A study commissioned by the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association has offered me some very disappointing news: robbing banks isn’t a very good way to make a living. They even described the returns as ‘rubbish’. In a summary of the paper, John Timmer writes:
The basic problem is the average haul from a bank job: for the three-year period, it was only £20,330.50 (~$31,613). And it gets worse, as the average robbery involved 1.6 thieves. So the authors conclude, “The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest £12,706.60 per person per raid.”
“Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around £26,000, it will give him a modest life-style for no more than 6 months,” the authors note. If a robber keeps hitting banks at a rate sufficient to maintain that modest lifestyle, by a year and a half into their career, odds are better than not they’ll have been caught. “As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.”
Worse still, the success of a robbery was a bit like winning the lottery, as the standard deviation on the £20,330.50 was £53,510.20. That means some robbers did far better than average, but it also means that fully a third of robberies failed entirely.
Economists Demonstrate Exactly Why Bank Robbery is a Bad Idea [ArsTechnica]
I was delighted the other day to find out that Damn Interesting is back in operation online. Once more, they’ve managed to be Damn Interesting with a story about Michael Larson, who sounds like a fascinating guy:
On the 19th of May 1984, at CBS Television City in Hollywood, a curious air of tension hung over the studio during the taping of the popular game show Press Your Luck. Ordinarily a live studio audience could be counted upon to holler and slap their hands together, but something was keeping them unusually subdued. The object of the audience’s awe was sitting at the center podium on the stage, looking rather unremarkable in his thrift-store shirt and slicked-back graying hair. His name was Michael Larson.
“You’re going to go again?” asked the show’s host Peter Tomarken as Larson gesticulated. Gasps and murmurs punctuated the audience’s cautious applause, and the contestants sitting on either side of Larson clapped in stunned silence. “Michael’s going again,” Tomarken announced incredulously. “We’ve never had anything like this before.”
The scoreboard on Larson’s podium read “$90,351,” an amount unheard of in the history of Press Your Luck. In fact, this total was far greater than any person had ever earned in one sitting on any television game show. With each spin on the randomized “Big Board” Larson took a one-in-six chance of hitting a “Whammy” space that would strip him of all his spoils, yet for 36 consecutive spins he had somehow missed the whammies, stretched the show beyond it’s 30-minute format, and accumulated extraordinary winnings. Such a streak was astronomically unlikely, but Larson was not yet ready to stop. He was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing.
Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire? [Damn Interesting]
Very interesting and enlightening documentary by Paul Grignon, on the nature and value of money in the modern world and what that means for all of us. Very worth watching.
Posted in Five Kinds of Awesome, History, Politics, Thought-Provoking
Tagged Banking, Currency, Debt, Documentary, Economics, Fiat, Finance, Informative, Money
Winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the last Academy Awards.
The film has received very positive reviews, earning a 98% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes website, which compiles reviews from multiple critics. One viewer-reporter characterized the film as “rip-snorting [and] indignant [with] support from interviews with Nouriel Roubini, Barney Frank, George Soros, Eliot Spitzer, Charles R. Morris and others. But the most effective presence,” he continues, “may be the trusted voice of all-American actor Matt Damon, who narrates the furious takedown of the financial services and the government. It’s a fairly bold move by the actor.”
It was selected for a special screening at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. A reviewer writing from Cannes characterized the film as “a complex story told exceedingly well and with a great deal of unalloyed anger. [It] lays out its essential argument, cogently and convincingly, that the 2008 meltdown was avoidable. Less familiar faces, including a brothel madam and a therapist who each catered to Wall Street in the bubble years are also seen, and the movie ends not long after Robert Gnaizda, formerly with the Greenlining Institute, a housing advocacy group, characterizes the Obama administration as ‘a Wall Street government’, a take Mr. Ferguson clearly endorses.”
An Irishman on the global economic crisis.
Some good points in a rant by Bill Maher on Huffington Post entitled ‘New Rule: Rich People Who Complain About Being Vilified Should Be Vilified’:
New Rule: The next rich person who publicly complains about being vilified by the Obama administration must be publicly vilified by the Obama administration. It’s so hard for one person to tell another person what constitutes being “rich”, or what tax rate is “too much.” But I’ve done some math that indicates that, considering the hole this country is in, if you are earning more than a million dollars a year and are complaining about a 3.6% tax increase, then you are by definition a greedy asshole.
And let’s be clear: that’s 3.6% only on income above 250 grand — your first 250, that’s still on the house. Now, this week we got some horrible news: that one in seven Americans are now living below the poverty line. But I want to point you to an American who is truly suffering: Ben Stein. You know Ben Stein, the guy who got rich because when he talks it sounds so boring it’s actually funny. He had a game show on Comedy Central, does eye drop commercials, doesn’t believe in evolution? Yeah, that asshole. I kid Ben — so, the other day Ben wrote an article about his struggle. His struggle as a wealthy person facing the prospect of a slightly higher marginal tax rate.
New Rule: Rich People Who Complain About Being Vilified Should Be Vilified [Huffington Post]
A little under a year ago, NPR’s Planey Money bought a toxic asset for $1000. Listeners named her ‘Toxie’. Now, however, Toxie is dead, having met her demise due to loan modifications.
Toxie’s Dead [NPR]
Michael Lewis tale of the Greek financial crisis in Vanity Fair is absolutely fascinating (and unbelievable). It may be the only financial crisis in the world to feature Greek Orthodox monks as the center of attention.
The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way.
As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a pinata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms-and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average-and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.
Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds [Vanity Fair]
Posted in Places
Tagged Absurd, Corruption, Crisis, Debt, Deficit, Financial, Greece, Greek, Insane, Money, Monk
To celebrate 30 years since the launch of Pac-man in Japan, Google put a playable version of the game up as their logo on the 21st of May. Rescue Time, a software firm that monitors what workers do online, gathered statistics on how much time was wasted worldwide as a result of the app:
Extrapolating this up across the 504 million unique users who visit the main Google page day-to-day, this represents an increase of 4.8 million hours – equal to about 549 years.
In dollar terms, assuming people are paid $25 (£17.50) an hour, this equates to about $120m in lost productivity, the firm said.
For that money, suggested Rescue Time, it would be possible to hire all Google’s employees and put them to work for about six weeks.
Google Pac-Man Eats Up Work Time [BBC News]
Posted in Funny, Orwellian, Technology
Tagged App, Google, Logo, Money, Pac-Man, Play, Productivity, Time, Video Games, Waste, Work