January 22, 2011

How many “rich people” are there?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:12

The Economist tries to tally up the world’s rich people, and discovers there are more millionaires than Australians:

Credit Suisse [. . .] uses a less stringent (and more obvious) definition: a millionaire is anyone whose net assets exceed $1m. That includes everything: a home, an art collection, even the value of an as-yet-inaccessible pension scheme. The Credit Suisse “Global Wealth Report” estimates that there were 24.2m such people in mid-2010, about 0.5% of the world’s adult population. By this measure, there are more millionaires than there are Australians. They control $69.2 trillion in assets, more than a third of the global total. Some 41% of them live in the United States, 10% in Japan and 3% in China.

How did these people grow rich? Mostly through their own efforts. Only 16% of high-net-worth individuals inherited their stash, according to Capgemini. The most common way to get rich is to start a business: nearly half (47%) of the world’s wealthy people are entrepreneurs.

You do not have to be a genius to build a million-dollar business, but it helps if you are intelligent and extremely hard-working. In their book “The Millionaire Next Door”, Thomas Stanley and William Danko observed that a typical American millionaire is surprisingly ordinary. He has spent his life patiently saving and ploughing his money into a business he founded. He does not live in the fanciest part of town — why waste money that you can invest? And his tastes are so plain that you can barely tell him apart from his neighbours. He buys $40 shoes, and his car of choice is a Ford.

It shouldn’t need to be pointed out that a millionaire today isn’t the same sort of person as a millionaire 30 years ago: with rising housing costs, anyone living in a paid-off home in downtown Toronto is already well on the way to being a millionaire. A multi-millionaire of the 1970s occupied the lower end of the range of what today is probably the billionaire club. Today’s millionaire is a well-off professional or middle class person, not a globe-trotting plutocrat.

How Big Government fans cast their arguments

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:01

L.A. Liberty rounds up the rhetorical conventions of Big Government sympathizers:

With discussions of “rhetoric” in the air, I thought it timely to propose what I have observed — from online discussions, family get-togethers, and everything in between — as the archetypal rhetorical conventions of big government sympathizers (i.e. the left, generally, though not exclusively):

* deflections (altering or averting the basis of the discussion to a different but seemingly related topic),
* assertions of pathos (appeals to one’s emotions, usually in the form of a sad hypothetical or a specific personal account, intended to either pity a concession or portray the opposition as a monster; this could also take the form of fear mongering),
* assertions of ethos (attempts to find hypocrisy in the opposition’s position, either by alleging that a different position held by the opposition is counter to their opposition’s current position, or by simply alleging “You would sing a different tune if it were you [or other person you care about] who needed [said government program]”)
* ad hominem attacks (related to pathos, such an attack charges either the opposition or another person who shares the opposition’s position in order to render an argument invalid, this often takes the form of accusations of racism, sexism, or some other form of bigotry),
* straw men (absurd conclusions, ostensibly based on the opposition’s argument, created in order to be refuted)
and perhaps most common of all…
* non-sequiturs (similar to straw men, these are failures in logic that assume incorrect conclusions; often a form of reducto ad absurdum based on incomplete or incorrect data)

These conventions can be explained by what is arguably the greatest weakness of big government sympathizers: a lack of reasoned thought and creativity that is the result of their inability to look beyond the status quo. In other words, because government does it, they have a hard time envisioning how it could be done without government.

The increasing cost of fighting pirates

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:51

Far from solving the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean, the costs have increased dramatically:

The Somali piracy problem is not going away, despite years of efforts by an every-growing international anti-piracy patrol off the East African coast and the Indian Ocean. Since 2005, the average ship (and crew) ransom has increased over ten times (from $150,000). Thus overall cost of Somali piracy has increased to more than $5 billion a year. Most of the cost is from addition expenses for ships staying at sea longer as they avoid going anywhere near Somalia. This has cost Egypt over 20 percent of the traffic through the Suez canal, which amounts to over a billion dollars a year in lost revenue. The anti-piracy patrol costs nearly a billion dollars a year, but most of the extra costs hit the shipping companies, and their customers, who pay more for ships spending more time at sea, or the expense of additional security measures.

The problem is that piracy is a gamble, but a better gamble than anything else on offer for would-be pirates. A small vessel, a crew willing to fight, and some inexpensive weapons can be translated into a multi-million dollar jackpot. International navies on patrol rarely do more than scare off attempts, so the risk to the pirates is still low even when a patrol is in the area. Given the situation on land, it is logical for pirates to continue attacking ships passing the Somali coastline.

Russian drama: Defense Minister disses AK-47

Filed under: Europe, Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:06

The Russian Defense Minister just stirred up a controversy that could only be equalled here if the Prime Minister called hockey a pansy frou-frou game:

Apparently, Russia’s Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, opined publically that the Kalashnikov and Dragunov SVDs sniper rifles, are “morally outdated.” To add insult to injury, he intimated that he’s considering replacing the weapons with something else. Let’s just say this didn’t play well in the Russian equivalent of the Borscht Belt. In fact, “firestorm of controversy” would be a pretty accurate depiction of the ensuing fireworks.

Evidently, Russians are a prideful people. And they take a lot of pride in Kalishnikov’s Greatest Hit of 1947. The AK-47 has withstood the test of time, doing exactly what it’s designer set out for it to do — function as a rugged, all-purpose weapon that was cheap to build, easy to use, and would run even if you filled it full of mud. Accuracy was not really high on the list of objectives, but I understand from people that know far more about the AKs than I, that they are far more accurate than most people believe.

[. . .]

So for Mother Russia, their very own Defense Minister dissin’ the AK would be like Jeff Cooper bitch-slappin’ the 1911, and throwin’ in a little trash talk against John Moses Browning, to boot. But the times they are a-changin,’ and I’m not so sure Anatolovich doesn’t have a valid pointsky.

The venerable 1911 and AK-47 bear more than a passing comparison. They are both well-established, respected designs. They are both manufactured by multiple armories. And they both have several features that are seen in a modern context as design flaws at worst, and in desperate need of an update, at best.

I’ve posted on the reputation of the AK-47 before.

QotD: Sikhs, the kirpan, and the courts

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

The [Supreme] court didn’t find for the appellants on the grounds that “the kirpan is not a weapon”. Indeed, all parties to the suit accepted the premise “that the kirpan, considered objectively and without the protective measures imposed by the Superior Court, is an object that fits the definition of a weapon.” The court found for the appellant because the school board’s zero-tolerance policy towards weapons, based largely on fears that the presence of a knife would somehow allow spooky negative vibes to propagate throughout the school, did not constitute a minimal infringement upon the rights of a religion that happens to insist upon the carrying of a weapon. (Anyone who has studied the remarkable history of the Sikhs can only be surprised that they don’t carry about five of them.)

I hate to break it to Nav Bains and to admirers of leading comparative-religion scholar Michael Ignatieff, but reciting “It’s not a weapon” won’t give us a magic wormhole we can all leap through to avoid debates over religious accommodation in public services. As I understand matters, and I am perfectly prepared to receive instruction on this point, the whole point of the kirpan is that it’s an avowedly defensive weapon. The reference books, including those written by Sikhs, tell us that it is worn precisely to signify and reinforce the Sikh’s wholly admirable preparedness to protect his faith, his community, and innocent human life. I suppose I could have added the words “just as a handgun might be”, but that would send altogether too many of my readers scrambling for the Preparation H.

Respectable efforts to establish a modus vivendi on the kirpan in secured public spaces can’t begin with evasion if they hope to be successful (and certainly it sets a terrible precedent for evasion to be designated courage). I’ll add that the problems are not really all that thorny for those of us who have never consented to fanaticism about security theatre or to cretinizing “zero tolerance” of blades in schools

Colby Cosh, “That non-weapon sure is pointy”, Maclean’s, 2011-01-21

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