Board game recommendations (and reasons to use them)

I’ve played plenty of board games in my life. I’m not (only) talking about Monopoly.

I went to Cambridge (to visit, very sadly, not to study) in 2003. I found an awesome board game store and tried to buy Diplomacy.  The incredibly wise assistant basically forced me to buy Settlers of Catan before he would allow me to buy Diplomacy.

About Settlers of Catan

I have played hundreds of hours of Settlers, and recently gave Diplomacy away never having played it. I still believe it’s an awesome game.  (Strategy, relationships, IQ and EQ, competition and a little backstabbing. What’s not to like?) However, it  requires having enough people, the right sort of people. enough time (a weekend apparently is ideal) and ideally a couple people who have played before because it is complicated.

Now, Settlers has plenty of scope for tension as it is.  I kicked my best friend out of my flat once after a kingmaking incident. I’ve had arguments with significant others over games. And this is Settlers, not Diplomacy.

Do I recommend Settlers? Continue reading “Board game recommendations (and reasons to use them)”

Modelling one side of a two-sided problem

Ah models, my old friends. You’re always wrong, but sometimes helpful. Often dangerous too.

A recent article in The Actuary magazine addressed whether “de-risking in members’ best interests?”  I say “recent” even though it’s from August because I am a little behind on my The Actuary reading.

In the article, the authors demonstrate that by modelling the impact of covenant risk, optimal investment portfolios for Defined Benefit (DB) pensions actually have more risky assets than if this covenant risk is ignored.

The covenant they refer to is the obligation of the sponsor to make good deficits within the pension fund. Covenant risk then is the risk that the sponsor is unable (typically through its own insolvency) to make good on this promise.

On the surface it should seem counterintuitive that by modelling an additional risk to pensioners, the answer is to invest in riskier assets, thus increasing risk.

The explanation proffered by the authors is that the higher expected returns from riskier assets allow the fund to potentially build up surplus, thus reducing the risks of covenant failure.

I can follow that logic, particularly in the case where the dependence between DB fund insolvency and sponsor default is week. It doesn’t mean it’s a useful result. Continue reading “Modelling one side of a two-sided problem”

Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here.

Non-life claims reserves are regularly not discounted, for bad reasons and good. This part of the series looks at the related issue of inflation in claims reserving. (You’ll have to wait for part 3 for me to talk about the analysis that prompted this lengthy series.)

In many markets, inflation is low and stable. Until a decade ago, talk of inflation wouldn’t have raised much in the way of deflation either. That’s still sufficiently unusual to put to one side.

Low, stable inflation means that past claims development patterns are mostly about, in approximate descending order of importance (naturally depending on class and peril) Continue reading “Claims analysis, inflation and discounting (part 2)”

Life in our time of cholera?

I love to read, so I’m not proud to admit right upfront that everything I know about “Love in the time of cholera” I learnt in 3 minutes from wikipedia starting about 3 minutes ago. Seems like a book I should read.

But another than playing on the well known book and movie title, this post has nothing to do with the book.

It has everything to do with cholera. And the very real possibility of a cholera or similar disease outbreak in Cape Town in the next year. Here is a little superficial analysis of the numbers.

The City of Cape Town now expects us to run out of municipal water

The City of Cape Town has gone from claiming unequivocally:

“we want to give the people of Cape Town an assurance that this well-run city will not run out of water.”

on the 17th of August 107 to 4 October 2017’s:

If consumption is not reduced to the required levels of 500-million litres of collective usage per day, we are looking at about March 2018 when supply of municipal water would not be available.

How are dam levels and consumption point away from achieving these targets

CT has been stuck persistently above 600Ml (million litres) per day for an extended period and this is down from a peak of 1,200Ml per day in January 2015. The low hanging fruit are long gone. I do not see how we will decrease consumption by another 20% (since we’re over 600Ml at the moment) and this therefore suggests we will run out of water.

Consumption has reduced significantly, but shows no signs of decreasing below 600Ml per day

Continue reading “Life in our time of cholera?”

Yearning for learning

I’ve found many ways of the years to continue my education – formal and informal. From time to time I feel my self stagnate a little and a change of approach can reinvigorate the process.

For the last few months, podcasts have been the answer. I’m fortunate enough not to have a very long commute typically. I still get 20 minutes each way listening to some amazing podcasts, and longer when I have the opportunity.

Here are three of my favourites:

Sam covers a range of technological, philosophical, neuroscience, political and AI related topics. Generally a super calm, balanced host, he does have occasion to show emotion from time to time, most notably in relation to Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator.

This one is TED, but better.  More curated, more condensed but also supplemented with additional discussions with the speakers, and in a beautiful audio-only format. It turns out that visuals of earnest speaking individuals swaying across the floor doesn’t add as much as you might think to the content.

Best of all, listen to all the podcasts, don’t be tempted to select only the topics you find interesting. Allow yourself to explore unexpected new areas.

Including this is a bit cheeky since I’ve only listened to two episodes. Most recently, on flood insurance (in the wake of Hurricane Harvey at al in the US). This will likely inspire a separate blogpost soon.

I’d like to say that I’ll add to this list over time, but time constraints mean I barely keep up with just these.  I may look to change them up over time, but for now I’m really enjoying the boundary stretching intellectual stimulation of this selection.

The worst insurance policy in the world

Aviva in France is still dealing with having written the worst insurance policy in the world. From the sounds of things, they weren’t alone in this foible. It’s also hard to say as an outsider what the right or reasonable resolution to their current problem is, but here is the policy that they wrote.

  • Buy a policy
  • Choose what funds you want to invest in
  • Unit prices calculated each Friday
  • Allow policyholders to switch funds on old prices until the next week
  • Hope like hell policyholders don’t switch out of poorly performing funds into well performing funds with perfect information based on backwards, stale prices.

Inconceivable – and since I don’t know more than I read on this blog post, maybe the reality and liability is really quite different.

See the FT on the man who could sink Aiva

Economic growth during and after Apartheid and the real problem with 1%

I read a letter from Pali Lehohla on news24 this weekend. Lehohla, the head of StatsSA, disagreed with a report by DaMina Advisors on economic growth in South Africa during and post the apartheid era.

To paraphrase Lehohla, he disagreed with their methodology, their data and their values and ethics:

First, I need to engage the author on methods. Second, I address the facts. Third, I focus on the morality of political systems and, finally, I question the integrity of the luminaries of DaMina and ask them to come clean.

This wasn’t data I had looked at before, but some of Lehohla’s criticisms seemed valid. Using nominal GDP growth data is close to meaningless over periods of different inflation.

Second, the methodology of interpreting economic growth should use real growth instead of nominal growth because this carries with it differing inflation rates. This is to standardise the rates across high and low inflation periods.

I haven’t confirmed the DaMina calculations, but the labels in their table do say “current USD prices” which suggests they have used nominal data. It’s little wonder any period including the 1970s looks great from a nominal growth perspective with nominal USD GDP growth in 1973 and 1974 being 34% and 23%, compared to real growth of 2.2% and 3.8%. The high inflation of the 1970s arising from oil shocks and breakdown of the gold standard distorts this analysis completely.

Lehohla’s other complaint is also important, but less straightforward to my mind –

The methods that underpin any comparison for a given country cannot be based on a currency other than that of the country concerned. The reason is that exchange-rate fluctuations exaggerate the changes beyond what they actually are.

Two problems here – one is that purchasing power adjusted GDP indices are not typically available going far back in history. The other is that if one is using real GDP, the worst of the problems of currency fluctuations are already ironed out. (The worst, certainly not all and it would still be a factor that should be analysed rather than completely overlooked.)

I was disappointed that neither piece mentioned anything at all about real GDP per capita. Does it really matter how much more we produce as a country if the income per person is declining? Income inequality aside, important as it is, more GDP per capita means more earning power per person, more income per person, more things per person. It is a far more useful measure of prosperity for a country, and particularly for comparing economic growth across countries with different population growth rates.

My own analysis, based on World Bank data (available from 1960 to 2013)

real GDP growth (annual %) real GDP per capita growth (annual %)
1961-1969 6.1% 3.5%
1970-1979 3.2% 1.0%
1980-1989 2.2% -0.3%
1990-1999 1.4% -0.8%
2000-2009 3.6% 2.0%
2010-2013 2.7% 1.1%
1961-1990 3.6% 1.2%
1971-1990 2.4% 0.1%
1991-2010 2.6% 1.3%
1991-2013 2.6% 0.8%

 

I’ve put these numbers out without much analysis. However, it’s pretty clear that on the most sensible measure (real GDP per capita) over the periods the DaMina study considered, post-apartheid growth has been better than during the 1971-1990 period of Apartheid.

The conclusion is reversed if one includes the 1960s Apartheid economy and the latest data to 2013, the picture is reversed on both measures.

This, above all else, should talk to the dangers of selecting data to suit the outcome.

This analysis doesn’t talk to the impact of the gold standard, the low cost of gold mining closer to the surface than it is now, the technological catch-up South Africa should have benefited from more in the past, the impact of international sanctions and expenditure on the old SADF and who knows what else. There are much big monsters lurking there that I am not equipped to begin to analyse.

My overall conclusion? The Apartheid days were not “economically better” even without ignoring the millions of lives damaged. Unfortunately, our economic growth has for decades been too low to progress our economy to provide a better life for all.

Here is the problem:

1961-2013 1961-2013
Real GDP growth Real per capita GDP growth
South Africa 3.2% 1.0%
Kenya 4.6% 1.3%
Brazil 4.3% 2.3%
USA 3.1% 2.0%

Despite the theory of “Convergence“, the US has had double South Africa’s per capita GDP growth for over five decades.  Real GDP per capita increased by 72% in South Africa over the entire period from 1960 to 2013, which sounds impressive until you realise that the US managed 189%. That is more than 2.5x our growth Brazil has done even better at 237%. “Even Kenya” outperformed us over this period.

1% per annum real per capita GDP growth is just not good enough.