Showing posts from February, 2010

The root of almost all evil

"What we measure affects what we do. If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things." - Joseph Stiglitz

After hearing so much about The Spirit Level over the past year, actually sitting down and reading it was almost an anticlimax. The authors point out that the results of social science research often seem obvious in hindsight, once the evidence has seeped in. Just how obvious the arguments of The Spirit Level now seem is a testament to the weight of evidence that Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have brought to public attention.

The book opens with a startling observation: that the rich countries of the world can no longer achieve gains in wellbeing from increasing their material wealth. This is illustrated with a graph of life expectancy versus national income per person. For poor countries life expectancy rises rapidly up until an average income of around $10,000. After that it starts to slow, and beyond $25,000 the curve flattens out. Similar resul…

On the Oregon Trail (via Newark)

As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself several times: I visited America for the first time ever in November, with two free days to explore the city of Portland. You could argue this is not sufficient to draw deep and general conclusions about American life, but that won't stop me trying.

The first thing that struck me about Portland was how big the hotel we were staying in was. I was on the 12th floor, which was less than halfway up the building, and there was another tower of a similar size across the street. My hotel room was also insanely huge, and I'll leave the TV set to your imagination.

The second thing that struck me was how nice the beer in the hotel bar was.

Describing everything in America as bigger is of course a tired old cliché, and not really true either as there's a hotel that's just as high in Manchester. But there was a definite sense of bigness about the city in general which I think is caused by it being oddly spread out. The city centr…