HERB'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT (with my apologies to Ripley's)
Here are some facts that may astound you.
1. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY LOST 40 SEATS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES IN THE FIRST MIDTERM ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY.
It may astound some to learn how Trump’s record compares with that of the three presidents in office before him:
2. THE SUCCESS OF GETTING CANADIANS TO COMMUTE TO WORK IN BICYCLES
Between 1996 and 2016, the number of people using bicycles to commute to and from work in Canada’s largest metropolitan areas increased by 88 percent while the total number of commuters increased by only 35 percent. Canada is doing its share of reducing green house gas emissions and saving the planet from climate change.
However, it might astound some that the number of commuters using bicycles as a percent of all commuters in Canada’s large metropolitan areas was 1.2 in 1996 and 1.6 percent in 2016.
Which raises the question whether the costly and congestion-increasing policies encouraging the use of bicycles are worth it. The reduction in green house gas emissions created by these policies is likely to equals the production of these gases by one of the coal-using electricity creating plants in China in less than one day.
3. THE RICH ARE GETTING RICHER AND THE POOR ARE GETTING POORER
THE POOR ARE TRAPPED IN POVERTY
The first of these popular slogans is based on this table from Statistics Canada, which contains the most recent data available:
It shows that the median income of the bottom quintile (the “poor”) increased 5 percent over the 13 years covered while the income of the highest quintile (the “rich”) increased by 20.7 percent and that the middle three quintiles (the “middle class”) increase by an average of 14.3 percent.
In assessing the “fairness” of the changes in the distribution of income it is important to know that different Canadians appear in each of the quintiles shown every year. For example, many of the poor in 1999 were students, apprentices or temporarily unable to work because of illness, unemployment or moving between jobs. In later years, these individuals had incomes that placed them into higher quintiles. Their place in the bottom quintile was taken by new crops of students and others with temporarily low incomes.
The following table provides important evidence on the mobility of Canadians into and out of poverty and other income quintiles. It is based on data provided by Revenue Canada, which has electronic records of income tax returns filed by Canadians over many years, but which have been analyzed only recently for the first time.
The key information in this table is that of Canadians who were poor in 1993, in 2012 only 11 percent were still poor. 23.6 percent had incomes in the top quintile and were rich. These data suggest that the poor are not getting poorer, they are getting richer.
Of course, the 1993 poor who had become rich in 2012, as a matter of logic, must have taken the place of people who in preceding years were rich and had moved to lower income quintiles. The data (not shown here) record this: Of those who were in top quintile in 1993, 15.6 percent, 18.5 percent and 34.6 percent had respectively moved to lower quintiles 5, 10 and 19 years later.
It may be astounding to some that these two different indicators of the fairness of the distribution of income exist side by side but that almost all political discussion of the subject is based on the data contained in the first table.
When you were young, studying or entering the labour force, how much did you care about the fact that some people had much higher incomes than you and how much were you concerned that you will raise your income in the future and that Canada’s institutions enable you to do so and reward your hard work?
Our compassion and government assistance for the poor should focus on the small proportion whose handicaps cause them to remain poor for long periods of time or even their entire lives. Governments already do much to assist these unfortunate Canadians and public discussion should focus on the adequacy of this assistance, not how much support should be going to students and other temporarily poor.
4. AUTOMATION AND ROBOTS WILL CREATE LARGE UNEMPLOYMENT.
CANADA’S AGING POPULTION WILL CREATE LABOUR SHORTAGES
Searching Google with the key words “automation robots and job losses” brought 17.9 million references. The subject obviously has been researched widely and intensively.
Here is the references to a recently, well-researched and -written study of the subject covering conditions in British Columbia, Canada, which is typical of the plethora of published studies in the field.
Searching Google with the key words “Canada aging population and labour shortages” brought 8.79 million references, another well-researched field. Here is a reference to a study of the subject published by Statistics Canada.
Searching Google with the key words “Canada aging population and immigration” brought 9.6 million references.
Here is the one at the top of the list of references:
Searching Google with the key words “Canada labour shortages and unemployment caused by automation” brought no relevant references. Those showing up repeat the results from searching “aging population and immigration.
You may be astounded by these results. There appear to be no studies linking the increased supply of labour due to automation with the increased shortage of labour due to population aging. Is this because these trends are likely to eliminate or greatly reduce the need for government intervention? Or is it because the offsetting trends will eliminate or greatly reduce the need for immigrants to fill job vacancies?
5. GLOBAL WARMING IS MELTING ICE, WHICH RAISES SEA LEVELS AND RESULT IN ENORMOUS ECONOMIC AND HUMAN COSTS
A Google search of “global warming and sea level rise” brings up 11.5 million references. The scary conclusion of research is that if all the existing glaciers in the world were turned into water, the world sea level would rise by 7 meters.
However, this information can benefit from some facts that may be wondrous to some.
Thus, the effect of global warming is documented extremely well by satellite pictures of the North Pole region, which are also used to support demands for controls on green-house gas emissions. These data permit precise calculations of the volume of sea ice that has turned into water every year. The graph below shows that during the years 2010 – 2017 the amount of polar sea-ice has been about a third of its level in the 1980s.
How much has the melting of this ice raised the level of water in the world’s oceans?
The answer may well astound you. The increase is exactly zero.
The correctness of this conclusion can be checked by a simple experiment: Fill a glass of water to the rim and drop into it an ice cube. Water will spill over until the glass is again full to the rim. Now watch what happens as the ice cube melts. You will see no more water spilling over the rim of the glass.
The same physical laws producing this result prevent the melting of the sea ice on the North Pole from raising the quantity of water in the world’s oceans.
At any rate, Greenland and the Antarctic make up 99 percent of the total ice on earth. Satellite images have been used to calculate that the cumulative amount of ice from these locations turned into water came to 6,500 gigatons between 1992 and 2014.
But as in the case of the switch to the use of bicycle used by commuters, these figures need to be seen in relation to the total: The volume of the Antarctic ice alone is 30 million cubic KILOMETERS. Someone had fun calculating that this is equivalent to 9 raised to the power of 1016 ice cubes! I could not find on the internet how many gigatons these ice cubes weigh, but the number is likely to be so large that the 6,500 tons lost in recent years is a very small fraction of the total.
The wondrous facts presented here do not imply that the world is free of trends in politics, income distribution and global climate that could develop into serious economic, social and environment problems for Canada and the world or that nothing should be done to fight them. But these facts should be useful for keeping recent developments in perspective and for raising questions about the effectiveness and certainty of current or planned policies designed deal with these problems and often promoted by individuals and institutions with political and ideological agendas.
The population of the world is better off than it has ever been. It is not in the interest of that population that the institutions and policies that produced this condition will be reformed in the name of preventing problems, the nature and magnitude of which are exaggerated and uncertain.
I will share with you future instalments of my Believe-it-or-not stories, especially if you encourage me to do so.