Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

Some marvellous inventions that changed my world (and are now obsolete)

September 3, 2017

Marvellous inventions that changed my world and which are now obsolete. (Dates are when I came across the invention).

  • 1959 – My first fountain pen
  • 1960 – first biro (not quite obsolete yet)
  • 1961 – Kodak box camera
  • 1962 – birthday present of a Sony transistor radio
  • 1963 – My own book of log tables
  • 1964 – a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder (which I could play backwards!)
  • 1966 – a Faber-Castell slide rule
  • 1967 – allowed to use a Curta mechanical rotary calculator
  • 1968 – a Kodak Instamatic
  • 1969 – a casette tape recorder
  •  1972 – a Sinclair pocket calculator
  • 1974 – allowed to share a Hewlett-Packard 9100A desktop
  • 1975 – allowed to use a PDP-11 mini-computer
  • 1976 – using a Telex machine
  • 1977 – a Sony Betamax video player
  • 1978 – a Polaroid camera
  • 1980 – used a facsimile machine (G1)
  • 1983 – first PC (not obsolete yet)
  • 1984 – used a fax machine (G3)
  • 1989 – First Nokia talkphone (model now well obsolete)

image birmingham history

and the rest is still unfolding.


 

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Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google

August 24, 2017

George Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949.

In his fictional world every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, where everybody knows that  “Big Brother is watching you”.  And Big Brother is not worried. He says “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.”

In many ways, Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google.

But, not to worry.

Google’s heart is pure.

 


 

Counting on fingers leads naturally also to base-60

August 19, 2017

We have forgotten what it was like to count on our fingers. We have forgotten that counting itself was a mystery long before the mysteries of manipulation of numbers and the magic of mathematics. Yet the use of base-60 lies deep in our psyches. We still use it for time measurement and for geographical and spatial measurements. Attempts to use decimals for time and angle measurement have all failed miserably. Sixty still occurs in ancient Chinese and Indian calendars.

Today the use of 60 still predominates for time, for navigation and geometry. But generally only for units already defined in antiquity. A base of 10 is used for units found to be necessary in more recent times. Subdivision of a second of time or a second of arc is always using the decimal system rather than by the duodecimal or the sexagesimal system.

Usually the origin of sexagesimal systems of counting are traced back to the Babylonians (c. 1,800 BCE) and even to the Sumerians (c. 3,000 – 2,500 BCE). But I suspect that it goes back much further and that base-60 long precedes the Babylonians and the Sumerians.

I observe that twelve and then sixty come naturally from three factors:

  1. using fingers for counting,
  2. maximising the count with only one hand free, and
  3. the growth of trade and the need for counts of greater than 20

That five comes naturally from the fingers of one hand is self-evident. With only one free hand, a count to twelve using the thumb and the digits of the other four fingers is also self-evident. I saw my great grandmother, and my grandmother after her, regularly count to twelve using only one hand. Sixty comes naturally from a hand of five of a hand of twelve. Counting to five and twelve would have been well known to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It seems very plausible that a hunter would look to maximise the count on a single hand. So, it is not necessary to look for the origins of base-60 in the skies or in the length of the year or the number of its divisors or the beginnings of geometry. If the origins of counting lie some 50,000 years ago, the use of twelve and then of sixty probably goes back some 20,000 years.

The origins of base 60

I like 60. Equilaterals. Hexagons. Easy to divide by almost anything. Simple integers for halves, quarters, thirds, fifths, sixths, tenths, 12ths, 15ths and 30ths. 3600. 60Hz. Proportions pleasing to the eye. Recurring patterns. Harmonic. Harmony.

The origins of the use of base 60 are lost in the ancient past. By the time the Sumerians used it about 2,500 years ago it was already well established and continued through the Babylonians. But the origin lies much earlier.

hand of 5I speculate that counting – in any form more complex than “one, two, many….” – probably goes back around 50,000 years. I have little doubt that the fingers of one hand were the first counting aids that were ever used, and that the base 10 given by two hands came to dominate. Why then would the base 60 even come into being?

The answer, I think, still lies in one hand. Hunter-gatherers when required to count would prefer to use only one hand and they must – quite early on and quite often – have had the need for counting to numbers greater than five. And of course using the thumb as pointer one gets to 12 by reckoning up the 3 bones on each of the other 4 fingers.

a hand of 12 - image sweetscience

a hand of 12 – image sweetscience

My great-grandmother used to count this way when checking the numbers of vegetables (onions, bananas, aubergines) bought by her maid at market. Counting up to 12 usually sufficed for this. When I was a little older, I remember my grandmother using both hands to check off bags of rice brought in from the fields – and of course with two hands she could get to 144. The counting of 12s most likely developed in parallel with counting in base 10 (5,10, 50, 100). The advantageous properties of 12 as a number were fortuitous rather than by intention. But certainly the advantages helped in the persistence of using 12 as a base. And so we still have a dozen (12) and a gross (12×12) and even a great gross (12x12x12) being used today. Possibly different groups of ancient man used one or other of the systems predominantly. But as groups met and mixed and warred or traded with each other the systems coalesced.

hands for 60

And then 60 becomes inevitable. Your hand of 5, with my hand of 12, gives the 60 which also persists into the present.  (There is one theory that 60 developed as 3 x 20, but I think finger counting and the 5 x 12 it leads to is far more compelling). But it is also fairly obvious that the use of 12 must be prevalent first before the 60 can appear. Though the use of 60 seconds and 60 minutes are all pervasive, it is worth noting that they can only come after each day and each night is divided into 12 hours.

While the use of base 10 and 12 probably came first with the need for counting generally and then for trade purposes (animals, skins, weapons, tools…..), the 12 and the 60 came together to dominate the measuring and reckoning of time. Twelve months to a year with 30 days to a month. Twelve hours to a day or a night and 60 parts to the hour and 60 parts to those minutes. There must have been a connection – in time as well as in the concepts of cycles – between the “invention” of the calendar and the geometrical properties of the circle. The number 12 has great significance in Hinduism, in Judaism, in Christianity and in Islam. The 12 Adityas, the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 days of Christmas, the 12 Imams are just examples. My theory is that simple sun and moon-based religions gave way to more complex religions only after symbols and writing appeared and gave rise to symbolism. ……… 

If we had six fingers on each hand the decimal system would never have seen the light of day. A millisecond would then be 1/ 1728th of a second. It is a good thing we don’t have 7 fingers on each hand, or – even worse – one hand with 6 fingers and one with 7. Arithmetic with a tridecimal system of base 13 does not entice me. But if I was saddled with 13 digits on my hands I would probably think differently.

 


 

Democracy, like natural selection, has no need for excellence

April 14, 2017

Natural selection gives traits that are good enough for survival up to the time of reproduction. There is no value to be gained by being anything beyond just good enough to survive and only till reproduction is accomplished. Natural selection is about being “good enough” and there is no force which drives towards excellence. Fast enough may, in fact, be much more successful for descendants than fastest. Strong enough is good enough and there is no advantage necessarily accruing from being the strongest. The forces of natural selection are quite satisfied with intelligent enough and do not persist towards increasing intelligence. The equilibrium position is mediocrity.

And so it is with democracies. Democracies are all about winning elections, not about selection of the “best” leaders. A winning candidate only needs to be sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently competent and sufficiently rich and  sufficiently cunning and sufficiently dishonest to ensure the capture of sufficient votes. There is no value, and there may well be a negative value, in having more of a vote-winning attribute than just necessary.

Given that excellence, of any attribute, must be a minority “thing” (the bell curve again), any system promoting the majority must inevitably promote a leveling down – a chase for mediocrity. Natural selection is all about increasing population. Extinction is failure and increasing population is the measure of success. Democracies pander to the majority in a population. There will always be more of the poor than of the rich, the unintelligent will always outnumber the intelligent and the incompetent will always swamp the competent.

Excellence in sport requires special coaching and training regimes for elite squads of young athletes. Academic excellence requires elite academic institutions. Excellence in science needs its ivory towers. Excellence in companies is achieved by autocracies (including monarchies) but never by democracies. Military excellence requires elite troops.  Excellence in government and in management requires autocrats. To achieve excellence in almost any field requires elitism. “Socialist principles” abhor elitism. It is not perhaps so surprising that the essence of “social democrats” lies in leveling down, in making a god out of mediocrity.

At some point humans and human societies will find the need to drive towards improvement and a search for excellence. With no pressure to increase population humans will be freed from the constraints of natural selection and will be able to target excellence. Natural selection will have to be given direction with a strong dose of artificial selection. Once poverty is eliminated (but not the poor who must always be there) and population is stable or declining, even human societies will be freed to chase excellence. Democracies will then need to acquire some spine by institutionalising  more than just a little whiff of autocracy. Voters and candidates for election will need to qualify, votes will be weighted and elected leaders will be autocrats for their terms of office.

Leaders might then begin to lead again rather than being followers of the mob.


 

Doubtful if NAFTA has been good for US trade or US jobs

January 4, 2017

That NAFTA has provided benefits for Mexico and Canada is evident.

Certainly volume of trade has increased sharply since NAFTA was established in 1994. But for the US the trade deficit has also ballooned. Some US jobs have shifted to Mexico. And whether NAFTA has created any real, net benefits for the US economy is more than a little doubtful.

from Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2014

from Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2014

When Donald Trump castigates US industry for shifting jobs to Mexico, he has a point.


 

Natural selection is obsolete and the compassionate society needs non-coercive eugenics

March 20, 2016

Natural selection is about being “good enough” and never about excellence. It has been sufficient to the purpose to cope with the slow change of prevailing environment. It has been effective but remarkably inefficient. But now that homo sapiens has developed to the point of influencing – even if not yet controlling – the prevailing environment, the trial and error process of “natural selection” can no longer cope with the pace of change. Compassionate societies take care of their physically unfit and natural selection is effectively bypassed.

Natural selection is about “good enough”, but artificial selection could be about excellence

Natural selection has no direction. In fact it is unintended selection. It just allows for the survival and the reproduction of the “just good enough” individuals (not of the best individuals). “Evolution” is then just the resulting changes in species, where some individuals have had the genetic variation (errors or abnormalities) to be able to survive in a changed environment (habitat and/or competing species). Paradoxically, species which display a wide genetic variation in individuals (large errors), have a greater chance of surviving change. Of course, many abnormal individuals fail to survive, which is the price paid for the survival of the species. In that sense, “natural selection” sacrifices individuals for the sake of the species. The unplanned, unintended “selection” occurs primarily by the deselection of the unfit individuals. You could say it was unethical, since the end (species survival), justifies the means (deselection of unfit individuals). There is no compassion for deselected individuals in natural selection.

Excellence of a particular attribute is never selected for. Survivors are those just good enough, to live long enough, to reproduce. Evolution by this “natural selection” clearly works, but it is not intentional, is not very efficient and can only cope with slow, small changes to the environment. Rapid or large changes cannot be matched by the available genetic variation. When the genetic variation (errors) among individuals does not throw up some which can survive some external change, species go extinct. It is the selection not by a pro-active choice but by whatever is left surviving after a multitude of trials of the errors.

We are getting to the point where we are beginning to be able to discern the genetic components which, partially or wholly, determine health, disease, intelligence and behaviour of the individual. We no longer allow the sick and unintelligent to be deselected. The “compassionate society” has effectively short-circuited the natural selection process which depended on the physically “unfit” dying off. However we take no similar actions about those who are mentally or behaviourally unfit. We have started changing the environment and we have cancelled the death of the physically unfit. But we still allow the mentally or behaviourally unfit to survive and reproduce.

It is time then to also take charge of genetic selection.

We see nothing wrong in genetic intervention in preventing debilitating disease. We even allow capital punishment (abortion) where the genetic fault in a foetus is considered very large. We practice artificial selection – of a sort – with IVF and surrogate motherhood. “Genetic engineering”, and “artificial selection” are nothing but eugenics where no coercion is involved. The Nazi search for “racial purity” involved massive coercion and tried to achieve the goal of a particular physical appearance and external attributes which defined their “master race”.

But without coercion, eugenics is unexceptionable as a method to seek genetic excellence.

Eugenics:The Problem Is Coercion

Razib Khan in The Unz Review

…… the issue with nics is simple: the problem is coercion, and the rest is commentary. I understand that the public is wary and skeptical of CRISPR technology and preimplanation genetic diagnosis. The problem is that the public is also suspicious of food which has DNA in it. Genes are not magic, but that is hard to convince the person on the street. Whereof one does not know, thereof one must be suspicious.

I believe for there to be a clear discussion, one needs to take coercion off the table, and abolish its specter by stating that it just isn’t an option. Then we can have a real dialogue that gets beyond the superficiality induced by the shadow of genocide. For example, consider sentences such as the following from the op-ed above “editing genes for frivolous purposes such as increasing intelligence.” There are many technical reasons that it may not be possible to increase intelligence in the near future through genetic engineering. But would increasing one’s intelligence be frivolous? I don’t think so. Whether you agree with this project or not, it is a serious matter, and gets to the heart of what we value as human beings (or at least some of us). But the specter of genocide casts a pall on exploring these nuanced questions, and that is because of the past record of coercion in eugenics.

Natural selection together with the compassionate society results in an increase in the proportion of “unfit” individuals (physical, mental or behavioural) in the population. But we take no measures to compensate for this by increasing the genetic excellence of succeeding generations.

Natural selection is just not good enough. It can no longer keep up with the pace of change and it is not compatible with a compassionate society. Non-coercive eugenics seeking excellence, not just to compensate for the increasing number of the unfit, but mainly to improve the human condition, is necessary.


 

Related:

Breeding for intelligence?

Is human intelligence declining?


 

Chinese stocks crash another 7% while World Bank warns of further possible shocks

January 7, 2016

European stock markets can be expected to decline another 2-3% today. The Chinese stock markets hit the automatic circuit breakers soon after they opened today when they dropped another 7%. The devaluation of the Chinese Yuan continues apace with a 0.5% drop, which is the largest single day drop since August when it was devalued 2%. The Shanghai composite index is now down at 3115, down from the high of 5000 it reached in June 2015. In the meantime Brent oil fell below $35 which is the lowest since 2004.

Back in August last year I expected market “bottom” to be when the SCI was less than 3200 and oil was around $30 per barrel.

So I’m looking for the SCI at or less than 3200 and oil prices of about $30/barrel to start getting bullish again. That will not be before November/December this year.

And until then its probably best to keep cash under the mattress.

Hopefully the bottom is not too far away.

sci jan 2016 graphic by bloomberg

sci jan 2016 graphic by bloomberg

In the meantime the World Bank has released its Global Economic Prospects for 2016. WB Global Economic Prospects January 2016

While the WB expects global growth to increase slightly from 2.4% in 2015 to 2.9%, it sees some major risks ahead. The nightmare scenario is if the economies of the BRICS countries decline simultaneously and that could spillover and cause a prolonged downturn globally.

The simultaneous slowing of four of the largest emerging markets—Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa—poses the risk of spillover effects for the rest of the world economy. Global ripples from China’s slowdown are expected to be greatest but weak growth in Russia sets back activity in other countries in the region. Disappointing growth again in the largest emerging markets, if combined with new financial stress, could sharply reduce global growth in 2016. …….

…….. Specifically, a 1 percentage point decline in growth in BRICS is associated with a reduction in growth over the following two years by 0.8 percentage points in other emerging markets, 1.5 percentage points in frontier markets, and 0.4 percentage points in the global economy. Spillovers could be considerably larger if the growth slowdown in BRICS were combined with financial market turbulence.

The World Bank ends by advising developing economies to develop resilience – which may be easier said than done

In the current environment, developing countries need to brace for possible shocks by building resilience to risks to growth. Where they are able to boost government spending or lower interest rates, they can provide support to economic activity. They can further encourage investor confidence with reforms to governance, labor market functioning, and business environments. Measures to absorb young workers or to increase workforce participation will relieve demographic pressures in many countries.

Hopefully the stimulus that low oil price provides will be sufficient to prevent the nightmare scenario.

Greenpeace endangers national economic security and is deregistered in India

November 7, 2015

Greenpeace has been deregistered in India and has 30 days to shut down. They intend to challenge the deregistration in court. But their brand of eco-fascism (“we know best what is good for you”) is a luxury that India can ill afford. When per capita energy consumption in India is just one tenth of that in Europe, and one fifteenth of that in US, Greenpeace’s attempts to block coal and nuclear power in India is unconscionable.

Greenpeace in India just reflects the views and values of its foreign membership. Most of this membership is from developed countries and represents the do-gooding, self-righteous attitudes of  a comfortable, energy-guzzling middle class. In Europe, these members are often from the hard-left who, after the fall of communism, have found themselves politically homeless. They have become a political lobby group hiding under the cloak of being a welfare organisation. They not only believe they “know best what is good for others”, they also want to impose that on others. In the developing world, Greenpeace are as “colonialist” as the empire builders of the 19th century and try to impose their values and their solutions by legal and extra-legal means. In India this colonialist attitude showed up with their local “rajahs” acting as feudal lords believing they had the right of droit de seigneur. In nearly every developing country their campaigns are opposed to development projects.

In India their efforts to show that solar energy could be an alternative to coal back-fired badly. They sponsored a solar pv installation at a village in Bihar but only ended up promoting coal power. The villagers now refer to coal power as “real power” and solar power as “fake power”.

Scientific American: Over three months, engineers set up 70 kilowatts of photovoltaic cells on the rooftop of public buildings scattered throughout the village. They installed 224 batteries to store the energy. …. All told, the installation cost 2.7 crore rupees ($407,050). ……

The day the power came was one of celebration. …. Then, the wealthy families plugged in energy-inefficient televisions and refrigerators. With the power suddenly facing heavy demand, the batteries drained within hours.

The microgrid operators scrambled to fix the mess. The village electrification committee decided to restrict electricity supply to five hours at nighttime. Greenpeace put up posters telling people not to use energy-hungry appliances such as rice cookers, electric water heaters, irons, space heaters and air coolers. ….. One month after the rollout, Greenpeace invited Bihar’s former chief minister, Nitish Kumar, to inaugurate the solar village. ……. One week later, trucks rolled in and set up a 100-kW transformer in town, connecting Dharnai to the grid. ….. Power is now free for Kumar and his neighbors who are below the poverty line. Others pay 3 rupees per kilowatt-hour of electricity. As of July, villagers were getting electricity day and night, …….

Meanwhile, enrollment in the solar program has fallen to 120 households, down from 380 at the start ……..At present, solar power in Dharnai costs at least three times as much as grid power. It can support only expensive energy-efficient appliances, such as CFL bulbs. A CFL bulb in India costs 700 rupees ($10), while an incandescent bulb costs 10 rupees (15 cents).

Now Greenpeace India has lost its registration, on the surface for violating financial regulations applying to NGO’s with foreign funding, but more fundamentally, for being anti-development and a threat to the economic security of the country.

NDTV: India has cancelled Greenpeace International’s license to operate and gave the group 30 days to close down, citing financial fraud and falsification of data, …… Last year, the government withdrew permission to Greenpeace to receive foreign funding, saying the money was used to block industrial projects.

Under the latest order issued by authorities in Tamil Nadu where Greenpeace is registered, the government said it had found that the organisation had violated the provisions of law by engaging in fraudulent dealings. ……. A government official confirmed that the closure order had been issued on Wednesday but did not elaborate.

In recent months the federal government has toughened rules governing charities and cancelled the registration of nearly 9,000 groups for failing to declare details of overseas donations.

In India, Greenpeace has blindly opposed almost every project concerned with coal mining, coal power plants, nuclear power plants, GMO crops, forest clearing, and even building of dams. They have opposed India’s tea exports in the name of supporting plantation workers. They have openly supported candidates from a particular political party (AAP). They have tried to influence elections. Agitation has been the name of their game and foreign support has been brought in to manage conflicts that they initiate. The government’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) has estimated that Greenpeace India’s activities depress growth by 2 -3%.

The New Indian Express:

Months before Tamil Nadu’s crackdown on Greenpeace, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in September had cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licence of Greenpeace India. It was alleged that the NGO misused foreign funding for political activities which prejudicially affected the country’s public and economic interests.

The Home Ministry Dossier on ‘Greenpeace Activities’ with Express said that NGO was found violating the FCRA by engaging in political activities to influence and lobby for the formulation of policies of its liking. “Not only Greenpeace activists are involved in agitation, they also invited foreign activists like Emma Rachel Tranquility Gibson (UK national) for handling conflict / team dynamics, prioritisation and difficult decisions and her given task was ‘Election Project’as mentioned in the terms of reference of her job,” the MHA dossier said ……..

The financial irregularities are concerned mainly with hiding the use that foreign funds are put to:

An on-site inspection of the NGO’s accounts and records conducted on September 24 to September 27, 2014 found that Greenpeace first transferred foreign contribution received in FCRA designated bank account to FCRA utilisation account and from there to five other bank accounts without informing the authority concerned.  The NGO also shifted its office and activities from Chennai to Bengaluru without approval /intimation of the Ministry. It claimed that Greenpeace was also involved in international negative campaign against India’s most popular tea brands to reduce India’s export by publicising questionable forensic tests in an undisclosed foreign lab.

“ On October 27-28, 2013, Greenpeace India also invited a 10-member team of international activists (1 US and 9 Bangladesh nationals, nine being on tourist visa) to visit three coal block locations, Waidhan and Mudwani (Baiga Basti) in district Singrauli and Amelia to conduct an environmental study on coal blocks allocated to power plants in the district. The team also attended a meeting organised by a NTPC plant employee, Shyam Kishore……all the payments in respect of boarding and lodging were made by Greenpeace India.”

Timeline 

  • April 9, 2015: Centre freezes Greenpeace India’s seven bank accounts over FCRA violation
  • May 5: Greenpeace India’s executive director Samit Aich tells staffers that they have one month left to fight; face imminent shut down
  •  May 27: Delhi HC allows Greenpeace to utilise two accounts for collecting donations
  • May 28: District Registrar, Chennai, sends notice on inspection of Greenpeace India office in Chennai by Sub-Registrar (Chit & Society)
  • June 3: Sub-Registrar (Chit & Society) inspects Greenpeace office
  • June 16: Showcause notice sent by District Registrar on several irregularities and violations found during inspection
  • August 4: HC directs District Registrar to allow petitioner to peruse documents that RoS based its allegations on
  • October 5: Greenpeace sends extensive rebuttal through its counsel
  • November 4: District Registrar passes order cancelling Greenpeace India’s registration

European nuclear moratoria are ineffective and counter-productive as China plans 110 nuclear plants by 2030

October 18, 2015

Update! Numbers have been corrected. By 2030 China plans 110 nuclear plants in operation which is another 60 reactors in addition to the 50 currently in operation or under construction. (I had earlier assumed that the plan was for 110 new reactors).


The European nuclear industry is almost dead as a consequence of,

  1. the ban on nuclear power in countries which have succumbed to environmental political correctness (e.g. Sweden, Germany…)
  2. the ridiculously long and costly permitting processes (environment and safety) in countries where nuclear power has not been banned (UK, Finland…)

As a contribution to the global use (or non-use) of nuclear power, the European reluctance to use nuclear power is entirely meaningless. For the objectives of killing the European nuclear industry and raising costs for electrical power in Europe, the anti-nuclear lobby has been entirely successful.

China currently has 23 nuclear plants in operation and 27 under construction which will be in operation by 2020. By 2020 the Chinese nuclear generating capacity will have almost tripled from the 21GW, 2014 level to be about 58GW in 2020. They have just announced their next five-year plan and some long-term strategies. Another $78 billion has been earmarked to reach 110 nuclear plants in operation by 2030. These plants will be built using indigenous Chinese technology. This technology is now available for export. It is being actively considered for projects in Pakistan and Argentina and now China is even a possible investor in the UK. Each Chinese nuclear plant has a capacity of about 1.1GW (1,100MW). At $78 billion for a further 60 plants, the investment cost planned is about $1200/kW. This is incredibly low, not just for nuclear plant, but for any type of power generating plant. Even assuming a volume effect, it can be expected that Chinese nuclear power plants could be exported at about $1,200-1500/kW.

The Hindu:

China plans to build 110 nuclear power plants by 2030 with an investment of over $78 billion overtaking the U.S. which has 100 such plants amid criticism that Beijing is yet to implement enough measures to develop safety controls in existing projects.

China will build six to eight nuclear power plants annually for the next five years and operate 110 plants by 2030 to meet the urgent need for clean energy, Beijing-based China Times quoted plan analysts as saying. China will invest 500 billion yuan ($78.8 billion) on domestically developed nuclear power plants, the report said. According to the China Times, the country plans to increase its electricity generation capacity to 58 gigawatts by 2020, three times the 2014 level. 

China currently has 23 nuclear power generating units in operation and 27 under construction, about one-third of the world’s unfinished nuclear units.

The construction resumed after the Chinese government which put the brakes on nuclear power plant approvals after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011 permitted their construction after a safety review.

nuclear sites in china (graphic world-nuclear.org)

nuclear sites in china (graphic world-nuclear.org)

In Europe the Olkiluoto #3 nuclear plant of 1,600MW in Finland, was first expected to cost about $2,000/kW, but with all the delays and cost overruns it is going to end up costing about $5,300/kW. Even if the unnecessary approvals and cost overruns incurred just to satisfy the environmental lobbies were not there, the investment cost for new nuclear capacity in Europe would still be about $2,600-3000/kW (compare that with about $1,100/kW for gas fired plant, about $2,500/kW for a coal or onshore wind plant and about $6,800/kW for offshore wind power).

As a comparison, India currently has 21 nuclear rectors in operation with a capacity just under 6GW. A further 6 reactors giving another 4 GW are under construction. The Indian plan is to reach about 63GW of nuclear capacity by 2032 which, of course, will not happen. My experience of Indian power planning is that about 60% of the plan will be implemented (though the track record is improving). So it is quite probable that India will construct around another 40 nuclear reactors (@800MW/reactor on average) by 2032. (In that period Indian coal consumption would also have trebled).

At the Chinese cost of exporting nuclear plant for around $1,200-1,500/kW, it is only to be expected that the electrification of Africa and nuclear expansion in S. Asia will be satisfied to a large extent by nuclear power.  A big chunk of that would be with Chinese technology. I have no doubt that European nuclear plants operate to much higher safety standards than the current Chinese reactors, but the European nuclear industry is now dead and it is Chinese nuclear technology which will be affordable and will prevail.

Considering the goals it was set out to achieve, the European anti-nuclear stance has been totally ineffective (except locally in Europe) and grossly counter-productive:

  1. it has no long-term impact on global use of nuclear energy,
  2. it has effectively killed the European nuclear power industry,
  3. it has effectively reduced the safety levels of all those nuclear plants that will be built over the next two decades, and
  4. it has increased the cost of electric power in Europe.

It is worth remembering that while the Great 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami killed some 18,000 people in Japan, the Fukushima accident it caused has killed no-one directly due to radiation. Now, less than 30 years after the major disaster at Chernobyl, the area is very far from being some nuclear waste-land, and plant and wild-life are thriving as never before in the region.

Opportunities for wealth creation needed rather than just redistribution of wealth

October 13, 2015

Credit Suisse has published its Global Wealth report and its accompanying Databook. The data are based on the world’s adult population of about 4.8 billion. What is immediately obvious is that the wealth is very badly skewed with 71% of the world’s adults having a net worth of less than $10,000, 21% have net worth between $10,000 and 100,000 while just 8% have wealth of over $100,000. (I have also added the line of those in extreme poverty).

However my take is that the pyramid is actually a reflection of wealth creating ability.  The challenge is to make wealth creation opportunity less sensitive to the having of wealth. That suggests to me that it is not just a redistribution from rich to poor that is required in the first instance, but the provision of wealth creation opportunity for those having lower net worth. If extreme poverty can be eliminated, and wealth creation opportunity be made less dependant upon having wealth, then we will have a resultant wealth distribution that automatically matches the wealth creation ability of individuals.

CS global-wealth-report-2015 (pdf)

CS global-wealth-databook-2015 (pdf)

The global wealth pyramid is particularly interesting (wealth being taken as net worth):

It has a large base of low wealth holders and upper levels occupied by progressively fewer adults. We estimate that 3.4 billion individuals – 71% of all adults in the world – have wealth below USD 10,000 in 2015. A further billion adults (21% of the global population) fall in the USD 10,000–100,000 range. While average wealth is modest in the base and middle tiers of the pyramid, total wealth here amounts to USD 39 trillion, underlining the economic importance of this often neglected segment. Each of the remaining 383 million adults (8% of the world) has net worth above USD 100,000. This group includes 34 million US dollar millionaires, who comprise less than 1% of the world’s adult population, yet own 45% of all household wealth. We estimate that 123,800 individuals within this group are worth more than USD 50 million, and 44,900 have over USD 100 million.

Global Wealth Pyramid - adapted from Credit Suisse

Global Wealth Pyramid – adapted from Credit Suisse

The take-away from this depends somewhat on from which side of the political spectrum the data are viewed. Looking from the left it is a strident call to arms to “take from the rich and give to the poor”. But this, I think, is just a little too simplistic. How net worth is distributed generally reflects not only wealth concentration but also wealth creation. Merely redistributing existing wealth will actually reduce the total amount of wealth that is created. The bulk of wealth creation thus lies at the initiative of those having the most wealth. It is this coupling between having wealth and wealth creation opportunities which needs to be addressed. It is wealth creation opportunities for those at the lower reaches of the pyramid which is the real need. It is the cliche – but true – of giving a man a fish (wealth) or teaching him how to fish (or create wealth).

Just redistribution will not increase the world’s wealth creation and it is more likely that it will reduce most for those having the lowest net worth. And that would be entirely counterproductive.

However there is little denying that at the top of the pyramid, the concentration of net worth can be almost obscene. Just 123,800 individuals are each worth over $50 million and 44,900 of them are each worth over $100 million.

Top of the wealth pyramid from Credit Suisse

Top of the wealth pyramid from Credit Suisse


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