8 Fascinating Reads

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

Peak people
According to Slate
:

It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth [person]. That's longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth -- the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it's expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts' best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

And then it will fall.

Homecoming
The Wall Street Journal quotes Flextronics (NASDAQ: FLEX  ) CEO Mike McNamara with some bullish thoughts on U.S manufacturing:

The difference in labor costs is narrowing and local officials in America have been giving more financial incentives to companies setting up plants in the U.S. ... Mr. McNamara said he could even imagine some smartphones being made in the U.S. eventually. ... In the first decade of this century, Mr. McNamara said, manufacturers flocked to low-wage countries. Over the next decade, he said, more are likely to adopt regional manufacturing strategies, making goods closer to where they are sold. That can reduce transport and inventory costs; it also allows companies to respond faster to changes in demand and more effectively protect technological secrets.

Habits are hard to break
Barry Ritholtz asks, "Why don't bad ideas ever die?" Here's my favorite:

Fooled by randomness (a.k.a. luck): Just because something is a bad idea does not mean it cannot, through pure chance, lead to a winning investment. (It is very difficult for people to acknowledge just how lucky they got once money is made by a bad idea).

Easy money
The blog Farnam Street shares several quotes from great investors on "How good gamblers think," including this one from Nate Silver:

Successful gamblers -- and successful forecasters of any kind -- do not think of the future in terms of no-lose bets, unimpeachable theories, and infinitely precise measurements. These are the illusions of the sucker, the sirens of his over-confidence. Successful gamblers, instead, think of the future as speckles of probability, flickering upward and downward like a stock market ticker to every new jolt of information. When their estimates of these probabilities diverge by a sufficient margin from the odds on offer, they may place a bet.

Arbitrage
This, frankly, is one of the most impressive stories I've ever heard:

The software developer, in his 40s, is thought to have spent his workdays surfing the web, watching cat videos on YouTube and browsing Reddit and eBay.

He reportedly paid just a fifth of his six-figure salary to a company based in Shenyang to do his job. ... Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area. All told, it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year, and only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about $50,000 (31,270 pounds) annually.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight
The Economist writes
:

Air travel has never been safer. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an average passenger travelling on Western-built jetliners would have to take no fewer than 5.3m flights before being involved in an accident. To put that in perspective, even the most frequent of fliers is unlikely ever to rack up more than 20,000 flights over the course of a lifetime. The accident rate for the airline industry as a whole is now so low that someone taking a flight a day could theoretically expect 14,000 years of trouble-free flying. 

How to live a great life
Pacific Standard writes about happiness:

Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.

This busy but blissful group comprises 8 to 12 percent of Americans, making it "a small and unusual minority within the general population," writes University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson.

According to his analysis, the happiness level of this group is 12 to 25 percent higher than that of those of most Americans. What's more, while the general population's happiness level is going down, theirs is increasing: 53 percent of people in this group called themselves "very happy" in a 2009 survey, compared to 48 percent in surveys from 1976 and 1982.

Back to normal
The blog Calculated Risk shows that unemployment claims have fallen back to pre-recession levels:

 

Enjoy your weekend. 

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 7:06 PM, JohnCLeven wrote:

    Do you think global growth could actually stop all together, one peak people occurs?

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 7:06 PM, JohnCLeven wrote:

    economic growth*

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2013, at 4:12 PM, Handworn wrote:

    Thanks, Morgan!

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2013, at 12:39 AM, mystery192 wrote:

    Thank you!! Great summary!!

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2013, at 1:04 PM, salrycapcasualty wrote:

    Morgan: I really enjoy looking through these "fascinating reads" each weekend. Keep up the good work.

    A couple of comments. The first concerns Mr. Ritholtz article. Is austerity really a bad idea for governments? Mr. Ritholtz says yes. The anecdotal evidence he supplies deals mostly/only with countries practicing austerity as a "last resort". Any data about governments acting with financial restraint when times are good that leads to poor results? Does being fooled by randomness mean "good ideas can have bad outcomes?" If yes, then perhaps Mr. Ritholtz has fallen into one of the traps he describes.

    I had two flashes of recognition when I read the article about the software developer who hired a Chinese firm to do his work:

    1. This sounds a lot like some of the ideas detailed in "The 4-hour Workweek" by Timothy Ferriss and

    2. Obviously the security issues can't be overlooked but this essentially is the business model employed by consulting firms (charge 3 to 4 times the hourly rate being paid to the employee doing the work).

    Doug

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