Ups & Downs of The Market

Right after Brexit’s result, the markets dived. Right after Trump’s win, the markets collapsed.

And everyone points to the drop in the markets as though these indices were in some way a reflection of how well a country is doing. But that is simply untrue.

The big fuss about the Dow Jones Industrial Average number is ridiculous – an arbitrary selection of 30 companies, not even the biggest or most well-known, record their share values and this rather silly and unrepresentative value is then divided by a weird number that someone came up with in the 1800s (which we over-egg by calling it an “algorithm” in today’s parlance).

The Foostie, the S&P 500, the Hang Seng and the rest are indices of the stock market. That is all they are.

This is about the rich people.

When an index rises, this simply means the rich people are getting richer.

When an index falls, then rich people are losing money – and if the drop is significant enough and for a long enough time, then there is a chance that it might actually affect real, everyday people like you and me because companies may shed employees, or close down altogether.

This means that in a recession, everyone loses.

But at all other times, it is mainly about rich people and their value on paper.

Trump wins the election in the USA and the markets drop in value. OK, Boo hoo – rich people have less dough for a few hours because Trump then makes his acceptance speech and the markets rise to previous levels and above. So the rich people don’t lose a penny after all.

I just don’t get why the news media keep reporting the ups and downs of the markets when it is mainly only of interest to the rich – to people who own shares, to stockholders – do you know any?

It seems to be used as evidence of the foolishness of the masses to vote the way they did. The flavour is: Look what you did! See what has happened?

The markets are not a true reflection of the state of economic or political heath of a nation – these indices do not account for the common man – there is no consideration of inflation, currency exchanges, GDP, interest rates or anything other than the gambling value of company shares being traded by computers at break-neck speed over fibre optic cables.

Whenever I hear a news bulletin report the Footsie 100 or the Dow Jones, I grind my teeth and wish I were rich enough to give a damn.

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.

Bereavement and The Work’s Phone

I heard that James had died. It was sudden and unexpected. Everyone in the office was astonished – and then felt sad for his family. His daughter’s wedding day was near.

It had nothing to do with us, but someone at Head Office would have to sort out everything. The company car, mobile phone, clear his desk, do something with his e-mail and hard drive and who-knows-what-else – all would need to be dealt with as soon as possible to allow his family and friends to get on.

It’s not too callous, I hope, but the workload increased, and we were all too busy to dwell on such things.

Time passes quickly, and the company recruited a few new people who had never known James. I thought Alan was one of them, but it turned out that he did know James – and that he had worked at this company with James for years, many years ago.

Alan went through the usual forms and inductions, and was given a company phone, car and a desk with a laptop. Nothing unusual in all of this until last week.

Last week he started receiving weird phone calls from a sobbing woman. After a while he discovered that it was James’s daughter.

The company had given Alan James’s old phone and phone number, and James’s daughter had been regularly calling to hear her dad’s voicemail message – to hear his voice. This was a comfort to her. She’d been talking to him, leaving long and emotional messages about her wedding and then about her pregnancy.

When Alan answered, she got such a fright. She then realised that Alan could hear back her very personal messages – and that she would never again hear her daddy’s voice because Alan had erased the outgoing message with his own.

Of course, Alan, immediately erased all her recordings, and apologised as best he could.

Surely there ought to be some kind of procedure for this sort of thing? Something better than what happened here.

Is it better that Alan knew her, that he knew and worked with James? Or would it have been better had he been a complete new start to the firm?

A modern world brings modern ails.

 

What Is It With Religion Today?

People often say that we should never discuss religion or politics. But I see nothing but religion and politics on social media. So tonight, as I once again cannot sleep, and as yet another live Muslim terror attack appears on my screen, I thought I would try to get a perspective on religion. Sorry it’s not a funny blog post, but I hope it’s not too serious, opinionated or lecturing; it’s just me, as a bloke having a think out loud, really. Hope you like it, or get something from it. Anyway, here goes.

I wanted to know if the UK was religious, and I found the following on-line quotation that sums up all the sites I read:

One single fact can be found in all of the statistics: Britons are mostly non-religious and are increasingly both innocent and ignorant of religion.

(Source)

Numbers are available for this, for example:

Those who do profess religion in the UK are largely inactive.

A 2007 poll commissioned by the British Library found that 50% of religious folk “do not practice religion very much, if at all”, with Christians being the most inactive.

A 2014 poll found similar results, with 50% of British Jews saying that they are not at all religious Muslims were most religious, with only 7% saying they’re not.

(Source)

2011 Census  Adherents %
Christianity  33 200 000 59.3%
No Religion  14 100 000 25.1%
Islam  2 700 000 4.8%
Hinduism  817 000 1.5%
Sikhism  423 000 0.8%
Judaism  263 000 0.5%
Buddhism  248 000 0.4%
Jedi Knights  176 632 0.3%

(Source)

So it seems that Christianity is the biggest, but also pretty inactive, when you add that to those who see themselves as having No Religion (and perhaps Jedi Knights too), then it strongly suggests to me that the UK is overwhelmingly not a religious place.

Islam is the most practised religion, but there are very few Muslims in Britain – just 4.8%, 2.7 million, and of these, (the news media suggests) there are a few extremists – and only some of these are the ones doing the terror attacks. So although the numbers are very small, the impact is very large in terms of media coverage and the effect on us all – in terms of searches and security at airports, fear and suspicion and more.

It seems to be the same in the USA, despite the success of Bible Belt fundamental Christian media, religion in general is in serious decline there too.

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.

(Source)

The Source has a very good graph of 61 years of decline in religiosity for you to check out if you feel like it.

I looked around various search engine results, changed the search wording a bit, and it seems plain now to me that religion has been dying for decades in the UK, the USA and Europe. That is the trend.

It can be taken as the trend for the “West” or the “Developed” nations or “First world”. I needed to find some information about what’s happening everywhere else.

How  do things stand across the world?

Religion Adherents Percentage
Christianity 2.2 billion 31.50%
Islam 1.6 billion 22.32%
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist ≤1.1 billion 15.35%
Hinduism 1 billion 13.95%
Chinese traditional religion 394 million 5.50%
Buddhism 376 million 5.25%
Ethnic religions excluding some in separate categories 300 million 4.19%
African traditional religions 100 million 1.40%
Sikhism 23 million 0.32%

OK, now this shows that all the Catholic and Protestant Christian faiths when taken all together, beat Islam. But it could be that many may be inactive – in the same way that I found in the UK study earlier.

And of course, religion, except Islam and a few others, is in decline – so at the present time the world is mostly Christian/ No religion and Islam.

The next question is – what about the future?

…the total number of religiously unaffiliated people (which includes atheists, agnostics and those who say they have no particular religion on censuses and surveys) is expected to rise, from 1.1 billion in 2010 to 1.2 billion in 2050. But this growth is projected to occur at the same time that other religious groups – and the global population overall – are growing faster.

(source)

A Daily Mail / New Scientist article suggests that affluence makes the elite, rich switch to a slower lifestyle, having fewer children and having them later in life too – putting them at risk evolutionarily when compared with the live-fast, die-young, poor – and this, they suggest, is why moralising religions were devised – to level the playing field.

It seems then that historically, the most religious countries have been the most primitive or undeveloped economically, and as this changes, their people have moved away from religion. The question is whether that will still be the case for the third world.

However, recent studies indicate that Hindus and Muslims are not following that route, and seem to hold onto their religions despite development.

This suggests that the future will be polarised between a growing Muslim population across the world, and a non religious/inert Christianity.

This has economic impact because Islam forbids banks to charge interest under Sharia law. So banks make money by lending money to business and taking a share of the profits.

Now, this may seem like a great idea because the banks share the risk – but it also means that banks would evaluate business more stringently, and lend much less, creating a stagnant economic model.

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There is another consideration here too – that of culture. It is rarely mentioned, but people in the UK are culturally Christian. God is on the money along with the Queen – who is head of the Church of England and Defender of The Faith. Christmas and Easter are celebrated, and people marry in church. Children learn about Noah’s Ark, the Nativity, and other Bible Stories. The UK has cathedrals and a long history of religious wars, mainly between Catholic Christians and Protestants – but also the Crusades against Islam. The Industrial Revolution was the result of a strange combination of the Enlightenment and something called the Protestant Work Ethic.

So while there may be a decline in Christianity as a religion, as a culture, it seems more robust. This may be where Muslims and Christians clash the most just now in the UK. However, as the table of numbers showed, they are far too small a population to be a real concern regarding dominance in terms of religion or of culture.

Globally is a different case. There are terrorist groups, such as Islamic State, who seem to have real issues with people who do not follow their particular flavour of Islam. The extremists tend to target other Muslims, but they are better known for those occasions when they attack non-Muslims, or when they attack “the West”.

At one time, it would have been thought that prosperity for middle eastern countries would solve the problems, but as oil has enriched some of these countries, matters have got worse instead of better, and as I just found out, Islam seems to buck the trend for religious adherence falling away as people get affluent.

My little trip round the internet has been more interesting than worrying. Donald Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslims being allowed into the USA – or racists in the UK voting for Brexit in order to control Muslim entry seem more about fears of losing cultural identity than stopping terrorism.

The number of suicidal western-hating Muslim terrorists is too small for any country to manage an effective pre-emption or defence strategy; you cannot legislate for random acts by a few crazy people.

That’s a rubbish conclusion, isn’t it? We cannot do anything. And it’s annoying to me that these few idiots can have such a disproportionate effect. Sometimes I wonder if the real aim of the terrorists is to get us spending resources on security and making everyone’s lives that bit more of a drag.

The politicians seem to feel the need to show voters that this is serious, and that we need to have vigilance and security measures that put our basic freedoms at risk.

I suppose we can share intelligence, have secret services monitor social media and generally keep an eye on who’s buying bombs and plane tickets. But is it worth losing freedoms and privacy rights? Is it worth xrays and removing shoes and belts in airports?

There are other, less obvious, ways to undermine Islamic terrorism, the developed world needs to switch away from oil toward renewables, to take a different view on recreational drugs, to fundamentally change the banking and investment sector, and to allow China to rise to take over the role of World Police. The end of Pax Britannica led to Pax Americana. I don’t know what to call it when it goes to China!

These measures seem to be what is going on, so I feel somewhat re-assured for the future.

 

 

 

Shady Business

When I got quotations for curtains and window blinds for the vast Victorian windows at my home, some years ago, I was surprised and dismayed at the expense.

So that was why I started up my own window-blinds company. It didn’t take long as I decided to be a sole trader, and so I did not have to register at Company House, set up a bank account or get an accountant.

I simply phoned up a window-blind wholesaler and asked for samples and sales literature – and the forms to set up an account. Within a week I had placed my first order – for a substantial amount, but one which was considerably less than I would have to pay if I paid retail.

Everything was above board, legal, legit, measured up and all the paperwork in good order.

A few weeks later, everything was made to measure, delivered and installed. In due course, the invoice came in, and the company settled the account.

At that point I was simply going to fold the business, – and eventually draw up the account on a piece of paper and take it with the invoice and order to the city tax office. I was in no hurry as I knew I had 18 months to square everything up.

In the meantime, a friend of my mother’s wanted curtains and a few blinds for their new home, so I helped out. Then I got his offices – and then I got his neighbour’s offices – they happened to be Strathclyde Regional Council.

Suddenly I was far too busy with this sideline. I was employing 2 fitters, and had a van and a full order book. Because I could site measure, I got a lot of peculiar jobs – things like domes and conservatories.

This led to deals with house builders and conservatory-double-glazing companies.  I couldn’t cope.

So I went incorporated and then sold the company on. They are now very large and very well known, employing a lot of people and making people’s homes nicer.

It just shows how a small idea can turn into something else entirely.

One just never knows.