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Weath distribution in the US

Various news outlets are discussing the new study comparing
- what IS the distribution of wealth among the US's quintiles (top 20%, next highest 20%, etc.)
- what people THINK the distribution is, and
- what people WANT the distribution to be.

In short:

- It IS the case that the top 20% of Americans own 85% of everything; the bottom 40% own basically nothing.

- People THINK that the top 20% own 60% of everything, and that the bottom 40% own at least 10% of the nation's wealth.

- People WANT a world in which the top 20% owns 30-35% of everything and the bottom 40% own 20-25% of the nation's wealth.

The kicker is that these findings remain remarkably consistent whether you ask men or women, Democrats or Republicans, those earning less than $50K or those earning more than $100K. Rich people have the same egalitarian impulses as everyone else -- and the same ignorance about how far the world differs from those impulses.

What does autonomy mean to you?

Specifically, does autonomy mean low taxes, even if you feel you must engage in associations you’d rather not? Or does it mean the freedom to avoid unwanted associations, but at the cost of increased taxes?

A (now year-old) study tries to explain the decline of attendance at religious services in the industrialized world. Does it correlate with the increase in income? Education? Better comedians on Saturday Night Live, making it hard to get up on a Sunday morning?

Best explanatory variable seems to be … the rise of the welfare state. Apparently, in places where government provides a better social safety net people don’t feel the need to join churches.

Good news? Bad news? No news?

Drones are the Next Internet

For those who had lost faith in the ability of the empire to sow the seeds of its own destruction, consider what the effect of their latest weapon of choice will be.

Drones--whether aerial, terrestrial or aquatic--are cheap, intelligent mobile platforms. And because the intelligence is on the same technology curve as computing equipment, they will be ubiquitous in a matter of years. Where today they are being used as surveillance platforms to track enemies of the state, within a year or two they will be covering protests and traffic stops (like this or this), streaming live video to the Internet to record the activity of state agents for the protection of their victims. And where today, they are being used as platforms to deliver deadly force by state agents, in the future they will take the place of suicide bombers by replacing the targeting and evasion capabilities of a human with hardware costs similar to a laptop computer.

Though the initial use of drones by the state brings martial uses to mind, the market will no doubt find thousands of peaceful applications. Since seeing this demonstration a few years ago, I have imagined using a drone to locate sheep on my hilly 40 acre farm or to check the state of fences regularly. Where Skycams or helicopters cover professional sports events today, drones will cover high school cross-country meets in a few years. Lineman in cherry pickers will be replaced with pole climbing maintenance robots.

It has been about fifteen years since the Internet was commercialized, and agents of central planning are still trying to understand and respond to the resulting power shift from the collective to the individual. They will no doubt play catch-up to the genie they are unleashing by pouring resources into cheap, expendable platforms. They should stick to their nuclear bombs and battleships if they want to maintain a monopoly of weaponry.

Storage as the answer for wind and solar?

The wind doesn't blow all the time, the sun doesn't shine at night, and its local intensity can be reduced by clouds and weather. Often the argument is made buy those who push "green energy" that this isn't much of a problem because we can produce extra energy when possible and store it for when these sources produce little or no energy. But how well is that going to work, how much would it really cost. I'll do a few quick back of the envelope calculations, with data from a couple of quick searches. Not a perfect answer, but it should give a general idea of the magnitude of the problem.


For every $700 it pays for a compressed air system, the utility gets 1 kilowatt of electricity, supplied for more than 20 hours, enough to run one coffee maker all day [source: EAC, NSTAR]. Pumped hydroelectric costs more -- $2,250 per kilowatt.

For power that lasts minutes to hours, lithium-ion batteries cost $1,100 per kilowatt (or coffee maker), flywheels cost $1,250 per kilowatt, flow batteries cost $2,500 per kilowatt, and high-temperature batteries like sodium-sulfur cost $3,100 per kilowatt [source: EAC]. And storage in supercapacitors costs even more.

So lets say you need to store 100 GW/hours (5 gigawatts for 20 hours, more than 12 because some nights are longer and because you want to have extra in case you need it, after all your talking about solar providing virtually all the electricity in the country, so presumably some areas only have solar). Storage will probably go down in price lets assume its cost one half as much as the current price.. The compressed air system could then provide 1 kw for those twenty hours for $350. 5 GW would cost 5 million times as much or $1.75 bil just for the storage capacity.

At half the current price the cheapest storage would cost $350 for 1 kw for 20 hours, $350 per 20kwh is $17.5 per kw/hour.

"Actual electricity generation in 2007 was 4,157 Terawatt hours"

Lets try to scale that up to cover the electricity needs of the whole US (which I'm assuming, despite evidence to the contrary, does not grow over time)

4157 terrawatt hours, divided by 365 (2007 was not a leap year) Is 11,389 gigawatt hours. Cut that in half (I'll assume that we get no clouds or other interruptions during the daytime and only have to worry about nights), and you have 5700 gw/hour (rounded off since the reality won't be that precise, and giving more exact calculations would be false precision).

5700 GW/hours at $17.5 per kw/hour would be about a hundred trillion dollars.

But we typically use a bit less electricity at night so lets cut that in half. Now its about 50 trillion dollars.

Lets say technology improves in such a way that the costs goes down more than I thought, so cut the cost by a factor of 5 (meaning the total reduction is to 10% of the initial price), that brings the cost down to $10tril dollars, and that doesn't include maintenance, or spare capacity, or the cost for the solar plants, or the cost for additional distribution. Those would probably add trillions more. Lets say the total cost is $20tril. Assume we can reasonably apply $100bil a year to the effort (that seems high but I'm assuming we are making it a major priority), ok then it only takes 200 years to get it done.

Lets cut it in half again as a generous fudge factor. OK, it will take us a century.

And that doesn't include margin for increasing needs in the future.

Hong Kong, Singapore >>> Switzerland

Secret banking is shifting from Switzerland to the far east:

For centuries, Switzerland has been the sanctuary of choice for wealthy people seeking to hide their fortunes and evade taxes. Now, amid a growing crackdown on Swiss private banking, the rich are flocking to Singapore and Hong Kong, which still offer some of the world’s most secret accounts.

Blogroll disabled

I'm not sure anyone actually uses blogrolls anymore, but ours has been disabled due to malware warnings.

HBO hits a home run

I finally got around to watching the series premiere of Boardwalk Empire starring everyone's favorite weird-looking guy Steve Buscemi. Here's a trailer:

The casting is super; every actor fits the role perfectly. The show must cost a bucket of money to make because it really looks like the 1920s.

Mark Wahlberg is listed as a producer, meaning "Marky Mark" is now a serious television industry success with Boardwalk Empire and Entourage on his resume.

Hendry on Hedge Funds

The always interesting Hugh Hendry gives an interview with a BBC program in which he defends the hedge fund industry and also predicts its demise.

I Must Be Stupid

Because I enjoyed many of the 45 Dumbest Signs at the 9/12 Tea Party Rally.

"Stupid" and "doesn't agree with me" should never be synonyms in the mind of a thinking person.

Grooveshark Test

I've been waiting for something like this to come along. Embedding Youtube videos to play songs is a workaround, but the videos are distracting.

This is "Your Hand in Mine" by the Texas instrumental band Explosions in the Sky. I swear I've heard this song before on the TV show Friday Night Lights but the internets only say it was used in the movie by the same name from 2004.