Friday, 28 February 2014

Why Bankers' Bonuses Should Be *More*, Not Less


You may have noticed there has been a lot of indignation over the notion of bankers' bonuses - particularly since the financial crisis. Mention the two words "Bankers' bonuses" and most people you meet are likely to react as though you've told them they are being forced to spend a cold, rainy weekend in Bognor with Diane Abbott, Mehdi Hasan, Vanessa Feltz and Robert Kilroy-Silk. But aren't they onto something? Surely it makes perfect sense that bankers who make losses for the bank should not be given bonuses - it's the most obvious thing in the world, right? It might be the most obvious thing in the world, except for the fact that it is wrong.

For a lot of complex reasons that I won't bore you with in this Blog post (but on which I do elaborate in more detail here for those that are interested), if a bank can get away with apportioning some of the salaries in the form of bonuses, it is better than paying inflated salaries. So bonuses often aren't the financial bogey that people think they are - but let's get to the heart of it, though, with some questions:

Isn't it true that sometimes bonuses are a bogey?

Yes, but consider who's to blame.

Reckless bankers?

Sometimes, but the problem is underpinned by government interference. Consider that bankers were not regulated 100 years ago, yet banks were still full of profit-seekers. What changed is that a culture of recklessness came about primarily due to guarantees bestowed by the government.

But how do government guarantees encourage recklessness - bankers will only make deals they think are profitable, won't they?

The problem is, if depositors no longer benefit to the same extent by bankers' felicity, their incentive to look for prudence is diminished. When the government guarantees the losses of depositors, the depositors no longer have to monitor carefully whether the bank is a prudent lender. But as well, in such a culture, depositors are primed to favour riskier bankers, because higher risks increase the chances of higher rates of interest for their depositors in successes, whereas they only increase the chances of a government (i.e. taxpayers) bail out in failures.

Ah, so the government are the ones laying down a cushion for recklessness?

Primarily, yes.

What's the solution - stop the nationalisation and the bail outs?

It would have been better to never have started them. It's difficult to withdraw now as the State acts (among other things) to protect the capital of ordinary citizens whose money is tied up in failing banks.

However, as regular readers of my Blog probably hoped would be the case - I do have a solution. Scrap bankers' salaries and get them to work on a bonus-only culture relative to their success. This is not alien to many bankers anyway; a great many have variable pay in shares, or in a bank bonus, contingent on the share price. These are reliable indicators because share prices are a good measure of a bank's performance - but the system probably needs tweaking to give greater incentive against failure.

Which bankers are most likely to be attracted to such a pay structure? Fairly evidently it is bankers with the greatest ability to make lots of money for their bank. It is for that reason that the system of bankers selling their talents for pay-based rewards would work best. It's best for talented bankers with financial nous and business acumen, it's good for shareholders, and it's good for the economy too.

To see why it would work, consider a car boot sale as an analogy. With car boot sales sellers pay a few pounds for a pitch because they expect to make more than the pitch fee in items sold. A car boot sale with a £5 pitch fee is pretty standard in the UK. If all prospective car boot sale sellers in the UK were suddenly hit with a mandatory £15 sellers' fee you'd find people with lower quality items would be less inclined to bother buying a pitch. Those with lots of quality goods might still be tempted, though, because they would have confidence that their net sales would exceed the £15 pitch cost. Charging a pitch fee, be it £5, £10, £15 or whatever is a great way to organise a car boot sale, because the fee, and the effort to drive down and set up, attracts only sellers who think they have enough quality items to sell and return a profit.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of charging for a pitch, car boot organisers started to pay people to set up stalls. There'd be recklessness, as sellers would turn up in their droves, pitching lower quality items safe in the knowledge that they'll make a bit of money anyway.

Now apply that to bankers pitching for their own successes. Just as you don't need to pay car boot sellers with lots of quality goods to sell, you don't need to pay bankers with lots of business acumen and financial nous inflated salaries to perform well. To get them to make good decisions, you only need to give them share-based or bonus-based incentives to do what they do best, because their own wealth is tied up in their success.

The banking system would be much better if bankers' bonuses were more, not less, and their salaries capped at zero - because increased bankers' bonuses would mean increased revenue for the bank as a result of prudent investments, or increased revenue for the bank as a result of overseeing a profitable merger for which they receive a percentage of the bank's often very large fee.

* Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Be Encouraged: Why Writing Blogs Is A Bit Like Publishing Books



There are perhaps 3 main rewards for writers:

1) The personal enrichment that comes from forming your ideas and writing about them. 

2) Being able to share your writing and attaining positive* public feedback (in the form of praise, prestige, admiration, notability and reputation).

3) Making a living (or in some cases a fortune) from doing something you love.

Not every writer has number 3, but every writer can have numbers 1 and 2 (in the case of 2, assuming they're any good). 

For those for whom number 3 is a bonus and not to be expected, and for those not being paid by newspapers or magazines, 1 and 2 can still be obtained either through writing books and attempting to get them published or through writing Blogs.
If we assume the pleasure of 1 is steady irrespective of 2 (that certainly is the case for me), then a writer has an interesting consideration regarding number 2.  Blog writers like me are not being paid for Blog posts, but we can share information to a wide-ish audience, and obtain positive public feedback.

Playing around gracefully with hypotheticals, as I often like to do, I wonder what sort of value I (or anyone like me) would place on number 2 in all sorts of scenarios. Suppose there were 50,000 impressed readers reading my Blog for free each week vs. 50 super-duper impressed readers who would pay £2 per week to read my Blog (I doubt it - but humour me). What's better for the writer - all that adulation and no money, or 0.1% of the adulation and £100 per week? What about 100,000 non-paying impressed readers per week vs.100 super-duper impressed readers who would pay £2 per week to read my Blog (earning £200 per week for me) - which of those is preferable to most writers, or is it fairly evenly split? Perhaps the mass adulation would be worth losing £100 per week for but not £200. I don't know. There are lots of other factors too, and I haven't given them a lengthy consideration.

In real life terms, though, how might my Philosophical Muser Blog fit into the above consideration? Let's start by asking the following question. Suppose you're a budding writer - would you be happy if you wrote a book, had it published, and it sold 4562 copies?** There are, of course, a lot of variables attached to that question (even aside from financial ones). When it comes to expectations, if you're Lawrence Krauss or Francis Collins then 4562 copies sold would be a flop. If you're JK Rowling then 4562 copies sold would be a disaster. If you're an unknown sending off a book you're not that pleased with or bothered about then 4562 copies sold would be quite a success. If you're an unknown who has written what you think is your magnum opus then the disappointment of only 4562 copies sold may outweigh the pleasure at getting a publishing deal.

The number 4562 is not insignificant in my deliberations. My Blog reader count is 188,488. If we say that each hit has an average time of 2 minutes, which accounts for those who spend less time per hit and those who spend more, then that amounts to a total of 9124 hours for my aggregate readership. If we say that an average regular size book takes 2 hours to read, then 9124 hours of Blog reading is equivalent to the reading time of 4562 books. Thus, if I take into account only the information shared and the readership interest, then my writing this Philosophical Muser Blog has been roughly equivalent to writing a book that has sold 4562 copies.

As it happens, I am writing books as well, but haven't yet reached the stage of attempted publication. Until then I can dabble in my Blog writing. I wanted to write this to encourage fellow Blog writers, and others writing pro bono and au gratis - if as yet you're happy with the rewards of 1) the personal enrichment that comes from forming your ideas and writing about them, and 2) being able to share your writing and attaining positive public feedback - then what you're doing has some of the rewards of writing a book and having it published, so be encouraged to keep up the good work.  

* That's not to say negative feedback isn't valuable - but if we are being truthful, no writer really likes it.

** You may say selling 4562 copies has the added benefit of enhancing your future chances of being published, but consider it may have the opposite effect. Having a first relatively unsuccessful book published might be a springboard to future success, but equally its relative failure might put off any future publishers.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Women Drivers & The Counter-Productive European Court of Justice



My car insurance is due soon. I hadn't kept up with all the arcane ways that EU legislation affects UK business, but being curious about whether women still get cheaper car insurance than men on grounds of being statistically safer drivers who have fewer accidents, I looked online and found this:

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the long-established practice of setting insurance prices according to gender is illegal discrimination. The Court's decision forced members of the European Union to introduce a ban on gender-based pricing.

So, in basic terms, car insurers used to yield to market-based risk calculation (using a reliable tool called actuarial mathematics) and offer statistically safer drivers cheaper premiums (perfectly sensibly, in my view). Then the EU decided that it's much better to ignore all this data and assent to a spurious anti-unfair-discrimination policy, while failing to see the irony that in penalising statistically safer people for purposes of parity they are unfairly discriminating against safer drivers. This is beyond absurd. The primary measure of unfair discrimination in actuarial analyses is not treating different people differently, it is treating different people the same. Women are statistically safer drivers than men, which means they are cheaper customers, which means to increase their premium to the same as men is to unfairly discriminate against women.

The reasons why women are safer drivers are well known. Women are, on average, less likely to have fast cars, they drive fewer miles, they drive slower, they take fewer risks, and they are less aggressive than men. Giving women a lower premium based on those facts amounts to a simple and rational statistical evaluation of risk. The same is true of other considerations too - age, post code, miles per year, type of car, and so forth - each of these are important factors in risk evaluation, and the ECJ should leave well alone. The free market is the best tool for eradicating unfair discrimination in business, because pretty much any time a company decided to discriminate against women, black people, gay people, tall people, fat people, or whomever, they would pay for it with a reduction in profits*.

Of course, we know the probable motive in the ECJ's equalisation of gender - it is to guard against people with identical data having different premiums based solely on gender. But that misses the whole quintessence of how competition works in the free market. Suppose we have Jack and Jill, who are the same age, with the same car, same post code, and driving the same miles per year - the ECJ would have it that they should be given equal premiums because to do otherwise would be to discriminate on the only variable factor - gender.

But that is not what happens - while the data picks up facts like age, car type, post code, and miles per year, it doesn't account for those significant differences - speed of driving, risk-taking, aggression and other factors of mentality behind the wheel that make women more likely to be safer and have fewer accidents, and better candidates for cheaper premiums. The ECJ is guarding against the general being applied to the particular - but this is part of what makes competitive business healthy. In a free market we can work under an assumption of cheaper insurance premiums for a safer driving record at the individual level anyway - so it's a law that only actually compounds what already happens.

But we can extend far beyond that too - competing firms can solicit new custom by offering deals to acquire that custom. This proves very effective in the insurance market: some providers specialise in good deals for modified cars (like my modified Subaru), some specialise in good deals for women, some specialise in good deals for the elderly, some for first time drivers, and so on. Insurance companies have asymmetry of information when it comes to those vital premium-changers - they have transparency with data like age, post code, miles per year, type of car - but they don't have anything like the same transparency with things like speed of driving, risk-taking, aggression and other factors of mentality behind the wheel - which is where the actuary matters.

A company that's free to offer deals for women is acting on probability related to those invisible factors - but that also means women are free to look for insurers sensitive to such data, as are Subaru drivers, as are the elderly, and so forth. That's how beautifully the market for insurance rewards this innovation. If women are consistently safer, then they are consistently on average cheaper customers, which rewards those companies that are prepared in response to lower the premium for women. But if the data is spurious and women are less consistently as safe as the premium indicates then those same companies will incur a loss and adjust their women-favoured premiums to accord with that. It's a hugely efficient system that the ECJ hasn't properly factored into its considerations.

* Here's a simple illustration to show why discrimination hurts profits. Imagine there are just three beer-drinking people (Jonny, Billy and Jenny) in a village of one thousand people. Jonny makes home brewed beer to sell to his two friends Billy and Jenny, both of whom love home brewed beer and will pay £3 a pint for it, each drinking around 30 pints per month. Jonny suddenly develops a sexist mentality and refuses to sell beer to Jenny on the grounds that she's a woman. As a result, Jenny spends her beer money on other things and Jonny only sells beer to Billy. Clearly being a sexist has hit Jonny in the pocket. How much has Jonny's dissemination cost him per month? Selling 30 pints per month to Billy and Jenny generates £180 per month for Jonny - so by discriminating against Jenny, Jonny has cost himself £90 per month. That's as simple as I can put it to show why unfair discrimination is bad for profits.

** Photo courtesy of womenscheapcarinsurance.co.uk

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sometimes 'Life' Should Mean 'Life'

The European Court of Human Rights declares that it is a violation of human rights for criminals to be incarcerated for life with no hope of release. Such a declaration is, in my view, based on two faulty assumptions:

1) That there are no heinous conditions under which an offender should be expected to forgo his or her freedom for life.

2) That there are no criminals dangerous enough to warrant permanent incarceration, and no crimes committed, for which an offender should be locked away for life to keep the public safe from future harm.

Both those assumptions strike me as being false enough to cast serious doubt over the position of The European Court of Human Rights on this one. I'm glad to hear that the Court of Appeal made the right decision today.

* Picture courtesy of walesonline

Thursday, 13 February 2014

"Smoking" Gun Evidence of Inconsistency


Parliament is now going to change the law on stealing food. It thinks stealing food is bad, but it thinks stealing some food is worse than stealing other food. From now on if you steal fresh fruit, chocolate or bread you will have committed a crime; but if you steal cereal, tinned food or crisps you will have committed no crime. Sound absurd? It is, but it is no more absurd than the government's latest 'no smoking' policy.

Parliament thinks subjecting children to cigarette smoke is bad, so it has passed a law to make it illegal to smoke in a car when there is a child in the back. But it has made no law against smoking whilst pregnant or smoking 40 a day in the living room surrounded by children.

My intention here is not to comment on whether the 'no smoking in a car with children' law is a good or bad move - it is to say that Parliament's position on this is inconsistent by being incomplete. Either it is a bad thing to harm children with your cigarette smoke or it is not. The State says it is, and most people agree. Therefore if the State is committed to a view that harming children with your cigarette smoke is bad enough to be illegal in the car, it should be consistent in being committed to a view that harming children with your cigarette smoke whilst pregnant or smoking 40 a day in the home should also be illegal.

Some would argue that smoking in the car with the child is more harmful to the child than smoking when pregnant. It seems obvious to me that the opposite is true. Car journeys are occasional and usually brief; whereas being pregnant is a constant nine month process. Who would you rather be: a child in the back seat whose parent sometimes opens the window when they drive, has one cigarette whilst holding it out the window, and blows any exhaled smoke outside, or a foetus inside a mother who smokes 10 cigarettes a day for eight and a half months? Whilst neither would be ideal, I'd choose the former.

Banning smoking in the house sounds like a step too far. Not banning smoking whilst being pregnant sounds like a failure to act. But in declaring that harming children with cigarette smoke is bad enough to warrant a law being passed to law to make it illegal to smoke in a car but not whilst pregnant or chain-smoking around kids in the home, Parliament has created a difficult position for itself, where it is either compelled to pour more fuel on the flames of legislation it considers necessary and extend the ban to pregnancy and home, or it has to adopt an inconsistent position whereby all flames are equal but some are more equal than others.

* Photo courtesy of cararena.com

Monday, 10 February 2014

Why We Never Have, & Never Will, Predict Anything New


Hang on, I hear you protest, of course we predict things, don't we? We make predictions in everything from carefully studied specialised subjects like evolutionary biology, to simple sub-conscious predictions like 'tomorrow darkness will follow the day'. This is true, but it's a somewhat different thing. To understand why we don't predict anything new, you have to understand what is meant by 'new', and also that what we think are predictions are actually arrangements of ideas based on prior experiences. So in saying we never predict anything, what I mean is, we never predict anything that isn't already part of our repertoire of prior experience. 

This was a groundbreaking observation by empiricist philosopher David Hume, and it has never been refuted to this day. Hume drew the distinction between the kind of predictions made from prior experiences (like evolutionary biology and anything related to scientific enquiry) and our inability to know or predict anything that hasn't yet been experienced. This is what he called the difference between 'causality' and 'causation'. With the necessary prior experience we can distil knowledge of cause and effect (causality), but we have no direct intuitive ability to distil a connection between cause and effect (causation) - {don't worry, this will become clearer in a moment}.

Causality
Examples of causality would be something like: apples fall from the tree because of gravity, or if I bang my head it will hurt. Because of prior experience of gravity and banging our head, we can predict that when an apple begins to disconnect itself from the tree it will fall to the ground, and we can predict that if we bang our head on a low hanging tree branch it will hurt. But they are assumptions under the classical interpretation of gravity and solid objects. We could not predict from the classical system that there is a force of gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics (quantum gravity), or that the tree is largely made up of empty space. Experiences of the quantum world have enabled us to understand gravity and solidity in ways that augment the Newtonian lens of reality, but without the agency to perceive the quantum world (empirical experience, scientific apparatus, and so forth), quantum physics couldn't be predicted.

When Hume says that we can have no direct intuitive ability to distil a connection between cause and effect in terms of causation, he is saying we can’t reason prior to experience anything new about nature*.So to recap, Hume’s contention (with which I concur) was that because we only discover things from past extrapolations, we experience only causality, and not causation - and we have to experience the causality before we can know of causation. 

Causation
So what is this 'causation' that we cannot predict or know without prior experience? I'll try to explain with a couple of simple thought experiments. Suppose that as of midnight tonight a fundamental fact in the universe is going to change. While you are sleeping tonight what you thought was a fundamental law of nature gets changed; from 6am something is altered in one of nature's multi-dimensions and we no longer can have a magnetic field through the application of electricity. When you wake up in the morning, you wouldn't have any way of knowing this before you've climbed out of bed, because as far as you are concerned nothing has changed. It would be impossible for you to wake up in the morning and reason your way to the conclusion that it will be impossible to have a magnetic field through the application of electricity.

But you are about to find out; you get up at 7am with no knowledge of this fundamental change in nature - but as you go about your daily business you start to sense something is wrong, because you notice subtle empirical indications. What empirical indications do you notice?  You turn on the radio and the electromagnets that used to amplify the sound coming out of the speakers no longer do what they did yesterday. The postman rings the doorbell but nothing happens except silence.  When he pushed the button, where a tiny electromagnet would pull a metal clapper against a bell, now there is no sound at all.  You decide to pull it apart - you examine the length of conductive copper wire wrapped around the metal, you replace the battery, yet still no magnetic field around the coiled wire.  Perhaps the circuit has been interrupted so that no electricity will flow. 

You decide that that must be it - the circuit has been interrupted - so you put it out of your mind for a while. Now a bit later in the day you have been informed that you are not alone - everybody's doorbells are the same.  The electronic circuitry no longer closes an electrical loop, meaning the circuit is no longer completed - a fundamental law in nature really has changed - there is no electricity flowing, and there is no magnetic field created to enable the clapper to become magnetised. 

Now here's the rub. We could arrive at the knowledge that a fundamental law of nature had changed when we learned about new causalities, but not before we'd experienced them.  This is what the whole edifice of science is like – everything new is experienced, not predicted.  If it can be predicted, it isn’t new, it is merely extrapolated from experience already held – and this is the brilliant legacy that Hume left us.

You may think you know of some predictions – you may have thought that it was through Newton's Law of gravity that we predicted the existence of the planet Neptune; that it was through discoveries of relativistic quantum mechanics that Dirac's equations gave rise to anti-matter; and that Maxwell's theories led to the prediction of radio waves.  But once again, these aren’t instances of predicting something new – they are only instances of extrapolating from prior experiencing and arranging ideas into prescient statements about how those ideas may play out in the future.  If we could reason our way to predict things without experience, then scientists wouldn’t be in labs, they would be in quiet rooms pondering in silence or talking in groups.

For those who are still not convinced
If there are still some of you who are still not convinced that without experience we would know nothing, here’s an extreme illustration I once thought up that should help you see where you're going wrong. Imagine we grabbed a baby boy from birth, stuck him in a room, kept him alive with food and liquid for 18 years, but at the same time we disconnected his ability to see, touch, taste, feel, and listen. Consider what we'd find after 18 years. The 18 year old brain would have none of the sensory perceptions or experiential abilities that ordinary minds have - he would be mentally moribund, devoid of any of the concepts we have acquired through our experiences of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and all the learning that accompanies that sense data.

Now imagine that at 18 the young man is suddenly given all his senses. He gets to sense the outside world for the first time. He has no experience of anything yet, but in front of him is a billiard table and two billiard balls. He is about to be tested on causality by observing an experimenter rolling one billiard ball to hit the other (the billiard ball illustration is the one Hume uses, so for the sake of faithfulness I am using that too).  Because Hume maintains that we know nothing without experience, and hence, we cannot predict anything without prior experience, he would argue that there is no way our 18 year old could have any expectation of what would happen when ball 1 hits ball 2. 

An 18 year old with absolutely no prior experience is not going to have the necessary experiential capabilities to infer the billiard ball causality from ball 1 to ball 2. That is to say, it only seems obvious to us that ball 2 will move after being hit by ball 1 because we have experience of physical reality – this young man has none, so he wouldn’t know if ball 2 will roll, disappear, shatter, liquefy, melt, change colour or stay motionless.  If ball 2 stayed motionless or liquefied he would have no reason to think it strange, just as a baby would have no reason to think it strange if he saw a man flying in the sky.

Hopefully these illustrations have conveyed not just a picture of Hume’s empiricist legacy, but also a clear picture of the distinction Hume made between causation (which we don’t have) and causality (which we do have), and the still relevant knowledge he gave us that there are no new predictions without prior experience.

* In his treatise Hume speaks of the kind of cause (causality) we can know as being “An object precedent and contiguous to another, and so united with it, that the idea of the one determines the mind to form the idea of the other, and the impression of the one to form a more lively idea of the other" Or to put it another way, Hume’s notion of causality is to do with ideas built upon a succession of activities related to how we perceive the material world, which is an object of study that belongs within the sphere of physical science.

 ** Photo courtesy of wired.com

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Why We Shouldn't Make A Habit Of Compensating UK Flood Victims


I heard on the news today that some of the flood victims in Somerset (and other places) are demanding compensation from the government for the damage to their properties. Giving it to them is a bad idea, and here's why. The price of their properties would have been cheaper to buy than equivalent properties not in precarious areas with increased flood possibilities. In buying a property at a reduced rate with a higher chance of flood damage, the buyers are, in effect, taking a risk with the reward of a cheaper property commensurate with that risk.

A government that gives compensation to riskier consumers ends up subsidising risk with your (the taxpayers) money. You might say that frequent dredging solves the problem, but it doesn't because dredging constitutes part of government expenditure, so it is still a case of subsidising risk - it's just a risk subsidy in the form of dredging instead of compensation. When risk is subsidised there is more of it, and when there is more of it there are further increases in it in the future - so instead of adopting more sensible property planning in the future, there will be a continuance of risky, and even riskier, ventures.

Imagine a time, say, one hundred years henceforward when - if the climate change portents are accurate - there is regular property-damaging flooding a few times a year. A situation in which governments kept compensating the victims would exhibit a system in which prior warnings were not heeded, and were, in fact, exacerbated by irresponsibility - an irresponsibility supported by taxpayer hand-outs (if you're interested, two corollary effects would be the raising of taxes for every taxpayer, including those who live in safer areas; and raising the value of property in these flood zones, which would have the effect of limiting people’s freedom to buy cheap, higher-risk property in preference to more expensive, safer property).

Having said all that, I try to be a fair-minded, compassionate man, and I will acknowledge that, so far, flood damage to the properties in question has been relatively infrequent. Thus, if government hand-outs of this kind are rare responses to relatively unforeseen disasters for families, it is a nice thing to help them out. I would just be very wary of any government that wantonly subsidises risks - because spending other people's money on things that bring about less of an incentive to be prudent won't be a good thing if flood-frequency starts to rise.

* Photo courtesy of The Times

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why It *Doesn't* Pay To DIY

At Drexel University, designer Kelly Cobb has tried to prove a point in favour of self-sufficient local trading by making what's called the "100 mile suit" – a suit made solely of materials raised, produced, processed and constructed within 100 miles of Philadelphia. She said:

“I think about cluster economies and how ideally a small community could clothe itself. If you bring the idea of local and sustainable clothing production down to the person-to-person level, the realization that a small community could clothe itself is possible with reasonable expectations and a little ingenuity.”

Kelly Cobb is confused. Her project doesn't prove that local clothing production can be accomplished under reasonable expectations, it proves the opposite – it proves a whopping point against self-sufficient local trade. While extolling the virtues of making the 100 mile suit, Kelly Cobb and her team have forgotten to count the cost of staying local and making it themselves – namely the time, effort, and the cost of denying the volunteers other uses of their skills.

In fact, in the article we get an idea of the extent of the cost with this statement from Cobb:

“Creating the suit was a massive task. Nearly two-dozen artists volunteered 506 hours. “It was a huge undertaking, assembled on half a shoestring,”

Half a shoestring? That must be the world's most expensive half-shoestring. Let’s be ultra-conservative with our estimate by rounding it off to 500 hours, and let us suppose that the average hourly rate of the artists was only £15 per hour. Let us also ignore the additional travel time, fuel costs and other negative externalities associated with those 500 hours – that still works out at a whopping £7500 cost for the suit. For a twentieth of that price she could have bought a decent suit in just a few mintutes in any good clothes store - a suit that was made much more efficiently thanks to global trade, division of labour and specialisation of skills. 
/>