Including: a scary new measurement of Beijing pollution, plus a picture that isn’t just a grey block, the problem with populist governments, why the SA mining sector was always going to fire people, and sleep deprivation.

Good morning

The headlines:

  1. The problem with populist government.

    Link: an Anglo-American story.

    So after the strikes toward the end of last year, etc, Anglo American announced that it would be cutting 14,000 jobs from its platinum unit, and shutting four shafts.

    Now this is not really that surprising – because agreeing to increase the cost of labour during the strikes, without any corresponding increase in productivity, makes the profit margins thin. And when this is accompanied by a global drop in demand for the product, the viability of the entire mining operation is called into question.

    So management start to look at alternatives, like mechanisation. They also start to look at the individual components of the mine – identifying individual shafts that are not yielding as much platinum, and have possibly become loss-making as a result of higher costs of production and lower selling prices. Then they move to change the situation.

    Is this wrong? Not at all. In some ways – it’s the ethical thing to do. If the foot gets gangrene, you amputate it to save the body. It’s the same thing with a mine. It is the lifeblood of a community; if part of it starts to fail – you fix it. Otherwise, you risk the community as a whole.

    This has not stopped Susan Shabangu, the Minister of Mining, from making a vaguely-veiled threat about Anglo’s mining licence. Nor did it stop Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, from accusing Anglo of theft.

    I realise that most of it is posturing. And that in the background cigar lounges, over Chivas and cognac, the politicians have quiet understandings between themselves and the mining executives about the necessities of public face and so on.

    But it doesn’t really do much to encourage investment.

  2. Sleeping.

    Link: it’s important.

    Luckily, we now have a study to tell us that sleep deprivation is bad for productivity.

    Harvard Medical School has said that chronic sleep deprivation is costing America billions of dollars in productivity. And seeing as it affects around 30% of Americans…

    My favourite statistic: for every hour of interrupted sleep the night before, I waste an extra 8.4 minutes at work the next day refreshing the home page.

  3. China chokes.

    Link: economic growth can also cause a crisis.

    I initially thought that the above picture was just a grey square.

    Beijing is suffering pollution levels that that I think non-Beijing residents cannot understand. If we say that the WHO recommends exposure to air with a PM2.5 level no higher than 25, Beijing’s level (according to the US embassy measurement) has been hovering around 441. And even according to euphemistic official figures, the level sits at 258. But those are just figures. I don’t know what it feels like to breath air like that – but it sounds less like “air” and more like “viscous liquid”. So, I guess, it must feel a lot like drowning.

    Economic growth should not come at any cost, as China is clearly demonstrating. Because while it’s good to be industrial, and industrious, it comes with a clear public cost. What is not clear is how that cost can, or even should, be allocated. And how it can be fixed.

    Because removing government vehicles from the roads and changing coal burners in 44,000 homes in a city of 20 million people just isn’t enough.

    You know – I’d rather have a little less productive an environment and still be able to breathe, thanks. Without a mask.

That’s all for now.

Have a good day.