has been restituted, or the amount of land currently in the hands of black South Africans, when this is clearly not an accurate measure of what progress has been achieved.


Narratives vs facts

I don’t usually write about The Final Frontier, but this article has a great parallel to what I do write about.

It’s worth reading the entire article, but the main message is that we cannot use the dream or story or fairy tale of imminent migration into space and other planets as an excuse not to deal with the very real problems we have on Earth right now. The misconceptions, Hollywood induced and otherwise, about the ease of space travel or even the extent of our current capabilities, are massive.

As with so many things, the stories that fill our society can be very different from the harsh reality.