Tectonic Speculation

Supercontinents are probably more common than dispersed continents over the last few billion years history. I wonder what human history would have looked like if we had evolved into our modern form on a single continent. Would that even be possible?

If it were, would nation states have formed as easily? What patterns of trade would have evolved? Would there still be naval powers, or would naval power be of little use? With no continents over the sea, how long would it take to develop the technology for ocean travel?

First Look at Coursera

I’ve just finished my first course on Coursera, Computing for Data Analysis. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it would work for everyone. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are all the rage right now (Open CourseWare does something similar, and the Khan Academy also offers free online education), and I always want to learn more, so I was curious as to how I would find it.

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What Causes the Relative Inefficiency of the Public Sector?

Private organisations die when they run out of money. Public organisations don’t need to worry about running out of money directly. When considering their behaviour and efficiency, is there a more important difference between them? I suggest that any observed differences in efficiency may be due only to survivorship bias, rather than superior management.

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Fallacies By Example, Part One

Thanks to Andrew Orlowski at The Register, here is some Appeal to Consequences:


Brit global warming skeptics now outnumber believers

Nothing like a taste of climate policy to put you off


It would seem that the more people hear the arguments and study the policies, the less they like them.

These suggest that people will become skeptics on the question of whether global warming is true or false after reading about suggested policies for dealing with it. Look at the negative form of the Appeal to Consequences:

If P, then Q will occur.

Q is undesirable.

Therefore, P is false.

Orlowski is suggesting that people do not like suggested policies for dealing with global warming (“Q is undesirable”), and that therefore they become skeptics (“Therefore, P is false.”). Of course, it’s not possible to tell whether global warming is happening, or how it is caused, by looking at suggested policy responses to it.

Market Participant Numbers and ZOPA Capture

I was introduced to the idea of ZOPA – zone of possible agreement – before ever turning up to business school. It’s the range of prices for a transaction over which both parties still come out ahead, so should rationally still be happy to take part in the transaction.

For example, if I’m buying a house from you, you may know the minimum amount that you will sell for, and I know the maximum amount I will pay. If I am prepared to pay more than the minimum you will accept, then we can make a deal. Obviously, we both still want to maximise our own returns from the transaction.

In a market where one side of the transaction is highly concentrated – a monopoly or monopsony –  then the other side will have to accept the price dictated by the more concentrated side. The more concentrated side will be able to claim nearly all of the economic value created by the typical transaction.

How is price determined when there are large numbers of parties on both sides of the transaction? If the number of buyers suddenly doubles without changing the transaction volume, we would expect the price to go up, but by how much?

I don’t have an answer to this, and I don’t think there’s much literature on it. I wonder if it can be usefully modeled by a game allowing sellers to alter their offer price, at a cost, and making buyers pay a certain amount to view all the sellers in the market.

Awful Things, pt One

This is what happens when people get hold of graphics tools they’re not ready for. This is why PowerPoint is the devil.

Look at this diagram for the PESTEL framework.

The PESTEL framework, apparently. Source: http://www.mbatutes.com/tt-approach-to-gd/

Now, my Strategy lecturer taught this framework, so naturally I love it. But I don’t remember there being two “Economic” factors in the framework, and I definitely don’t remember “Social” leading to “Technology” leading to “Economic”. The factors are unordered, and this representation is mis-leading.

The Value of a Human Life

If the consultation on increasing the speed limit goes ahead, we will presumably get figures for both an expected increase in GDP, and expected increase in road deaths. Assuming the consultation gives recommendations that are implemented, this gives an implied value for a human life, or at least sets a maximum bound on its minimum cost.

This calculation must have been performed before, but the only example I can think of is the $50,000 per quality-adjusted life year value used in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments in America.

It will be interesting to compare the value from the consultation to any other values used by the UK government.