All entries for April 2006

April 29, 2006

Economics….truly the dismal science

For intellectual masochists economics takes some beating. Many mathematicians have said the stuff i do is harder maths than anything they have done in their degree. And applied maths is how i would describe the degree.

Basically economics is a series of assumptions (supposedly axioms—–in accordance with the geometric method…but far from verifiably true) which leads to some logical implications and predictions about consumer and producer behaviour, the impact of certain policies etc.
Despite the unrealism of many of the assumptions, as they supposedly predict well that is all that matters….or so Friedman would have you believe.

For example very few of the population would be able to solve the devilish algebreic functions economists use to model decisions. But because real life behaviour approximates the behaviour one would take if one solved these equations then economic models are thus valid.

In addition a considerable amount of theory is based on revealed preference: if a consumer chooses good X when faced with a choice between X and Y then he prefers X to Y and we can construct a preference ordering X>Y and from it an ordinal (rank) utility function. Of course we are assuming stability of consumers preferences and a whole host of other unrealistic assumptions such as transitivity. So basically we are explaining consumer behaviour using er consumer behaviour…a circular argument.

We also have that most especial creature "home economus" rational economic man who is presumed to be both maximising his utility AND making consistent choices. Sadly this mythical beast has never been sighted in real life and just remains a figment of economic imagination.
Moreover any challenges to the idea of a self–interested man trying to maximise his utility can be easily met by incorporating amongst other things "altruism" into his utility function. Amartya Sen challenges this line of reasoning by introducing the idea of commitment: doing things that harm your wellbeing because it is the right thing to do, rather than because you get some sick pleasure from saving drowning puppies.

Other economists have introduced notions such as bounded rationality, use of rules of thumb and even herd type behaviour where we do what every one else does as we lack the information to make the best decision. A fascinating application of this by Paul Ormerod looks at network economics with a certain number of "celebrity types" who are able to influence the behaviour of others resulting in ripple like effects through the network

Another fascinating application of derived utility functions are attempts to aggregate preferences to get a social welfare function and use this to inform notions of how to maximise happiness or justice etc. The latter represented by a Rawlsian SWF where we maximise the utility of the least well off individuals in society. The problem of course this literature faces is the requirement to make interpersonal comparisons to get a complete social welfare function, something which economists are loath to do. One fun logical absurbity is the famous Paretian Impossibility theorem which says the only consistent social choice mechanism is one where you have a dictator (albeit a benevolent one)

Something which has been confined mainly to the periphery of economics is institutional debates over which is best: central planning or free markets. Fascinating stuff.

Oh and of course we have good old Keynes and his brand of socialism which involved pumping loads of money into the economy via public works programmes (a strategy used by Hitler which is kinda ironic) with resulting multiplier effects.

Keynes is pretty much mud for most economists as his theories lack mathematical (micro) foundations..despite being more logical to the impartial observer.

Preferred to this is a theory built up on dynamic programming (basically deriving a time path of optimal decisions) and using this to see the impact of changes from steady state. As you may guess…maths maths and more maths and none of the beloved graphs of good old economics 101.

Moreover a brand of statistics called econometrics is used to empirically test the mathematical models economists so enjoy making. This is basically dressed up curve fitting and the relationships they derive break down invariably when predicting into the future. It is absolute hell to learn.

Second to this for sadism is microeconomic theory especially general equilibrium theory, a series of mathematical proofs invoking numerous fixed point theorems and separating hyperplane theorems, involving my beloved Walrasian auctioneer and the "core". Of course like every other theory relies on loads of ludicrous assumptions which theory can only accomodate for to an extent.

Thirdly in this triumvarate of incestruos marriage with mathematics is game theory. Yeah it is a cute idea and logically appealing. But once you introduce mathematical notation, bayesian updating and the bloody Folk theorem it is a task fit for the underworld.


April 28, 2006

A follow up on interviews (serious and angst ridden…you have been warned)

Last one i accidentally had on just me, so to get that one some attention and provide a more serious take on interviews and allow me to let off some steam…..:

Basically in my opinion the system is fucked up. There are too many graduates chasing too few graduate jobs. The old system of "he went to a decent university got a 2.1 seems a nice sort we'll hire him" doesn't work. Now the power is with the employers. Compare this with 20 years ago when if you had a good degree from a top 10 university you could more or less take your pick from a whole host of well paid fun jobs.

There also seems to be an anti–intellectual bias in the workplace for all but the most "geeky" jobs. The buzz words are team skills and people skills. Even in jobs which involve spending all day glued to a desk number crunching (most city jobs)! People with better than required grades are viewed with suspicion…sure they're smart but are they introverted loners who have spent years hitting the books rather than being a team player and learning the "soft" skills. Will they question your authority rather than obediently "Yes Sirring" every request no matter how odious?

As graduates are very hard to differentiate on paper (even the jobs where my qualifications got me to the shortlist i was still up against around 50 candidates for the one job), the onus is on the interview. This gives an immediate advantage to those lucky souls who don't get completely tongue–tied with a mixture of nerves and adrenaline like i do, and those who can hide their irritation and boredom when asked stupid questions like:

What part do you usually play in a team?
(im the one who does the bare minimum and takes credit for the hard work of others)

How do you deal with difficult people? Give me an example
(generally i add them to my hit list and plot sadistic deaths for them in my spare time. Carry on asking me these stupid questions and you'll join the list)

Where do you see yourself in five years time
(in prison or in an institution)

What have you learnt from your work experience?
(that so long as you stay at your desk with the computer on and a look of intense concentration on your face, people don't realise you are actually spending your time figuring out how to spend your monthly salary or thinking which of the 200 channels on sky you are going to watch tonight)

How would you describe yourself?
(impossibly good looking, remarkably intelligent, charm personified and God's gift to women and hardworking…ok maybe the last is pushing it too far)

How do you deal with pressure?
(Sing la–la–la and engage in escapist activities like blogging until i forget all about my approaching econometrics project deadline)

How do you motivate yourself?
(isn't that supposed to be your problem?)

Anyway you get my drift.

What is worse is there are thousands of bushy tailed bunnies who would willingly sell their souls to prospective employers, offering a lifetime of serfdom in return for a decent salary. These strange animals glow with lust and give you poisonous glances at group assessments while beaming at the executives. They have prepared answers to every question imaginable which they reel off with practiced charm, and they know more about the company than the CEO

What is a boy meant to do?

Like many other smart graduates with good grades i have a sense of entitlement and don't see why i should prove myself to employers. ive got the grades, got the extracurricular, got the work experience….now give me the job!

Of course deep down i know id make a hopeless employee. im aloof, easily bored, have a low frustration tolerance and hate getting up before noon and like to have a mid afternoon nap. Not to mention my fondness for long coffee breaks.

But THEY aren;t supposed to know that until AFTER they have hired me.


April 24, 2006

!nterv!ews Part 1 (fl!ppant)

Today was yet another interview. if memory serves correctly my 20th or thereabouts. Usually for city type jobs you get a screening interview from some dumb blonde who phones you and asks you "competency questions". These phone interviews are all the rage. Some of the most reputable companies use them. Which is odd considering they consist of some dumb blonde without a GCSE to her name earnestly reads questions from a sheet and asking you to speak slowly because she didn't go to secretarial college and can't do shorthand.

Today i actually got invite to the company for an onsite interview. While it is one hell of a hassle not to mention expensive getting from Cambridge to the City, it does usually mean you get to talk to someone important who is in the position to give you a job or at least invite you to a selection centre.

But no that was not to be. While i was waiting in reception, my long legs outstretched and my face set in the id rather watch hell freeze over expression, a pretty young thing with a short skirt comes into the room. i raise an eyebrow at her and smile a lascivious smile mentally estimating her a confidence interval for her bra size (see stats is useful!).

She says to me "Are you Mr Rogers?"

i stifle my desire to say "Why, would you like to be Mrs Rogers?" and nod.
She replies " im G and ill be interviewing you today".
i roll my eyes thinking was hoping for someone more senior but maybe she is some shit hot career gal type.

This notion was dispelled as she sat me down and began to HR speak at me. This consists of a series of cliched questions narrated in a monotone. Here is how i would have liked to answer

Her: Why did you apply to us?
Me: Cos you pay well and i need the money to pay child support and fund my hooker habit
Her: What skills can you bring to this company?
Me: i have a talent for timewasting, having studied econometrics i can predict any financial or economic variable to the nearest billion, and i can produce powerpoint presentations with a theme tune and animated dollar signs
Her: Do you have any medical problems
Me Yes but you'll only catch them if you sleep with me
Her: How do you see a typical day as a research analyst
Me: Arrive late and hungover. Spend most of the day harassing secretaries. Take long business lunches with fictional company executives all of whom seem to be female, young and unprofessionally dressed. Then space out for a few hours, then count the seconds till my day is up.
Her: Have you applied to any other companies?
Me: Yes they all rejected me, that's why i applied to you
Her: Do you have any questions youd like to ask me?
Me: Yeah what is your company on workplace romance (raises an eyebrow)?


April 20, 2006

A new definition of hell

Hell has always been a key part of Christian theology and even the Ancient Greeks with their philandering Gods and their pagan rituals had a notion of hell….examples include the punishment of Siphysus who had to keep rolling a boulder up a hill and could never reach the top.
Hell is usually associated with the afterlife as a punishment for a life of sin and licentiousness. Firestone and brimstone.

But it would appear that Belinda Carlisle was only half right. Heaven may be a place on earth but so is hell. It exists in the Cambridge economics computer lab where I will be 24 hours a day for the next two weeks until my econometrics project is due in. I will take momentary breaks to blog just to keep some form of contact with the outside world and prevent Stockholm syndrome, where I start to enjoy myself, setting in.

For anyone who cares my project is on assessing the extent to which low capitalism firms have higher sample mean returns than would be predicted by a Capital Asset Pricing Model

If you think….ooooh finance…sounds like fun let me dispel this delusion. Finance or at least the form taught at university is total applied maths and statistics. They don't teach you any of the useful things like how to perform insider trading without getting caught, or how to pick decent shares (most of the theory relates to a silly belief that markets are completely efficient and thus any attempt to beat the market is doomed to failure), or how to dress the part in the city (pinstripes, braces, hornrimmed glasses, slicked back hair and power shoulder pads), or even how to set up offshore accounts and launder money. Hell they don't even supply for cocaine for that authentic city trader experience. There aren't even any girls around to sexually harass in the great tradition of the City (of course this does mean Im not going to get sued 1 million in a compensation suit which I guess is a good thing).

And forget greed is good. The university researchers who make up all this nonsense get paid sweet FA while the barrow boys who think Beta is what you do to your wife, and assets are found on the upper region of a girls body and a random walk is what you do when drunk earn millions a year

Pah

Back to the grindstone I go


April 18, 2006

The Crucible…..review

Went to see Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" loosely based on the Salem wiitch trials. Im too lazy to summarise the plot suffiice to say that some hysterical girls get caught dancing at night and making incantations a few take ill and they blame the older women on the village and a witch hunt ensues. In the course of this an ex servant who was dismissed by the protagonists wife for having an affair with him gets set up and to save his wife the protagonist lies and says he is in league wiith the devil. At the end he is given the choice to confess and give his signature in a testimony to avoid hanging with the view of pinning up this confession in public. He refuses ending with the line you and God both heard my confession but I wiill not give away my name

OK a few interesting issues

1. The fragility of the system of trust and the limits of our claim to knowledge

Now we are to a large part motivated by personal interest especially when it concerns life or death issues and if telling a lie saves our life we will invariably do it. To try and mitigate this motive law generally is more lenient on those who confess as opposed to those who are found guilty. We also have laws against perjury or perverting the court of justiice and require witnesses to swear they are telling the truth etc.

You see things like keeping promises and telling the truth are essential in cooperative society as we need to trust others or else we end up in a situatiion where everyone is paranoid and unable to enter any agreements or transactions with others for fear of being screwed and are always looking both ways for fear of being knifed in the back. We also believe in justice and fair play.

Now with the witchhunts we get an extra ingredient to fuel the fire….the unknown. Knowledge is gained mostly through experience and partly through the use of logic. But there are very few axiomatic truths and a lot of things are impossible to prove absolutely. Say we say all swans are white. Now however many white swans we see, we cannot say categorically that all swans are white as we only need to see one black swan to refute this notion. Also some issues like the existence of God or for that matter the existence of the devil or withcraft or the supernatural are unprobable. We can say that there are no sightings of any of these but this does not mean they cannot exist. They are mostly a matter of blind faith and used to explain the unexplainable.

As was pointed out by the judge in the play the work of the devil is observed only by the victims or those in league with them. Now those in league with the devil are obv gonna lie so we have to rely on the testimonies of the victims unless they can be proved to be false.

This provides a fertile breeding ground for lies to propogate aided by the self-preservation motive which leads the accused to confess even if innocent and to shift blame to another. Little wonder things like witch hunts, show trials can occur amongst seemingly rational human beings. And this isn't just a remnant of the past. The McCarthy witchhunt happened as recently as the 1950s. Nowadays the equivalent is rape….a girl can accuse a guy of rape and lacking genetic evidence or witnesses it is a v difficult situation as the only people often who really know the truth are the accusor and the accused both of whom have incentive to lie. Similarly if a man confesses he gets off pretty lightly while if a court wrongly convicts him he can get screwed.

What can we do in a world where the only motive we have to play fair and tell the truth is a sense of conscience (which in most people is fickle and in self preservation or the motive of personal gain can take the backseat)? We are taught that telling the truth and keeping promises are good as they lead to benefits in the long run via faciliating cooperation etc. We also try and incentivise truth tellings….economics geeks can look at revelation-mechanisms and notions of punishment in repeated game theory. Religion tries to get people to play fair by the stick and carrot mechanism of hell and heaven. Sen (an Economist) looks to a notion of commitment whereby people do things even though they are not in their self interest because it is the right thing to do. Christian moral philosophy looks to the conscience and the idea of an internal judge which evaluates our actions and guides us.

But none of these are a cure all. In the end we should do the right thing no matter what using the best of our rationality to determine what the right thing to do is and do it regardless of the consequences. We may get hurt or even die but we can rest safe in the knowledge we have lived an honourable life and despite our mistakes our motives have been pure.

Not for the recognition of others as reputation is often artifiicial and very few people are in a position to form a balanced opinion of you and a good reputation can be earned through deceit, lies, and having Alastair Campbell on your paybook. But integrity and being able to look at your face in the mirror is what matters.

Now onto the thorny philosophical issue of what is the right thing to do. We can fudge this by acknowledging the existence of an innate conscience either God-giiven or part of the make up of man. But if we refuse to accept these things then we are forced to accept that conscience is a product of society and our upbringings. Again this is something hard to prove or disprove…as motives are multifaceted and often conflicting. When we decide not to steal it is in part because we fear legal punishment, or because we acknowledge that if everyone stole then shopowners would stop selling things and we would no longer be able to buy bread and be forced to grow our own food (while guarding our crops night and day for fear of theft). Or maybe it is because we are brainwashed into believing it is wrong to steal.

And if conscience and a code of ethics etc justiice etc are socially constructed then we can argue that they have been adopted and propogated because in the long run we believe universal or near universal adoption of these principles would mutually benefit the majority of society.

Anyway for the most part we have a decent idea of what is right or wrong and basically to have integrity we have to do what we know to be right whatever the circumstances. Occasionally we will have ethical dilemnas and then we can appeal to reason and try and detach ourselves from the situatiion and ask what we would advise someone to do in the same circumstances.

Occasionally we will get screwed from doing the right thing but that is life and I truly believe in the long run we will prosper from unwaveringly doing what we know to be right. For compensation and reward for our right actions does not only happen in the afterlife but within our lifetime we will surely be rewarded for maintaining our integrity.


April 15, 2006

Essential fashion accessories…or how not to dress

I freely admit I have no dress sense whatsoever. Here are my essential fashion accessories

1. Novelty T-shirts….current favourite is a Family Guy one with Stewie on the front, old faves include one with My Little Pony on the front, one with Yoga Bear….a bear contorting itself in the name of fashion PETA are up in arms….one with a Teddy Bear on the front, My Boris Johnson one and one with

"Sex is evil
Evil is sin
Sex is forgiven
So get stuck in"

and of course the Warwick Debating one wiith El Presidente on!

2. Faded jeans covered in ink stains and highlighter pen. I have a tiny waist and thick legs so to avoid them being skin tight I usually wear my jeans extremely low slung so most of my rear and hips are showing, cos Im too lazy to buy a belt

3. Endless hoodies…I have at least 10. I used to disapprove of them (see back entries) but noW Boris wears them I am never seen without one

4. Sunglasses…I adore my sunglasses. Bought them on holiday in the Canaries from an African with a huge grin (no doubt because they are fake and I was stupid enough to pay 20 Euros for them). They are silver with nice thick owl coloured stick things that keep your sunglasses on your ears

5. Ski boots and slippers and sandals I invariably wear these instead of shoes and never with socks. Trainers without socks are another essential.

6. Wife beaters….adore these and have hundreds

7. A Panama hat I got from Marks and Spencers last year

8. Horn rimmed glasses I wear to look smart

9. A cordurouy jacket and matching trousers in a sandy colour

10. A sports jacket with a houndstooth pattern

11. Anything pink…T-shirts, shirts, polo shirts


My expensive habits

1. Im too lazy and malcoordinated to drive and hate buses so go everywhere by train and taxi.

2. I hate check out queues at airports and lack of leg room so wherever possible I go business or first class

3. I hate ready meals and am too lazy to cook, so I live on a combination of mum's cooking, junk food and restaurant meals

4. I have a Costa coffee addiction and need it to work. A typical study day involves parking myself in Costa and going through several cups

5. As I have a huge collation of medical problems and hate the NHS,I invariably go private oh and im also a hypochondriac (comes from having loads of relatives who are medics so i know a litany of diseases….and also from taking a term's course in psychology in which i diagnosed myself with generalised anxiety disorder, sociopathic tendencies, an Oedipus complex, Penis envy…which is weird as usually only girls get that…a breast fixation…the list is endless)

6. Im totally new age and go through loads of various vitamins, fish oil capsules and supplements

7. Im a sucker for cosmetic products in my never ending quest for clean skin

8. I love music and get bored of a song after hearing it a few times so go out and buy more

9. I love the pampering you can only get at a upmarket health club, to the tune of close to 1000 a year

10. I have a hooker habit (kidding)

10 (really)....I have aesthetic sensibilitiies which mean I could never liive in a rough area as I adore grassy green suburbia. I will in all likelihood be working in London. You do the figures

Currently I maintain these habits only via a generous parent and a stupid bank manager who has an inflated view of my prospects.

Parent is cutting me off once I get employment and bank manager will come to his sense sooon.

So either I am going to have to cut back or hope I land that I bankiing job!!

But with the latter I am totally lazy and get burnt out tres easily…..

Looks like ascetism from here on in!


April 14, 2006

Marriage

Im getting to that certain age. Friends of mine are already engaged or talking of marriage (if you are reading this Thomas dump her and we'll live together as swinging bachelors). My mother is getting to the second biological clock…when they start wanting grandmothers before they are packed off into nursing homes or go insane. My pa bless him in his advancing years wants grandchildren too. As the eldest child I am very soon approaching the age where rather than discouraging me from marriage (because you're just children) my parents are now taking an active interest in my love life (or rather the lack thereof) and starting the "Why did you break up with X" (I reply with a straight face "Because she was a total bitch" or because she is a devil woman who likes devouring men's hearts and spitting them out when they have milked you dry" depending of course as to who dumped who)...I digress

But at this relatively early age the thought of a relationship let alone marriage wakes me up in a cold sweat. But I hear you say "Love is a beautiful thing", "You just haven't met the right girl", "You haven't met the right man" "Don't you want to live happily ever after and have children to achieve immortality via passing your totally awesome genes onto your lucky descendants" or "I really…...care" or some variant of all these.

Well let me outline my case and then you can start with the insults.

Proposition 1: 50% of marriages end in divorce. Most of the ones that don't end in divorce are together only because they are staying together for the sake of the children or because they don't want to lose face. Im nothing special why should I be in the lucky x percent who are in relatively happy marriages

Proposition 2: Once you marry a girl a good percent of them will either balloon in weight, turn into a nagging bitch, or stop wearing those sexy low cut jeans and start wearing Laura Ashley dresses. While she is your girlfriend and there are few ties between you she has to avoid doing any of those things for risk of losing you.

Proposition 3: Why get the cow when you can have the milk for free? Marriage at the best of times is hard work. Even the happiest couples have arguments (the same holds for relationships to a lesser degree)...I hate conflict (unless it involves mudwrestling with beautiful women…although they could probably kick my ass). I also need loads and I mean loads of quiet time and hate responsibility of any form, did I mention Im also totally selfish and hate doing anything I don't want to do

Proposition 4: Im totally unemployable and doubt Ill be able to hold down a steady income let alone afford school fees or clothes for my wife. My father makes a six figure salary, married late so he was at his peak earning power at time of marriage and made a killing on the stock market in the 80s. But he still at the age of 70 is working a 70 hour week just because my mother (and us with school fees and uni living expenses) burn his money faster than even he can earn it. Now there is no way Im goiing to make the sort of money he's making and I doubt Im going to get much in the way of inheritance, and having been totally spoilt and got some very expensive habits by the time my needs are met there will be little left for wifey or kids and I would feel awful of not giving my family the advantages ive had (and mostly taken for granted) .

Proposition 5: There is no way I could be with one woman for the rest of my life. Im totally fickle, I fall in love with a different girl every week. Once Ive seduced a girl (read dropped on my knees, turned on the waterworks and begged her to go out with me) I generally lose interest and move on to the next challenge. Did I mention Im totally shallow and choose girls mostly on their looks and then only later find out they are invariably spoilt and bitches. Also arrogant as I am, Im pretty much regular looking and most of the beauties i fancy are totally out of my league.

The only real reason I would consider marriage is to have children and as outlined above Id make a terrible father…...so the solution?

Simple

First as the totally sexist Deeson (Agony Uncle for GQ) advises date 24 and 44 year old women but totally avoid women in their thirties as the former are in their prime and have so many options they don't tend to want to ruin their fun by getting with child. The latter barring genetic luck or expensive medical treatments generally can't get with child.

Odds are eventually Ill get some poor girl pregnant and she does not want to abort it. Then I say to her "Look babydoll, marriage isn't for me and tbh I don't love you. But I support your decision to have the child and in addition to the overly generous welfare payments you are entitled to as a single mother by our socialist government, Ill give you generous child support payments so the kid won't end up like me.

Get in a relationship with a girl (or rather get lucky!) and accidentally get her pregnant as a result of


April 13, 2006

Civilisation….totally addictive

Usually I have little patience for computer games, but Civilisation is an exception. Im hopelessly addicted to the game and it is an emotional rollercoaster as my blood lust is fuelled as I kill more and more units from other civilisations and sack their towns. My machiavellian side is sated as I play other civilisations off against each other and establish a series of satellite states dependent on me whom I use to wage my wars. I have a soft spot for the Aztecs….after all it is a travesty that a civilisation built on ritual sacrifice and fertility ceremonies was destroyed.
Also love being America and taking over the whole world a la Georgie Porgie.

Must go, every single nation has formed a military alliance against me and I must defend the empire


Near Death Experiences….

A respected medical journal (I forget which, Ill chase up the article and add a link when i can be bothered) recently acknowledged and documented the existence of near death experiences. As resuscitation techniques have improved these are much more frequent, especially during various operations and surgery. Basically people who have had them talk about things such as feeling as if they were travelling through a dark tunnel towards a bright light, seeing deceased relatives, feeling a calm sense of peace and other out of body experiences.

Is this proof there is life after death, or is it the result of biochemical changes people's brains experience as a result of damage as blood supply falters?

I know sweet FA about the brain or for that matter anything to do with how the body functions, but interesting to speculate.


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