Category Archives: Politics

Musings on political and economic matters.

Banker bonuses: a customer’s view

So far the debate on banker bonuses seems to have focused on two areas: the unfairness and inequality that the bonuses represent, and the value (or not) that they add to the businesses they run. The first represents the view of society as a whole, questioning whether anyone is worth a million-pound bonus on top of their million-pound salary. The second represents (or is supposed to represent) the view of the shareholders, who are putting it in perspective with the billion-pound profits of the banks they own.

However I think there is another equally valid perspective, namely that of the customers. Let’s see how well they’ve done there: Continue reading

The nature of debt

A stranger is staying at a hotel in a small town high up in the mountains for a few days. Shortly after his guest has eaten breakfast and left for the day, the hotel owner notices that he has left his wallet on the table. Business is bad, everyone is in debt, and the baker has refused to sell the hotelier any more bread until he pays the £100 that he owes. The hotelier can see that there are five £20 notes in his guest’s wallet, and after wrestling with his conscience for a short while, steals the money and takes it down the baker, who restores the hotelier’s line of credit.

The baker is particularly grateful to the hotelier as he happens to owe the butcher £100, so he takes the banknotes across to the butcher’s shop and settles his bill. The butcher in turn owes the local garage £100 for repairs to his car, so he uses the money to pay off his bill. The garage owner realises that he can now pay the hotelier the £100 he owes for the meal bought last weekend, so he pops into the hotel and gives the money to the hotelier. Moments later, the guest returns. The hotelier, seeing him come through the door, quickly puts the £100 back in the wallet and hands it back to the guest.

At first sight, there is something odd about this tale. Everyone in the town appears to have paid off their debts and yet, at the end of the day, the stranger still gets his £100 back. How can this work? Where did the money come from? Continue reading

Games theory

Although often discredited, Games Theory can still shed light on human behaviour. What follows is an extract from a work-in-progress:

Game TheoryGames Theory is the study of situations where two or more players interact in accordance with a set of rules, and in particular where such situations arise in our political and economic life. Surprisingly it is fairly recent, generally considered to date from 1928 when John von Neumann’s book Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftsspiele (‘On the Theory of Parlour Games’) was first published. This was followed in 1944 by Theory of Games and Economic Behavior which Neumann co-authored with Oskar Morgenstern.

There are essentially two types of games. Zero-sum games are those where one player wins and the other loses. Typical examples include tic-tac-toe (also known as noughts and crosses), chess, poker and football. Rather more interesting are non zero-sum games where outcomes include the possibility of both players improving their situation. Perhaps the most important non zero-sum game in the economic world is the act of shopping. Sellers only sell their goods when they regard the money being offered as having greater value than the goods itself. Buyers only buy when they regard the goods as being worth more than the money asked. If both sides can agree a price then both walk away from the deal as winners. Continue reading