Friday, October 24, 2008

Annoyed Reading: The Economic Gangsters

Why is there such an economic disparity between North and South Korea? How about Indonesia and China? Poverty is a really big issue and it's causes are many. To chalk it up to just one group or one idea is a little idealistic and lot naive.

So we begin to list off the issues. The big ones cited are lack of proper drinking water, lack of education, inadequate labor laws, rampant spread of disease and war. The one that we don't always think about is the effect of the economic gangster.

Hold the phone there...economic gangster?

If you've read Freakonomics you'll know that being a drug runner for your local gang in a highly contested piece of turf in New York or Chicago is a bad gig. The chance of death is extremely high and unlike some of our more northerly drug dealers the money is horrible. It's not that the drugs are sell low -- they are quiet expensive. These guys are punished for using drugs by the next guy up the ladder, so drug use isn't the reason why your typical corner-standing drug runner is poor. (It should be noted that I've met a few current and former drug dealers in northern Canada over the years. As it turns out the money is fairly good for them up here, but it's hard to buy anything too major with drug money. It takes a daft hand to persuade the bank that 5 grand a month you make in mortgage payments is legit. But I'm not talking about them, I'm about the drug dealer in more competitive environments.)

The reason he or she is poor is because the job pays rather poorly. Just like the actress working on community plays or the guy slinging lumber into the planer mill at the saw mill, the drug runner isn't there for the job they are doing at the time but rather the job they could be doing in a few years when they move up the ladder. The dirty little secret of the ghetto fabulous drug-dealing, blow-snorting, womanizing high life is that it only exists for those who have worked their way up the ladder. These gangs are run just like corporations. They have managers, grunts, and even book keepers.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. There is a reason that corporations keep books and have this structure to them. It's a highly effective way to manage assets and ensure that as much cash as possible flows up the corporate pyramid into the pockets of the fat cats at the top. Gangs don't use this structure to work in the confines of any stockholder or to keep the tax man happy -- they do this quiet simply because it just works.

The object lesson here is Al Capone. Al Capone or "Scarface" lead Chicago's North Side Gang in the 1920's to his own great fortune. Before he did that though, he was a book keeper and was trained in accounting.

So Al Capone is then our object lesson, the example that we point to when we say "economic gangster." An economic gangster quiet simply is someone who gets business and is motivated like many of us by the thought of money and power. What makes them special is that unlike the rest of us they aren't constrained by petty morality. These guys will kill, abduct and otherwise coerce in order to get the job done that need be done. We deal in oil, wheat and silicon; they deal in racketeering, prostitution and drug running.

It is about this dark underbelly of the work, these forces that take what could have been a successful country and turn it awry that the book "Economic Gangsters" is all about.

I've only just begun it, but so far it's a real page turner.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Does the media influence elections more than the issues do?

 Case in point, Sarah Palin on SNL, will this be a boost to her campaign, or will it actually make her look uninteresting in comparison to Tina Fey's undoubtebly perfect impression of her? Could this actually affect how people will see the governor, and could it affect how they vote?

 The reason I say this is because Sarah Palin's popularity is nearly the same as Barack Obamas, and it's easy to forget senator John McCain is the one who's running the presidential race and not her. Her popularity is massive, Newsweek, The Times, Maclean's (a Canadian current affairs magazine), NewStatesman and several other publications have had nearly as many articles about Sarah palin as about Barack Obama, and few about senator McCain, and good luck finding one on Joe Biden, though his lack of gaffes lately means he's probably not going to be noticed much, but that's just fine.

 Or is it just the opposite? could it be that media coverage simply reflects which way the public will vote? for instance, in the Canadian elections the conservative party, the Liberals and the NDP all shared a fair bit of nedia coverage, but it was undoubtebly in that order you saw articles about them, and the elected parliament, in descending order, goes Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, Bloq, and two independents. On the other end of the spectrum, the party that recieved the least amount of media coverage was the Greens, and they didn't end up with a single seat minus the fact there leader Elizabeth May was allowed in the televised debate.

 What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is the economic downturn good for the news media?

 Judging by the mass amount of time and space being devoted to the economic crisis, is it possible that this is actually good news for the news media? 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why are people so inclined to consider cows disgusting when biologically we are even worse?

 A long time ago, I asked an old classmate why she became a vegetarian. She answered that on a tri to a farm, she saw how the cows lived and what they ate and said she just couldn't stomach it anymore.

 That's odd, considering that they live much healthier lives then we do. In fact, although I'm having difficulty finding the link, Randy read an article a while back that showed that human meat could never pass the FDA's food safety requirements due to our highly varied diets and the large amount of chemicals we consume in the form of medication's and foodborn chemicals.

 But if you're so inclined to try it, it is available:

More really big numbers

Keeping with the theme of macroeconomic issues in our last post, I'd like to add another podcast to your iTunes/RSS reader feeds. NPR has an excellent podcast out called planet money. In fact, the guys who were primarily responsible for the episode of This American Life in the aformentioned post are also the same guys who run this podcast.

Planet money is basically a blow-by-blow commentary on the current economic crisis, but it's dumbed down so even I can understand it.

Update: Fixed Link

Exploring the roots of the Economic Crisis

 A while ago, i discovered an intelligent, entertaining, and extremely well produced podcast by the name of This American Life. A few weeks ago, they put out a show about the economic situation we find ourselves in, sadly, you must either purchase it or listen to it for free through your browser.

you can find it here:

 This American Life is published by Chicago Public Radio, and is hosted by Ira Glass and produced by Alex Blumberg and Jane Feltes, with the assistance of several others at Chicago Public Radio. It can be found at

Another Intro

Hey, you there. Yeah, you, reading this. Let me introduce myself. I'm gonna be helping Scott by co-piloting this super-blog of adventure and quirk. Notice I still haven't introduced myself. Well, you're just gonna have to wait and see by reading the little thing at the bottom of the post that says "Posted by _____" BURN. Anyways now for this: Japanese Defense Program Develops Mobile Suits

Economic crisis as an Arctic expedition

 Hats off to Freakonomics for finding this: 

 freakonomics is an economics blog with a sense of humour and a nack for looking at the toher side of things, and is one of my favourite sites on the internet.

Blog's up

 First blog's up, here I'll be posting about topics that interest, annoy, or entertain me, although this blog's first and foremost goal is to be informative and stimulate discussion. I will also be posting about questions that I have answered recently, and am hoping you'll give me some hard ones to answer.