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Welcome to Signposts and Indicators! Sociological News
A publication from Organized Change Consultancy
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2014 December

Privacy, anyone?
The Economist, Dec 5, 2014

Though local police complain, such companies as Apple and Whatsapp(owned by Facebook) offer encryption by default. Apple and Microsoft offer full disk encryption (FDES), which is now feasible and only a click away. On the other hand, Regin, state-sponsored malware, tracks your access to sites and related information such as airlines, messages sent to others, and additional vital information. Regin, a dwarf in the Niebelung saga, told his son Sigurd to use dragon’s blood to learn the speech of animals. In a variation of the legend though, Regin also tries to kill him. An apt name for spyware

2014 November

Religious belief and education
The Economist Oct. 14, 2014

Perhaps Boko Haram, ISIS and al Qaeda are right: It turns out that increasing the amount of education decreases religiosity. For every year of schooling, there is a 10% decrease in school and mosque attendance. Comparing when mandatory increases in public education occurred, a number of studies, in Europe, Turkey and Canada. Superstitious beliefs declined as well.

2014 October

What, no imitation?
MIT Sloan Management Review August 2014

The Chinese are often chastised for being just imitators and followers. This, however, may be changing. For example, a drug company broke people into small teams, each working on a separate part of drug discovery; They are also using German software normally used in manufacturing to speed up their research. Another Chinese company create modular housing, complete with utilities, and assembles components into large apartment complexes. One wonders why Pepsi started a research facility in Shanghai. Perhaps they will become the teachers of the West as well.

2014 September

Labor flexibility in the US may be on the decline.
The Economist, August 30, 2014
Job fluidity, that is how often people switch jobs, can have two sources: moving between existing jobs, the churn that normally happens, and job reallocation, which happens when people get laid off or expanding (or new) companies hire them. Economists Davis and Haltiwagger have found that both have declined, especially among the young an least educated. The Economist blames weaker "hire at will" policies, as well as increased certification requirements for many jobs. However, they leave out the effect of those ever-aging Baby Boomers, and their willingness to hang on to jobs for a few years more.

2014 August

Birds do it, bees do it, even young Iranians do it…
The Economist, August 9, 2014
An 82-page document recently issued by Iran’s parliamentary research department is stark in its findings. Not only are young adults sexually active, with 80% of unmarried females having boyfriends, but secondary-school pupils are, too. Illicit unions are not just between girls and boys; 17% of the 142,000 students who were surveyed said that they were homosexual. Their recommendation to deal with this: Encourage young Iranians to commit to a sigheh, a temporary marriage allowed in Shi’a Islam. The parliamentary has not gotten any press in Iranian media.

2014 July

The Tea Party, scalded, (and scalding)
The Economist, and other new sources, June 28, 2014.
It seems to Tea Party caused Eric Cantor’s downfall at the Majority leader in the US House of Representatives, but lost in Oklahoma, and may make the party lose by losing. The incumbent, Mississippi Senator Chris McDaniel, won by only 1500 votes, to the chagrin of his Tea Party challenger, Mr. Cochran. Mississippi has no mechanism to challenge voting results, outside of a lawsuit. This divisive battle will last much longer than this election.

2014 June

Demographics, Moderated by Education
Economist, May 31, 2014
It seems the world population’s increase will eventually decline: Right now the world produces 2.5 children for every couple. The “replacement rate” is 2.1 on average, though this has to be adjusted based on infant mortality. The poor birth rate of Koreans (1.3), Germans(1.4), Japanese(1.4) does not bode well for their countries. Someone has to take care of the elderly and the pensioners, but it won’t be their kids.
It seems though, that education plays a moderating factor, according to Eric Striessing and Wolfgang Lutz from a couple of Viennese academic institutions. Those who are better educated are more productive, and tend to be healthier. It seems we have to educate the few kids we have left.

2014 May

More than Just a Pretty Face
The Economist, May 3, 2014.
We can usually agree that beauty and healthiness are related; Perhaps that’s why we try to mate with the prettier ones. It turns out though, that the desirability of traditionally feminine features is correlated with their country’s national health score. Those males from healthier countries prefer women with more masculine features; The opposite is also true.

2014 April

Will Japanese women honorably rebel?
The Economist, March 29 2014
Japan has, compared to other OECD countries, some of the most highly-educated women. Yet, it has one of the lowest female labor-participation rates (63%). Prime Minister wants to change that, though his party encouraged women to stay in the home for many years. Many of those women are in part-time clerical jobs. Japan ranks 123rd out of 189 countries in women elected to the Diet( Parliament). Women still do the vast majority of childcare, and few use nannies. Declining household incomes, an increasing divorce rate, and the hiring of women by Western firms have begun to change this.

2014 March

Does income redistribution affect growth?

The Economist
March 4, 2014
In a new paper Berg,Ostry and Charalambos Tsangarides tease out the separate effects of inequality and redistribution. They turn to a data set put together by Frederick Solt, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, containing Gini (a measure of wealth concentration) indices for 173 economies spanning a period of five decades.
They conclude that up to a point, spreading the wealth around carries no growth penalty: growth in income per person is not meaningfully lower in countries with more redistribution. But economies that redistribute a lot may enjoy shorter growth spells, the authors reckon. When the gap between the market and net Ginis is 13 points or more (as in much of western Europe) further redistribution shrinks the typical expansion. The authors caution against drawing hasty conclusions. Details surely matter; nationalizing firms and doling out profits would presumably be worse for growth than taxing property to fund education.

2014 February

Factors affecting risk

The Economist, January 25, 2014

Do you feel lucky? That depends on what just happened to you, and how often bad things have happened in the past. People who report higher stock returns when they were younger have a higher risk profile when older; Finland’s poor economy in the 1990’s affected the risk-taking of its people: industries and regions hit harder were less likely to own stocks later. Natural disasters, and even showing a gruesome horror movie make us more cautious.

2014 January

Hot under the collar means you get cranky

Scientific American Mind, January 2014

As reported in the August 2013 edition of Nature, it seems that there is a linear relation between higher temperatures, less rainfall and more drought on one hand, and violence on the other. If US counties are .3 degrees C higher than normal, and African countries .6 C higher, increased violence occurs. Resulting increased brain temperatures may play a role.

2013 December

Adam and Eve were groupies, and religious conservatives don’t like it.

The Economist No. 23, 2013

Those that believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible were, for a while, given some cover and consolation that all of Homo Sapiens seemed to have been derived from the genes of a single male, and a single female millions of years ago. This chimed nicely with the origin story in Genesis, despite some rather significant problems with time(6000 years vs 180,000 ) for our particular species. However, later research has shown that it was more of a small group of humans, rather than a single African “Adam” and “Eve”. This, in combination with decreasing interest among the young in America in religion, spells trouble for the future of religious fundamentalism in the US.

2013 November

Erectus R Us

CNN, Scientific American and The Wall St. Journal websites

It has been an open question among anthropologists whether one species or several emerged from Africa 2.4 million years ago. The variation among specimens made that hard to determine. However, with the advent of four individual specimens taken from the same area in the country of Georgia, it seems that Homo Erectus was a species where individuals varied a fair amount, but still belonged to the same population. They all seemed ugly to me though.

2013 October

If we can innovate, why can’t Mexico?

Scientific American, October 2013.

Mexico is 10th in GDP, yet it is 34th (.43%) in terms of percent of GDP spent on R&D. (Israel is highest, at 4.8%, followed by S. Korea at 4%). Strangely though, 130,000 engineers and technicians graduate from their universities each year, and Mexican scientists invented an early color TV, the birth control pill, and helped identify the ozone hole. Other causes, besides poor investment dollars, may explain why Mexico rarely creates innovative companies. It turns out that government grants have to be spent all at once, but then are taxed heavily. There is little incentive to take risks on small start-ups, will banks only willing to lend to large, already-established firms. There are few incentives for government researchers to start their own companies, and sometimes receive active resistance by other faculty when attempting to do so. The newly-elected administration promises to change this, but it is not so much a monetary issue, but a cultural one.

2013 September

No, Your Teacher’s Daughter won’t Teach Your Daughter, at least in Mexico

The Economist, August 31, 2013, and The WSJ website, Sept, 1, 2013

The Mexican Congress recently passed reform legislation, aimed at reducing the power of its teacher’s union. Many in Mexico decry its poor primary education system. It didn’t help that retiring teachers can often sell their position to successors, and others allow their children to inherit the position. Expect militant teachers to combine forces with Mexico City’s mayor, Mr. Obrador to protest this and the just passed oil legislation.

2013 August

A Pinch in Pensions

The Economist, July 27- Aug 2, 2013

The bankruptcy of Detroit, with its out-size pension and health-care contributions raises a larger question: How will public pensions be funded? Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers, and with their defined benefit pensions being paid to them. The assumed rate of return for pension funds is 7.5 to 8%, which means that pensions are underfunded by about a trillion dollars. A more realistic rate of 5% means the pension shortfall would be 4.1 trillion dollars. The social contract between these boomers and the government is soon to be shredded; What affect will that have on the sense of security a secure pension has given them?

2013 July

Immigration Costs and Passages.

CNN and The Wall St. Journal, various dates

The US Senate passed an immigration bill with 67 votes a few days ago; It’s fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain. Some provisions in the bill are designed to allow “cover” for conservative Republicans to vote for the bill. Whether this will be enough is an open question. A recent Congressional Budget Office(considered to be a neutral, highly respected analysis team) said that the net effect of the immigration bill will reduce the federal budget deficit by $700 billion over 10 years. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s estimate was it would increase the federal deficit by 6.3 trillion over 30 years.

2013 June

Rotting Tomatoes in Xingjing

The Economist, May 25, 2013

Xinjiang is a Chinese city on what used to be the southern route of the Silk Road. Most are Muslim and a fair proportion have blue eyes and lighter-colored hair. It is known for this and inter-ethnic violence that has sparked a low-level insurgency of the Uighurs against the Chinese government and inter-ethnic violence in 2009. In response to this, the Chinese government has imported many Han Chinese from the coastal regions. They are organized into workers and paramilitary groups, and now account for about 17% of global ketchup production. City governments do not have jurisdiction over these Han Chinese, who are organized into bingtuan. The Han, organized into militias, has recently conducted anti-terrorism drills. Any guesses as to when more violence will occur?

2013 May

Perhaps, Coming to a Russian Spring Near You

The Economist, April 20-26th 2013

Alexei Navalny has been a thorn in the side of President Putin and his Russian allies, and the thorn may soon be plucked. He is accused of embezzling $500 000 in a company transaction that was clear and transparent. His real crime seems to be his exposure of corruption in several state-owned Russian firms, and has called Putin’s United Russia “the party of crooks and thieves.” He, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are the leading dissidents of their time, as long as they remain free. The verdict in his trial in the next several weeks.

2013 April

The Arab Fall

The Economist, March 30, 2013, p. 45

With elections later this year, Egypt’s President Muhammed Morsi is between a rock and hard place. Unwilling to take austerity measures so close to the elections, he is nonetheless running out of cash. Egypt has only two billion US left in reserves with which to pay its fuel and food subsidies. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are unwilling to give more(They have given a total of six billion US so far.) He has reached out to Libya and Iraq, but they are less generous donors. The Egyptian pound has declined by 10% since December, pushing up import costs. No one has yet come up with the courage to make substantial reforms, but that is what is needed.

2013 March

Many of the Violent Are Dead, and Many More Are Tired of War

The Economist, March 2, 2013, pp. 5-7 of the special on Africa report

Africa is still a violent place, but it is significantly less so than 30 years ago. The Small Arms Survey done by the Swiss indicates as such: at the end of the Cold War, 30 armed conflicts existed there; Today, a dozen. The number of successful coup attempts has dropped by two thirds. In the last 10 years, the Angolan civil war has stopped, though it took 500 000 lives. Sudan is split into two countries, but their civil war has stopped as well, though at a cost of hundreds of thousands of additional lives. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire no longer have civil wars.

2013 February

Even More Mixed Results from the Arab Spring

Middle East Policy, winter 2012, various new sites

The continuing turmoil in Egypt, with President Morsi signing emergency decrees like his predecessor, the continuing conflict between the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and the non-sectarian and salafists, and the still occasional violence does not bode well for a quick, peaceful conclusion. In addition, the government there saw a decline in popularity after instituting some democratic reforms. In Libya and Tunisia, salafists are noisy, but may not be powerful. And the bleeding in Syria continues.

2013 January

A skills shortage and unemployment?

The Economist, Dec. 8, 2012

Summarizing a McKinsey report, the Economist reports that in parts of Europe and the Middle East, more than 25% of 15 to 24 year-olds don’t have a job. In Egypt, it is more than 50%. Strange as it may sound though, there is a skills shortage in these countries. In many countries, middle-sized firms have an average of 13 entry-level jobs empty. The reason: the lack of graduates with technical (middle-level skills). Governments have lavished much on universities, with their reputation-enhancing research and graduates, but often have done little to train others in vocational skills. Some countries have tried to turn the tide, with such programs as India’s Institute for Literacy Education, South Africa’s Go for Gold program, and South Korea’s “meister” schools. Whether these will be enough to fill the gap is an open question.

2012 December

An Internship by any Other name

Harvard Business Review

“Returnships”, a term coined by Goldman Sachs in 2008, is where those who have significant work experience left the workforce for a while, and come back as an intern in an upgraded or new field. This arrangement gives employer’s access to skilled, mature employees, and employees get exposure and learning on all the new and upcoming changes that were made during their hiatus. The article suggests companies considering such opportunities to”
1. Keep it small, and test out bringing older workers into new positions.
2. Identify an internal champion to encourage the organization to accept these interns
3. Model the returnship on your existing internship program.
4. Introduce hiring managers to participants, and establish good role models for returnees.
5. Expand campus recruitment to include returnees. Many institutions offer short, skill-based training programs whose graduates might make good candidates

2012 November

Putting the Gini out of the bottle

The Economist, October 12, 2012

The Economist this week had a special report on social and economic mobility. It is too long to summarize here, but I would strongly suggest you go to http://www.economist.com and search for “gini”. The Gini index, named after an Italian economist, measures the differences between the richest and poorest in each country. Other useful indices are the inter-generational index of income mobility, measuring how much of a person’s wealth is due to his/her parent’s wealth, position, education, etc. and the inequality of income index. Startlingly, the United States is only slightly better at letting people “become their own man”, and that China has one of the highest correlations between one’s father’s wealth and your own. It seems in China the rich get richer from generation to generation. The sound you hear it Mao Tse Tung Rolling over in his grave.

2012 October

The waning of an icon and a way of life

The Economist, Sept 22-28, 2012

Driving and owning a car used to be the American Dream, a symbol of freedom to go where you want, when you want. The dream might still be there, but the miles driven are not. The average number of miles driven has mostly declined in the US, Britain, Germany, France and Japan. The percentage of drivers who own a car has significantly declined among US drivers less than 45. With per capita income remaining stagnant(after inflation) during this time, and the limits of driving longer and longer distances to work losing its appeal, driving isn’t what it used to be. This may spell trouble for the 6% of the EU’s employed population working in the auto industry, and the 4.5% in the United States.

2012 September

Crime, oh Crime, where are thou?

The Economist, August 25, 2012

Violent crime in the United States has declined 38% since 1992. Property-related crime has declined as well, and has even declined during the current recession. The question is, why? Demographics do not entirely explain it, with fewer crime-prone teenagers and 20-somethings around. Reduced immigration doesn’t explain it either. Harshening punishments for offenders doesn’t explain it either: Some of the most dramatic drops in crime are in New York, which did not institute the “Three-strikes” laws implemented in California. “Community-based policing” explains some of the variance, but not all of it either. Though there has been a recent rise in Chicago’s violent crime, it seems to be just a blip. Explanations; anyone?

2012 August

Table of Contents

The consequences of the Libyan revolution

Various sources

Libyans this month elected a relatively liberal government, with a sigh of relief coming from Western Powers. Not all is good news, however. Mohammar Qadaffi's former mercenaries, flush with weapons captured in Libya, have turned their attention to Mali. They have taken control of the northern third of that country and combined with Al Qaeda. To make matters more interesting, Libyan fighters have moved to the Syrian conflict, providing support and troops against the Al-Assad government there.

2012 July

The consequences of the one-child policy in China

The Economist, June 23 to June 29, 2012

China's one-child policy, already condemning it to a worse older-to-younger ratio by 2050 than Japan’s is now, has caused about $300 billion in fines(a social maintenance fee) to be made since the 1980’s to those parents violating this this law. In the case is Ms. Feng, in the Shaanxi province, the consequences were much worse. Officials detained the pregnant woman since her 7th month, and killed the fetus. The prevalence of this actions is unknown to this author, but the incident has his China’s microblogs, and caused a firestorm among those to read them. The officials were forced to apologize and supposedly were fired.

2012 June

A warning from Google to help the Chinese

The Wall St. Journal, June 1, 2012

“The Internet company unveiled on its Hong Kong-based search site this week a new mechanism that identifies political and other sensitive terms that may cause service interruptions by Chinese authorities.
For example, when users in China search for keywords like "carrot" in Chinese—which contains the character for Chinese President Hu Jintao's surname—a yellow dropdown message says: "We've observed that searching for 'hu' in mainland China may temporarily break your connection to Google. This interruption is outside Google's control."

2012 May

The Irish eyes are not quite smiling anymore, especially when having to do with more menial jobs

The Wall St. Journal, April 20, 2012

Ireland used to be called a European Tiger, mimicking the Asian tigers of the 1990’s with its explosive economic growth. No longer. Its unemployment rate is 14.6%, worse than it was in 2009. Its economy has slipped into recession.

A combination of a housing bust and the resulting over-burdened, now-unemployed workers are a deadly mix. Many did not finish high school to go into the then-booming construction trades. They are now being trained as call center representatives, meat trimmers, and farmers, the kinds of jobs the Irish were familiar with a generation ago. They are training for high-tech jobs as well, but suffer from a lack of foreign-language skills (due to no requirement for them in school). Though Ireland has encouraged many high-tech companies to reside in Ireland, many jobs go wanting for lack of these language skills.

2012 April

Brazil and its pension bomb

The Economist, March 24, 2012

Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, hasn’t had a good time since obtaining office. There have been bribery scandals, seven senators have quit her coalition, and she has a pension bomb in the making. Brazilians can retire after only 15 years in the system and an average man retires at 54. Currently, pensions take 32% of a working person’s salary. Without changes, it will become 86% by 2050. Of the OECD countries, Brazil has the second highest (Italy is highest) of public spending as a percent of GDP.

2012 March

Why you would find a Big Mac in an Argentinian McDonald's?

NPR Radio, The Economist, February 25 to March 2, 2012.

Though many may smile (or gag) at the thought, a good indicator of inflation is how much a big Mac costs from country to country. Adjusted for size of GDP, it reliably tracks how economies compare with each other using more sophisticated measures, and even gives an indicator how undervalued the Chinese yuan is relative to the dollar. (Not by much undervalues anymore, by the way.)
Unfortunately, those in the Argentinian government know this, and have mandated that the Big Mac be sold at considerably at less than cost. As a result, McDonald's there don’t have it on the menu, but you can ask for it discretely. Official inflation statistics are reporting about 10% inflation, where outside economists estimate it is closer to 25% per year.

2012 February

How well will Italy deal with social protest?

The Economist, January 28, 2012

Taxi drivers held a one-day strike, truckers are protesting increased excise taxes, and Silvio Berlusconi is publically wondering when the current PM Mr. Monti will leave and the former ministers will be "be called to occupy the government positions they had before." Despite this, Mr. Mont's technocratic governments enjoyed a 58% approval rating for their reforms, and 68% of those Italians polled want his government to stay in power until the next general election.

2012 January

Try Crowd Organizing instead of Outsourcing

The Economist, special holiday issue, 2011

It seems crowds are not quite the mess they seem to be: When walking down the street, we automatically move to avoid a collision. However, which way we move depends on the country we are in- Asia(South Korea excepted) move to the left, while Western folks move to the right. Such actions. In France, clusters of three or four people walk in a “U” or “V” shaped pattern. Why should we care? By playing with these crowd dynamics, urban planners can design better emergency exit routes, and the 3 million people performing haj had multiple ways to throw stones from the Jamarat Bridge. Now, if we can all just get along…

2011 December

Why are French Workers so Grumpy?

The Economist, November 19-25, 2011

“Many outsiders conclude that French workers are simply lazy. “Absolument Dé-bor-dée!” (“Absolutely Snowed Under”), a book which came out last year, described how state employees compete to do nothing at work. Another title in this bestselling genre on avoiding toil, “Bonjour Paresse” (“Hello Laziness”) by Corinne Maier, an economist, explained how she got away with doing nothing at EDF, another utility.

In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.

Two-fifths of employees, according to a 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm, actively dislike their firm’s top managers. France ranks last out of ten countries for workers’ opinion of company management, according to a report from 2007. Whereas two-thirds of American, British and German employees say they have friendly relations with their line manager, fewer than a third of French workers say the same. Many employees, in short, agree with Ms Maier, who recommends that chief executives be guillotined to the tune of “La Carmagnole”, a revolutionary song.”

To quote again, “As Thomas Philippon, a French economist, pointed out in “Le Capitalisme d’Héritiers”, a 2007 book, too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr. Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.

For those farther down the ladder, French companies are hierarchical, holding no truck with Anglo-Saxon notions of “empowerment”. And bosses are more distant than ever. A big change in French management, says Jean-Pierre Basilien of Entreprise & Personnel, a Paris research centre, is that industrial managers now seldom rise through the ranks. Fifteen years ago a leading graduate would have worked in factories before moving to headquarters. Now many come up via finance or strategy.”

Time for the guillotine again?

2011 November

Will the last Asian Bride Please Stand Up?

The Economist, October, 2011

In China, there are 118 boys born to every 100 girls. If this continues, there will be 60 million Chinese men unable to find a bride by 2030. With Asian women becoming increasingly educated, it becomes increasingly hard to “marry up” the socio-economic scale. Divorce rates in China, still low by American standards, have increased by 50% in the last decade. 30% of Japanese women in their 30’s are not married, making them “spinsters” in their culture. Similar trends are in S. Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Perhaps we should start a mail-order groom service?

2011 October

What the demise of Happy Girl says about China

The Economist, September 24, 2011

A Chinese version of American Idol is no more. The quite popular show, with hundreds of millions of fans, was terminated by the Chinese government. Apparently, officials are suggesting the show be replaced by “practical information about housework”. What apparently drew their ire was the ability of fans to vote for their favorite contestant, and a winner not looking quite feminine enough for Communist tastes.

2011 September

Migration after the Great Recession

The Economist, August 27, 2011

The "buffer theory" predicts that in tough economic times, immigrants go home, and return when economic times are better. Though on the surface it seems to make sense, data suggest otherwise. "Circular" migration, where immigrants emigrate repeatedly, makes up about 19% of immigrants to the United States. Immigration to Britain is up over 10% from 2009, as are inflows to Russia and Australia. Net outflows are high from Ireland, as one might expect, and are also quite high in Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Switzerland.

2011 August

A different fringe attacks, and a different response..

The Wall St. Journal, August 1, 2011.

The devastating attacks on Norway’s civilians by Christian terrorists as evoked a different reaction than the Muslim attacks on the United States 10 years ago. Norway is a very open country, where almost all have easy access to a politician’s telephone #’s, addresses and tax records: Few politicians have a security detail. Where the United States declared a war on terror against a semi-organized opposition, Norwegian politicians are vowing the attacks by a (possibly lone) terrorist will make Norway more open and democratic. We shall see in the months ahead how this unfolds.

2011 July

On your mark, get set....

Mercer Report

Unhappy workers will stay in their jobs for now, according to a recent Mercer report. About one in three employees are seriously considering leaving their jobs, up from 23% in 2005, according to the reports. Before the current US recession 2% of employees voluntarily left their jobs; Only 1.4% left their jobs in April. It seems employees are still a bit uncertain about if and how their potentially new jobs will last.

2011 June

The Wisdom of Crowds- or Not

Scientific American. Retrieved from Sciam.com June 2011
& Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from hbr.org May 2011

You may have noticed the wide variety of rating services on the Internet: The “stars” in Amazon, restaurant reviews in Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Angie’s List. Taken at the surface, these services can be a useful form of feedback to businesses, and a guide to consumers as well. Unfortunately, these ratings can be distorted by 1. The raters systematically being different from the consumers that buy your services, as one restaurant found out: Their target market was upper-class professional employees who would buy more expensive food, while those who rated the restaurant were poorer college students who valued price over exotic cuisine, and 2. The act of “astroturfing”(as in fake grass roots), where positive reviews are salted into the ratings by owners of the business or those they hired.

2011 April

China Brings its Excess Baggage to Africa

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

“Chinese expatriates in Africa come from a rough-and-tumble, anything-goes business culture that cares little about rules and regulations. Local sensitivities are routinely ignored at home, and so abroad. Sinopec, an oil firm, has explored in a Gabonese national park. Another state oil company has created lakes of spilled crude in Sudan. Zimbabwe’s environment minister said Chinese multinationals were “operating like makorokoza miners”, a scornful term for illegal gold-panners. …Tensions came to a head last year when miners in Sinazongwe, a town in southern Zambia, protested against poor conditions. Two Chinese managers fired shotguns at a crowd, injuring at least a dozen. Some still have pellets under healed skin. Patson Mangunje, a local councillor, says, “People are angry like rabid dogs.”
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“Quite a bit of criticism of China is disguised protectionism. Established businesses try to maintain privileged positions—at the expense of consumers. The recent arrival of Chinese traders in the grimy alleys of Soweto market in Lusaka halved the cost of chicken. Cabbage prices dropped by 65%. Local traders soon marched their wire-mesh cages filled with livestock to the local competition commission to complain. “How dare the Chinese disturb our market,” says Justin Muchindu, a seller. In Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania, Chinese are banned from selling in markets. The government earlier this year said Chinese were welcome as investors but not as “vendors or shoe-shiners”.
Another answer, according to China’s critics, is that the Chinese are bringing bad habits as well as trade, investment, jobs and skills. The mainland economy is riddled with corruption, even by African standards. International rankings of bribe-payers list Chinese managers near the top. When these managers go abroad they carry on bribing and undermine good governance in host countries. The World Bank has banned some mainland companies from bidding for tenders in Africa.”

It seems as if Chinese rules(or lack thereof) may come home to roost 10,000 miles away.

2011 March

Are We Really Hungry? Depends on what you measure

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

The standard measure of how hungry people are on average is the percentage of people getting fewer than 2100 calories per day. This isn’t a great measure, as it doesn’t account for activity level (a farmer certainly uses more calories than an office worker), nor the quality of nutrients. Another measure might be the proportion of people who get their calories from staples such as rice, wheat, barley, etc. In one economist’s study in nine Chinese provinces, the poorest households are little other than staples. The Chinese average is about 80 to 85% or calories are from these staples. As families got richer, the percentage of calories from these items declines. As a result, one measure of hunger is the percentage of people who eat more interesting stuff than just rice. Here is where it gets interesting, as the two measures(calories consumed, and percentage of people eating better stuff) contradict each other.

Using the calorie measure, 67% of people in these provinces were undernourished, but only 32% using the second measure.

2011 February

Yielding to Nine Billion

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

By 2050, the UN estimates the world’s population will be 9 billion people. What does that mean, other than Facebook will have to buy more servers? There will need to be a 70% increase in food production, just to keep pace with the calories/per person figure we currently have (which still means a lot of hungry people.). Though this date seems far off, current average world food prices are close to what they were in 2008 when food riots engulfed many a third-world country. Food prices contributed significantly to the pressures of Egypt, and helped grown their recent revolution. Planting more land will not do the trick, as most arable acreage is already being used. The Economist suggest that to solve this problem, the world must significantly improve the yield of existing farms, in part by creating new strains of growable food: reducing or eliminating subsidies that encourage food crops to be used for other purposes:, i.e., corn to ethanol; and improving transportation and storage of food, reducing the up to 1/3 wastage that now occurs. It is in the realm of possibility to feed these extra billions, but will we?

2011 February

Casus Belli or Causes Demographi?

National Public Radio

Several causes come to mind for the trouble in Egypt: a repressive government, rising food costs, the recent economic problems. In addition though, other causes are the youthfulness of the population, with an average age of 30 and a large percentage of them at that; 40% of Egyptians make less than $2 per day. The there are second-order consequences to this, among these are the lack of marriage prospects for Egyptian males. Males in Islamic societies must provide a house for the bride, and also a bride-price paid to the parents. Given their poverty, males just can’t afford this anymore. One estimate that the percentage of males with the resources to marry has dropped by 10 percent in the last several years. Large groups of disaffected, poor males with little attachment to current society, and without a wife and family to focus upon can be cause for trouble – just as those who lived in the United States in the age of the hippies in the 1960’s.

2010 December

The World in pictures…

The New York Times highlighted a wonderful use of imagery and graphics, showing how economic growth and lifespan among nations has changed over the last several hundred years. To see this wonderful demonstration, please visit http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/visualizing-mortality-history/

2010, November

Will the last Japanese please turn off the lights?
The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

To quote the Economist, “Japan is heading into a demographic vortex. It is the fastest-ageing society on Earth and the first big country in history to have started shrinking rapidly from natural causes. Its median age (44) and life expectancy (83) are among the highest and its birth rate (1.4 per woman) is among the lowest anywhere. In the next 40 years its population, currently 127m, is expected to fall by 38m. By 2050 four out of ten Japanese will be over 65.” Its population in 2050 will be about the same as it was in 1950.

Though Japan is not the only country facing this problem, (western Europe and Russia come to mind, though China will begin population decline by about 2006.), they are the first the face the downslide .

This is a problem not only for society, and the aging in society, but the young as well. Japan has only about two workers per retired person now, and it will get worse later. The seniority system is proving a major barrier for the young to advance. Its vaunted savings rate to prepare people for their own retirement is something of an illusion. The savings rate is only 2% of income: the rest of their “savings” rate is from corporations hoarding what they have, not quite knowing what to do in an environment of deflation and declining domestic demand. The economic consequences of this are enormous, but what will Japan do? There is no sign of sudden action: Even if Japanese would produce children like rabbits, the effects would not be felt for 20+ years. With their aversion to immigrants, the only option they have may be to encourage more women to work: Currently, only 62% of women return to work after the first child.

2010, October

The Social Organization of BRICs

Sociological and economic factors may play a big role in the success or failure of rising developing economies, according the Harvard Business Review. While companies in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) look to grow significantly while many companies in developed countries founder, they face significant barriers once they expand beyond their core markets. According to the article, these include 1. Excessive devotion to current business practices, whether they are efficient, corrupt or paternalistic; 2. Isolation in their domestic market. Some of these large companies became large because of their virtual monopolies, and not the result of severe competition. They be unused to the swordplay of the global market. 3. A relatively docile domestic labor force. Either through lack of organization, collusion with the government, or intimidation by law enforcement, these companies may often have quiescent labor forces, which may change through unionization and the introduction of more efficient Western management practices. 5. Homogeneous senior leaders. Consistent viewpoints, education, values and experience among senior leadership can easily cause blind spots to occur, and the lack of critical discussions can create well-intentioned disasters.

2010, October 5

Wheat isn’t everything, but….

Russia, a major supplier of wheat, is still uncertain about how much it can produce. With bans in place in for wheat export, Russia’s early rains in the Fall planting season may still not make up output for the year, due to the Summer’s disastrous , fire-ravaged crops. Grain prices have risen 40%, encouraging fears that such price increases may re-ignite the third-world food riots in 2008. A predicted locust spike in Australia for this Fall also weighs on the market. However, the spot price of rice has not risen significantly over the last year, and plays a somewhat mitigating factor.

2010, September 1

From Red China to Grey

As a result of the “one child” policy starting in the 1980’s, and selective abortion of female fetuses, China is beginning to suffer a shortage of workers in their most productive years. By 2015, their total working population will begin to decline. Quoting the WSJ, “Along with moderating total-factor productivity, it is the main reason the World Bank expects China's annual growth rate to drop to 7.7% in 2015, and 6.7% by 2020. It was 8.7% in 2009”. India’s growth rate will probably surpass China’s by 2015, and have a growing population of workers. By 2060, there may be 300 million more Indians than Chinese.==

2010, April 29

Cry, The Beloved Country

The Economist. Retrieved from Economist.com

This article re-educates the reader about South Africa after the apartheid. Several books have been written by white South Africans about their perceptive of the modern laws and systems of South Africa. The worldview of South Africa today seems to think of apartheid as a social issue of the past, when in reality the citizens of this great nation are still dealing with the aftermath. There is still racial violence, brutal killings, bias laws, and several other social indiscretions amongst the races.

The author of this article continues in explaining the repaid advancement of the South African economy and its natural wealth that is fueled by their natural resources. Resources such as diamonds and gems. South Africa has progressed massively in last few years but writers from this country are revealing the horrid truth of race wars. How can a country so progressive in its industries, be so shortsighted with their domestic relations.

2010, April 12

Medical Schools Can't Keep Up

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

The implementation of the new health care law has created an outlook on medical care that does not seem hopeful. Demand for primary health care physicians is expected to increase dramatically and with the current admissions and training programs underway, demand will not be reached. Overall, the projected shortage of all doctors in the next 15 years will be 150,000. Country and state wide strategic systems need to be put in place now to lesson the shortage. One must not only think that school completion will send doctors into the playing field. Doctors must also complete resident positions for a minimum of three years. This is a critical area that needs attention because current resident positions max out at 110,000. That is 110,000 spots that are taken for three years.

There was a provision in the health care bill that increased the number of residency slots that were funded by Medicare but the provision didn't make it to the final cut.

2010, March 29

Data Theft Hits 3.3 Million Borrowers

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

The student loan market has been hit with another identity theft effecting as much as 3.3 million federal student borrowers. The theft of information was taken from the headquarters of Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) located in St. Paul, Minn., during the weekend of March 20-21.

The social security numbers that were stolen represent almost nine million in student loans because many borrowers take out more than one loan.

2010, February 25

Internal Hires, Referrals Were Most Hired in 2009

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Good news for employees, friends and anyone looking for employment. In 2009, there were 176, 420 positions available in 41 companies around the US. These 41 companies employ 1.8 million workers.

Employers filled most job openings with current employees. Specifically, an average of 51% of new hires were internal transfers and promotions. Referrals accounted for the remaining 49%. Referrals were defined as job boards. The job boards that provided the most applicants to hire were CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, and Craiglist.org. In addition, job boards that specialize in positions in specific categories also helped employees find job openings.

Even better news is that the Labor Department reported in February that there were 2.5 million job openings as of December 2009.

2010, January 30

War on AIDS Hangs in Balance As U.S. Curbs Help for Africa

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

The population of Uganda, Africa that has contracted AIDS has shown remarkable increases compared to a time when it was once regarded as a country whose steady decline was something to boast about.

The United Sates adopted a program seven years prior to fight AIDS in the developing world. However, due to the economic decline of the US, spending rates to developing countries have declined. The Obama administration has authorized over 45 billion dollars to be allotted to this cause by 2013. Yet, there is talk that the administration doesn’t actually plan on using the full amount. Last year, the US provided an estimated $285 million dollars towards Uganda’s HIV/AIDS prevention. It is safe to say with the economic downturn of the US that the Ugandan government will need to take a greater stance in helping its population treat this ever present disease.

2010, January

Tackling the Organ Shortage

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

In countries such as Singapore, a shortage of donated organs is causing worry that needless deaths may occur, especially in patients with kidney failure. The need is so great that Singapore is considering paying up to $50,000 for donated organs. In Iran, waiting lists no longer exist, paying donors instead. Many people feel unethical accepting pay for donation, but they are not giving, either. This problem looms so largely that in America, doctors are removing organs from deceased patients without their consent.

December, 19. 2009

62 or 70? When to Take Social Security Benefits

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Although most married men claim Social Security retirement benefits at age 62 or 63, you may want to wait until age 70, says Steven A. Sass, project director for the Boston College Center for Financial Literacy. Here is why: If you start collecting Social Security at age 62, and if you die before your wife, she would wind up with a lower benefit than if you were to wait. "This is almost a no-brainer," Dr. Sass says. "If you expect to live longer than average, you delay, especially if you don't need the money right now."

2009, December 15

McDonald's to Offer Free Wireless Internet

The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

How does a fast-food chain attract visitors during down-times, such as the mid-afternoon? The corporation has answered this question by considering consumer habits and offering free wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) at 11,000 of their 14,000 locations. They believe that offering this service will bring in customers during the afternoon "snack" hours as well as create a place to socialize and spend time, much like Starbucks. In addition to offering more value-menu items, the company hopes to compete against other Wi-Fi spots and continue to increase its revenues through 2010.

2009, November 16

Does Your Juggle Energize or Drain You?

Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from WSJ.com

Those who hold what they call a "multiple spheres" view say juggling a lot of roles isn't a zero-sum game. That is, people draw so much energy from the juggle that their energy for the whole is great than the sum of the parts. A recent study supports this theory, showing that the more time some people spend doing housework, the more time they are also likely to spend intimate with their spouses. The same study also linked more time spent on paid work to more closeness among couples. Other studies have shown that dual-earner marriages tend to fare better than solo-breadwinner unions in some ways, and that women who work for pay tend to have lower rates of depression, says Evergreen State College Professor Stephanie Coontz, research director for the Council on Contemporary Families.

2009, April

Thriving on Selfishness

Scientific American. Retrieved from Sciam.com

This article discusses a social phenomenon which encourages members of social groups to punish those who do not follow rules (i.e., cheat). This is an important evolutionary trait that allows groups to survive, as “cheating” benefits an individual and not the group. Humans, other animals, and even germs engage in this form of social control. This is especially effective if the cost of punishment is cheap, such as gossiping or ostracizing. These are important insights, particularly in an environment in which there is corporate crime, a need to work together to ride out the recession, and celebrity scandals.


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Scientific American. Retrieved from Sciam.com