Thursday, 31 December 2015

Who Will Be The World's First Trillionaire?


We've all thought about it- will, at some point, an individual's wealth surpass $1,000,000,000,000?


Needless to say, the first trillionaire on Earth will be MASSIVELY wealthy. A trillion dollars means 1,000 x billion dollars- or a million x million dollars. If their cash was stacked in hypothetical $1000 bills, it would extend over 63 miles vertically. An 80 year old trillionaire will have earned, on average, more than $34 million every day of his life. So yeah, it's a massive amount of money (you can read more fascinating trillion dollar facts here).


But, it is such a massive figure that some are sceptical that a single individual worth over a trillion dollars will ever walk the face of the earth. The wealthiest man in the world right now, Bill Gates, would have to multiply his current net wealth around 14 times to reach such a trillion dollars.

Despite the daunting mass of such a figure, it is very reasonable to think that we may have a trillionaire within the next 100 years or so.


Rockefeller's net worth (in today's terms)
was over $350bn- over 4 times that of Bill Gates.
Let's look at the past. The first ever millionaire was John Jacob Astor, a 19th century fellow who profited massively off his monopoly of the fur trade, and later his ventures into real estate. Then came John Davison Rockefeller Sr., the world's first billionaire and on record the wealthiest man to ever have lived, with a wealth today that would be over 4 times that of Bill Gates. Rockefeller was an oil man- like Astor, a monopolist who at his peak controlled 90% of the oil in the USA.

So a common theme between these past juggernauts is monopoly- almost total domination, and complete control over their respective markets. This theme continues today (Bill Gates created the (ex?) monopolist Microsoft), and is very likely to continue when it comes to the first trillionaire. But what will he/she monopolise?

Astor created a monopoly of fur coats in a USA in its infancy of independence, Rockefeller capitalised on the oil boom of the late 19th and 20th centuries, and Gates played a key roll in bringing the personal computer to the mass market. These people did not become massively wealthy by following other businesses of the time, but by taking charge and carving out their own markets, and the first trillionaire will have to do this on an even larger scale. They will need to be a complete game-changer.

The trillionaire could produce key developments in the technology arena. Revolutionise key areas of our infrastructure- like transport (think autonomous technology), or education. But it's very difficult to speculate what particular area they will profit from- their vision will have to be such that they produce something we may not even think about right now.

Asteroids such as this have been estimated by some to be
home to raw materials worth up to $5.4 trillion.
An interesting proposition is that the first trillionaire will be the first to effectively capitalise on something we've always lived with, but been unable to grasp fully- space. In his 1997 book Mining the Sky, Professor of Planetary Science John Lewis makes the claim that "we can relieve Earth of its energy problem, make astronomical amounts of raw materials available, and raise the living standard of people worldwide" by effectively taking advantage of the wealth of materials that can be found in space, whether on planets or bodies like asteroids. Just like Rockefeller worked to capitalise on a growing but young oil industry in the US to revolutionise energy consumption, the first trillionaire could be the person who leads the revolution of our own energy consumption by venturing into space.

A far less thrilling but arguably more realistic prospect, however, is that the first trillionaire is just a current billionaire who becomes a trillionaire as his wealth accumulates and expands, thanks to investments or just ordinary inflation. The wealthiest individuals around the world are already becoming exponentially richer, and for people like Bill Gates it could just be a waiting game- albeit one with the constraint of lifespan.

Let's assume Gates lives until he's 100 (40 more years). From his current wealth of just under $80bn, he would require a 6.5% annual interest rate to become a trillionaire by his 100th year. So it is possible that he will become a trillionaire- but unlikely, considering recent US interest rates have barely been exceeding 1%.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg-
could he be one of the first trillionaires?
However, keeping money in financial institutions could enable younger billionaires, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, to become trillionaires by the time they reach old age- especially considering the extra time allowed for interest rates to increase. Again, assuming a life of 100 years, Zuckerberg would require a 4.9% rate for his $36bn wealth to grow to a trillion.

Gates and co. could make a faster journey to the top by investing all of his $80bn correctly- but again, for a man who plans to give most of his money to charity, this is unlikely to happen. Investing such a large proportion of their wealth would probably be an unlikely move for Gates' fellow billionaires to take.

So there are two scenarios- either a trillionaire rises fantastically from some groundbreaking innovation that they are able to quickly monopolise, or a trillionaire rises less glamourously thanks to favourable interest rates and/or long term investments.

The first scenario would indeed be a spectacular event, but dwelling on the second makes you realise that perhaps the first trillionaire will not be such an iconic figure. Inflation raises not just the nominal income of the wealthiest, but it raises everyone's incomes. That's why earning a 5-figure salary is not the big deal now that it was a century ago, and why earning a 6-figure salary in 2115 will probably not be as valued as earning it now in 2015. The first trillionaire could just arise from the wave of inflation that raises everyone's wealth on paper- $1,000,000,000,000, after all, is just a number, not a real wealth indicator.

So, at the end of the day, becoming a trillionaire on paper might not be as big as a deal as we think it is now.

Anyway, it could be argued that thousands of people have already become trillionaires- in a country called Zimbabwe, I've heard they even used to print bank notes in the trillions.


Mohammad Lone Editor

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Why Is It So Expensive To Live In London?


London. Capital City of England, home to the Queen, and one of the most popular cities on earth. Attracting over 16 million tourists in 2013, its charm is undeniable to those who come to visit.


See our YouTube video HERE.

But for those living in London, the story is quite different after the initial 'honeymoon period' of living in the world's greatest city passes. London is known not just for its exemplary Britishness and history but equally the dreadful cost of living suffered by its inhabitants, as sky high as the towers of Canary Wharf.

Just a few months ago, London overtook Hong Kong as the most expensive city in the world to live in- a surprising statistic when you consider that just seven years ago, London was ranked fifth. Since then (in dollar terms) the cost of working and living in the capital has risen by almost 40%, the third highest growth behind Rio De Janeiro and Sydney respectively. Consequently, we've been seeing some crazy stories, like about how this student finds it cheaper to commute from Poland weekly than live in London accommodation, and how renting an average place in Camden Town costs more than commuting from Madrid everyday. Even in Britain, London's housing is ludicrously expensive- while the nation's average house costs £299,000, according to the Greater London Authority, London's average price is currently over £530,000.

So what is the reason behind London's new status as the most costly city in the world to live in? Well, at the core of this complex issue is supply and demand. Simply put, prices are so high because demand is constantly increasing, as supply is decreasing.

It's not too difficult to see why demand for housing in London is so high- one of the most vibrant, iconic cities in the world, the capital of England is a very appealing place to live. Though it has been having its troubles, transport in London is unparalleled in the rest of Britain. There are all the shops, leisure centres, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, that an individual could desire.

But increasing numbers of people are unable to select which city they live in, solely based on these luxuries. For many people, employment is what matters, and the factor that is driving many people to London. While much of the British economy has been slowly recovering since 2008, London's economy has accelerated the fastest- meaning massive numbers of jobs have been created in the capital, such that in early 2014, London had 10 times more job vacancies than other British cities, such as Birmingham and Edinburgh. Jobs have played a significant role in peoples' decisions to move to London, driving up demand for housing.

Despite the 2008 crisis, the City of London has thrived, creating many
high paid jobs.
However, the recent jobs boom in London has caused prices to rise in more ways than just this. It's important to look not just at how many jobs are available, but what types of jobs these are- and it is particularly noticeable that higher paid jobs make up a larger proportion of jobs in London than in most UK cities. The finance industry has particularly grown in stature in the past 30 years or so in London, despite shocks such as the recent 2008 crisis; data compiled by Z/Yen Group analysts concluded that London was the most competitive financial centre in the world, coming first above cities like New York and Singapore in every category tested.

Such an increase in high paid workers coming into London has meant that there has been a housing development boom, largely in luxury properties regular Londoners couldn't afford- pushing up the market prices, by as much as 7% in the last year.

Globalisation has further compounded this issue, allowing foreign wealthy individuals (the likes of Roman Abramovich and Lakshmi Mittal) to relocate to the capital, purchasing or building massively expensive properties at the same time. While foreign investment in the capital does indeed have its benefits, this aspect means that housing prices rise massively. Currently, almost 10% of the world's billionaires live in London (the highest proportion in the world), and the number of millionaires is also rising.

Both London's mayor and the government
have sought to take on London's housing crisis-
but their efforts have been relatively futile.  
Supply of affordable properties in London has not been keeping up with this rocketing demand. Despite George Osborne's efforts to stimulate home buying through schemes such as Help to Buy, which have made it easier for first time house buyers, not enough houses are being built. Mayor Boris Johnson's target is 42,000 homes built per year- but House of Commons research has suggested that over 80,000 would be required to meet demand.

With their financial power, wealthy individuals are able to purchase property in prime areas in central London- causing the average house prices of these areas to increase. Consequently, with a lack of new affordable housing developments in the centre, poorer people are being 'priced out'- forced to move to cheaper areas on the outskirts of the city. 
Mohammad Lone Editor

Friday, 4 December 2015

Is The Military Invasion Of Syria A Viable Option?


Following the British Government's announcement that it will be launching air strikes against Daesh in Syria, is the path being laid for a future military invasion? What could this path lead to? James Rosanwo analyses the situation and gives his view.


On Friday 13th of November 2015, a series of terrorist attacks in Paris led to the deaths of approximately 128 innocent civilians. This, and various other terror-striking attacks have elevated Daesh or the so-called “Islamic state Of Iraq and al-Sham" onto the global stage as a serious global threat.

A cult of blood thirsty individuals who use a peaceful religion as a basis for the inhumane and callous slaughter of fellow human beings, Daesh claimed responsibility for this onslaught in Paris and boldly reinforced their intention of striking fear and terror into the hearts of the Western citizens. France’s Prime Minister Francois Hollande responded by reiterating France will remain strong, and he recently urged Russia and America to “unite forces” in a coalition to destroy Daesh. Following the downing of a Russian airliner, the Paris attacks and bombing in Turkey; there is a heightened determination to defeat them. France, the USA and Russia have a common interest in the destruction of the militant group; however tension remains between Russia and the West, as the Russian invasion in Ukraine looms in the background and considering Russia’s vested interest in Syria. Therefore, the prospect of any significant joint attack and alliance against them seems unlikely, despite the bold display of solidarity by the involving nations.

However, at the moment Russia, France nor the USA are willing to launch a full scale ground attack in Syria, amid fears of political and economical backlash. Many believe that a full scale military response would do nothing but aid the militant group, as they would simply publicise and broadcast images of Westerners invading and annexing Arab lands, bolstering their recruitment campaign and luring more vulnerable and angry individuals to join the radical group.

Thankfully, a military invasion is not the only solution. Many strategists say that in order to gain victory , the coalition must halt the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and find a diplomatic solution among world powers on Syrian rule, as the Assad regime has proved incompetent time and time again. In terms of counteracting their propaganda, the mirage that Daesh are the saviour against the West is deteriorating, as more and more Syrian refugees flee towards western countries. This highlights that they are not the saviours but the captors, laying waste to Syria.  Although, the longer and more severe the air strikes become the more radicalisation occurs and the worse the situation gets.

Furthermore, stopping the financing of the extremist group could prove fundamental to their capitulation. The extremist group receive the majority of their income from selling oil from the Syrian and Iraqi oil fields they seized. It is estimated that overall, they earn about $1.53 million a day, by selling oil directly to independent traders or into the black market. The U.S have attempted to disrupt and limit oil production by striking several oil production facilities, however it has been to no avail as the militants have been able to repair the sites easily. An alternative would be to directly bomb oil refineries and fields but that would significantly reduce any chance of economic recovery for Syria and Iraq, hence why this issue cannot be easily resolved.

The predicament of replacing the Assad regime is also a prominent issue. In order to restore Syria to full economic and social stability, a reliable and competent government is needed. Initially the idea was to replace the Assad regime with a secular, western style democratic government, however many predicted that Assad would eventually be replaced by a similar minded or worse ruler. Therefore, as presumed, the only feasible solution could be to reach an agreement with Russia and Iran, as they both are heavily vested in the country and finding a suitable replacement will almost be as difficult as defeating Daesh.

Further military intervention in Syria, however justified, will only lead to more difficulties- not solutions. The recent decision by Parliament to conduct air strikes in Syria will simply highlight that fact. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron claims that these supposed targeted strikes in Raqqa (Daesh’s presumed stronghold) will make Britain safer- a flawed claim indeed. Mr Cameron and the remaining 397 MPs have done the exact opposite of what they intended to do, and simply made a threat to Britain as imminent as ever. Bombing their home will enrage the already distraught Syrians, making them ever more susceptible to propaganda, radicalising them in the process. And this is before we even get to talking about the inevitably high number of civilian deaths and casualties that will ensue.

The question still remains, if successful, what would happen after the West invades Syria? The United States are still recovering from the war they waged in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. I believe that this vengeful path of which France and Russia are on will most likely produce the same outcome- further tarnishing the crumbling relations between the West and the Middle East. 

Defeating Daesh is an ordeal which will require the very brilliance that makes the West the global force that it is now. However, it is certain that a military invasion will have catastrophic effects on Syria and the rest of the world, a necessary evil one might argue which is needed for the greater good.


Mohammad Lone Editor

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Symptoms Of Wealth Inequality Are Visible In All Parts Of American Society- The American Inequality Series #4



The (Not) Working Class: Homelessness
Over 22,000 children live on the streets of New York- a stunning statistic, the highest since the times of the Great Depression. The problems don’t end outside the walls of the Big Apple- the 22,000 children in NYC form part of 1.2 million across the United States. 
Homelessness is one of the major signs of extreme poverty, caused by the dropping economic standing of the poorest in society. 
The problems of homelessness go further than the obvious- of course we don't want to see people forced to live on the streets- but it can have further implications on society as a whole, often causing both societal and economic problems such as drug abuse and crime.
Homelessness certainly matters- the speed an effects of its growth provide real threat to American society, particularly those edging closer to losing their homes. It is a prominent sign visible to all of the growing level of economic inequality present in the US.

The Middle Class: Wage stagnation
The causes of wage stagnation go further than just the recent economic crash- wages of most Americans have actually stagnated for the last few decades. 

This stagnancy in the face of a boost in productivity, and general economic growth (averaging 3.27% since 1947) in previous decades is surprising; had wages kept up with economic growth since 1970, the median household income would be around $92,000. In 2012, the US Census Bureau reported the median household income to be just $51,371.

Increase in productivity has also failed to lift average wages- between 1979 and 2012 the median worker’s productivity has risen 74.5%; yet their wages have only gone up by 5%. 
Of course, technology has also played a role in this productivity boom.  Computers have revolutionised word processing, the internet communication and so on- so one could perhaps expect it to bring a drop in working hours, resulting in more leisure time. But according to Erik Rauch of MIT, “if productivity means anything at all, a worker today should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week”
An 11-hour working week is unheard of today- suggesting today’s workers are working harder, producing more than their 1950s counterparts by far- yet their compensation is not proportionately higher.

The minimum wage has also been stagnant. 5 states are yet to even establish a minimum wage. Currently the highest minimum wage is available in Washington, at $9.32, set at the turn of 2014, but according to a 2012 study by the Centre for Economic and Policy research, even this is too low. The study, setting inflation and productivity as benchmarks, concluded that if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity and inflation increases since the year minimum wages peaked, 1968, the figure would have reached $21.72 per hour- over double that of the highest in the USA. 

It seems apparent that wages for the general population has failed to keep pace with economic growth and productivity- so where has the extra capital created by a growing economy gone? Fig.1 shows clearly; the top 1% has benefited disproportionately, enjoying an increase in salary of over 240% between 1979 and 2009.

The Upper Class: The 1%
While the wages of most of the population stagnated during the economically relatively non-turbulent years, the resistance of the incomes of the wealthiest could be observed just in the recent economic crash. The average CEO salary dipped in 2008, but it was back up on its feet by 2010- back to 243 times the wage of the average worker.

Questions have been raised over these huge salaries- mainly the question over whether they really deserve it. Under a true meritocracy, people would be paid according to a mixture of their effort, production and influence- so do CEOs really work 243 times harder than an average worker, or produce 243 times as much? Many would argue that CEOs have it easier than the worker- enjoying the power to delegate work more than doing it- but perhaps the CEOs themselves would argue the salary is more a reward for the hard work they have done to get to that position, rather than their current activities alone.


The ‘1%’ of wealthiest Americans have become the faces, to many Americans, of the problem of wealth inequality that is present. After all- how can the USA, a country with the most billionaires in the world (515, far ahead of second-placed China with just 157) have at the same time one in seven people living in poverty?
Mohammad Lone Editor

Friday, 13 November 2015

Has Neoliberalism Failed America? The American Inequality Series #3


The practice of neoliberal capitalism in the USA has been the focus of much debate. In this third instalment of The American Inequality Series, we will take a look at two of the key tenets of neoliberal capitalism: the beliefs in the right of the free-market to rule the economy, and in the idea that the pursuit of self-interest will lead to the best outcome for society.
Scottish icon Adam Smith, the 'Father of Modern
Economics', laid the foundations for much of
neoliberal economic theory.
Free markets rule
An idea that has dominated Western economics for quite some time now is marginal productivity theory- the idea of the competitive, regulation-light free market being the best instrument for aligning productivity, social benefits and private returns. Essentially, those who have skills that help them to be more productive will be in more demand in the competitive market- thus their ‘price’ (income, job benefits) will be higher than those incapable of being productivity. 

This meritocratic system is what most people would like- but the key question here is how to achieve this, and marginal productivity theory answers that the free market is most effective in doing so. So to examine their claim further, what are the tenets of free marketism in the USA? Is there a ‘laissez-faire’ approach, where markets are given total free reign, or a more regulated way to keep competition alive?

A popular argument against regulating fast food chains such
as McDonalds has been that the free market will itself find the
best solution over time.
Well, as is often the case, there is no definitive answer. US economic policy is not entirely coherent (no nation’s policy is); for example, observing the lack of regulation over fast food, that has contributed to the quadrupling of adolescent obesity between 1980 and 2012, one would think America is running a free market almost fully dependent on the ‘invisible hand’, that guides resources to where they are most needed by itself. Yet a glance at antitrust laws such as The Clayton Act, that bans the monopolistic practice of merging market dominators, suggests the contrary. 

Individualism
Perhaps the most retold saying of Adam Smith is his thoughts on us as consumers, 
how "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest".

Theory states that the businessman inevitably has the contentment of his customers in his own self interests- if he doesn’t make the customer happy, the customer will not return to him and thus the businessman will lose out. So following his self interests will benefit both himself and his customers.
The internet is held often as an example of such a successful self-regulating market where companies such as Google and Facebook have succeeded of their own merit, while others such as ask.com and Myspace have felt the consequences of failing to appease the market.

However, free markets have been seen by many to be against the interests of the ‘customers’. Allowing American companies to outsource employment is a pertinent example. Free international trade has allowed companies (particularly in the primary and secondary sectors) to hire cheaper employment in places like China, resulting in a wave of job losses in America. In the decade 2000-10, US multinationals sent 2.4m jobs overseas, simultaneously putting 2.9m Americans out of work.
Gates' Microsoft dominated the computer market during
the 1990s. 
Monopolies such as that of Microsoft over the IT market in the 1990s highlighted further free market failure- a lumbering giant was unrestrained from crushing competition such as Netscape, resulting in a lack of choice that prevented any market self-regulation from taking place. If people didn’t like Windows or Internet Explorer, there was nothing else they could choose- they had to deal with it, without the democratic power free market theory promised.

Paul Samuelson (the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics), claimed how “utterly mistaken was the Milton Friedman notion that a market system could regulate itself”. And while free market has arguably created the environment for new businesses to prosper, it has failed to live up to its promise of market democracy- as recent monopolistic activity and the loss of domestic employment have shown, the consumers have little power over the market.
Mohammad Lone Editor

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Are Profit-Motivated Businesses Bad For Society?


So in an article from a while ago we went through some of the benefits of privatisation- the main conclusion was that, in the main, privatisation leads to an increase in efficiency by replacing ambiguous, short termist political motives with one distinct motive- to make profit.

But this motive itself is one that is strongly debated over. Private businesses are pushed more than their state equivalents to turn over profits- but is this something that benefit those stakeholders outside of the company as well as those inside?

The pro-profit motive argument claims that free markets create environments that encourage profit-seeking competition. For example, in the British department store industry, which the state has little involvement in, competition is visible- Debenhams, John Lewis, House of Fraser and so on are competing to gain the highest profits. The contrary is perhaps visible in the British healthcare industry- the state-owned NHS dominates this market, and thus there is little (albeit growing) competition for profits in this sector.

Apple and Samsung's rivalry has brought
rapid advancements in mobile technology.
Though it is arguably not the only means to do so, market competition is key in bringing improvements and allocating resources efficiently in the economy. The global technology market has been a great example of this: Apple and Samsung have constantly been battling over the past 5-7 years over their mobile phones, and what has resulted is an unprecedented rapid development of mobile technology. Look at how far the iPhone, for example, has developed since its release in 2007. The current iPhone 6 is thinner, lighter and of better quality material than the original iPhone- yet it is decisively faster and more advanced. Competition with Samsung's 'Galaxy' phone drove Apple to proactively seek better technologies for every single generation of iPhone, which has brought us advancements in almost every aspect of the phone.
These companies have had to keep up with market demands- if they released a product few people liked (like the iPhone 5C), they would be damaged by it by a drop in their profits; they would by their competitors and over the long term marginalised, or even worse driven out of the market. RIM (producers of Blackberry phones) have seen this- they saw huge success in the 2000s but they failed to keep up when the iPhone came.
Apple and Samsung created huge advancements in the tech industry with the primary motive of chasing profits. They have shown the potential positive effects of profit-making motives.

However, this idea of competitive market democracy brought about by the importance of profits is not always appropriate.
An industry where there is a monopoly is one example of this- this company is desensitised to most activities of the market, because it has no competitors to protect itself against. More on the idea of the monopoly can be read in this past article.

Questions can also arise with regards to whether these motives work in certain areas of the economy. Healthcare, for example, is seen as something some see as a right to citizens of a developed country, rather than something they should have to pay for. Privatised healthcare in the USA has seen some rocky results. In principle it is a dangerous idea (what if you have a car accident and wake up to foot a bill you can't pay for?), and in reality it has followed suit. The cost of insurance (as these 21 graphs illustrate in detail) is far too much in comparison to other nations, meaning many in America aren't insured- and for these people a single health accident has the potential to destroy their lives not just health-wise but financially.
Private hospitals such as those in the USA face a dilemma- should their primary motive be to turn profits or heal patients? The answer is more often than not the former, resulting not just in the inflation of healthcare costs that we've seen but occasionally irresponsible behaviour- it's opened the door to doctors prescribing excess amounts of expensive medicines, suggesting unnecessary appointments; generally practices that are not so helpful to the patient but helpful to the hospital's finances.

The Big Mac: High margins, high calories.
Profit-seeking has had visible socially negative effects in the food industry- particularly in fast food. It is far easier for companies to cut down costs than to try to increase income, and born from this came much of the artificial junk food we see today. Healthy, organic food has become something of a premium in the food industry, as the influx of Big Macs, with their far higher profit margins, have dominated the fast food market. Seeking profits, companies such as McDonalds and Burger King have sacrificed quality in their products. They have sought to make a cheap (and not so cheerful) product that has damaging impacts on the healths of those who consume it, rather than making a product that adds genuine nourishment value to consumers. Financially, their current activity is incredibly sound- but in the real world? Not so much the case.

So while there is a valid argument for private profit-seeking opening up industries to market competition and all its benefits, this is something that is perhaps not applicable to the economy as a whole. With regards to healthcare, profit-seeking is a dangerous motive to have when the primary motive of any such establishment should be to cure their patients. Similar problems arise with fast food businesses, which damage the customer's health but bring in lucrative profits.
As it often is with economics, there is no straight answer. With different industries come different situations, and thus profit seeking has the potential to be both extremely beneficial and damaging to society as a whole.



Mohammad Lone Editor

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Debt And Social Welfare Failures Are Fuelling Wealth Inequality In America: The American Inequality Series #2



The phenomenon of easy access to credit and the debt has been a key factor in the stability of the USA’s modern economy. Borrowing plays a huge role- consider the housing market, whose dependence on the lending industry has drastically increased in the past 50 years; between 1949 and the turn of the millennium, the mortgage debt to household income ratio rose from just 20% to 73%. 

There are many reasons for this phenomenon of ‘credit addiction’- the principle of these being increasingly easy access to credit, changing consumer decisions and the squeezing of incomes. Let’s analyse these and see which contributes most, if at all, to American wealth inequality.

Credit addiction has without doubt been encouraged by the financial sector in America. The subprime market’s recent catastrophic explosion exemplified how open credit has become in the US. The subprime market emerged from a restricted financial industry- previously, banks had to take great care in selecting who they could lend to, to minimise the likelihood of future unpaid debts. This process was rigorous- any previously outstanding debts, or missed payments would almost rule you out of contention for a mortgage.

The subprime market sought to open a whole new world of profitability- opening the door to credit to these individuals who were previously deemed unsuitable to receive a mortgage. The industry boomed- at its peak in 2005 the subprime industry had granted $625bn of loans, contributing to over a trillion dollars in loans made by subprime lenders between 1994 and 2007.

Their open availability made subprime mortgages incredibly attractive- a complex arrangement between financial institution and bond traders meant banks were in little danger if mortgages were to go unpaid. They could benefit from cheap loans, avoiding the traditional risks associated with defaulting customers.

Unsurprisingly, the result was devastating- the recent subprime crisis had severe implications on homelessness for example. According to the National Coalition for the Homelessness (NCH), there were 342,038 foreclosures of US properties in April 2009 alone- a third higher than the already high foreclosure figure of April 2008.

The authorities have also played a role in this disaster- attempting to kickstart the economy following the dot-com crash of 2000, the Federal Reserve cut long term interest rates from 6.5% to just 1%- former Chairman of the Fed Alan Greenspan admitted that this move “fundamentally engendered” the development of the doomed housing bubble whose explosion caused this economic trouble.
One could argue Western society has developed a culture of debt-accumulation. Availability of finance on any consumer product, from a blender to a Mercedes, has encouraged people to be less financially responsible. You no longer need to take a single heavy hit on your bank account to purchase a car- finance allows the (greater) cost to be spread over a few years. As a result, prices in the short term are lower and thus customers are more likely to be seduced to purchase a car that is beyond their financial boundaries.

Additional interest payments make the situation worse- Jeremy Vohwinkle of GenerationX Finance describes new car purchasing as borrowing money at a high rate of interest to invest it in a stock guaranteed to lose value rapidly. Yet March 2014 saw the average amount borrowed by American car buyers surpass $27,000 for the first time ever. 

The wealthy are not so reliant on financing- cash purchases ultimately cost less and often cars do not represent a significant enough hit on a millionaire’s finances that he has to take a loan for it. 

The ever-present temptation of taking loans, trading short term gain for a greater long term loss, to cover purchases such as cars and more significantly homes, has driven down the economic prosperity of much of the poor and middle class.

Debt has also been piled on by the US’ social welfare system (or lack of one). Take the medical system- a NerdWallet survey found that Healthcare bills were the primary cause of personal bankruptcy. Healthcare is special in this regard because unlike a house or a car, we usually have no choice as to whether we need it or not. After a car accident, one cannot choose not to go to hospital- they are taken by emergency services, and often they wake up to the bill- which they must pay, as they’ve already been treated.

This unlucky 20 year old got charged $55k for an appendectomy.
Even after insurance contributions, he had $11k left to pay.
One could argue that health insurance solves this problem- but even ignoring its ever-rising price (family health insurance topped $16k for the first time ever last year) over 10 million fully insured Americans aged 19-64 are expected to face bills they will be unable to pay in the near future. Plus, as the picture on the right shows, even health insurance can leave a substantial bill for the individual to pay. This idea of healthcare being financially unattainable is something that, while far from being exclusive to the USA, is pretty much unheard of in similarly developed countries like the UK and much of Europe.

These problems are mostly faced by the poorer of society. Like an overly expensive house or car, it adds to personal debt. However, usually being an involuntary expenditure, it can be even more damaging.
Mohammad Lone Editor

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Talking Nuklius, Startups and Entrepreneurship with Stefan van der Fluit


Stefan van der Fluit is a man whose experience in startups and entrepreneurship defies his age. A Dutchman raised in Silicon Valley, Stefan started his first business at just 15- a web design company Nafets Solutions, that he ran alongside his studies. During his 4 years studying Management at The University of Warwick, he continued his entrepreneurial activity with a campus discovery tool, Unibubble. 

Having been recognised by the likes of HRH The Duke of York, and now being a TEDx speaker, I caught up with Stefan after his recent talk at The University of Bath, to discuss his latest project- Nuklius- and get his opinion on wider entrepreneurial and business issues.



Your relatively new startup Nuklius is a service aimed towards other budding entrepreneurs. What was your initial vision for Nuklius, and what does it do?

Nuklius is a talent-mapping app connecting people & their skills to projects or startup ideas, within a given network. We help people with ideas find their collaborators and team members; if you haven’t got an idea, we find you projects for you to get involved with which are looking for people with your particular skills.

The initial concept for Nuklius came to me whilst giving a guest talk at Warwick, around my previous startup experiences. The main question asked during the Q&A was where I found my (brilliant) cofounder and close friend, Alex Dobinson. Lots of people there had the issue of having ideas, however none of them had the necessary skill set to act on them. This is when it occurred to me that a big reason why people don’t get involved with startups isn’t because they aren’t motivated, or haven’t got good ideas of their own, etc. Its the very simple fact that, alone, they haven’t got all the skills needed. And this is a very normal problem: no one has all of the skills needed to create a successful startup. If you look at all the fantastic companies now, they all have one thing in common and that is that they were founded by teams. 

I fundamentally believe that startups drive true social and economic innovation, so to me, the more people we could help act on their ideas, the better. This was the initial vision for Nuklius - now it has evolved into something a bit larger; we want to become the platform for the future of work, where we see the future to be moving from “I’ve had x amount of jobs” to “I’ve been involved with x amount of projects”. Now knowing what you are an expert in, how can we find you projects for you to work on, whether they are in your organisation you work for or external to it, which match your personal interests and passion. This helps employees create a more motivating and stimulating career for themselves, essentially empowering them to steer their own careers, internally. 

For the organisation, their benefits include increased talent retention, quicker access to talent which speeds up their innovation processes, cross-departmental collaboration which is key when it comes to innovating, etc. 

50% of our time on this planet is spent working. We believe you should enjoy every minute of it and have a say in what it is.


Having been an active entrepreneur from such a young age, you must have learnt a lot of lessons about entrepreneurship- which one lesson would you say is the most important, and how did you learn it?

I would say the most important lesson I have learnt is to not be afraid of sharing your idea with others. There seems to be a sense of paranoia amongst many starting entrepreneurs where they believe that their idea is the next big thing, and therefore defacto, is worth millions already. After having been through the ring a couple of times, its safe to say that ideas on their own, are absolutely valueless. It is all about the execution of your ideas. 

In order to successfully execute, you need to share your idea, to first of all see if it is something people are looking for - will what you are intending to create resonate with those you are creating it for. This is impossible to do, if you are not willing to open up about your idea.

Other reasons why this is so important: 
  • how will you find a cofounder if you can’t tell them what they will be working on with you
  • how will you create key partnerships / relationships if you can’t tell them who and what they are partnering with
  • how will you undergo the crucial customer development process if you can’t talk about what it is you want to create
  • and the list goes on…
To address the paranoia of “stealing ideas” I wanted to share this anecdote. A professor of mine at Cambridge, Simon Stockley has been in the startup sector for 15+ years, and not once has he seen an idea be stolen. Why? Because there are two types of people in this world. One, those who are too lazy to act, and the second; those who are not lazy and therefore are already working on their own things (and don’t have the time, even if they wanted to, to copy yours).

Ideas are unique to the person they came from; you cannot copy this. I may give you an idea where you can probably make out steps 1,2 and 3 but I, because its my idea see step 1-100. So if you have an idea, the best thing you can do is act on it, get it out there and see if its worth pursuing.

One small addition to this: just because it is your idea, do not expect this to be a valid reason to retain 80+% equity within your startup. Your cofounders are key to the success of your business, so they should feel adequately motivated and have the representative ownership position to validate their risk, etc. Technical cofounders are not ‘resources’ as many business people see them as, they are incredibly talented, creative and hardworking individuals who add just as much value as the sales/marketing/business development cofounder. I guarantee you, that if you consider technical talent to be a resource to “go build this for me” - you won’t get very far.


How do you think your childhood in Silicon Valley has influenced your mindset and outlook on business?

Great question and to be honest I think it doesn’t really have to do with where I grew up, rather who raised me (Also I was quite young during my time in the Valley). My parents have always encouraged us as children to not be bound by what we perceive our ‘limitations’ to be, or what others “tell” you are your limitations. This really helped when I decided to found my first company at 15, rather than being told that its daft, or impossible, etc. they simply said, sounds good - go do it. 

Since both of my parents have spent their careers in the technology space, all of our dinner conversations were always evolving the latest and greatest within the industry, from this I developed a deep love and respect for technology as I saw first hand how it was created, who was behind its creation, etc. 

I must admit, it is a bit surreal growing up in an area where you have so many ‘idols’ in one place. When I was a kid we used to trick or treat in Steve Jobs’ neighbourhood (his wife was the one to open the door and pass the candy), my sister was best friends with one of the daughters of an ORACLE cofounder, so we would regularly spend time with his family, etc. 


Which companies or individuals inspire you as an entrepreneur, and why?

I have a lot of respect for anyone who takes a concept from nothing and grows it out to something for others to benefit from. Having been involved with this process for a couple of years now, you never can truly realise and respect how tough and challenging this journey is, until you yourself try it as well.

I am very much inspired by companies whom are design driven; design not purely in its aesthetic meaning but also how a product or service gets created, around and for the individual they are targeted for. Good design, with all these elements combined is incredibly difficult and hard to pull off. Apple, Square and IDEO are companies that I take a lot of learnings from as well as their respective founders, Jobs, Dorsey and Kelly and Jony Ive (not an Apple founder, but a lot of their current success lies with his genius).

One entrepreneur I deeply respect and admire is John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods. Reason being is his deep respect and understanding for the social responsibilities of business (he also coined the phrase conscious capitalism) as this is something which resonates deeply with myself. I think that for a long time, since WW2 the majority of organisations have been focused around maximising profits and seeing this as the primary metric of a successful business (Friedman Doctrine) whereas I think its quite clear that in order to be a successful business you also need to consider social contributions and your responsibilities to the communities in which you operate, your supply chain, employees, etc. Not only is it the right thing to do from a moral perspective; its actually proven to make good business sense too. 

One of your most popular talks has been the one you gave on the topic of ‘Conscious Entrepreneurs’. Could you summarise what a ‘Conscious Entrepreneur’ is, and why the world needs them?


Great question- and I'm glad you enjoyed the talk! To me, a conscious entrepreneur is someone who has a certain perspective of what a business and its purpose is. Rather than seeing it as a profit machine a conscious entrepreneur sees a problem they are passionate about and seeks to address it through setting up a business/venture. The conscious entrepreneur's vehicle of driving change is through a company, as you can have significantly more impact as an organisation than you ever could on your own.

Conscious Entrepreneurs set off to create value, not only for themselves but for everyone involved in their business operation; from their suppliers, to the end user. They see a business with a more holistic perspective and incorporate values and a culture of openness, transparency, do-good, sense of belonging for this working in the organisation, etc.

One key thing to remember is that conscious entrepreneurs are no different than any other business person, meaning they are most definitely in it to make money - however the purpose or meaning of money is perceived as not the end goal, rather a tool to build more value with.


According to Fortune Magazine, for every start up that succeeds, there are 9 that fail- what do you think are the most notable differences between a startup that fails and one that succeeds?

There are unfortunately way too many factors involved with the success of a venture (speaking to the right people, timing, the founding team, raising capital, the product, the marketing, etc.) that its not all too easy to pinpoint the main differences - though one thing I have noticed and something you probably hear all the time, is the importance of the founding team. 

Having the right people, people who are not only skilled and passionate about what it is they are doing but are also flexible in their ways of working, meaning that they don’t bend at the first sight of setbacks, that they are willing to make changes to their approach if need be, that they are stubborn in the sense that they keep pursuing no matter how many times you are told it won’t work. I’d actually like to stop and focus on this point as this is an important lessons I have recently learnt; there is no universal truth. What I mean by this is that no one in the world can tell you whether you idea is a good or bad one with absolute certainty. Its no one’s place to tell you whether its worth pursuing or not; only you can, the founders. All else is just peoples’ opinion, that’s it (some opinions are backed up by experience, but they stay opinions none the less). 

The only way you can find out if something isn’t worth pursuing, is through trial and error. Thats what entrepreneurship is all about. Lots of trial and error. This is why it is so crucial to truly believe in what it is you are doing as otherwise, with all the nay-sayers out there, you will most likely give up. Believe in yourself and what you know, don’t be afraid to call yourself an expert (as honestly, if you work 13-14 hours a day for two years straight in a particular field, you wouldn’t be wrong to do so) and don’t be afraid to kick back and tell people, who might be older and more experienced than you, that they are wrong.


It is not uncommon to hear every once in a while that this whole startup movement is just a bubble about to pop (รก la dot com bubble). Do you think the future is bright for startups like yours?

Honestly I do not think about these things. Sure there might be a lot of “first world problem” solutions out there which after a period of time people might turn around and think do we really need this in our life…but as long as you are creating something which solves a true problem, you will always be needed. 

This is why our team focusses on building something which addresses a true pain point. As an entrepreneur, always try to be a pain killer rather than a vitamin.

Stefan's latest startup Nuklius is open for investment for a limited time on Seedrs. Click here to find out more about how you can become a part of his journey.
Mohammad Lone Editor