Tag Archives: money

The NSA Eavesdrops On Everyone Because… There’s Money In It?

This is the “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” moment of the whole Snowden saga, except instead of the Inquisition, it’s the Defense Industry. Last week, the House of Representatives had a vote to de-fund the NSA’s eavesdropping ability. In the end, the vote did not go through and the NSA still has money to collect all our data; but it was pretty close: 217 to 205 votes. Wired wondered if money had anything to do with the outcome of the vote and had the non-partisan, non-profit political money tracker maplight.org look into the matter.

Defense Contributions Chart

The evidence is pretty damning: the Congressmen that voted to continue funding the NSA’s activities received twice as much money from the Defense Industry. Why? Because NSA personnel are but a fraction of the NSA workforce. The rest is made up of contractors from companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen, where Snowden used to work. If NSA funding gets cut, the piece of the funding that goes to the contracts will also disappear, which obviously is not good for the defense contractors.

But it probably works the other way also: the more stuff the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community does, the more contractors they need, and the more profits the contracting companies make. Ergo, if the companies want to make more money, they need the government to do more stuff. And they can get the government to do more stuff by lobbying Congressmen and giving them a piece of the cut as donations. So, actual national security need aside, it behooves defense contractors if everyone believes that building systems which collect and analyze more data, better, and faster is a good thing. It’s like taking advantage of a fire to sell everyone in the neighborhood fire retardant furniture and clothing, which they probably don’t need. Except fire retardant wouldn’t threaten our civil liberties, the way being constantly monitored does.

And all of this, done on the taxpayer’s dime.

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From Maplight, via Wired

How The First Astronauts Created Their Own Life Insurance

Now that Neil Armstrong actually died, NPR has an interesting story about what would’ve happened if he had died in space. Back in 1969, a life insurance policy would’ve cost the astronauts much, much more than they could afford. However, being responsible family men, the three astronauts who were part of the Apollo 11 mission couldn’t just leave the Earth without making sure their kids were going to live in a house and eat food. So the astronauts banked on the only currency they had, which was their fame. Less creative people would’ve just started charging for autographs, but these astronauts were clever and not out to get rich.

Insurance envelope autographed by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin


What they did instead was insure themselves using the market for their autographs: they had always signed autographs for free, but people would, of course, turn around and sell them. During their month-long quarantine before the space launch, the three astronauts signed hundreds of envelopes and gave them to a friend. On important days — like the launch and the moon landing — the friend took envelopes to the post office, had them postmarked, then dropped them off with the astronauts’ families. If they failed to return from space, the families could sell these autographed, postmarked envelopes and keep themselves solvent for years or maybe even a lifetime. Today, those envelopes are worth about 30,000$ each.

From NPR

Those Who Exercise More, Make More Money

The link between salary and exercise has been known for a while now, but it’s always been a question of correlation versus causation: does exercising make you earn more, does earning more lead to more exercise, or does a third factor cause you to both earn and exercise more? All three avenues are plausible:

  • It is known that exercise stimulates the brain and makes you happier and healthier, so it could in turn make you more productive and easier to get along with at work.
  • Exercise requires a certain amount of leisure time: if you have two kids and no nanny, or two jobs, or both, you’re probably not likely to exercise that often. Whereas if you have the time and money to see a trainer three times a week, you’re probably going to exercise. Also, rich people tend to not be fat, so it could be that simply earning more leads to more exercise.
  • Exercise also requires a certain amount of traits like discipline and perseverance — traits that would also make you more valuable at work. So it could be that those traits cause both more exercise and higher earnings.

One new study attempted to figure out which of the three is the more likely scenario and, surprisingly, it looks like it’s the first.  It used a statistical method to isolate exercise itself as a cause of higher earnings, and the results show that even people who don’t normally exercise start making more money once they begin doing so. Besides the fact that all studies like this should be taken with a grain of salt to begin with, the researcher himself admits more studies need to be done before anything is conclusive. But, given that exercise is already known to help with all kinds of things — being happier, healthier, living longer, warding off Alzheimer’s, migraines and the feebleness of old age — the fact that it might also make you richer is just another reason to get moving.

Photo by becaro

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From The Journal of Labor Research, via Smart Money and Lifehacker

Prepaid iPhone Saves You 1000$ Over Two Years

Starting June 24th, Virgin Mobile will be offering prepaid plans for the iPhone, using Sprint’s network. The downside: these plans are prepaid and not on contract, meaning the iPhone is not subsidized and you have to pay the full price of 650$ for it. The upside: their plans are much cheaper than AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint; Cult of Mac figured out that even with the crazy expensive phone, you can still save a grand over the life of a two-year contract with the mainstream carriers. A Verizon iPhone with unlimited texting, 2GB of data, and 450 minutes of voice will run you almost 2400$ over the two years; a Virgin Mobile iPhone with unlimited texting, unlimited data and 300 minutes of voice will run under 1400$. If you upgrade to 1200 minutes of voice, it’ll be just over 1600$ — still 800$ cheaper than Verizon. (AT&T’s prices are comparable to Verizon, while Sprint is 200$ cheaper.)

From Cult of Mac


With the extra money, you can buy yourself an iPad. So save that 650$ and buy the phone upfront instead of getting skewered by a contract just to get the phone subsidized. Oh, and Get Rich Slowly figured out something similar last year, when they discovered secret phone plans.


From Cult of Mac, via Lifehacker

Apple Makes As Much Money As All Of New Zealand

A cool new infographic shows exactly how ridiculously successful Apple is. Keep in mind that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was weeks away from bankruptcy; now it’s the most valuable company in the world:

  • Its annual revenue is on par with New Zealand’s GDP
  • It has over 100B$ in cash, with which it could buy T-Mobile, Nokia, Netflix, Adobe, Twitter and RIM (who makes Blackberry).
  • It also could use that money to build and run a station on the moon for 8 years, buy all their employees mansions, buy everyone in the world a meal at McDonald’s (including dessert), end world hunger for three years, hire the Russian military for two years, or buy all the sports teams in America and pay for the Olympics.
  • 30% of smartphone users have an iPhone
  • There are 600,000 apps in the app store, and they’ve been downloaded 25 billion times


From Sortable, via iMore

Suprisingly, NFL Players Are Woefully Underpaid

ESPN has a list of all 278 professional, major-league sports teams in the world, ranked by the average player’s salary. The list includes teams from 10 countries, playing 7 sports, totaling about 8,000 players, each of which averages 2m$ per year. Yet the first NFL team on that list, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is ranked a whopping 75th with an average of 3m$ per player per year.  The last NFL team, the Cincinatti Bengals, is ranked 184th, averaging half that salary — 1.6m$ per player.

Meanwhile in soccer, which claims 7 of the 10 highest spots, salaries range from the 1st ranked Barça at 8.7m$ per player to tenth ranked Inter Milan (5.7m$/player), to dead last on the entire list — Columbus Crew with an average of 89k$. American soccer of course has no fans, so the LA Galaxy tops that subset of the list at #219, with 555k$ per player. But, there are three American teams in the top 10 so that we can at least save face: at #5, the LA Lakers (6.3m$/player), followed by NY Yankees (6.2m$/player) at #6, and the Philadelphia Phillies (5.8m$/player) in 9th place.


CC Sabathia is the highest paid pitcher in baseball history


One thing to keep in mind is that these numbers are averages: a few star players make a lot more, and most make a lot less. Having said that, the cheapest NBA team — the 66th ranked Indiana Pacers — pay more per player (3.4m$) than the NFL’s wealthiest, the Steelers. Average baseball salaries have a lot more variance: their highest salaries are comparable to the top NBA ones, but their lowest are on par with the lowest NFL salaries. For example, the cheapest baseball team is the Oakland As, who are ranked 164th and pay 1.8m$ per player — marginally more than the aforementioned Bengals. (Incidentally, the 2011 movie Moneyball told the story of how the As did very well in the early 2000s, despite having no money, by analyzing their players using a statistical system called sabermetrics.)


So the average salary for every NBA player is higher than every NFL player, but baseball spans them both. And it makes sense that basketball players make more money, since there are fewer of them on the team. It also makes sense that baseball players make more money, since their season is longer and they play dozens and dozens of games per season instead of the 16 in the NFL. But football players get punished like in no other sport and they deserve more compensation than the soccer and basketball players that fall down and grab their shin at the drop of a hat; especially the much-ignored linebackers.

In other news, college football players are still glorified slaves who bring in millions to universities, and in return are paid absolutely nothing.

The entire list is available on ESPN’s website.

From ESPN, via NPR


Spoken Language Correlates To Long-Term Choices

An associate professor of economics at Yale wrote a very interesting paper (PDF) in which he compares good future-driven behaviors with not speaking a future-aware language. He noted the distinction between languages that have a strong future-time reference (FTR) requirement and ones that have a weak one: for example, English ranks as a strong FTR language because the language changes significantly when talking about the future (“It will be cold tomorrow”) compared to talking about the present (“It is cold today”). Contrast that with Finnish, which barely changes to account for the future: “Tomorrow be cold” vs “Today be cold.”

Most languages have a strong FTR: all Romance ones, most Slavic, Turkic, Iranian, etc. The language families that tend to have weak FTRs are Germanic, Chinese, Japanese and Sundic. (English, while a Germanic language, has been so heavily influenced by Latin and French that it has a strong FTR — the only other Germanic language besides Afrikaans to do so.)

Charlize Theron's first language is Afrikaans


The paper then compares this language trait with data that indicates a concern for the future: savings accounts, heavy smoking, physical activity, obesity. The idea being that if you smoke a pack a day, have 47$ in your bank account, spend your weekends on the couch and ate a cheesecake for dinner last night, you probably aren’t too concerned about the future. It turned out that speakers of languages with weak FTRs (like the Germans and Japanese) are a lot better about future-oriented behaviors:

Weak-FTR speakers are 30% more likely to have saved in any given year, and have accumulated an additional 170 thousand Euros by retirement. I also examine non-monetary measures such as health behaviors and long-run health. I find that by retirement, weak-FTR speakers are in better health by numerous measures: they are 24% less likely to have smoked heavily, are 29% more likely to be physically active, and are 13% less likely to be medically obese.

So there is correlation between how much a language emphasizes the distinction between present and future and how much speakers of that language prepare for the future. This is evident in the current economic situation in Europe: Germany (weak FTR) has to bail out Greece, Spain and Italy (strong FTRs). The author’s hypothesis is that speakers of languages like Finnish, in which present and future are pretty much treated the same, are more aware of the future because to them the future is now — so they tend to smoke less and save more. Whereas the French see the future as this far-off thing, so they smoke more and save less.


But is there also a causation between language and behavior? That’s a much harder question to answer: it could be that the language influences behavior, and it’s pretty unlikely that behavior influences language — people would have to migrate on a scale that’s probably a lot larger than observed. But it could also be that a third factor, like culture, influenced the way the languages developed, as well as the behavior. If, thousands of years ago, the Germans as a people were concerned about the future, maybe they didn’t care to make the distinction between present and future, but cared to save their gold. The author himself notes that it appears that language and culture both independently influence future-driven behavior, and that language doesn’t directly cause that behavior, but that it may affect it through an intermediary.

In marginally-related news, having a name that’s easy to pronounce has been correlated to being more likely to be promoted. That explains why Mitt doesn’t go by Willard.

From Yale (PDF), via Motherboard and Slashdot

Actually, You Probably Are The 1%

A World Bank economist figured out that an income of about 34,000$ per year, per person, after taxes makes them one of the richest 1% in the world. Half of those people come from America, another quarter from Western Europe, and the rest is split between Latin America, Australia and East Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan). China, India and African countries didn’t make the cut. And even the poorest Americans still make more money than two-thirds of the planet.


From CNN Money, via Neatorama

The Anglosphere Is Very Charitable

Besides being #1 at jailing people, the US is also number one at charity: the Charities Aid Foundation did a survey (PDF) in which they asked people if they donated money or time, or helped a stranger in the prior month. While America won the prize, the interesting thing is the top ten list:

  1. USA
  2. Ireland
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. UK
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Thailand
  10. Laos

Besides the Dutch, who pretty much universally speak English, the top seven countries are all the English-speaking former colonies of the British Empire, collectively known as the Anglosphere. Given their histories, if members of the Anglosphere are cultural brothers, the Netherlands is a close cousin.

Also, how charitable a country is has nothing to do with how wealthy it is: only 5 of the 20 richest countries made it into the top 20 most charitable. Here are the top ten global economies, along with their charitableness ranking:

  1. USA: 1
  2. China: 140
  3. Japan: 105
  4. India: 91
  5. Germany: 26
  6. Russia: 130
  7. UK: 5
  8. Brazil: 85
  9. France: 80
  10. Italy: 104

Looking at their economies per capita, countries with richer individuals tend to give more to charity, but it still doesn’t explain why countries with very low per-capita income like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos are very charitable, while ones with richer citizens, like France, Italy and Japan, are not. Religion doesn’t seem to play a role in it either.

A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is a bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog. (Jack London)

From The Charities Aid Foundation (PDF) and NPR

Mindsets Of The Rich And Poor

The book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind was recently featured on the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly because it has a list of 17 ways rich people think differently than poor people. The common thread is that rich people tend to truly believe they are going to be rich (i.e., not mere wishful thinking), and so they think and act wealthy: they take good care of their existing money, they constantly look for ways to make more money, and generally think they’re in control of their financial future:

  1. Rich people believe: “I create my life.” Poor people believe: “Life happens to me.”
  2. Rich people play the money game to win. Poor people play the money game to not lose.
  3. Rich people are committed to being rich. Poor people want to be rich.
  4. Rich people think big. Poor people think small.
  5. Rich people focus on opportunities. Poor people focus on obstacles.
  6. Rich people admire other rich and successful people. Poor people resent rich and successful people.
  7. Rich people associate with positive, successful people. Poor people associate with negative or unsuccessful people.
  8. Rich people are willing to promote themselves and their value. Poor people think negatively about selling and promotion.
  9. Rich people are bigger than their problems. Poor people are smaller than their problems.
  10. Rich people are excellent receivers. Poor people are poor receivers.
  11. Rich people choose to get paid based on results. Poor people choose to get paid based on time.
  12. Rich people think “both”. Poor people think “either/or”.
  13. Rich people focus on their net worth. Poor people focus on their working income.
  14. Rich people manage their money well. Poor people mismanage their money well.
  15. Rich people have their money work hard for them. Poor people work hard for their money.
  16. Rich people act in spite of fear. Poor people let fear stop them.
  17. Rich people constantly learn and grow. Poor people think they already know.

From Get Rich Slowly