Some things I read this week: 5/8/18

The Multi-Billion Dollar Industry That Makes Its Living From Your Data

  • When we send an instant message, click a link or purchase goods or services, we contribute content and meta data that fuels the ~$50 billion market research industry.
  • If you consider the transfer of your “digital footprint” as a system, you might see the varied inputs to include:
    • Contact information (often publicly available)
    • Consumer behavior (what you spend money on, how often, where, etc.)
    • Preferences (what do you follow on Facebook, what brands do you interact with on Amazon, what books do you read, etc.)
    • Browsing/search history
    • Relationships/networks
    • Financial information
    • Biometric data (Apple has lots of health information about you. As of right now, there are many regulations on the use and safety of this information)
    • Location data
    • Call records
    • …and more
  • Companies like Oracle and Acxiom have built up massive databases of online profiles, which can be sufficiently detailed to predict your family size, estimated net worth and debt burden, purchasing patterns, political dispositions, and more.

Redesigned Toilets for Areas Lacking Running Water

  • Lack of access to safe and affordable sanitation—which describes some 2.3 billion people—renders one at high risk of many debilitating diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and more. In many of these cases, women are at risk of rape and assault particularly when long, unsafe journeys are required to get to water and toilet facilities, and is a key inhibitor of education and employment opportunity for these demographics. A great essay on the importance of access to clean water can be found here.
  • Cranfield University in Britain has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the problem of toilet design. Their solution, the “nano-membrane toilet” is a waterless, self-contained unit. Solid waste passes through the apparatus, is dried into pellets which are in turn burned in a gasifier to produce energy to power the system. The exhaust of the gasifier warms any liquid waste which is passed through a membrane chamber and converted to pathogen-free water for around-the-home use. Prototypes and pilot programs are underway.

My notes on a review of Capital In The 21st Century by Thomas Piketty

  • Since the Industrial Revolution, normal economic growth has been 1-1.5% per year. Individual countries will always fluctuate around this mark, driven in part by:
    • High population growth (which isn’t necessarily accompanied by high growth in GDP per capita)
    • Bubbles
    • “Catch-up” periods (the globalization of a third world country, moving towards the technological frontier, the rebuilding of a formerly war-torn state, etc. Real examples include the 20th century baby boom in the U.S., the dot-com boom, spectacular economic recovery in Germany and Japan post-WWII, China’s catch-up after Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization)
  • Piketty’s Inequality: r > g
    • Consider the rentier: one who lives off the interest of savings instead of working (trust fund kids that live off investment dividends, landlords living off property rents, etc.). The rentier’s money grows in line with the rate of return on capital, or r.
    • Now consider the laborer, who has little savings and works paycheck-to-paycheck. Their money grows more or less in line with the GDP per capita growth rate, or g.
    • averages out at about 4-5%/year, much greater than the 1-1.5% of g, and hence this gap, and more importantly, it’s compounding, accounts for massive economic inequality.
    • This gap is offset by political and economic crises when wealth is redistributed
  • “Today’s income inequality is tomorrow’s rentier-vs-laborer inequality. A CEO who earns $5 million per year can make $50 million, retire, invest the money, and pass the fortune on to their children. The more giant fortunes like this are around, the more rentiers there are in the next generation and the more inequality perpetuates itself.”


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