Somebody pinch me

Is it 2008 or 2011?

A Dow Jones Chart

Another Dow Jones Chart

Both Dow Jones, taken from Wolfram Alpha.

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Making things worse to make them better?

Ok, so Germany agreed to the EFSF, a new round of credits worth some 400 billion Euro to “stabilize” the states of the European Union. Of course, that is not exactly what is going on – the credits merely serve as an increased buffer.

What it takes to stabilize a system is simple: negative feedback.

That’s the property of a system to respond to a situation in which it is out of equilibrium with some kind of dynamic that will gradually push it back towards the equilibrium – no matter what side of the equilibrium you are on. Positive feedback merely pushes it even further away from that point. The buffer is telling you, just how far away from equilibrium you can go, before bad things happen(TM). Continue reading

Doing Spaceflight Right (II)

I’ve put some of my thoughts on that topic on one of my blog posts. Now, a posting on Charles Stross’ blog has prompted me to add something.

There is very likely no direct economic benefit within the next century in the business of getting people from A to B in space … except for space tourism of some extremely wealthy individuals, which may or may not create enough resentment in the long run to be of negative benefit for the economy as a whole.

On the other hand, there may be indirect benefits to be had, if a positive continuing narrative can be created why you are doing it. In fact, there is good reason to create such a story right now: Namely, that a lot of companies have record profits, can’t find investments to generate further profits due to lack of demand (until the private debt load in the USA has been paid off) and thus have little reason to create employment and also very little reason to engage in productive competition. (As opposed to destructive competition by outsourcing, over-capacities, patent wars etc.) All this creates public resentment against corporations across the board. Continue reading

Sure Signs of Economic Decline (updated)

There is a new Ted Talk online. It mentions a fascinating tool. The Google Books n-Gram viewer. As you know, Google has scanned millions of books and used OCR to scan the text. That means that you can do statistics and this is the tool to do that. It can show you the frequency at which certain expressions show up in English literature published in certain years.

I will leave it to you and you fancy to try out whatever you want (E.g.: electric cars). But if you try the word group “wage increases” or the word “industrial”, the result is just astonishing.

Beginning with 1980, the frequency of those expressions drops consistently and steadily within a mere 25 years. The words “wage increases” were mentioned in books written in the year 1980 four times more often than in 2005. And guess what, they didn’t happen. The frequency of the word “industrial” halved in the same time frame, along with industry in the English speaking world.

When people suddenly start writing much less about industry and about wage increases, when people suddenly start to avoid words like “social” and talk less about “social security” when a Republican lunatic becomes US President – that says something about undeniable changes in society … and not for the better. Continue reading

Pakistan Floods – a quick note from History

With any story that has to be fit in as little as a minute of TV news or an article that must not fail to mention the same talking points as all the other newspapers (lest the readers complain about the “oversight”), there are some points that are left out of the picture.

Often enough, the demand for reporting the news leaves very little place for putting things into perspective. In the case of the floods in Pakistan, two questions have often been left out of the picture. 1) When has something similar happened before? 2) What did people do in the meantime? Continue reading

Doing Spaceflight right

Slashdot.org is running a story on the next NASA space launch system – which I commented on the following way:

What is NASA going to do with those two flights and what are they going to do next? There is no credible plan at all. Fly to some asteroid, then maybe to mars. But in order to do what? Put a flag in the sand of Mars so that half a century later somebody can fly a space probe to the planet and make a picture to combat the conspiracy theories that the Mars flight was all fake?

There is no vision in this other than giving even more money to the firms that provided overpriced space ships and rockets in the past. There is no research in this, other than whatever happens to be picked up along the way by some great coincidence, just as with Apollo that had a grand total on one scientist flying to the moon. Continue reading

The magic moments of the 21st century?

I’ve been thinking about the comment of Mohit, that I haven’t answered yet.

One of the threads, along which I was thinking, eventually brought me to the idea that there will be what you might call a magic moment in the early 21st century. It will happen when the GDP of the current OECD countries equals the GDP of the rest of the world. This doesn’t sound like much of an achievement, once you keep in mind that the rest of the world will have about six times as many people as the OECD by that point – but that changes when you know that until 2003 the GDP of the OECD was six times greater than that of the rest of the world.

Have a look at the speed at which this is happening now. Between 1990 and 2003 (and probably before that), the ratio was basically a constant. The OECD made up about 83% of world GDP. (The up-tick after 1997 was probably the fallout of the Asian Financial Crisis.) But between 2003 and 2008 the ratio that never changed plunged from 83% to 72%. That’s huge. Continue reading