Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.


1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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The search for the Higgs boson

September 7, 2008

The world could be a different place after Wednesday.

The world is waiting for the results of the particle acceleration experiment in CERN near Geneva. Its when the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be used for the first time. It cost £4.4 billion to build it and its so big it straddles Switzerland and France.

According to some the experiment could create black holes that could destroy the planet, though the odds on that are highly unlikely. If you’re feeling particularly unlucky don’t book your holidays – unless its on the space shuttle!

The idea is to photograph two protons – a proton is a type of hadron, hence the machine’s name – that are smashing into one another at high speed, and get a picture of the resulting particle fragments – made up of various building blocks that scientists call bosons, quarks and leptons – that fly off in all directions.

Physicists have already identified 16 such particles. They call this the standard model.

But there is a problem with this model. Some particles have mass, others don’t. Its not neat and science likes things that are neat. Neatness generally implies they’ve got it right.

Peter Higgs at CERN

One physicist, Peter Higgs, from Edinburgh University, thought of a solution to the problem whilst trudging through the Cairngorms in 1964.

I’ll give an explanation as I understand it. Apologies to any real physicists! Feel free to correct me in the comments.

Think of Higgs walking through the Cairngorms, Summer 1964. Its Scotland so it’ll be raining or just stopped. Anywhere off the paths would be a field of mud.

Could it be that the sub-atomic particles are also in a field? And just like Higgs’ clothes, some of the sub-atomic particles – depending on where they ‘walked’ – got covered in mud, giving them mass?

If that was the case, then the Higgs field – as physicists now call it – itself must have a corresponding particle (the dirt particle in the field – its now called the Higgs boson) that provides the mass.

So this Wednesday when the particle accelerator is switched on, scientists hope that they can photograph the Higgs boson – or rather see the traces of it,  in theory it should disappear too quickly for the cameras – for the first time.

Peter Higgs’ work was based on other scientists work on the predicted Goldstone boson. But his ideas have already earned him the 1997 Dirac medal, the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize, and the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics and his portrait proudly hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

If the LHC experiment finds evidence of a Higgs boson, Peter Higgs would almost certainly receive a Nobel Prize.

Its still all ‘ifs’ right now though. The LHC has not been tested; the experiment on Wednesday will be its first run. Its so large and costly that any tests would take months and cost more! Might as well run it and see if it works – if it doesn’t, well that’s a test! And its not at all clear how long it will need to run before the colliding protons create a Higgs boson that can be detected.

Most scientists think there will be a Higgs boson.

If there isn’t then all those physicists need to think of another explanation for the mass of sub-atomic particles.

Peter Higgs is almost eighty now. He thinks it might take a year to find his Higgs boson. Stephen Hawking has bet him £100 it will never be found. Still Higgs is confident and intends to be still alive when its found!: “There’s a conference next year in Glasgow to discuss the first results from the LHC, and I’ve been invited – dead or alive.”

This experiment may finally give physicists a true picture of how matter is composed, and a glimpse of what actually happened at the time of the Big Bang. It may even open more doors to string theory.

Its the most important scientific experiment of the 21st century. And depending on its answers, it could be one of the most important experiments of all time.

Olympic successes and Google Earth

August 28, 2008

It seems that Chris Hoy was upset by The Scotsman’s reports that he said a Scottish Olympic team would be ridiculous.

He is quoted in the Daily Record (Its something when even the Daily Record shows up how anti-SNP The Scotsman has become!):

“I feel a bit upset that I have been quoted as saying the idea of a Scottish Olympic team is ridiculous.

“If and when a Scottish team was put together, I would be delighted to represent Scotland in the Olympic Games.

“But before that happens, so much needs to be done for the athletes to be able to compete at the highest level.

“As a cyclist, there isn’t a facility in Scotland where I can train throughout the year and that’s why I have to base myself outside Scotland.

“I am proud to be Scottish, but at the same time it’s not feasible to think we can compete as a nation without the right facilities.”

So he’s just calling for an improvement in facilities, and seems to have clarified his past comments.

I’m sure he would much rather train in Scotland if the facilities matched those of Manchester.

And that’s the rub. Athletes can train anywhere that have the right facilities. Many of the successful Jamaican Olympic team trained in the United States, for instance.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games should provide a legacy of facilities for our athletes for years to come.

Some athletes don’t need much in the way of facilities:

Kristin Armstrong, an American Olympic cyclist in Beijing, won the Gold in the Women’s Individual Time Trial in Road Cycling.

Kristin Armstrong winning the Gold with help from Google Earth

It seems all she needed was her bike, her husband’s GPS and a PC running Google Earth.

She took the GPS when she trialled the Olympic route in 2007. She then went home, imported the data into Google Earth, and then matched the elevations of the Chinese Olympic route to a similar route at her home in Boise, Idaho for her training.

Now that is smart thinking.

And in Beijing she cruised to a Gold Medal.

You can just bet Google Earth will be playing this up for years!

Incidentally, Emma Pooley from England won the Silver, one of the medallists in Team GB. She is based and trains in Zurich, Switzerland. I’ll bet she wishes she thought of that idea! Or indeed, Nicole Cooke from Wales – based in Lugano, Switzerland, who finished fifteenth. But she did win the Gold in the Road Race.

Finally a hat-tip to Daibhi Anseo who pointed out in the comments to my post on Home Nations Olympic teams in history that a cycling team represented Scotland in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.

I’ve not found a picture yet but I have found the names of the Scotland cycling squad:

John Wilson
Robert Thompson
John Miller
David Stevenson
Charles Hill
James Stevenson
George Corsar
Arthur Griffiths

They finished fourth and just missed out on a medal. The hosts Sweden came first and took the gold, obviously having the advantage of regularly training on the Olympic route.

If only Google Earth was around in 1912!

Broadband take-up

June 14, 2008

These are the latest World Broadband ratings by ITIF:-

I’m going to concentrate this blog on the first column. That of broadband penetration; what percent of the countries population has access to broadband internet at home.

A recent Ofcom study found the UK’s figures slightly higher than ITIF, sitting at 57%. I hope this is indeed the case. I’ll use the Ofcom figures as accurate for the UK and the ITIF figures as accurate globally. Where the Ofcom figures match in the case of Belgium and the US, I’ll put the UK behind both countries as a low ranking 57%.

Sorting the ITIF list purely on Broadband takeup we get:-

1. South Korea 93
2. Iceland 83
3. Netherlands 77
4. Denmark 76
5. Switzerland 74
6. Norway 68
7. Canada 65
8. Finland 61
9. Australia 59
10. Belgium 57
11. United States 57
12. United Kingdom 57
13. Luxembourg 56
14. Japan 55
15. Sweden 54
16. France 54
17. Spain 49
18. Germany 47
19. Republic of Ireland 46
20. Austria 45
21. Portugal 44
22. New Zealand 42
23. Italy 41
24. Czech Republic 30
25. Hungary 29
26. Poland 23
27. Turkey 23
28. Slovakia 22
29. Mexico 20
30. Greece 18

I think that broadband takeup is the more relevant figure posted by ITIF. Speed and price are market factors, but the takeup figure roughly shows the percentage of people that use the internet and roughly shows your market audience. (Obviously countries with extremely large populations with lower takeup are not on the list e.g. China, India, Russia.)

Now regular readers might suspect that I’ll be analysing the UK figures in detail, and breaking them down to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would be right!

As this blog already is on the long side though, I’ll refrain from the compare and contrast – till later.

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