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S2: Hello and welcome to the Cautionary Tales edition of Slate.
S3: Money, your guide to Business, Finance and all manner of Weird Two and a half thousand year old cautionary tales. I’m Felix Salmon of axios and I’m in fabulous recording studio in Oxfordshire with none other than Mr. Tim Harford. Hi, Tim. What are you plugging?
S4: So as you know, Felix, I work for the Financial Times, but I am plugging a new podcast called Cautionary Tales. It is out in a first season of eight episodes and it is full of stories about all kinds of mishaps, fiascos, heists, crashes, disasters, catastrophes. And in each case, a little bit of zesty social science. What can we actually learn from what went wrong from these true stories of disaster and how can we avoid meeting such terrible fates ourselves?
S3: And of course, we are joined from Brooklyn by Anna SHYMANSKY of Breaking Views. Hi, Anna. Hello. We are going to talk about all of these weird cautionary tales released, a couple of them on this episode. We’re going to talk about Christmas cards because tis the season.
S5: And I kind of want to talk about the black market in Chinese sand, which is one of my favorite stories of the year. All of that coming up on Slate Money. So, Tim, you are applying social science and some kind of economics and that kind of thing to a bunch of stories if, as you say, thefts and disasters and whenever people do this, I think of a conversation I had with an economist once. The great economist. Yeah, behavioral economy.
S4: Well, the psychologists really we should say. But a psychologist. So awesome. They gave him the Nobel Prize in economics. And exactly.
S5: And he did a whole bunch of research into biases and the things which we kind of just wind up doing, even though they really we know we shouldn’t do them and probably we don’t even want to do them. And I said, well, you’ve discovered all of these biases. Isn’t that great? Because now we can overcome our biases. And he’s like, don’t be stupid. Just because, you know, they’re there doesn’t mean you can stop doing it. And so I.
S6: The whole premise of your podcast kind of worries me on some level because I have this idea that I’m going to listen post to make you feel anxious.
S7: How they are supposed to worry you.
S6: I bet I’m going to learn about all of these mistakes that are just human and that people make. And then I’m going to do them anyway and I’m going to get put. Tim told me not to do them and does not. Do you think that if I listen to my your podcast that that will in any way stop me from making these mistakes?
S4: Yes. I mean, what are the one of the podcasts? One of the episodes is is all about the lessons from that time they gave the Oscar to La La Land when in fact it should have gone to Moonlite. And I explain the implications for the financial crisis and nuclear meltdowns and so on. But but the point I make is that in that case, the superficial story is the accountant in the wings gave the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty and then Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went on stage and they didn’t really know what was going on. And so they read out the wrong film because they had the wrong envelope. And so some people say, well, it’s Warren Buffett’s fault and some people say it’s Faye Dunaway his fault. And most people say it’s Brian Callinan’s fault. Brian Cullinan, the awestruck accounts.
S7: Yes, he was. Who was tweeting photographs of Emma Stone from backstage when he should have been giving the rights envelope to Warren Beatty. But the point is, if you’d just sit there and go where we said it was, it was human error. It was a human mistake. We need better humans. Not gonna happen. But is there a better way to design the system? Yes. And in that particular case, I go back to the to the work of the sociologist Charles Perrow, who sadly died quite recently, an expert in disaster. And I go all the way back to Galileo who wrote about this kind of problem.
S6: But as you say, like, it’s you know, people have been relying on smart humans for a long time.
S3: I remember having this conversation a lot during the financial crisis. Yeah, people like the humans were dumb and they should have been smarter and works. And then I was like, yeah. But the whole point of a financial system that’s remotely robust is it needs to be robust to dumb human. Yes, absolutely. Anna, do you think that we can ever build an economy or a financial system that is robust to dumb humans?
S8: Probably not 100 percent. But I do think it’s interesting to look at, you know, some of the algorithmic trading systems and how they are somewhat trying to counter those biases. Now, of course, those algorithms are originally kind of created by humans. So that’s an issue. But in theory, some of their supposed to be kind of self-teaching.
S9: So, you know, maybe at some point the you know, the fewer and fewer humans we have and the more and more machines. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
S3: I really don’t buy that. Termini Just before we we started recording, we’re talking about the Gaussian copula function as we do as you do. We hang it out and when you have an eye hanging out in recording studios, what we talk about is the golfing singular function. And for those of those late money listeners who don’t know what I’m talking about, I wrote a big cover story about it for Wired in April 2009, which pre-dates sleep money. But it’s basically exactly what you’re talking about. And that which is an algorithm which was trained on a whole bunch of market prices and didn’t have any real human input and wound up more or less destroying the entire global financial system. So on one level i.e. Yeah.
S4: No, I just don’t I don’t buy it tend to you, but you can certainly try to make the system more robust. What are the issues that people who think about accidents and why accidents happen? What are the issues that comes up a lot is that people put safety systems in in place and the safety systems just create new ways for things to fail because they make it more and more and more complicated. Are certain ways of thinking about safety that make things simpler in certain ways that make it more complicated?
S8: I think it’s interesting, you know, to look at, you know, different funds and how they’ve used these kind of more complicated trading systems and why some have done well and some have failed. I feel like you have something like long term capital management and they both blessed memory. Yes. They believe that their system was so perfect that then they took these out, you know, land ish risks because they thought, well, no, you know, this this can’t possibly fail where you have other places like, you know, Renaissance technology, where they clearly seem to understand that the models couldn’t be perfect. And so you had to kind of mitigate risk because they knew it couldn’t be perfect. So I think maybe that’s a yes bounce.
S3: But I think both of them are risk takers. I think what we saw in the financial crisis was that people were buying a whole bunch of triple-A rated mortgage backed securities, not because they were convinced that they had the mathematical ability to calculate the risk, but precisely because they were what’s known as informationally insensitive investors. And they just saw that triple-A rating. I mean, that’ll do. That means there’s no risk. And all of this money started piling into them without really people thinking about it because they felt they didn’t need to think about it because it had a triple-A rating. And I think that’s a little bit what Tim is talking about, that when you build a safety system like the triple-A rating is in its own way, a safety system, it’s a way of saying you don’t you’re safe now. You’re on safe ground.
S4: The credit default swap, I think, is a more a more direct parallel. Yeah. You say don’t dont worry about this. You’re insured by these guys called AIG, who, by the way, have written two thousand seven hundred billion dollars worth of insurance for other people. But don’t worry. I’m sure I’m sure nothing possibly could go wrong with that scheme.
S6: But there is a way that there’s one safety mechanism. And that’s Admati. Stanford University is famously quite keen on a safety system for banks, at least where she says banks, you just have way, way more equity than they do right now. Right. Banks, by that nature are highly leveraged institutions before the financial crisis. They were like 30 to 1. Now then, well, like 10 to 1. If you say no, they should be like 1 to 1 or maybe 2 to 1 leverage. They checked. These have lot small equity and found themselves much less with debt and that would just make them safer. Do you buy that one? I kind of think she’s right about that, isn’t she?
S8: So I think that on the one hand, having banks, especially more systemic banks, having a bigger capital buffer, bigger equity buffer makes some sense. But I think when you’re talking about expanding it to those extreme levels, I really start to question what would be the side effects of that because you would be making the banks less profitable. And if you’re making that bank less profitable, they’re going to take risks in other ways. So I’m not saying that it’s possible that you might make part of the system less apt to the type of crises we saw in the past. But my guess is it would then create some type of other issue that would create a crisis that we can’t even really foresee. Now, can I?
S7: Can I talk about a two and a half thousand year old antecedents to the financial crisis and the hope, the Gaussian copula?
S10: This is only if it involves an oracle. Yes, I feel like because that is the other thing we were talking about earlier, that if you were a young woman in ancient Greece, your job opportunities were maybe not quite as good as, say, you know, Anna Szymanski has available.
S6: You couldn’t get a fair amount lugger or a podcast of the best job. I’m convinced about this was to become an oracle.
S4: You could then speak with the voice of Apollo himself. That is a wonderful gig. I mean, I’ve got no idea what it was a wonderful gig, but it was a it was a culturally significant gig. So people who wanted their questions about the future answered would go to the oracles. The most famous oracle was it was at the temple of delfi and they would make offerings. And this priestess, speaking with the voice of a God, would answer their questions.
S7: And I relate in one of the episodes of Cautionary Tales. I talk about this famous story where King Croesus of Lydia, the fabulously wealthy increases, goes to the oracle and says, Shall I invade the Persian Empire? And the oracle says, well, if you go to war with Persia, you will destroy a mighty empire and creases because that sounds great. Let’s go to war. And of course, he’s defeated and he does destroy a mighty empire. It’s it’s his own. But I spoke to a professor of ancient history. He’s a friend of mine who thinks about what the oracles meant to the Greeks. And and her point his. The Greeks knew when you ask an oracle, that’s not the end of it. It’s just like when you consult the Gaussian copula function, just like when you look and you see that something’s triple-A rated, just like when you check out your g._p._s, your GPA says that this is the right way to go. That’s just the start. You can’t just accept what’s coming out of that black box, whether the black box is a priestess or whether the black box is your phone or whether the black box is a financial algorithm, a financial function. You need to then think about the answer. And the legend of King Croesus is all about a guy who didn’t think about the answer he got. By the way, was perfectly accurate. So I.
S6: I want to do a whole extra second. We’re gonna have a whole segment on g._p._s in a minute. Yeah. But is it actually realistic for us to treat our g._p._s with skepticism? But I feel like it’s so built into our lives in so many ways that at some point you just you have this sort of heuristic of the g._p._s is right. And we just don’t have the mental capacity to treat everything, including a g._p._s with that kind of level of skepticism.
S8: Well, but I think it depends on the circumstance. Right. Because if if you’re looking at your g._p._s and you’re trying to say like the arrow seems to be pointing this way, but I think I’m supposed to go the other way and, you know, follow the g._p._s, it’s wrong. Like that may not be a big rescue, but if you know, you’re like you’re near the edge of a cliff, then that becomes a much bigger issue.
S7: So I think it all comes down to, you know, where you’re putting your energies in terms of where you’re skeptical depends on the circumstance or one of the stories that I tell in the podcast, which has a terrible story about a woman who drove through Death Valley relying on her g._p._s. She didn’t have a map and the g._p._s let her down. We’re not sure exactly why, whether it was malfunctioning, whether it had the wrong map, whether the connection was faulty, whether she misread it. We dont know the details, but we did did not end well. It is it is 115 degrees in the shade and the g._p._s got her lost. And the lesson there is, okay, fine, if you’re just going to drive down to to a restaurant that you’ve not been to before, fine. Well, I am the g._p._s. If you’re going through Death Valley, bring a map. Make sure you got a phone signal. Make sure you got water. You are betting your life that this thing is going to work and you shouldn’t be basing your life that it’s going to work.
S11: So let’s continue on the subject of g._p._s and specifically g._p._s around the port of Shanghai and specifically the way that the port of Shanghai, just like all ports, is really run on g._p._s, which is this glorious technology which is subsidized by the US government and allows everyone in the world to know where they are. All points great public good. And they put little G.P.S. transponders onto all of the ships so that if you’re navigating this incredibly, incredibly busy waters around Shanghai, you know where all the ships are at all times and you dont run into them. And this works perfectly well, doesn’t it?
S7: It works perfectly well until it doesn’t. There’s this astonishing story in the M.I.T technology Riviere, where the brillion piece of storytelling as well, where captain of a ship is just looking at other ships on his g._p._s screen and the ship just disappears. And then it appears in dock and then it appears back on the river and then it goes back to dock.
S4: And what’s what’s going on is that he realised the realizes the ship has never actually moved at all, but where it is on his g._p._s locator keeps changing and thus begins the story of of what is happening to g._p._s in in Shanghai.
S6: And it turns out to be this thing called g._p._s spoofing, which I, for one, had no idea even existed. But of course, like the minute you say g._p._s spoofing is like, oh, of course it exists. That must be a thing. That must be a thing.
S11: And the idea is that if you’re a criminal with certain incentives, you have the incentive to make people think the certain boats are in certain places at certain times. And rather than moving the boats, you just spoof their G.P.S. system and everyone just knows that that’s where the boat is because everyone conflates the G.P.S. signal with the boat.
S4: Absolutely. What are the things that fascinates me about this story was just that the the guesses as to who might be trying to do that. Was it the Chinese government or was it was it and this sounds like a thing that definitely must exist in some way.
S12: Was it sand pirate pirates? So. And did you read the story? I did.
S6: And how awesome is the concept of sand pirate?
S8: I think that is pretty amazing. And it also just brings into kind of it brings into the lens like how important cement has is bend to kind of the growth in China. And obviously, you need sand to create cement.
S11: So just to rewind here, since we’re talking about two and a half thousand year old, you know, stories, concrete is a two and a half thousand year old technology actually more than that. I have for four thousand year old technology, actually.
S7: They if you consult my book, 50 Things that made the modern economy, it’s about a ten thousand year old technology. They’ve found they found concrete in ancient Turkey. But the reinforced concrete is much more recent, of course. But yes. The point that I was making about about the importance of the sand for concrete, which is this incredibly important building technology, desert sand won’t do.
S6: Tell us tell us about sand in China.
S11: What is the what is going on with sand in China and why would the need for sand to build? Chinese cities result in g._p._s spoofing in the ports of Shanghai.
S8: Well, I, you know, just caveat that my my knowledge of sand politics is somewhat limited, but it appears that the type of sand that you could kind of, I believe like dredge up in these ports near these ports was the type of sand that is the best type of sand for the building materials that people want to make. And consequently, because of that, what you’ve seen is a lot of sand from different areas has been taken then. And it’s and it’s caused a lot of problems. And so consequently, the Chinese government has put caps and strict limits on the sand that can be taken and which always likes. Right. Anytime you have something that’s profitable it and you put caps on it, you create a black market.
S6: So this is this is the glorious thing. So basically what you have is these boats trolling the river, literally trolling whoever’s sticking these big pipes down to the riverbed in the middle of the night, in the middle of the night, pulling up hundreds of tons of riverbed, sand, because riverbed sand is the best sand to be making cement out of.
S4: Do you know why, by the way? Now, tell me why. It’s. It’s because desert sun, because there is a lot of sand in the Sahara, for example, like sand. It’s it’s too smooth. It’s been blown by the wind. And it’s it’s spherical, whereas the ocean, sand, sand from beaches, sand from rivers hasn’t been rubbed smooth. It isn’t as is not spherical. It’s kind of all knobbly. Apparently, I’m not a sound engineer, but that is my understanding.
S6: But it stands to reason that notbelieve sand would be would be better for making cement because you want it to stick to it.
S7: We all sound very authoritative on this. Yeah.
S9: No one is going to say we all read one article, huh?
S6: I mean, I’m I’m you know, as everyone knows, I’m a bit of a brutalism. And I love concrete. And I have studied that. But I have not really. Well, the one thing I know about concrete is that’s very local.
S11: The concrete buildings in cities like, you know, Boston, concrete buildings are generally red in Manhattan, concrete buildings are generally grey. And that kind of thing.
S6: The sand is heavy because because sand is heavy. And so you just use the locals and the locals hand has its own local coloring. And and that kind of feeling of terroir in concrete is wrong. I absolute love. But, you know, it turns out that the best pinot noir grapes in China are not pinot noir grapes. It’s all the Yankee River sando which have a river isn’t Shanghai. I’m quite bad on geography. And these pirates will just import this and into the port under dead of night. And the way they do that is by making everyone think that all of the other ships are moving around in this perfect circle.
S4: We think we think I think I don’t we don’t. Sure. We still don’t know. But yes, what are the what are the lovely details from this hospital was that if you looked at everyone’s Strava roots because you Strava, it works on g._p._s. It’s this tracking system that people sign up for. They if they’re cyclists or if they’re joggers. And the people who are investigating this realize that everyone Strava routes were suddenly forming like this, this perfect circle in the middle of Shanghai. So I don’t think that everyone is just six cycling around and around and around.
S6: We’re just so reminded me of the time that the secret CIA base was discovered on Strava. You remember that story?
S9: I do remember that star. And I say that’s because I am an avid Stratfor user. And yeah, it was basically because, you know, if you’re you know, if you run, you cycle as as Tim said, you’re going to be using this and you had people on this base putting using their strava. And then people realize, oh, it looks like, you know, all of these people who all of these Americans just happened to be running in this particular area at it. And it does raise that, you know, that question as as more and more of us use this type of technology that’s tied to our location that just opens up all of these other fields for potentially crime or, you know, or espionage or whatever.
S7: The metadata matters. It turns out.
S6: So, Anna, as the neo liberal with the market solution to all problems. What what is the market solution to the problem of river pirates in China? Sand pirates and pirates.
S8: Yeah. I mean, it’s it’s a good question because I mean, I think there’s a a very good reason why you don’t want all of this river sand to be taken because that is going to have a clear economic impact. Maybe there is some way that you could kind of factor in that negative externality or something to kind of the price so that you could get these people kind of out of this underground economy into the into the actual economy. I don’t know. I mean, there’s not there is not a great solution to sand piracy because, you know, he just let me take them seriously. Like when you have a good that is very valuable, then people are probably going to want to get it.
S4: And this is this is not even the weirdest sound piracy story. I mean, there was a whole beach in the Caribbean stolen. I seem to remember a couple of years ago, somebody just came and stole the beach.
S6: Does happen for concrete or just to move the beach somewhere. I forget now I think I think yellow sandy beaches like that sand is super valuable in like beach resorts that where the sand has a habit of blowing away or getting washed away.
S4: So I think we have to implore you to think brutalist buildings you could make.
S10: Think about that terroir. Golden a golden concrete.
S11: If anyone has examples of like golden sand getting turned into concrete and making a beautiful golden concrete building. Let me know because I will make a pilgrimage.
S12: This segment went to some very great place. It did get very strange. I like it.
S11: OK, you need to give us the TLG out of your Christmas card story, which is glorious.
S4: Yeah. So people use it to send more holiday cards in the past. But I was really struck. In 1974, a sociologist called Phil CMT’s Kuntz not sure how to pronounce the name.
S7: How would you say would you say that anyway? k._u and Z. Philip Catterns, shall we say. Philip Cums received just this enormous number of holiday cards. And the reason he had received so many is because he and a colleague had sent out 600 cards to total strangers picked at random from the phone book, and some got these very high status cards with very fancy calligraphy and or from from Dr. and Mrs. Cousins. And some of them were were much kind of lower status. They were from Phil and Joyce. And more than 100 people felt obliged to reply to these cards, including an extraordinary reply where this this group invited themselves and their children and this and Bernards for a week’s holiday with the Cowens family, which, by the way, she’s glorious. Yeah. Was absolutely brilliant. And then never that they had no idea who these people are. But they were like, oh, yeah, we remember you were going gonna come and stay with wishes.
S6: I mean all power to them. You get a Christmas card from someone who sounds like they’re quite rich, who are on the way to this place where you’re going on holiday and you’re like, well, rather than pay for hotel, why don’t we just stay with these people who send us a Christmas card if they felt that the grace of God, they can’t be that bad? Yeah, they know they’re looking after us, St. Bernard’s.
S7: So it’s it’s I think it’s a really interesting illustration of this kind of grim circle of reciprocity that the Christmas card list sometimes engender sort of people just feeling obliged to send Christmas cards because they receive Christmas cards. And there’s a bit of social climbing, too, because the people who received the the high status Christmas cards were more likely to respond. But what really struck me about this story, which I knew this story, but I didn’t know that somebody tried to replicate it. A guy called Brian Myer replicated it about three years ago. He wanted to investigate whether people respond differently to a Merry Christmas vs. a happy holidays. But he couldn’t investigate that theory because nobody replied. Basically, he sent out 800 cards and he got about about 10 replies.
S4: So the reply rate collapsed from 20 percent to less than 2 percent.
S6: And you don’t think this is just a standard replication crisis? If you think something is actually changed.
S7: It was replicated as well about 20 years ago. And and it replicated absolutely perfectly. So this is this is that something has changed, I think. And what’s your theory?
S8: Well, I mean, I think it’s just in in general, people don’t send as much in the mail now. I mean, I’ve even seen this with my own family because, you know, my my parents generation and even write a letter like they all sent cards, whereas now, like me and my sisters and our generation, a lot of people don’t. Until they have kids. And if they don’t have kids, they just never send cards. It just it is it’s that social tradition is just changing.
S6: I think that’s exactly it. It’s not the people. I mean, you were talking a little bit. About how, like, people get a little bit skeeved out by receiving a Christmas someone when they don’t know, but I think a lot of it is they were perfectly happy to reply except for they dont reply with physical mail anymore. That’s not how they communicate. And if they don’t have the email address of that person, then they just won’t reply.
S7: Yes. So I think I dont think it’s just that people don’t send as many Christmas cards because I mean people still do send Christmas cards, just not as many. And presumably if you get a Christmas card, then that’s kind of a more special thing and maybe more demanding of a reply.
S6: Yeah. I think would you would still want to replace you by attaching an e-mail? You might.
S7: Well, I think what’s going on is previously when in the 1970s people got these Christmas cards from strangers and they didn’t know they were Christmas cards from strangers. They were like, I don’t remember who, Joycean Phil? Ah, that’s terrible of me. People would make inquiries. People would try really hard to figure out who Joycean Phil were. Whereas nowadays you get a Christmas card from Brian Mayar and you’re like, I don’t I know a Brian, may you check your Facebook friends, you check your email contacts, you search on G-mail, you like I dont know a Brian Mayer. I just got a Christmas card from a total stranger. That’s weird. So I think people just this time people knew it was from a stranger, whereas previously they assumed they must just be being forgetful.
S10: Or it’s maybe not as weird because we all get mail all the time, which is sort of fake personalize and ignore people that we don’t know unlike. Right.
S6: We now live in a world of where I don’t know about you guys, but I would say that 90 percent of the mail I get is junk and 90 percent of the junk mail. Pretends to be personalized so thingswhich pretends to be personalized, get phone in the trash every day in my house.
S7: So you’re going to be telling me next, Feliks, that your Facebook friends are not really your friends.
S6: That’s that. That’s the whole like ontological question, which I’m not sure I want to go into the API.
S9: Looks like. I think you’re right there because I think I think you’re giving humans are you’re giving people a lot of credit to think that they would go through all that work if they got a car they didn’t know.
S12: I think it’s more accurate that they probably just throw it away and they just assume it’s like an exact classic national committee. Yes, in some way it must be Joe Biden. If in doubt, it’s Joe Biden’s get out the vote campaign.
S7: Oh, fantastic. Yeah. You may be right. I just. What I loved. I just loved this little piece of social science that somebody 45 years ago decided he was going to mail six hundred strangers and then somebody 20 years ago decided that she was gonna do it all over again.
S6: And that was she related or she just had the same same surname.
S7: But I am not aware that they’re related. She doesn’t doesn’t mention a relation, but she she may. It’s possible that she was Phil’s daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer comes and. And then Brian, mayor, who did it a couple of years ago. I think it’s great. This is proper replication.
S4: This is science in action. And if science consists of sending people weird Christmas cards.
S6: And I think Brian May I should replicate. Should do the same thing only instead of doing it in the mail. He should do it with like an email newsletter, attachment email, p_d_f_ attachment with a bunch of photos of his family and a whole tale about all of the adventures they’ve been up to over the past year and then see how many random email attachments he gets back because that’s the new way we do them.
S4: So I just want to check with both of you. So. So, Anna. Felix. Do you send Christmas cards?
S8: So I do not send Christmas cards, although I do ghostwrite my mother’s Christmas letter. Oh, that she puts in of her cards now.
S12: Now we know. About being a ghost writer. If it’s true, it’s true. I think my family is now for about a year now like that. Scales have fallen from their eyes. Exac.
S4: Maybe the Venn diagram of recipients of Anna’s mothers newsletter Innocence is not very big. I don’t know.
S11: My wife has an annual tradition. She’s an artist. And so we send out an artwork to our friends every year around the holidays and it’s glorious.
S7: Well, my my wife is a photographer and who she will take an abstract photograph and make cards. So yeah, it’s it becomes a more significant thing. And I, of course, always do a Christmas playlist because, you know, I’m from the mixed tape generation.
S6: Of course, these days it’s a Spotify playlist, but so Tim Harford, how do I find the Tim Harford Christmas playlist on Spotify?
S7: Not it’s it’s not kind of publicly available. It’s not a publicly. I will I will send you the Tim Harford Christmas playlist when it when it exists. This year you will get a copy, but we can’t put it in the show.
S6: And it’s not even last year.
S7: I’ll try and find last year and stick it in. Stick in the show notes for you.
S6: Excellent. Awesome. Let’s have a numbers round.
S11: I’m gonna start with $130 million, which is the number of beast debris objects in orbit which are larger than a millimeter. And if you’re in orbit and you’re even if you’re just a millimeter, you can cause a lot of damage if you bump into something, if you crash into something. But there are some huge ones. There are 5400 objects which are bigger than a meter. And no one wants to crash into one of those. The amount of space junk in orbit, we’ve known that space junk is a huge issue for decades, but it’s now just enormous issue.
S13: So it’s like I like this. Feel like that. You’re like, happy holidays. The apocalypse is coming. It’s only coming if you’re in orbit, though.
S10: So the Fantex in terms of cautionary tales. The lesson here is don’t go into orbit.
S4: Guess what people are really worried about is that one big piece of space junk hits, another big piece of space junk. It just makes lots and lots of little baby which has Hasni.
S6: That doesn’t actually happen and has happened. It is one of the reasons why that’s a hundred and thirty million little pieces.
S7: Yeah, I wonder how little the pieces can get and still be a problem because presumably many of these pieces you just can’t even tracks that too small. Strew. Do you have a No10?
S4: I do have a number. I have a Christmas number for you. It is nought point three percent and he guesses.
S5: It’s Christmas, Anna. Mm hmm. I’m not sure.
S6: Is this something to do with said that the statistical roots of Santa’s sleigh when he’s delivering presents?
S7: Not fair of me to ask. Because the numbers are always mysterious. No point. Three percent is the contribution of Christmas spending to the U.S. economy, as calculated by Joel Waldfogel. Hee hee hee hee.
S6: OMICS of the dead lost loss of Christmas. We ask that the standard subjects of every single lazy columnist come around Christmas time. They.
S7: Oh, let me talk about I love the dead weight loss of Christmas. But this this time I’m talking about Christmas cards, some varying things, 0.3% percent.
S6: How much how much the US economy can sensibly be attributed to Christmas to Christmas spending.
S4: Yes. And the way that Waldfogel does this is he basically compares retail spending in November with December and with January and it’s higher and December.
S7: So that’s a a rough and ready way of measuring the Christmas boom. And I think for a lot of people, they would they would be surprised that it’s that small. It’s also, by the way, it used to be bigger in the US, used to be three times bigger.
S6: Oh, my God. I want to see that time series.
S7: It used to be bigger and it also is bigger in certain other countries. So people who worry about modern Christmas consumerism in the U.S., you know, it could be much worse.
S8: I don’t think it makes sense. Right. Because as far as consumption becomes a bigger and bigger part of the economy, you’re going to be consuming more all year long.
S12: So whereas if we would have, you know. Exactly. Absolutely. And you have. No.
S8: I do. Mine is 4 percent. So there was a Pew study related to Christmas and this is supposedly the number. So 4 percent of Americans say the thing they most look forward to in Christmas is giving and getting gifts. And I think that Americans are lying because I like that is nonsense.
S13: They’re like 70 percent is spending time with family and friends. So that that’s that. But that’s lovely. But like I I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.
S7: You think that giving the politically correct helps a great. A great. So what are you most looking forward to a Christmas?
S10: Or better yet, what is the number one best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
S8: The number one best you know, the number one best Christmas present I ever received was when I got to go to the Rose Bowl.
S9: That was January 1st. Yes, nineteen ninety eight or I got to see my University of Michigan Wolverines win the national championship.
S1: That is my my best Christmas present that my parents got me. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty good.
S6: So happy holidays to everyone. And many thanks to Tim for squeezing into an old such a soundproof studio with me and a delight to squeeze squeeze.
S4: Anyway, we will.
S6: We will. Salome’s further on the next time I’m in the UK. Many thanks to the good folks Sound Work Studios in Oxfordshire for hosting us. Many thanks to Jessamy and Molly for producing.
S2: Many thanks to you all for listening. And we will talk to you next week on slaked money.