Rome Didn't Fall in A Day.

Objective Truth Exists, and is Accessible to Everyone.

All Human Problems can be Solved with Enough Knowledge, Wealth, Social Cooperation and Time.

Photo: Rusty Peak, Anchorage, Alaska


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Data Visualization

One of the greatest things about the Internet is free access to data visualization tools.   There are some remarkable sites available, that quickly allow anyone to see significant data, and develop their own models and conclusions.   Here are some examples:   Gapminder is the site I discovered first, and like the best.    Google's site is clearly modeled after Gapminder.   Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.   Tableau Software hosts this site.  The gallery of visualizations generated by other users is very interesting, covering every topic from tooth decay, to the growth rates of technology businesses, to the milk productivity of Wisconsin dairy cows.   Moo!   Many Eyes is collaborative site hosted by IBM.   I need to update my Java plug-in to view these visualizations again.

When I collected these sites last year, there was another site "", which hoped to become the YouTube of data visualization.  Unfortunately, although the content and tools were good, the business failed within a few months, after the company had spent 3 or 4 million dollars.  A technology journalist commented, "These free tools on the web are easy to use, and easy to lose."

But back to Gapminder.   I encourage you to explore this site, especially the featured visualizations "Health and Wealth of Nations", "200 Years that Changed the World", and "Stop Calling Them Developing Nations".
Above all, these visualizations show that globally, despite everything you may read, the quality of life for people on the planet Earth is improving.

The world really is getting better.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Geography of a Recession

The time-series map seen on the following link is an outstanding example of data visualization.  The map was produced by Latoya Egwuekwe, a journalist and labor writer.

The map illustrates the progress of the recession (and geographic concentration) better than numbers.  The recession is seen plainly in color, spreading across the country like a cancer, spreading from county to adjacent county.   I am watching to see how the map will illustrate the economic recovery.

The map suggests that additional analysis might reveal new insights.  It occurs to me that adjacent counties strongly affect their neighbors.  The data underlying "Geography" might be used for a mathematical analysis to show the economic dependence of counties upon adjacent counties.  That in turn helps characterize the local component of the economy, as compared to the national component.

The "cancerous" appearance marking the spread of the recession may be an accurate representation.  It may be possible to analyze the recession as an epidemic, in terms of the parameters set out in "The Tipping Point", by Malcolm Gladwell.   This might provide policy-makers with additional tools for fighting future recessions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Military Spending

Considering the depth of our Federal Deficit, we should ask why our military spending is so much out of proportion with the rest of the globe.   Admittedly, these figures are not adjusted for purchasing power: I am sure that a Chinese soldier earns less than a US soldier.  Nevertheless, it seems unreasonable that our military spending is more than the next 18 largest counties combined.  
During Ronald Reagan's presidency, the US engaged in a military arms race with the intent to bankrupt the Soviet Union.  This strategy, combined with an engineered drop in the price of oil, succeeded in bringing down the Soviet Union.   The Soviet situation in the 1980's is similar to the United States today -- but we are doing it to ourselves.

Federal Budget

The Federal Debt in 2010 is about 14.2 trillion dollars, or about 97% of annual GDP.
The annual increase, including supplemental appropriations (not included in the "budget deficit", was $1.7 trillion in 2010, following increases of $1 trillion and $1.9 trillion in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

The NY Times has two interesting graphics about the budget.

Note the size of the blocks represented on the NYtimes budget graphic.  Military spending, Social Security and Medicare are by far the largest components of Federal spending.  Any discussion of spending cuts which does not include major cuts in these three areas is not worthy of serious consideration.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Corporate Governance Reform

One of the most needed reforms of the financial system is in the process for nominating directors of publicly traded companies.

Currently, the nomination process is controlled by corporate management.  Management presents a slate of directors to the shareholders for approval, but there is no alternative to the management slate, and no easy way to for shareholders to present an alternative.  During the Bush administration, a proposal was presented to the SEC to allow shareholder nominations for directors.  SEC commissioners voted down the proposal in a party-line vote, with the Republican majority prevailing.

It is all too easy for management to nominate candidates who are compliant and inclined to vote large bonuses for management.  No alternative choices are presented to the shareholders.  These directors then become attractive candidates to serve on additional corporate boards.  The conflict of interest is blatant.  No particular knowledge of business or a particular industry is necessary, so you often see retired generals and astronauts, university presidents or other prestigious candidates without business experience.
This system, where management controls the nomination process for company directors, contains intrinsic conflicts of interest.   It is institutionalized, systematic corruption.  And it is the legal and everyday way to conduct business in America today.

It is disappointing to me that the financial reforms recently enacted have not included a reform of the process of nominating directors.   Shareholders should have not only a right, but an obligation to nominate the directors who will supervise the management of publicly traded companies.

Also see: