The middle class

It long ago became tiresome to listen to whining about how tough the middle class has it. I’m not even sure it’s the people in the middle class doing the whining, so much as politicians trolling for votes by going off about how hard they have it and how much they’ll do for them. Spend an hour watching the masses trundle through the cash registers at Costco on a Saturday and you might suspect that even if all these people are barely scraping by from one paycheck to the next, it isn’t because they’re carefully scrimping and saving to buy only the bare necessities.

Speaking of which, John Robson has a good column where he attempts to help Mr. Trudeau out with his clumsy attempts to define what “middle class” means.

Remember when politicians promised to do something for the poor, appealing to our compassion? Now they promise to do something for the middle class, appealing to our self-interest… and self-love. Because the thing about “middle class” is that it is, and always has been, primarily a sociological not a financial category.

The term middle class, or “bourgeois” if you’re sneering, refers to people whose main aspiration is comfortable security. It excludes rich people who seek adventure (think Richard Branson or Donald Trump, if you can bear to), poor people trapped in chaos through ill luck or bad habits, and “Bohemians” of any decile or quintile who prefer excitement to stability. And through cunning if not careful analysis, Trudeau’s appeal to the “middle class” relies on his being in the third category.

Read the whole thing. Particularly the last line.

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Statistics and lies

Felix Salmon—who is an excellent writer whom you should read regularly—points out one of the problems with the way statistics about wealth are packaged for public consumption.

But there’s one unlikely country which has a whopping 7.5% of the poorest of the poor — second only to India. That country? The United States.

How is it that the US can have 7.5% of the bottom decile, when it has only 0.21% of the second decile and 0.16% of the third? The answer: we’re talking about net worth, here: assets minus debts. And if you add up the net worth of the world’s bottom decile, it comes to minus a trillion dollars. The poorest people in the world, using the Credit Suisse methodology, aren’t in India or Pakistan or Bangladesh: they’re people like Jérôme Kerviel, who has a negative net worth of something in the region of $6 billion.

Science!

This is commitment to one’s research. Also asinine. And amusing.

Smith was methodical. He collected bees by grabbing their wings “haphazardly with forceps” and pressing them against the body part of choice. He left the stinger there for a full minute before removing it, and then rated his pain on a scale of 1 to 10.  Pain is very hard to measure, but psychological studies have found that numerical scales do a decent job of putting numbers on an inherently subjective experience.

He administered five stings a day, always between 9 and 10am, and always starting and ending with “test stings” on his forearm to calibrate the ratings. He kept this up for 38 days, stinging himself three times each on 25 different body parts. “Some locations required the use of a mirror and an erect posture during stinging (e.g., buttocks),” he wrote. If you are chuckling at the image of a man twisting around in front of a mirror to apply an agitated bee to his butt, I assure you that you are not alone.