Shitty Airlines

It's the holiday season. And that means I get to be reminded of how logical air travel is. One of the most annoying things is that I can't take everything as carry-on luggage. Don't get me wrong, I hardly bring anything. But two things I usually bring are a razor and shaving cream which security guards tend to take away. Because of that, the idea of checking in online saves no time at all. Here's what the screen should really say:

A chart showing that you must be a female or a male who doesn't shave in order for the online checkin process to serve a useful purpose.

Nevertheless, I got to the airport on time and was able to stay relatively occupied on the plane.

Since I'm on the topic of airports, I decided to look into the bold claims made by HSBC ads. In case you haven't taken a plane in a long time (or were fortunate enough to board the plane by actually going outside), the gantries connecting planes to most major airports are full of banners that reveal an amazing "fact" about global markets. The idea is to show that HSBC is innovative because it sees great potential in the world. However, some of them are false and some are misleading.

The Halal industry is worth $3 trillion worldwide: Halal is only considered a specialty food in Western nations. I took this to mean that $3 trillion worth of meat products are sold annually in the countries where a majority of the citizens are Muslim. But data from where I live convinced me that this is misleading. In 2009, $21.3 billion came from meat sold in Canada. This means that the average meat-eater in Canada spent $655 on meat that year. In the United States, total meat revenue was $154.8 billion that same year. This means that the average American carnivore spent $539. Vegetarian rates assumed were 4% and 6% respectively. We can now extrapolate these numbers and see how many Muslims would be needed to value the Halal industry at $3 trillion. Unless meat is many times more expensive in the rest of the world, we would need there to be between 4.6 and 5.6 billion Halal buyers out there. This number seems too high because less than 2 billion people follow Islam. It still seems too high when you consider that some countries like Indonesia probably have Halal food as the norm in every grocery store and sell it to people whether they follow Islam or not. An article about this from South Africa clears it up for me. They estimate the value of Halal food at $160 billion per year worldwide. The estimate goes up to $2 trillion when they include "finance, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, logistics and fashion" - things that I didn't even know had Halal versions.

Pakistan is the world's second largest exporter of clothing: I don't dispute this fact but does it really show a bright future for Pakistan? It seems like this ad is trying to take a major problem and sweep it under the sweatshop produced rug. Textile makers in Pakistan earn 35 cents per hour which makes them some of the poorest workers in the world. They aren't treated very well when they are doing the job either. Another country whose wage is in the bottom five is Bangladesh. A recent fire in one of their clothing factories killed 112 people because the company had enough disrespect to lock them inside for the duration of the shift. I watched an episode about this on The Lang and O'Leary Exchange. Amanda Lang was saying that regulations should be in place to give these factory workers higher wages. Kevin O'Leary then called her a bleeding heart and said that this would accomplish nothing other than sending them all back to unemployment when corporations decide to get cheap labour elsewhere. I guess the only solution would be a concerted effort to have all of these countries raise their minimum wages at the same time.

At least $1.6 billion is lying down the back of US sofas: I laughed and said "yeah, I bet there is a lot" when I walked by this one. But is there really so much that every American has lost $5 this way? Another British bank, Halifax, has done a survey about this and estimated that the couch fortune is £42 million in Britain. Since the US has five times the population of Britain, I would expect it to have $342 million, not $1.6 billion. So until HSBC makes some effort to back up this number, I will call bullshit.

On average, Russian billionaires are 19 years younger than those in America: I'm sure you could verify this by reading Forbes magazine. However, I suspected that it might have nothing to do with billionaires. Perhaps Russian people are 19 years younger than those in America. My favourite author Robert J Sawyer has written:

They were the first in space, they led the world in so much! And their literature, their music! But now it's a land of pestilence and poverty, of disease and early death - you would not want to visit it, trust me.

To test this, I looked at census data for both countries and determined that the average ages differ by only six years: 32 for Russia and 38 for America. Therefore I was wrong and this fact is significant. Note that median ages for a country are widely quoted. I went with the mean this time because I figured that's what the original statement used.

The US has more Spanish language newspaper readers than Latin America: This is just another way of saying that Latin America is poor compared to the US, right? That's what I thought at first because newspaper readership increases with income. However, I was wrong again because this alone cannot explain it. The population of Spanish speakers in the US is about 50 million, whereas the population of Latin America minus Brazil is about 400 million. Therefore the difference in wealth would need to be a factor of 8 (actually it would have to be more because the readership-income curve is sublinear) to account for this change. If you look at the GDP per capita, it seems like you can only get a factor of 4 this way.

The amount of gold beneath the ocean could give everyone on Earth €100,000: Give me a break. Bankers are smart enough to know that this would not make anyone richer. You could print money to give everybody €100,000. Or wait fifty years and the average salary in Canada will increase by this amount simply due to inflation. The amount of gold sitting in reserves is about $2 trillion - enough to give everyone €200. So if you were to destroy many marine ecosystems in order to get at 500 times as much gold, I think this would just make gold 500 times less valuable.

Two thirds of the people who have ever reached 65 are alive today: The anti-religious person in me gets concerned when I see A ton of Internet users repeating this "interesting fact" and using it to reiterate their points without questioning it. Luckily, I found one blogger who realizes that this HSBC ad is not a reliable source. In some countries, there is enough data to debunk this myth. Basic data from the Canadian census goes back to 1921 on their website. Here is a chart of how many 65+ year-olds there were at 30 year intervals:

1921 420,244
1951 1,086,273
1981 2,360,975
2011 4,973,438

Living to 95 is quite rare so it's safe to assume that the numbers above represent different batches of 65 year-olds. From this, we see that the 4,973,438 seniors alive last year were 58% of the seniors who have lived in Canada since 1921. This is less than two thirds even if we believe (the rather false statement) that no Canadians lived to be 65 before 1921. If the rest of the world is anything like Canada, a minority of the seniors who have ever lived are alive today. People have an exaggerated picture of how short human lifespans used to be.

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