A History of Urbanisation

One thing that is I have found so incredibly striking about the Brexit referendum is how disconnected the City of London has become from the rest of England:


London would be that blue spot

It’s the same thing in the US as well (which I wrote about here), where the US is basically a red/Republican country, but it’s politics are often ultimately determined by the Democratic blue spots in the big US cities. It doesn’t seem to be random: large cities tend to be liberal, where the rest of a country is not. And there is a growing divide: where we almost seem to be returning to a society of City-States, like it was in the world of Ancient Greece.

So here’s a history of urbanisation youtube clip, from the talented people at metrocosm.com.

And for more on cities, and the strange disconnect between nation and city, here are some older posts:

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

Spare Change, and the Power of Inflation

Earlier this week, I found this infographic about how much the value of small change has, well, changed in the last century.

It usually gets people riled – although someone needs to point out that salaries have moved with inflation as well. It’s not like the people who rent five-bedroom houses still get paid $20 per month…

For more on this issue of inflation and purchasing power, check out “How Teens Can Become Millionaires”.

And Happy Wednesday.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

Theft: Easier and More Universal Than We Realise

Note: this is an older post from a few years ago. But I think it’s worth re-sharing. 

employee theft

Last night, in my boot camp class, I got accused of cheating. I was meant to be jogging on the spot with my knees up. It’s not that I didn’t want to, exactly. My knees just kind of forgot to do what they were meant to be doing. Also, I was tired. Obviously, I knew that I wasn’t doing the exercise. But that was really just a thought; and instead, I chose to focus on other thoughts: thoughts about dinner and sitting down and how nice a neck massage would be right about now.

And in the manner of the Universe, that was not the first time that cheating came up yesterday. It also featured in a podcast I was listening to: “Why People Do Bad Things“.

So now I’m dedicating a post to it.

What We Think Happens When People Theft Stuff

You hear about a man that stole millions of dollars from the company that he worked for. All his colleagues sound like repeat versions of: “We just can’t believe it – he seemed so nice and well balanced! It just goes to show that you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”

Other common reactions:

  • That guy is so twisted. 
  • His colleagues are so dumb – how can you miss that?
  • Evil people are so sneaky by deceiving you with their nice smiles and good hair.
  • Now he’ll get what’s coming to him, the bastard.
  • I would never do that.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. You absolutely could do that.

What Actually Happens (At Least, Most Of The Time)

In my day job, I spend a lot of time talking to people about their companies. Specifically, the areas where I see risks that they do not. And often, I get told: “Oh no, I’m not concerned about that. The lady in charge has been with us for years. I’d trust her with anything.”

Which is a bit annoying, because it makes me come across as paranoid. But then I say this (it’s almost on pre-record):

  • You do realise that employee fraud is not generally committed by evil people, right?
  • Very few people set out to steal money. That’s just not how it works.
  • Example: you’re in charge of a cash box. It’s the end of Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday. Payday Friday. You’re literally hours away from being paid. But you’re short $20 for fuel to get home. And seeing as there’s no one else at the office, you have no one to borrow money from. So you say to yourself: “Well, it’s only $20. And I’m literally going to put it straight back into the box first thing tomorrow. It’s not like anyone will use it between now and then. I know it’s not what I should be doing – but it’s not like I’m stealing. I just need to get home! You know what – I’ll take $10. I’m sure I have a $5 in the car already, and that’ll be enough. Besides, the boss will never say no if I had asked. What a pity he’s not here. Ah well – I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s only a few hours.”
  • That’s not outright theft. There is a clear intention to return the money. It’s a moral grey area.
  • But over time, that $10 becomes $100. The Thursday before pay-day becomes the week before pay-day. And things escalate and snowball down slippery slopes.
  • Then you get caught and get accused of being evil. But actually, you’re just stupidly blind about what you’re doing. Because borrowing without asking is stealing.

I’m not saying that there aren’t people that set out to deliberately steal money. Of course there are – but it seems that percentage is quite small.

What Might Be Even More Surprising…

Is the number of people that suddenly find themselves complicit. People who see their work colleague taking extra markers from the stationery cupboard for their kids, and say “How is little Jimmy?” rather than “Stop thief!”.

In fact, the data seems to suggest that we often become counter-parties to fraud because we’re trying to be nice peopleAnd because we empathise. Which, in many ways, is a cognitive failure.

Another example: an old lady goes for an eye test for her driver’s licence. The eye tester sees that she’s actually failing. But because it’s an old lady, and she has no one to help her get to the shops, the eye tester passes her on the condition that she goes and gets new glasses.

The eye tester just wants to be nice. In front of him, he has an old lady that needs his help. Sitting somewhere in the ether are the potential consequences of letting her keep her licence: the dead child she knocked over, the accident she caused by going through a red light… But because those consequences are remote and abstract when compared to the imploring (bad) eyes in front of him, the “nice” course of action seems to involve lying about her eye test result.

The point is: it’s easier to be unethical than we think. And generally speaking, it has nothing to do with whether you’re inherently good or evil.

Just a thought.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

Post-Factual Democracy

In case you haven’t read this, you should:

the first three tragedies of facebook

“Post-factual democracy” is such a great way of describing the hegemony of disinformation. We live in a world where politicians can focus on a mythical figure of £350 million per week, and claim that a “Leave” vote will stop immigration. It’s the same world in which Donald Trump can claim to be both reducing and increasing the National Debt, and both increasing and reducing taxation rates for Hedge Fund managers. The facts don’t matter.

It reminds me of an article on the Huffington Post ‘Science of Us’ blog, titled How To Talk Your Friends and Loved Ones Out Of Supporting Donald Trump. Here’s one of the rules:

Quit with all the debunkings.

Trump is, even by political standards, a prolific and ostentatious liar. He also has no grasp on public policy whatsoever, and in most cases hasn’t really bothered developing a platform or coherent positions. Trump says things all the time that aren’t true, and his fibs and misrepresentations cover everything from his own business background and acumen to major public-policy debates. Even after one of his claims has been debunked, he’ll repeat it over and over again.

Given all this, it’s natural that anyone arguing with a Trump-supporting relative would start by pointing out all the stuff Trump has lied about and/or gotten wrong. That would be a mistake, though. Over and over, political scientists and psychologists, not to mention various other researchers, have shown that when it comes to political arguments, we don’t really respond to factual appeals. This technique can even lead to the dreaded “backlash effect” in which challenging someone’s views by providing disconfirming evidence causes them to cling tighter to those views.

The reason debunking often doesn’t work is that, as I hinted at above, most people don’t come to their political preferences having carefully and logically sifted through their options. Rather, they come to them from a more gut- and emotion-driven place. Trump’s fabled impregnable border wall (that Mexico will pay for, naturally) is a wonderful example of this principle in action. It’s a horribly impractical idea that would cost billions and do all sorts of harm, but the voters excited about it obviously haven’t run the numbers or looked closely at the proposal (there isn’t even a detailed proposal to look at) — rather, the wall, as a symbol, speaks to their feelings about immigration and humiliation and American greatness and whatever else. (Trump voters aren’t alone in doing this, of course — can you confidently say you’ve never thrown your support behind a political idea because it felt right, without knowing the full details?) So if they didn’t care about the numbers when they adopted their belief that the wall is a good idea, why would pointing to the project’s impracticality cause them to discard the belief?

And if you’re looking for some of that science, here’s an older RA post from early May: “Don’t Argue With Fanatics“. [Side-note: I originally called that post “Don’t Argue With Stupid People”, until I cowarded out and went with something less controversial.]

I guess I could lament the fact that the facts don’t matter, and point out that education is apparently failing us, and question whether the democratic voting system needs to self-correct for all the racist/bigotted/dumb/misinformed/extremist votes.

But this is probably just another stage in a very-repetitive cycle. From what we can see of the tapestry of human history, civilisations seem destined to transition back and forth between xenophobia and xenophilia, with social movements always rising to counter the prevailing attitude at the time. And also, if we’re entirely honest, being a xenophile can be just as fact-less and belief-based as being a xenophobe.

Given that, my one real comfort is this: generally speaking, whatever the masses decide, the educated classes are the most likely to be the least affected, because they have the ability to plan and manage and diversify risk. Unless you get a full-scale French/Russian-style revolution, obviously – in which case, time to become a migrant. #irony

I’m going to close with these two tweets:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.00.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 9.59.57 AM

PS: check out this photo album on facebook of tweets and facebook statuses about anti-immigrant and racist incidents since Friday’s result. It’s biased against Brexit, of course. But it’s filled with bias. 

Happy Monday.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

Brexit-ed. [Under Advisement]

So, we all woke up this morning to this:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.47.47 PM

Followed pretty quickly by:

  1. David Cameron’s resignation.
  2. Nigel Firage backtracking over the transfer of EU contributions to the NHS.

There are also two images dominating all my social media feeds:

Farewell, the Pound (for a bit)

Farewell, the Pound (for a bit)


That second is usually accompanied by some comment along the lines of “If you’re too old to work, then you’re too old to vote”.

I personally have taken comfort in the fact that Greece too voted against EU Austerity, and ‘for Grexit’, almost a year ago exactly. But here they are, with austerity, and still in the EU.

Which is also why I think that everyone should really be reading this (it’s doing the rounds on social media):


Interestingly, David Cameron won’t be hitting the “red button” immediately, like he said that he would. Instead, he’s leaving it for his successor to do in October.

And Boris was in a hurry to tell Mr Cameron not to invoke Article 50 in a hurry.

So it’ll be uncertainty for a while yet.

Also, Mr Trump is being his typically intuitive self, and failing to realise that Scotland actually voted to Remain:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 1.10.04 PM

Are we through the Looking Glass yet?

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

The FNB FICA Freeze #Maddening

Let me distract you from the Brexit woes by drawing your attention to the FICA freeze debacle over at FNB. Some snippets of common complaint:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.24.43 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.35.32 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.34.19 AM

Depending on who you’re speaking to at your branch, this has affected anywhere between 5,000 and 16,000 business accounts. And for the record, today is:

  1. Payday; and
  2. The deadline for VAT payments.

Also, more awkwardly, anyone that was trying to take advantage of yesterday’s favourable exchange rate got thoroughly whacked this morning.

According to FNB:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.29.18 AM

Only, many of those accounts were apparently compliant.

The situation is not helped by the observations like:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.19.46 PM

Nor is it helped by unhelpful advice like:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.30.27 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.45.17 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.43.27 AM

Let me give you the brief version of my own encounter:

Tuesday evening: receives 24 hour notice of “transaction hold” due to FICA/KYC non-submission. From FNB :-) #servicewithasmiley

Wednesday: *calls Business Banker; told that it’s a system glitch and not to worry; requests a check of FICA status anyway; asked to resubmit a piece of documentation that has been mislabelled in the system ‘just in case’*

Thursday: *account is frozen* *calls go unanswered*

Friday: *still frozen*

Eventually, after I got through this morning, I was told that the account actually needed a letter confirming voting rights from the company auditors. Or share certificates. Possibly both.

This conversation then took place:

Me: “Okay, I can arrange that. But what of giving me some advance warning? I mean, I receive an endless parade of payment notifications by sms and email, but not a single request for a document that I apparently should have known that you needed? And now you’ve put my account on hold.”

Operator: “Yes sir, our system is meant to give three notification requests for documentation before it puts your account on hold.”

Me: “But it didn’t.”

Operator: “Yes sir, we’ve received a lot of complaints about that. We’ve escalated the issue.”

Me: “So does that mean the transaction hold can be lifted until you’ve notified me three times that this is what you require?”

Operator: “No sir, the hold won’t be lifted until your account is FICA compliant.”

Me: “Even though your system is what’s actually at fault here?”

Operator: “Yes sir.”

Me: “And your FICA department is going to take at least 2 to 3 working days to evaluate the emailed documents?”

Operator: “Yes sir.”

Me: “So your FICA department requires more time to check documentation than the 24 hour notice you gave before the account was put on hold?”

Operator: “Yes sir.”

Me: *incredulous silence*

You see, here is the problem:

  1. Is FICA compliance important? Maybe. I mean, I’m sure that money laundering is an issue for some people.
  2. But is FICA compliance more important than salaries being paid, and VAT proceeds being collected by the fiscus? No. No it is not.

So today, there are hardworking South Africans who will not be receiving their salaries.

But, I mean, as long as FNB doesn’t get fined by the SARB for non-compliance with FICA. That is what’s really important here.


UPDATE: thanks to some very patient ladies at the Business Remediation Centre (who have been inundated with calls from angry customers), and an excellent Client Service Manager, my own particular issue was resolved. I feel bad that these poor people stand right in the firing line, while the system-maintenance peeps (who seem directly responsible) get to sit disinterested in the back-end. But I’m very grateful. And feeling far more gracious in retrospect. #relief

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.

Cities of Segregation: Cape Town, London, New York

Just over a month ago, StatsSA released a study called “Mapping Diversity: an exploration of our social tapestry.” While I didn’t get round to posting about it, it’s taken up an unusual amount of one-on-one conversation time since. And my feeling is: not enough people got to see it.

So here are the highlights:


Here’s Joburg (the most ‘diverse’):


Here’s Cape Town:


And here’s Port Elizabeth (the ‘most segregrated’):


The whole project was based on a similar project done on Chicago, by www.radicalcartography.net:


I mean, clearly, South Africa is not the only country struggling with segregation in its cities.

Here is some more from the US (from the work done by the Demographic Research Group at the Weldon Cooper Centre for Public Service):

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 8.55.04 AM

[The Preamble]


New York and Newark



And because it’s topical this morning, here’s London (seriously, go and check out Andrew Whitby’s work at his website – these maps come from there):

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 9.13.58 AM

And the greater UK:

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 9.12.54 AM

Three things:

  1. Clearly, cities tend to be a lot more diverse that outlying areas, even if there’s a tendency toward inner-city segregation – which does seem to suggest that diversity is good for liberalism, seeing as cities are far more likely to lean politically leftward;
  2. Particularly in South Africa, the signs of apartheid are clear – just look at how far away the ‘townships’ of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth are from the CBD;
  3. But even so, I think that it’s sometimes hard to draw a line between ‘racial segregation’ and ‘community’. If you look at a city like London, which had large waves of Asian immigrants from the Commonwealth in the middle of the last century, those communities have become entrenched in certain regions of Greater London. But can we really call that pure ‘racial segregation’? Or is it more a case of immigrants choosing to live near family, near their mosques/temples/churches, and near where their friends are?

Just a thought.

Happy Thursday.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.