Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Lockdown Luxury Our Forebears Wouldn't Understand

I’ve been relatively quiet on the subject of Coronavirus (just 3 blog posts, see here - which is quiet for me! Heh!). One reason is because I’ve been very busy; another reason is that articles on Coronavirus are fraught by being riddled with incomplete information (which we won’t know until after this is over) and are therefore full of pointless projections and comparisons; and a third reason is that whatever you believe with regard to whether or not domestic governments have handled the crisis well or poorly, I would prefer a spirit of kindness and encouragement on the grounds that I think, by and large, people are trying their best to get things right, and I commend them for that.

The more interesting point I want to make here is that our response to Coronavirus is a demonstration of capitalism at its finest, and a demonstration of socialism as a beneficial adjunct to the market when applied properly. This delineation is what I call the market economy and the socio-personal economy. The principal distinction is that the market economy has exchanges that are precisely recorded in terms of cash exchanged or increases/decreases in 1s and 0s on banks' computers, and the socio-personal economy has exchanges that are less-precisely recorded in terms of helpful gestures and voluntary transactions for the good of one another (there is lots of overlap between the two, of course - a financial economy has a necessary social economy woven into it, because it’s hard to be successful in business without good socio-personal qualities).

The key difference between their operations is roughly this. In the financial economy the demand almost always exceeds the supply (of a limited range of labour, goods and services), because suppliers maintain their status differential (principally income) by increasing their prices or their supplies (or a combination of both), and endeavour to become top of the supplier tree by out-competing their competitors. Whereas in the socio-personal economy, the potential supply (of a nigh-on unbounded range of actions) almost always exceeds the demand, and suppliers who care enough about others maintain their status differential (primarily their character and reputation) by trying to summon up new ways to improve their surroundings and become better people.

The key take home lesson of the temporary lockdown of much of the economy is that our ability to do so is testament to the success of capitalism and how well-off we’ve become relative to any time in history. We can afford to take 6 months off in ways that would have killed our progenitors in the fraction of the time. I’m not saying there won’t be dire economic consequences of the lockdown. But the fact that we can do it at all and pull through together is because our economic prosperity is so prodigious, our capacity to help each other (with time, with donations, with resources) is so plentiful, and our technological advancements (laptops, mobile phones, the Internet, Skype, Zoom, etc) are so impressive. None of our ancestors could have afforded a lockdown like this.

There’s no question that people living 100 years ago wouldn’t have been able to give up work for 6 months and survive; and people of 50 years ago would have done slightly better than them, but still would have only been able to give up a fraction of their work time compared to now. The consensus for a lockdown was equally a consensus (whether known or unknown) for the triumphs of capitalism. And the consensus for the benefits of pulling together and voluntarily helping each other is equally a consensus (whether known or unknown) for the triumphs of a socio-personal-kind of socialism (the one I’m always advocating) that doesn’t interfere with the fundamental beneficial mechanisms of the free market. 

And if you’re tempted to respond that the government’s financial rescue mission during the Coronavirus is a testament to the powers of a socialistic redistributionist economy, then your error is a bit like a man who sees a passer-by jump into the river to save a drowning boy and thereby concludes that it’s a good thing when we all jump into rivers, mess our clothes up and risk drowning ourselves in the process as we get tangled up in the reeds and stuck in the muddy river bed. 

Here’s why. The principal metric of a successful financial economy is in ascertaining value (which is consumer surpluses + producer surpluses). Created value helps us determine whether resources are being allocated well or poorly, and prices provide the information signals that help us determine whether resources could be allocated even more optimally. The sharing of ideas through competition is what helps us advance, not just in terms of improved allocation of resources, but also in terms of better products at cheaper prices and more readily available to meet increasing demand. The government hand-outs are a necessary act to help in a crisis – but they are an attempt to save trees that have already been planted, not to irrigate once barren ground in the way that capitalism does. It's only because of capitalism that there is any government or socialism at all.


Monday, 4 May 2020

This Stunning Picture Caught My Eye.....

The image above caught my eye when shared on Facebook. Its creators have called it a Bible Visualisation Graph. Here's Chris Harrison, one of its developers, describing how the image was developed and what the viewer is seeing:

"This set of visualizations started as a collaboration between Christoph Römhild and myself. Christoph, a Lutheran Pastor, first emailed me in October of 2007. He described a data set he was putting together that defined textual cross references found in the Bible. Together, we struggled to find an elegant solution to render the data, more than 63,000 cross references in total. As work progressed, it became clear that an interactive visualization would be needed to properly explore the data. Instead we set our sights on the other end of the spectrum –- something more beautiful than functional. At the same time, we wanted something that honoured and revealed the complexity of the data at every level. This ultimately led us to the multi-coloured arc diagram. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate in colour between white and light gray. The length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible is depicted by a single arc – the colour corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect."

What are we to make of it? Is the pattern pretty? Yes, I’d say so. Is the Bible Divinely inspired? Yes, absolutely. But even with both of the foregoing being true, the kicker question is this; is the Bible arc pattern significant in any meaningful way beyond a lot of mathematical noise and pretty rainbow-like pattern? This is a complex matter, for which I'll attempt a cross-examination here.

For the prosecution
I'm not convinced that the internal cross referencing is as remarkable as many people jumping on the bandwagon are claiming. There is, no doubt, a power law of connectivity between the Old Testament and New Testament (and within the two Testaments), but the magnitude of cross-referencing is first and foremost because of the length of the book and its complex but cohesive narrative. Once we drill down into the accretive layers of the pretty pattern, what's most important here is not so much the number of connections, but the power and significance of those connections. After all, if we looked for all the cross-referencing of common themes in The Complete Works of Shakespeare, then we could likely find a similar pattern of connectivity as the Bible arc, especially if we studied the texts in a linear fashion (the same would probably be true if we looked for thematic connectivity in something like Derek Winnert's book of film reviews or Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - we'd probably see something similar, albeit not quite as powerful).

The other problem with deciphering patterns of this kind is that they are only as meaningful as the imputations of the beholder. As I said in my essay on free will:

"Whether we are talking about information in Shannon terms, or even as a more generalised concept, information can't reasonably be treated merely as some kind of intrinsic property embedded in the system itself - it is necessary that information should be seen as an extrinsic property of a system too. That is to say, a system contains information by virtue of its relation to another agent or system capable of perceiving, interpreting and responding to that information. For example, a computer program, a set of songs, or a bunch of holiday snaps burned onto a disk is information only inasmuch as it consists of patterns that can be used by that computer as instructions. Likewise the Bible only contains information by virtue of its relation to minds that have the capacity to correctly interpret the meaning though cognitive instructions. We must always bear in mind that expending resources on information through interpretation and analysis requires a second descriptive sense, because it is "information" intrinsically and yet also "information + mind" extrinsically."

When it comes to the Bible, a seven year old boy might be able to determine meaning in the texts but distil no meaning from the cross-referencing; whereas a Bible scholar would incorporate profound evocation of meaning into the patterns that young boys would not. In other words, the real remarkability of text patterns is always likely to find its provenance in the complexities of human thinking and the associative psychology and culture that bootstraps the meaning behind the context. What might make the Bible arc patterns insignificant beyond their immediate attractiveness to the eye is that we could probably take any linear text (say the complete works of Shakespeare, or a set of historical encyclopaedias) and form links between parts of the text at random and generate a similar pattern to Harrison and Römhild's pattern.

For the defence
Even if all the above is true - and I think it is - there is no question that the Bible is the most remarkable book in the world in terms of its multi-layered connectivity and profound complexity. And whether you're a Christian or not (I am), let me tell you one thing with absolute certainty: if you don't try to evaluate the Bible through the starting lens of 'This is the most astounding book ever written', your interpretation of it will be grossly inadequate to the task of uncovering its deeper rewards.

I suppose for the contemporary mind such as ours, a good way to illustrate this is to think of it as a book of stunningly complex hyperlinked text. We all know what hyperlinks are in the modern age. If you surf the Internet you can traverse the digital globe through a vast nexus of connected web-pages, knitted together by hyperlinked functions (like this). The Internet is the world's most remarkable modern achievement - but what makes it remarkable is the collective bottom-up intelligence behind it. It is the best living example of evolutionary emergence of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer. Nobody sat down one day and planned the Internet as a fait accompli phenomenon - it is a global system of interconnected computer networks that evolved over time, and it is still evolving, in a cumulative step by step process of trial and error that tailors to our tastes and needs like a simulacrum of mind itself. It provides a microcosmic example of where the complex emergence of order occurs not from being designed top down, but by a long natural selection-type process.

In the manner that's most significant here, the Bible is the opposite of the Internet - it is the ultimate top-down work in nature. But it is also the ultimate bottom-up work too (a fact many Christians are woefully incompetent at grasping), as the writers are afforded the dignity and grace to colour and flavour the narrative with the intensity of human perspective - both positively and negatively, but always authentically humanly. The scriptural accounts involve the huge conceptual wiggle room to factor in the whole gamut of human qualities and flaws: they form the substrate of every future human narrative henceforward from its creation.

Regarding the mathematical function on the x-axis of Harrison and Römhild's pattern representing the 64,000 textual cross references found in the Bible - this leads us to the 64,000 dollar question, regarding to what extent this zooming in on the informational content gives good reason to think that Divine choreography is behind the process. I've already said that the patterns themselves probably aren't compelling enough on their own. But given that the Bible consists of 66 diverse books, written over 1500 years, in different geographical places, by people who often never met - the overarching narrative and nexus of connectivity seems to be remarkably too complex to have been fashioned by mere human insight, and with too coherent a narrative and interconnected, cohesive complexity to be written without the inspiration of God.

The information band-width of the Bible and its granular tenets that form the central narrative of the Christian love story between God and humankind (especially the prophecies about Christ's Incarnation, written hundreds of years before the New Testament) is too broad and ingenious for such a tapestry of complex, consistent, internally self-referencing, integrated thought and ideation to have been written by mere men. The fact that the 66 diverse books of the Bible, written over 1500 years, in different geographical places, by people who mostly never met can encapsulate the rich and diverse historical, cultural and psychological complex of the range of authors and contributors, yet also imbue the ingenious coherence of a single author and not of a contrived message between writers, is testament to its majesty.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Coronavirus Tip: When Appropriate, Become Schrödinger's Shopper

The lockdown during Coronavirus is excessive because the law is too low-resolution to capture the full and complex gamut of human needs. While there's definitely a spectrum ranging from essential trips (key workers doing their jobs, food shopping, getting medication for a vulnerable family member) to non-essential trips (parties, barbecues, sports events), there are definitely trips out that are currently deemed illegal that are both harmless and socially beneficial.

Here are some fictional cases I just made up. Take beloveds Jack and Jill, who both live on their own and work from home, but who visit each other because they love and miss each other. Take Bob, who suffers from depression, and who finds solace in his weekly catch ups around his best friend Frank's house. Take Margaret, who lives alone, but who takes inspiration from going out to paint landscapes, and needs to keep busy and creative for her own well-being. Or take Belinda who has started dating Jack and doesn't want the seed of something special to fail to germinate; or Wendy who comforts her brother and recent widower David with hugs and help with his domestic responsibilities.

While we can easily sympathise with the spirit of the current social restrictions, there are many safe, low-risk ways to go out that impose no significant danger for anyone else but the participants, but that would be prohibited under the current lockdown laws, and constitute an unfair imposition on the people involved.

To those people, my light-hearted tip to get around this problem and avoid having to lie to the police if you're stopped is this: become what we might call Schrödinger's Shopper. That is, when you go out safely to see your beloved, or safely to provide a hug and comfort for your lonely friend, or safely to buy the paints you need to stimulate your life with meaning and avoid the doldrums of mental inertia, adopt a Schrödinger-esque superposition state of being both a shopper or not a shopper depending on whether you get stopped by the police.
If you're travelling to see another person in safe circumstances, then if you make your trip without getting stopped by the police, no problem. If however you do get stopped, tell the police you're about to go shopping, and then go shopping, make your visit to where you were going, then drive home with your shopping (or shop for the person you are visiting - the world is your oyster), ensuring no lie has been told, and you've covered yourself by being both a shopper or not a shopper depending on whether you get pulled over and asked what you're doing out.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Coronavirus: The Best Strategy May Not Be As Obvious As You Think

I think the safest thing we can say about the coronavirus problem is that it's too complex for anyone to fully understand. If you try to measure on a scale of 0-100 what you think the national response should be (pretending you don't know full well that the government can't do anything like as much as people think), where 0 is 'carry on as you were and do absolutely nothing', and 100 is 'the country in near lockdown', the right response rating is going to be somewhere between 0-100. But not only is it the case that no one knows exactly what the right number response rating is, it's also inevitable that the right number response rating changes each day with each changing situation.

The situation today is roughly as the epidemiologists predicted - the virus has spread considerably and will infect many more people as it heads towards its peak. We also know that the coronavirus is growing exponentially, and that the earlier the countries responded with things like social distancing and self-isolation, the slower the spread of the virus.

For some, it seems obvious – the UK government has made a huge blunder by not reacting earlier to encourage social distancing and putting us in lockdown. But as I said, this problem is highly complex, and just because some countries slowed the spread of the virus by acting early, that doesn't mean every country should do the same.

Here's why. Let me tell you a few things we don't know. We don't know how many people in the UK have the coronavirus, we don't know the dynamics of exactly how it will spread, or exactly how fast, or among whom, nor the patterns of immunity, nor the complex dynamics of knock-on effects. But I can tell you two things I do know with a reasonable degree of confidence.

First, you as an individual know your own cost-benefit ratios for every social situation better than anybody else. If the benefit of a particular event of social interaction isn't significant to you, then stay at home. And like a sorites-type analysis (when does a heap become a heap?) the older you are, the more important this cost-benefit consideration becomes. Don't take unnecessary risks for relatively small gains. There are so many positive things you can do when you're self-isolating - things that really matter; prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading, learning, family relationship-building, writing emails to friends, catching up on jobs your future self won't have time to do when things are busier, you name it.

Second, in case anyone isn't entirely clear on this, the reason people shouldn't panic buy isn't just because we should all be kind, thoughtful citizens who need to be mindful of the negative effects on society's most vulnerable (although that is a good enough reason in itself). No, it's also because, even if your short-term interests are narrow enough to stockpile, and you think it's wise to only look after yourself and your immediate family, you'll very likely go on to hurt your future self and your future immediate family too in the long run, because further down the line everyone's well-being and stability is both proximally and distally connected to everyone else's. 

To see why, imagine if panic buying yields something like a Pareto distribution (otherwise known as the 80/20 rule - roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes), where a high proportion of the necessary goods are stockpiled by a small proportion of the people - it could slowly knock-on to retard the supply and demand distributions across the UK, until it hurts people the stockpilers also rely on. Somewhere down the line, the teachers, nurses, bus drivers, shop assistants and delivery drivers might pay the price of your stockpiling in a way that snaps back to undermine the supply chains to the goods and services on which your future self and your future immediate family will also rely. The economy needs to stay as stable as possible, and the supply and demand links must flow as steadily as possible for the good of everyone. Everyone carrying on only buying what we need is a good way to help this stability.

Nobody, including me, knows exactly the best way to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in exactly the right way with exactly the right courses of action at exactly the right times - and anybody that tells you otherwise is either a liar or deluded. But I'm going to make a suggestion that has a good chance of being somewhere near right. Just like the damage to the supply and demand chains I mentioned with the panic buying, it is also probable that short-term overreactions in terms of obstructing economic activity could decimate the economy in the longer term in ways that could harm society even more than the eventual medical effects of the coronavirus.

In other words, if you’re faced with the prospect of an economic recession (x) and a mass infection (y), you are only realistically going to see one of the following outcomes:

1) No x and no y

2) X but no Y

3) Y but no x

4) Both x and y

If we assume that 1 simply isn't going to happen, that it seems fairly certain that y is going to happen (which also rules out 2), and agree that 4 is cleary the worst scenario and the one we really want to avoid most, then it's clear that number 3 would be our least bad of all the realistic scenarios. Like everyone else, I do not know if we can achieve number 3, and even if we could, I'm not even sure how we could achieve it - but if there's an outside chance that in the medium to long term the probability of an utterly decimated global economy could be traded off against a slightly larger set of infected people in the short term, then it's possible that not going into a complete shutdown is something our future selves will thank us for in the long run.

Given that a lot of people are going to be infected, they can either be infected with a decimated economy, or with only a badly hit economy, and it isn't easy to know how bad the economic damage will be, or the rate of the spread of infection, because the further into the future we try to go with our predictions, the greater the possibility of margin of error. But equally, it isn’t obvious that we could have realistically stopped an exponential spread, given that we don't have an authoritarian political system, and that so many infected people remained under the radar, so there might be some unseen wisdom in the government's current strategy, even if it seems to many quite counterintuitive.

The upshot is, even though the natural instinct might be to try to protect everyone by mass isolation and shutting down large swathes of our industry, it really may not be the best medium to long-term strategy for maximising human utility. The best response might well be a mass bottom up approach whereby people act on new information in accordance with a medium term strategy that maximises the immediate interest as best they can. So for example, we know age determines risk of death, which means older people should act in conjunction with the greater risk their freedom poses. For now, don't go to places you don't need to go to, don't put any unnecessary strain on the NHS, and assume the conditions that minimise your chances of infection with the optimum trade off in a way that maximises value for you and your loved ones in the short term but also for the medium to long term strategies of our future selves. 

To see why this might be the best approach, consider an illustration. The economy is finely balanced with a delicate framework of connectivity- it took hundreds of years to evolve and develop. It is a bit like a well-functioning brain, and a damaged economy is a bit like the process of necrosis, which is where cells are damaged by things like infection, inflammation, injury, blood flow or trauma, leading to overall cognitive impairment. The more the brain is damaged by necrosis, the worse the cognition becomes, and the worse it can become still.

Damage to various sectors of industry could work in a similar (although not exactly identical) way. The more the supply chains are undermined, the more barriers to trade emerge, the more income lost, the more people are out of work, the bigger the economic damage - and once an economy becomes damaged to that extent, it could quite easily set off a kind of social butterfly effect of shortage, hunger and mass deprivation that governments are powerless to repair, and from which humans find it difficult to recover quickly. 

The safest bet is we'd do well not to over-react or under-react, and we'll do even better if we don't get the balance of our short-term and medium to long-term trade offs wrong - but as for the right measure, it's difficult to say on any given day.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

What You Should Do About Coronavirus (Apart From Stay At Home If You Have It)

Because people are susceptible to what psychologists call ‘magnification’ (making a massive thing out of a relatively trivial thing), it was inevitable that the coronavirus reaction would be incommensurably more overblown than the intrinsic problems the virus would have otherwise created. Yes, coronavirus is bad, and it may turn out to be really bad (and if it gets that bad we should act accordingly), but currently the mass overreactions have ensured the damage is already going to turn out to be astronomically worse than it needed to be, especially in terms of economic recession and job losses, where this mass panic into behaviour-change is causing untold damage to industries and livelihoods. 

The only chance of preventing a meltdown (if it’s not too late already) is if everyone stops overreacting - which basically means; unless you have no other option, carry on exactly as you would have before this media frenzy broke out. Don’t panic buy, don’t overconsume, don’t refrain from travelling, don’t cancel events, don’t shut up shop in a panic – at least, not yet, not until it's shown to be necessary - you’ll simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby fear of doom will create the very doom you feared.

This type of behaviour is as old as the economic hills, of course – it’s what we call “the tragedy of the commons,” derived from a scenario in which several farmers have one cow and a patch of grass (the commons) that serves everyone, but where a second cow for one farmer eventually causes overconsumption for all the cows to the point where there is no grass to consume. You can probably remember this happening with the petrol crisis about 20 years ago. People panic bought for fear of a shortage, which encouraged others to do the same, which had the net result of creating a shortage, where all the pumps ran dry. If everyone had simply carried on as normal it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.

Unfortunately, there is not an easy solution to the tragedy of the commons-type of problem, because people try to maximise their narrow self-interest, even if it culminates in a net worse collective outcome. To see why, imagine a microcosmic version of society - consider ten people sitting round a table playing a game. The table has a bowl in the middle. The game is simple; each player is given £10 to start and told that whatever they all put in the bowl will be doubled and shared evenly, and they are each allowed to put in anything up to £2 at a time. If all ten players put in £2 first off, the £20 pot will be doubled to £40, and each player gets £4 return. 

Naturally this process could keep continuing, but what tends to happen is that some of the ten will realise that if they don't put in they can improve their wealth relative to other group members. Suppose eight people put in £2 and the other two (Jack and Jill) put in nothing. The £16 pot is doubled to £32, and each member gets £3.20 back (including Jack and Jill, who are now in relative terms each £2 better off than the other eight people). While it’s better to allow a couple of freeloaders than see the whole game collapse, what’s more likely to happen is that others will try a similar strategy, making everyone else (and themselves) worse off in the long run.

It's not only Macbeth or whatshisname in Dangerous Liaisons for whom bad choices can negatively decide their own fate in ways they didn’t expect – with global phenomena and mass communication, this can happen to us all if we are not very careful with our words, actions and reactions.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

People Complain So Much Because There's So Little To Complain About

No, I really mean it - I'm not being flippant or sensationalist - it seems fairly obvious to me that this Blog title "People complain so much because there's so little to complain about" taps into a profound truth that the more advances we make, the more we complain about what we think needs fixing.
In one sense, this has to true, by definition, because more advancement means more things to assess, and more things that can go wrong or that can be improved upon even further. But for a fairly large sub-section of society, it's seems that it's not just the case that the better we do collectively in terms of standard of living and advancement of material progress the more things people find to complain about - it's also the case that the better we do, the more trivial those complaints become (clearly there are going to be exceptions, but it seems largely true).
People living in any period of about 99.95% of our 200,000 year human history would have primarily focused on mere survival and acquiring the basic necessities for daily sustenance; they wouldn’t have had time to worry about how many black people are represented on Oscar night, or whether Remembrance Sunday offends Muslims, or whether a student thinks trans women are real women. Compared to most people who’ve ever lived, a person of today needs to have a relatively comfortable life to have the luxury of complaining about most of the things that people frequently complain about.
I’m not saying our first world problems don’t provide difficulties, and nor am I denying that there is genuine hardship right across the globe. But people badly need to get a sense of perspective, otherwise every period of greater prosperity will just yield more and more frustration, and make us even more myopic towards the countless ways the world is getting better.
There’s also a danger that we could become resistant to the collective encouragement that should emerge from acknowledging what a good job we’ve done to make so much progress. I think idealists forget that we are apes; so much more than mere apes, of course, but apes nonetheless – and only relatively recently sophisticated within the timeframe of our long Savannah-dwelling history. Given the foregoing, I’d say we are actually doing remarkably well, especially in such a short time-span, and it’s only our monumental achievements that give us the cushion to enjoy such high expectations about what else we can accomplish as a species.
Sadly, complaining without a proper sense of perspective makes people less happy and more stressed, which is especially disconcerting, given that what causes the complaining is the very thing that demonstrates that there isn't all that much to complain about - increased wealth and prosperity. Life has to be pretty good in order to arrive at the luxury of being able to complain so much about so many relatively non-serious things.
There's an old joke proffered around at Christmas time:
Q) What do you buy for someone who has everything?
A) Penicillin
The joke, like all jokes of that kind, taps into a truth - the rich and prosperous are harder to buy for than the poor, because materially speaking the rich already have more of what they want. Suppose a dying billionaire asks you to put his money to the best use - you'd probably use it to give to as many poor and needy people as possible, and you'd have no difficultly in knowing what to buy them; a place to live, heating, clothes, and most basic of all, food and drink.
If you had to carry on spending on their behalf, you could improve their lives even further still with nice household furniture, a good hi-fi, TV, car, garage, conservatory extension and some holidays. But then what? Suppose you still had hundreds of millions more you had to spend on them - you'd find it harder than when you only had to decide on the basic necessities and small luxury goods. To know how to spend hundreds of millions on someone, you'd have to really work hard to learn what they'd most value - a football club, hundreds of cars, the world's biggest mansion, rare works of art, or a small island? Who knows? The point is, beyond a certain threshold, it's tough to keep spending on luxuries. If I had billions to spend on myself and wasn't allowed to give any away, I don't think it'd be easy compared with being able to use it to help others.
The picture I painted more or less describes what it's like in Britain on a smaller scale - the first few thousand pounds of our earnings are the most important - that's what pays our bills, keeps us fed and clothed, taxes and insures our car, and so forth. After that, our individuality comes out more - as we each spend our leisure money on different things.
And what I've just described applies to government spending and our public services too. Most people concur on the basics; they want a good health service that makes people better; a good education that informs pupils; a good social services system that protects vulnerable people, a good police force that keeps crime rates down, and so on. But on top of all that money pumped in, people differ on what they want that money spent on. If you had to choose between extra Home Office money going on putting more people in prison or better rehabilitation for those already in prison, opinions would diverge. The same would be true if you had to choose between extra money going into the arts or extra money going to improve our military equipment or our ecosystem – you’d never get everyone to agree.
The upshot is, it might be good to bear all the above in mind when you hear people complaining (or feel like complaining yourself) about things that aren't attached to the basic necessities – being offended on Twitter, trains being too slow; the minimum wage being too low, the country being too unequal, having to pay for your own social care out of your own savings, plastic in the oceans, the earth being a few degrees warmer, poor Broadband coverage, whether an airport should have another runway, the price of energy, and so on - those complaints are usually a sign that, with everything considered on the grand scale of human history, things are going pretty well. Rest assured; If I’d have lived in the Victorian era, I wouldn’t have had the luxury or time to write these complaints about human complaints.
* Photo courtesy of

Monday, 2 March 2020

Exploring The Ontological Argument For God's Existence

A friend asked me what I think of Anselm’s famous Ontological Argument for God’s existence. For those unfamiliar with it, the Ontological Argument is this:

1) It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).

2) God exists as an idea in the mind.

3) A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.

4) Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).

5) But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)

6) Therefore, God exists.

Anselm's Ontological Argument is interesting: It’s not as ill-conceived as many atheists claim, because Anselm was not trying to prove God's existence in the traditional sense, he was merely stating a belief in God and trying to show why he thought such a belief is rational. And equally it’s not as compelling as some Christians think, because his argument ultimately comes to grief whenever it is mistakenly offered as straightforward evidence for God.

Ideas like Anselm’s Ontological Argument work best as demonstrative, investigative ideas based on the assumption of God’s existence and that this belief is substantiated by rational sense. Arguments of the kind Anselm propounded are not so much a priori proofs of faith; rather they are a posteriori demonstrations of the harmonious link between faith and its metaphysical profundities and narrative-intense structures.

I think the ultimate point related to the Ontological Argument is whether God's nature is something qualitatively different from anything else we experience, or whether the attributes of God are filtrated into human emotions (like love, grace, mercy and justice) in an inexpressibly larger quantity (this is known as ‘kinesis’). When thought of that way, ideas like Anselm’s are very interesting starting blocks for much deeper spiritual contemplations.

When one reads poetry, fantasy novels and science fiction books, the primary force of the creativity comes from improvement of concepts that are already familiar to the everyday person (however strange the narrative). If they did not pertain to representations of life projected in everyday living they would not be sold in their millions. 

With the concept of God and whether one can imagine something so far beyond naturalistic mental precipitations that God must be reasonably inferred, the question, I think, would be something like; can it be shown that we are projecting not just a quantitative change in our current understanding but also a qualitative change in it; and if the latter, what/where is the demarcation line? 

First off, how the form provides us with narrative and metaphor and symbolism is complex because it impinges upon the extraction of meaning facilitated by our mental resources. When it comes to God's word in scripture we extract meaning and contextualisation, but that meaning and contextualisation is played out against a further backdrop of meaning and contextualisation in being itself - a sort of meta-meaning and meta-contextualisation. For example, a parable about human kindness and solicitude like the Parable of the Good Samaritan has meaning based on singular instances of helping those in need, but a broader meta-meaning can be extracted from the story related to the overall well-being of the human race and the psychological development of those who act with great concern for others. 

One of my favourite allusions to the Ontological Argument is in the Narnia tale The Silver Chair – it's known as Puddleglum's speech:

‘One word, Ma’am.  All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst of things and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. .Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just four babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. So we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland’.

The upper world is Aslan's world, which of course represents what Christ drives us towards in a relationship with Him. Just like Pascal’s wager, C.S. Lewis is stating what we could call ‘Puddleglum's Wager’ - which expresses that even if Jesus isn’t God, it is still a better life pursuing the world envisaged by Christ. It is a probabilistic venture based on the wisdom of Christ even aside from the supernatural – and it calls for a courage that many find difficult, because it asks us to ‘be perfect’ - which is about the most supernaturally unnatural thing anyone has ever said while also sounding perfectly truthful and authentic in saying it. 

The quintessence of its magic is in another altogether unexpected form; roughly this; ‘Don’t worry if you cannot believe that there’s a God’ just believe you have the courage to act as though there is one, and by your failing to live up to the standards you’ll increase your probability of belief’. I think that really is the genius of Christ – and shows precisely His coming to earth just once was more than enough for humankind to fall at their feet, believe, and have everything we need for a full life. With this, you can see why Christ assured us that, for anyone who asks, the full life will be given to them -

"Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

Puddleglum's speech is basically this: if Narnia does not exist, then fiction is more stupendous than reality - and as fiction cannot be more stupendous than reality, Narnia must be real. To translate that into Christian thinking as regards the Ontological Argument, then if Christ's claims are not based on Him being the truth, Christ's fiction appears to me to be more stupendous than any truth out there.

What I'm always telling the atheists is that I personally know of no better way to live, or no greater standards to which I’d want to adhere. I’m on Jesus’ side even if there isn’t any Jesus to lead the Christian world. If I’m guilty of making a play-world, then I fancy that the play-world into which I’m immersed and to which I’m committed licks the other ‘real’ world hollow. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

The Truth About Air Pollution Is That We've Found Something Worth Dying For

The political establishment and its media cronies have been peddling the message that air pollution is a big problem that needed fixing yesterday. This week alone, the Reading Chronicle tells us that "air pollution is responsible for one in 16 deaths in Reading", and you can regularly read similar stories about all the world's major cities. There is also a meme in circulation, about the pollution costs of air travel, where an alarmist has declared eco-planetary outrage that about a million people are travelling in the air at any one time.

Air pollution is not a good thing intrinsically, of course - but here's a better way to think about the so-called air pollution problem. People tend to focus too much on negative aspects of reality and too little on the benefits. As such they make lots of basic errors in assessing human behaviour and value. A headline like “1,784 people were killed in reported road traffic accidents in Great Britain in a year” is more newsworthy than reporting on the millions of people’s uncountable benefits from road traffic. Just about every transactional benefit you can think of involves road transport. And while it’s obviously awful that 1,784 died because of road traffic (and there may be further improvements required) it’s absolutely astounding that so much value can be created by road traffic. Most humans seem to agree with me, as every day thousands of them take to the roads or embark on transactions that require road use. Roads are, by and large, a thing to be celebrated – they are a great human triumph. They are so good that every day millions of people across the world risk a slim chance of death by getting behind the wheel.

To avoid (at best) inconsistency and (at worst) outright hypocrisy, the same kind of rationale needs to be extended to most of the things that propagandists bemoan – air pollution, sugary foods, air travel, carbon emissions – these are human triumphs with costs, not human maladies that desperately need eradicating. When it comes to benefits like big cities, eating chocolate, holidays abroad, and the astronomical progression explosion of carbon-based technology (which is pretty much everything we’ve ever invented, bought and sold), a much more accurate perspective would be to celebrate that there are so many things that humans have found that are worth risking shortening their life for.

If there really are a million people in the air at any one time, then flying confers huge benefits on society, and we should be very circumspect in calling for the cessation of such a valuable industry. Nevertheless, the environmentalists, blind to cost-benefit analyses, insist that rotten old air pollution is a big problem and that this fact is part of an unquestionable scientific consensus.

Putting aside the fact that scientific consensus on the damage of air pollution does not constitute a good economic argument to reduce air pollution, which is something that regularly confuses the masses, I did a bit of research this afternoon to see if there is anything in the argument that air pollution is bad enough to warrant trying to do something about it. Here are my conclusions. I read five articles - all of which tried to explain the cost of air pollution - but what the articles had in common was that they all peddled an agenda that veers somewhat from the truth. What was clear was that the institutions wanted air pollution to be a problem, so they made every effort to present it as a problem with some dodgy thinking.

Here’s a good example; I read some toxicological research that said “Cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, as well as respiratory infections, account for the majority of deaths from air pollution.” That looks like a squalid attempt to lump in other types of death into the statistic and attribute them to air pollution. Lots of things contribute to cardiovascular, pulmonary and respiratory-related deaths – fatty foods, smoking, stress, indolence, old age, high blood pressure, diabetes, congenital diseases, jobs exposed to dust and allergens – it’s simply misleading to ascribe them to air pollution, and reason that we should all cut down on driving and flying.

There is also the ‘framing effect’ tactic which is regularly used, as I saw in another article, which stated that “air pollution causes more deaths than malnutrition”. One way to look at it is to say how terrible that must be because malnutrition is such a big killer. Another way to look at it is to say we must have done well if the thing that decimated populations for hundreds of thousands of years is no longer the primary cause of our death. In other words, you have to make some pretty remarkable advances as a species to get to the stage where air pollution causes more deaths than malnutrition, especially when you factor in the dubious causalities I mentioned above, and the immense benefits of living in cities (already 55% of people live in cities, and another 2.5 billion are expected to move to a city by 2050).

Air pollution is a temporary problem, which will be improved upon with our technological advances. In the meantime, air pollution is the result of living for so long in such prosperity, in cities with a richer diversity and multitude of benefits that our ancestors who died young of malnutrition and infectious diseases would consider luxurious.

You have to ask some serious questions about why these people are deliberately inflating the supposed severity of these matters – and in particular, why they are manipulating the data and their language to make it sound like their ideology is the right one. The upshot is, the argument that our deaths are related to a single cause that’s easily attributable to air pollution is absolutely ludicrous; and furthermore, the fact that we are living long enough and prosperously enough to suffer the side effects of such overall higher standard of living, technological advancement and material enrichment, is part of the greatest victory humanity has ever enjoyed. The solution to the world's climate situations is to be found in trade, competition, technological innovation and the sharing of ideas – not in absurdist extreme politics.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Food Banks Are Part Of Capitalism's Success

I was interested to read this debate, which began with Labour MP Zarah Sultan bemoaning the fact that “There are more food banks in Britain than there are McDonald’s restaurants”, and the Tory MP Therese Coffey replying that “food banks are the perfect way to help the poor”.
Until today, I didn’t know that there are more food banks in Britain than there are McDonald’s restaurants, but it’s a very interesting fact, because if you laud McDonald’s as a capitalist success in providing thousands of jobs and thousands of hungry people with cheap fast food, then you should laud food banks as part of capitalism’s success in providing Brits with so much opportunity to voluntarily donate food to those in need of a helping hand.

It’s true we should lament the fact that there is so much reliance on foodbanks; but that is no more the fault of capitalism than headaches are the fault of paracetamol or wounds are the fault of bandages. Quite the reverse, capitalism is to poverty as paracetamol is to headaches - it generally makes the problem better, not worse.

If we all agree that hunger is bad, that no one should be hungry, and that if plenty of people are using food banks there must be plenty of hunger, then it’s absurd to identify the solution to a problem as the thing that’s wrong in the first place. Food banks are a triumph, they provide a way for volunteers to help others in ways that the government fails to help them. But they are mostly a way for humans to volunteer to help each other. They are one of the successes of the free market.


Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Bill Gates Gets This One Entirely Wrong

On New Year’s Eve, multi-billionaire Bill Gates called for raising taxes even higher on rich people like himself in order to reduce inequality. Here’s how he thinks it should be done:

“Although I’m not an expert on the tax code, I think America should shift more of the tax burden onto capital, including by raising the capital gains tax, probably to the same level as taxes on labour.”

There are three big problems with his idea.

Firstly, it's a bad idea because taxing capital disincentivises capital accumulation, and therefore negatively affects investment, production and labour. But it’s worse than that, because in the current tax systems money is taxed multiple times, which produces even greater inefficiencies and retardations of economic development. Taxing your earnings and then your capital amounts to double taxation, because capital gains are the fruits from the income that has already been taxed once. Taxing both income and capital is like fining a pedestrian for being drunk and then fining him again half an hour later for having too much alcohol in his bloodstream. Moreover, what Gates seems to have missed is that taxing capital is also a deferred tax on labour, because capital is earned by past labour that has already been taxed at the point of earnings, and is therefore the deferred benefits of past labour. Tax the capital that is the present reward for past labour and you’re double taxing the original labour.

Secondly, Bill Gates' proposal misunderstands something fundamental about who really pays for the capital taxes. Here's why poorer people are hurt most by taxing rich people's capital. If a rich man has £1 million pounds and puts it in a suitcase in his loft, the rest of the world is richer by £1 million pounds because that's £1 million pounds' worth of resources that aren't being consumed. In economics, people are negatively affected not by other people's hoarding of money, but by other people's spending or use of resources. This is because people aren’t rich by having money - they are rich because of what that money buys (goods, free time, holidays, etc). When Jack earns a bank note and doesn't spend it, the rest of the world is one bank note richer, because Jack produced one bank note's worth of goods and didn't consume them. By not using fuel, there is more for everyone else; by not having a big mansion there is more bricks and mortar for everyone else; by not buying a yacht there are more raw materials for those who might wish to build a shed or a new porch.

I said that in hoarding his bank notes and not spending them on resources, Jack leaves more for everyone else. How are those extra resources shared around? Well it depends on how the savings are made. If Jack puts £1 million pounds worth of banknotes in his loft and never touches them, then everyone else is better off by £1 million pounds, which they'll find by having the prices of goods driven down. If Jack takes his £1 million pounds out of the loft and puts it in his bank he will bid down interest rates to the tune that others will be able to afford £1 million pounds worth of goods or services. Conversely if he buys £1 million pounds worth of timber he will bid up the price of timber for everyone else, and reduce the supply too. 

The moral of this story is that when money is spent by Jack we all become poorer not richer. Every banana or laptop or car Jack buys there will be one less banana, laptop or car, and the prices of those goods will rise. When Jack buys a banana, the rest of the world will be able to buy one less banana.

If we translate that to billionaire Jack, and raid his savings for tax gains, here's what you'll find. Jack's money is just paper and ink - it doesn't produce a new council HS2 office. What produces a new council HS2 office is bricks, concrete, steel, wood and glass. If you tax him £1 million pounds, you don't get the HS2 council office, because Jack doesn't have any bricks, concrete, steel, wood and glass. So those resources will come from somewhere else, which means there'll be fewer restaurants, cinemas, car parks and roads. When the government taxes Jack £1 million pounds for the HS2 office, the price of bricks, concrete, steel, wood and glass gets bid up, and the gymnasium or bowling alley never gets built because the cost is slightly too expensive.

Let me spell that out again, because so few people seem to realise this. If you tax Jack £1 million pounds but Jack's consumption remains unaffected, then the consumption costs will land on those it does affect, and that will probably be on Jill who can no longer acquire a mortgage or Dick who can no longer afford to fund his idea for a small business. This does not mean that there are never good ways for governments to spend money - just that the popular idea of taxing rich people at no cost to poorer people is an idea built on a fundamental misunderstanding about who pays the costs of taxation.

Now let's take it further, and consider how all money is spent (by both poor and rich people). What people forget most is that the state doesn't provide anything - only people provide things, through their work, their skills and their ideas (doctors, nurses, teachers, HR consultants, etc). The state can only claim to provide at an abstracted, filtering level what people actually provide at the ground level in hospitals, schools, and so forth. If workers cannot provide something, the state cannot provide it either. The only thing the state can do that workers cannot do on their own is take money from people and spend it on their behalf. Because of the free-rider problem, sometimes this works (as in defence and rule of law), but often it just causes inefficiencies.

Consider a country with no central government providing any services at all apart from defence, rule of law, welfare, roads and some light regulations. In this country pretty much every pound you spend goes exactly where you’d choose to spend it, and ditto everyone else. Let’s call it model 1. Now consider our current UK model (let’s call it model 2), and ask yourself how closely the current state spends its money roughly similar to how its citizens would spend it if left to their own desires. In a Gini coefficient type of measurement, where 1 equals the state spends our money 100% exactly as we’d spend it ourselves, and 0 equals the state spends our money 0% exactly as we’d spend it ourselves, what would the true figure be? Would it be 0.75, where the state spends our money about three quarters as well as we’d spend it ourselves? Or would it be 0.50 perhaps, where they spend it half as well? Or perhaps even 0.25?

What we do know is that it’s impossible in model 2 for the state to spend our money exactly as well as we’d spend it, but we also know that there will be some things on which the state spends our money roughly as we’d spend it. To get a rough idea of what you think the true figure might be, imagine you are a self-employed person who refuses to pay any tax in the next financial year. Instead of paying the tax, you spend the money however you want: on some education for your daughter, you contribute a little towards defence and to the police force, you help support the local youth club, you do a grocery shop and donate it to a food bank, you buy a few more things you otherwise couldn’t afford, and you save a little in a private pension fund and a health care fund. Because of this, you get hounded by the government for not paying your taxes, and eventually arrested, sent to court, fined, re-arrested, sent to court again, and eventually to prison. Your crime was spending the money you earned on whatever you wanted to spend it on for the good of you, your family, your city and your country.

Now consider what you spent the rest of your money on – the money the government was going to let you keep anyway. You were going to buy a Laptop, but you decided on a tablet; you were going to buy a summer house but instead you bought a family holiday to the Lake District; you were going to buy a cheeseboard but instead you bought a DVD; you were going to give a donation to Cancer Research but instead you gave it to WaterAid. At no point would you get any threatening letters, have to appear in court, or get sent to prison - your consumption habits were freely chosen and with a multitude of choices at your disposal, with suppliers competing for your custom. I hope you can see from that illustration how markedly different model 1 is from model 2.

Thirdly, not only is Bill Gates’ desire to target wealth that has already been taxed at the point of labour a regressive one, it directly contradicts the environmentalist work he champions elsewhere. Here’s why. There are only three things the present earthly inhabitants can do to make the world a better place for our descendants. We can consume less, leaving more resources for them to consume; we can work harder to create future value in the form of goods and services that they will inherit and build upon; and we can innovate by advancing our technological capabilities and standard of living that they will inherit and build upon. Increasing capital taxes reduces the incentive to save, increases the incentive to consume, and diminishes the incentive to work and innovate, which has a triple whammy negative effect on the three things that will do most good for future generations.

Monday, 25 November 2019

On The Big Five Personality Test

There have been many schemes of classification for the human personality over the years (Myers-Briggs, Facet5, the Colour Code Personality Profile, to name three), but probably the best of all, and certainly one of the most popular in recent times, is the taxonomy of personality traits based on the standard psychological model of the Big Five personality tests. In the last 30 years, it has become the most widely regarded of all the present analyses of personality. The Big Five personality categories are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism - and the kind of person you are is determined by how you score in each of those categories - and more broadly, how the many variable permutations of those five produce the combination of traits that make up your character.

To elaborate further, I will go through each of these categories, I will tell you how I score on each of them by way of illustration (I did the test a few years ago when it was still free - you might have to pay now), what that means intrinsically in each category, and what sort of character that makes me and others in terms of combination of categories. I will finish by trying to extrapolate from the data some general observations that I think will hold humans in good stead in their career-based deliberations.

Openness tends to mean openness to experience, and it describes a dimension of personality that enjoys intellectual curiosity, appreciation of art, sensitivity to beauty, and often broad, expressive interests. People with a low score on openness tend to have narrow interests, and be quite conservative and resistant to change. I score very highly on openness (generally around the 85th percentile), which is unsurprising because I enjoy being very curious, flexible, tolerant and receptive to ideas.

But equally, people who are high in openness and highly intelligent will also often be quite rigid in their views, and I will explain why. The reason I don't score even higher in openness is because I score low on some aspects of standard openness like gullibility, indifference, conformity and being too easily adaptable.

This is a good balance to strike: be high in openness, and yet be unwilling to adapt to anything that is empirically dubious, psychologically stultifying or intellectually lazy. Open people ought to have strong convictions in a whole range of subjects about which they've drawn conclusions. Many people who score high in openness tend to be quite assured about their views and beliefs because they were open enough to explore them rigorously in the first place.

Conscientious people tend to be smart, goal-oriented and purposeful, but they can also be overly-assiduous, unreliable and unadventurous. I score quite highly on conscientiousness (generally around the 70th percentile) which is quite a good combinatorial quality to have with high openness. Conscientious people who are goal-oriented and ambitious in their intellectual pursuits, and at the same time high in openness, are likely to explore ideas very freely and gracefully and arrive at firm conclusions based on well thought out methodologies. High conscientiousness is one of the strongest predictors of career success, so if you score highly on that, you might like to consider whether you could be aiming for even greater career heights.

Extraversion and introversion are quite well known traits, and it's fairly easy to observe in people where they sit on this spectrum. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are energetic, and often experience positive emotions. Introverts are the opposite; they tend to be quieter, more insular and less socially active. I score very highly on extraversion (generally around the 80th percentile), which is interesting because I am rather like an introvert trapped in an extravert's body. Like other extraverts, I thrive by associating with others and being exploratory in nature when it comes to other people's personalities, but I am also frequently exhilarated by solitary pursuits and can go without socialising for sustained periods of time. Keep an eye out for the introverts in your team who are also high in openness and conscientiousness – they may have great ideas that are not being expressed within the team, and therefore not heard.

Agreeableness is a lot to do with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals tend to value getting along with others, and are friendly, gregarious and generous. I score quite highly on agreeableness (generally around the 65th percentile) and that may be surprising to some, given my no-nonsense approach to establishing truth and facts. But it isn't very surprising to me, because even though I value competition of ideas and hardline rigour, I do value relationships with people very highly, care about their well-being, and have a high regard for mutual cooperation, despite being quite feline in nature (which probably explains why I only score moderately high on agreeableness).

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions. People who score highly on this tend to have a greater susceptibility to anxiety, anger, or depression. I score relatively low on neuroticism (generally around 30th percentile) because I am quite low in intensity, fairly easy-going, and unlikely to respond emotionally erratically to situations that require a calm, balanced response. Being high in openness, it's good that I'm relatively low in neuroticism, as they can be a problematical pair, because open people tend to be exploratory and enjoy complexity and philosophical intractability - and if you're high in neuroticism you may find this difficult and emotionally challenging. Neuroticism does have advantages, particularly if you're high in conscientiousness, like caring for your own well-being, and knowing yourself well, meaning you're quite open about your emotions.

Bringing this together
There are numerous combinatorial links to these different personality scores, and there isn't a typical optimum profile to which one ought to gravitate, because there are contrasts in each trait that bring to bear different strengths and weaknesses on the personality. For example, people who score high on extraversion may have the positive quality of being intellectually adventurous, but people who score low may be quite cautious in a way that makes them unsusceptible to flights of fancy. A team that has one of each will often perform better than a team that has two of one or two of the other. People who score high on agreeableness may be gentle, but people who score low might have a reliable strength of their convictions. People who score high on openness may reap the many benefits of not having too much of a closed mind, but people who score low on openness may not drift waywardly so often, and remain quite grounded in some views.

Agreeable people can be kind, thoughtful and compassionate, but are often vulnerable to manipulation. Disagreeable people may be a strong, influential force in the workplace, but they may not have much of ear for compromise when it comes to listening to people’s needs. IQ is an excellent predictor of academic achievement and career accomplishment, as is conscientiousness – and you’re more likely to thrive if you score highly in extraversion and low in neuroticism.

It can be hugely beneficial to complete your own Big Five personality test, because the five basic dimensions of the personality have reliable predictability of performance in the workplace, as well as in relationships and other forms of interpersonal interaction. With a more thorough understanding of the core essence of your personality, you get to understand how you’re likely to react in adapting to a rapidly changing situation, whether your ideas are likely to be heard in a meeting, how well equipped you are to take the lead in complex situations, how you’re likely to handle those difficult conversations, whether you’re a good motivator, whether you are more likely to thrive working on your own initiative or as part of a team, whether you’re more suited to working with people or with things – the list goes on. The Big Five test can also provide clarity in identifying your talents, skills and character, whereby it can help you ensure you’re performing the right role in the right job, and it can help you in navigating a career path that will give you better job satisfaction and a higher level of contentment.

The Big Five could be a fun thing to try if you're part of a couple too, or even if you're looking to find a beloved - it can help identify your key relationship strengths and weaknesses, it can assist you in ways to complement and learn from each other, or simply help you understand your personality profile better to help find you a good match in the dating pool.

Whichever way it engenders the most benefit for you - whether it be in your career, in love, in your social milieu, or simply as a way to understand yourself better (as per Socrates' great instruction to 'know thyself'), understanding your personality at a deeper level is going to be hugely beneficial for you in a number of ways.