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World Cup gives insight into financial crisis

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It has been reported today that JP Morgan analysts have predicted that England will win the world cup. Their analysis suggests that the schedule favours England over the tournament favourites Brazil and Spain. But there’s a flaw in their reasoning. One of the factors looked included in their model is the odds offered on various teams winning on Since betfair is an English website, it seems there is a danger of “the market’s” assessment of relative likelihoods of various teams winning being skewed in favour of the home country. My guess is that this analysis’ outcome wouldn’t be robust if you substituted in a different betting exchange’s odds, say from a different country. Imagine taking, say, Italy’s biggest betting exchange and using their odds. I doubt England would prevail there. So either they should pick the odds offered by a betting exchange from a country with no realistic chance of winning (so the team with a chance don’t have their odds skewed), or aggregate the odds of various markets from various countries.

And how does this give an insight into the financial crisis? The mistake made in both cases is the same. It is to assume that the market price reflects the value of the asset. Economists call this the Efficient Market Hypothesis. In the world cup prediction case, the assumption is that odds offered reflect the real chance of the outcome occurring.

Odds offered by proper bookies obviously don’t straightforwardly reflect their expert opinion of the chance of the event: bookies shorten odds in order to make a profit. (Consider roulette: betting on red doubles your money, but the chance of red is slightly less than a half, and therein lies the house advantage; the profit.) Another confounding factor here is that odds on England offered by English bookies are shortened a lot, since many more people will bet on EnglandĀ  here than in other countries (regardless of odds), so if England did win bookies would have to pay out a lot. So bookies make the odds shorter to limit their exposure to huge payouts. But betfair isn’t like a normal bookies. It’s a betting exchange. It’s much more like a stock exchange. The thing that is being bought and sold are bets. This should counteract some of the distorting effects inherent in standard bookie’s odds. But there is still a bias in favour of England, I think. People on betfair aren’t all betting as disinterested fully informed rational agents. So there is no reason to think the odds offered on England really do reflect the best estimate of England’s chance of winning. (I mean, come on. Emile Heskey is in the squad. Compared with Spain, who will probably leave Dani Guiza on the bench…)

To be clear: the problem is not with the idea of using the market in general, but the problem is that the betting exchange they used has a clear bias that JP Morgan don’t seem to have acknowledged. (From what I’ve read in the papers. Maybe they did, but I expect not). The insight into the financial crisis is this: if JP Morgan didn’t spot this flaw and they SURVIVED, imagine how dumb the financial companies that folded must have been!

Here’s another take on analysing the world cup which won’t be as popular in the England, since it doesn’t have England winning…

Important caveats: I know very little about economics and even less about football. But this is the internet, so my opinion is just as important as all those so called experts.

Written by Seamus

May 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

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Anagrams are deep

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It might already be apparent that I like anagrams. Well, I have just discovered this website. Which is much better at finding cool anagrams than trawling through all the hits on this website. Anyway, for your enjoyment I present you some anagrams of people’s names that I think are amusing.


I might even change the name of this blog to “a rude assembly”…

Written by Seamus

August 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm

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Transient gadget classes

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I posted a while ago about a conversation I had in a pub about global warming. Well, I was recently back in that pub, not even with the same people and we ended up talking global warming again, briefly. But that wasn’t what I wanted to write about today. We also talked about the future of gadgets. It’s a platitude now to say that several gadgets are converging into the smartphone: phone (obviously), camera, PDA, music player… The netbook will soon be included in this gadget. That is, if all you want from your netbook is a little browsing and the odd note-taking, then your next-gen smartphone will probably do this… Next steps might involve your smartphone acting as a credit card or a house key. Obviously there are security issues there, but why not have everything you normally carry in your pockets coalescing into one chunk of high-techery?

So what other classes of consumer electronics will there be? The home desktop computer, TV and entertainment systems (games consoles, hifi…) could converge into one super-entertainment hub. This big computer system could also then perform those tasks associated with the idea of “smart” houses that generate some part of their electricity themselves and sell any surplus back to the grid.

So we have two classes of consumer electronics. The super portable pocket tech-chunk, and the super-unportable home HAL. There is, I think a middle ground. There is room for a gadget that is portable, but that doesn’t need to fit in your pocket. This gadget would essentially be a convergence of netbook (if you actually use your netbook for stuff you can’t get out of your smartphone) the laptop proper and the ebook reader.

So the point of all this uninformed speculation is basically that I guess the netbook is a transient phase of consumer electronics. It’s a kind of middle ground between laptop and smartphone. People buy them either for portability or price. Eventually, smartphones will be smart enough to claw away some of the netbook market (those who want portability), and laptop/ebook reader type devices will fall in price enough to take the rest of the market (those who bought a netbook for the price).

So that’s how things will look some time in the future. But further in the future we will be able to PLUG COMPUTERS DIRECTLY INTO OUR BRAINS! THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR! AND THEN THE MACHINES TAKE OVER! STEP FORWARD JOHN CONNOR! AAAAAAH!

Written by Seamus

August 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm

On the attribution of witty aphorisms

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Hugh Pennington attributes the aphorism “Making predictions about the future is difficult, especially about the future” to Sam Goldwyn. (It’s in the second last paragraph) This is a phrase I’ve always thought was due to Neils Bohr, though a little digging shows that this phrase has been attributed to a number of other sources.

I’ve seen this happen with a couple of other pithy phrases. For example the phrase “The mere absurdity of a proposition is no guarantee that some philosopher will not endorse it” has been attributed to a number of people. The form of the sentence as it appears above is due to John Burgess. I’ve seen a similar sentiment attributed to Descartes and even to Cicero.

A third example is the idea of God as a circle whose centre is everywhere. I had it in my head that this was due to Spinoza, though it certainly seems to pop up in a variety of places…

I wonder what explains this multiple attribution? More examples or “canonical” attributions to any of these quotations are more than welcome!

Written by Seamus

July 15, 2009 at 4:03 pm

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Data as a mass noun

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I was told off yesterday for saying something like “Our data is incomplete…” Now, I know that “data” is a plural (as is media). But I thought it legitimate to use data as a mass noun rather than a count noun. This is, apparently, an “institutionalised mistake”. I’m not so sure. If everyone talks that way, doesn’t that make it OK? That said, I get annoyed when people say “less” when they mean “fewer”, so perhaps I shouldn’t be arguing this point… But in the case of “data”, I don’t see anything wrong with using it as a mass noun. Information, it seems to me, is a continuous mass-like thing. Perhaps the point is that data are still discrete units of information or some such… Anyway, I see nothing wrong with “the media” as a singular. I know that media is the plural of medium, but “the media” or maybe “the Media” is a way of referring to all those associated with any of the diverse media as if they were a homogenous mass. The Media is a thing – it is what feeds you entertainment, celebrity and to a lesser extent information. It does this through various media; the medium of television, the medium of radio and so on…

I am, in general, pedantic and fussy about things like this, but data as a mass noun and media as a singular noun don’t seem to bother me. I don’t really know why. Perhaps I should try and be annoyed about them, for the sake of consistency…

Written by Seamus

March 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

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Snow gives you CANCER

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I think the reaction to the recent snowy weather has been more than a little hysterical. Sure, transport was disrupted, sure schools closed and so on. But it’s simply not weather that we are prepared to deal with. So what?

I’d like to illustrate what I mean with a story that may have some basis in fact, and is partly reconstituted from half-memories I had of visiting Derby. So the story is that they built a flood barrage that was supposed to resist a “once in a hundred years” flood. A few years after this, Derby was hit by a “once in 200 years” flood. The barrier was overcome and much damage was done. Was this anyone’s fault? Well, no. Not really.

I don’t know if this story is true, but I think it illustrates a good point – sometimes, bad things happen and there is no one to blame. Deal with it.

Written by Seamus

February 4, 2009 at 6:50 pm

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Brief thoughts on global warming

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I was in the pub yesterday and the topic of global warming came up. Here are some quick points motivated by that discussion.

  • Given the variety of environments the Earth has presented in its past, given the range of temperatures etc that have obtained on the Earth at some point in its history, the differences that even the most alarmist climate change advocates throw about are pretty darn small. That’s not the issue. The issue is that this tiny change is catastrophic from the point of view of human survival.
  • The question is not really “Have humans caused global warming?” but “Is the warming phenomenon real and is it harmful to our survival?” And if the answer to that question is “yes and yes” then the next question is “What can we do about it?” The question of carbon emissions etc. causing global warming is only an issue insofar as it gives us an account of a mechanism that might be warming the world. And knowledge of that mechanism might help us to deal with the problem. If carbon emissions are contributing to warming, and if the warming is a threat to our survival, then cutting emissions might slow or stop the process thereby prolonging our survival.
  • The idea that global warming is going to end all life on Earth is pretty ludicrous. If they had shoulders, certain extremophiles would be shrugging them right now. I’m sure Pyrococcus furiosus are no strangers to nonchalance.
  • I think real action on global warming is going to be driven by financial incentives. Eventually a confluence of factors including improved renewables technology, depletion of oil reserves and increased demand for energy will cause some kind of renewable energy to become significantly cheaper to produce and distribute than fossil fuels are to extract and refine. Until that day, things will continue pretty much as they are now.
  • That’s not to say I’m a climate change sceptic. I turn of the lights when I leave the house, use public transport, I take the train rather than fly*. But I’m a cynic and a fatalist when it comes to humanity’s capacity to change without big big shocks forcing the change. Which I guess was sort of the message of The Day the Earth Stood Still…


* turning off lights saves me money on my electricity bill, I don’t have a license, so I have no alternative to public transport and anyway who’d drive round central London? I take the Eurostar because I don’t believe the plane is faster or more convenient once you factor in time spent in security, being there 2 hours in advance travelling to Stansted, travelling from “Brussels South” to the centre of Brussels etc.
And while it may be possible to get flights cheaper, the Eurostar experience is a good deal less unpleasant than the god-awful Ryanair. And anyway, Ryanair isn’t that much cheaper most of the time. Also no baggage weight limit on Eurostar. But despite all that my intentions are to do those little green things I am capable of doing (as long as the don’t inconvenience me too much or cost me anything).

Written by Seamus

January 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm