Archive for November, 2013

University College Oxford Roll of Donors

November 30, 2013
Percentage making a donation against year of matriculation

Percentage making a donation against year of matriculation

Univ have sent us a Newsletter & Roll of Donors, presumably meaning to prod us into action of some kind.  Since this brochure contains a listing of the percentage of surviving ex-students who gave a donation in the academic year 2012/13 by year of matriculation, we suppose we are meant to do a regression.

That gives us the results plotted above, or the model is:

Call: lm(formula = PERCENT ~ YEAR, data = univ)

Residuals: Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max-16.5684  -3.3648  -0.8145   4.1408  11.8245 Coefficients: Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|) (Intercept) 1368.28941  112.48351   12.16 2.85e-16 *** YEAR          -0.67092    0.05668  -11.84 7.65e-16 *** Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1 Residual standard error: 5.784 on 48 degrees of freedom Multiple R-squared: 0.7448,     Adjusted R-squared: 0.7395 F-statistic: 140.1 on 1 and 48 DF,  p-value: 7.648e-16

I don’t really feel like trying a quadratic term here…

Presumably the simplest explanation is that the older year groups just have more disposable income and so they give more to their old college. Generally speaking, charitable giving is more prevalent among older people even among normal human beings, never mind this population, characterised as it is by excessive personal wealth (see for instance here).  Of course, and especially for this population, a great deal of the value is contained in a few high-value donations, so participation rate doesn’t necessarily tell you very much.

Anyway, we could also ask about the performance of particular years against the model prediction.  The figure below shows residuals against year. fig2We see that 1980 is quite significantly–indeed 1 standard deviation–below the predicted value, while 1982 is less frugal.

A friend writes:  I was looking for a pattern in the residuals for significant anniversaries e.g. 25th since graduating, but need more data. It would be interesting to look at the data for previous years to see percentage donating by year since matriculation for different cohorts. Is the class of 82 consistently more generous or is it that in the 20th year after graduating every cohort donates more?

In the absence of more data, we can look at the autocorrelations, as below:

fig3Clearly there is nothing significant here (though we may question the wisdom of going up to lag = 20 with only 50 data points).

Logically, one might expect some effect connected with ‘gaudies’, where those who matriculated in a given period are invited back to the college to engage in donating money and in self-congratulation.  So there might be a quasi-significant-anniversary effect, since recent years (like 1980) tend to get invited back every ten years or so, but this would not show up in the autocorrelations.

Then there’s the question of displacement: are the same people giving what they would have given anyway but at a different time?

The world seen from Perm

November 28, 2013


This map comes from a brochure that I got from the Mayor of Perm after I’d had a grilling from him (on the general subject of public finances) in the upstairs room of a pub while his teenage daughter looked on and died of boredom.  He was worried about being overshadowed by Ekaterinburg and felt that Perm’s main problem was its physical layout in being so drawn-out while E-burg was much more concentrated.

The map has its points of interest. Perm certainly isn’t that shape and then they’ve managed to put themselves at the edge of their own map, but not near enough the edge to eliminate E-burg.  There’s something endearingly half-hearted about that.  Maybe they were trying to show their twin cities, but they left out Qingdao, the Chinese one, and in fact the Mayor was just about to follow Boris Johnson’s example by flying out there in search of some money.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my meeting with the Mayor!  To start off with, I rang his hotel and they said they had no such guest.  Then we kind-of established contact via his Russian mobile and the connection kept dropping.  Finally, when we were trying to meet in Oxford Street, his mobile broke completely…It was just like being back in Perm, especially with the unpleasant weather and 98% of Oxford St shoppers being foreign.

Walk through the sites of revolutionary thinking, 23 November

November 24, 2013
Tatiana outside Saatchi & Saatchi

Tatiana outside Saatchi & Saatchi–the Communist Club that stood on this site housed a session of the RSDLP congress of 1905

This walk, facilitated by Tatiana Baskakova, was devoted to various London sites connected with Russian revolutionaries.  I think she had started off intending to devote it to Lenin, then found that the anarchists were more to her liking.

Along the way, we discussed some relevant questions, such as Is walking a revolutionary practice?  and Is it suspicious that the buildings occupied by radicals have disappeared? and indeed Did Ilyich stop at Pret for some lunch?

Here are some pictures:


South side of Fitzroy Square–site of an anarchist congress

New plaque commemorating Alexander Herzen in Judd Street

New plaque commemorating Alexander Herzen in Judd Street


Bevin Court in Finsbury–Lenin stayed on the site and it might have been called Lenin Court if Berthold Lubetkin had got his way

Photographing the 'We are definitely closed' sign at the Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green

Photographing the ‘We are definitely closed’ sign at the Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green

Former site of the South Place Ethical Society--an ailing Kropotkin spoke here in support of the Chicago anarchists

Former site of the South Place Ethical Society–an ailing Kropotkin spoke here in support of the Chicago anarchists

The Freedom Press (Angel Alley, Whitechapel) was founded by Kropotkin and others in 1886

The Freedom Press (Angel Alley, Whitechapel) was founded by Kropotkin and others in 1886

Journey's end in Whitechapel:  Stalin must have used one of those doors...

Journey’s end in Fulbourne Street, Whitechapel: Stalin must have used one of those doors…

–Dear Tatiana,  Do let me thank you for all the preparation you must have put in to create such an interesting walk for us today, and for all of your input on the walk itself.

–Thank you for joining the walk, and staying along till the final line. It was a pleasure to organise it, and have you, and everyone around.

There’s a very interesting series of posts on Russians in London (including revolutionaries) on Sarah Young’s blog here; and also a fascinating map.

Why are clothes so expensive in Russia?

November 17, 2013


Taking Perm as an example–and why not–it says here that while most things in Perm are 1/2 or 1/3 of the price in London, clothes cost the same–I’d say that if you take into account choice and quality things are a lot worse  than that for the Permians.

My guess is that the basis of the fashion trade in the UK is that the big retailers get stuff very cheap (but decent quality–a lot better than the Chinese stuff you get in Russia) from Bangladesh and China and then sell it in rather large shops that provide a decent shopping experience–mirrors, fitting rooms, toilets…

So would this work in Russia?  If you can buy stuff at Bangladeshi or Chinese prices and sell it at London prices while paying Russian rent and wages you should be able to make some money.

I tried to think of what the problems might be specifically for clothing.  For instance: you can’t get your stock from China to Perm the cheapest way (by boat), but that applies to anything else imported from China, so doesn’t really count.

I thought of the following:

1.  Clothes are relatively easy for the staff and customers to steal (but this is soluble)

2.  You wouldn’t get as cheap a wholesale price as the big UK retailers (but still cheap enough)

3.  If there hasn’t been a proper fashion business in Russia then you won’t get a decent buyer.   But if nobody else has one that’s not so serious.

4.  I don’t think the shop units you get in Russia are generally anything like big enough.  I’m sure there are enough disused warehouses and factories in Perm, but you’d have to spend some money on fitting one out.

5.  My best answer is that the special thing about fashion is that you need clothes in a vast range of sizes, patterns, styles, colours [etc].  As a retailer you can’t afford to carry all that stock yourself so you need a network of wholesalers and middlemen to do it for you.  Which may not exist in Russia.  But it I think it will in China or Bangladesh and so on…

6.  I thought that there might be a steep tariff on imported clothes in Russia, but I looked it up and it’s pretty much the same as the UK.

I then found a Russian-produced answer to my question that you can also view through Google Translate here.

Basically it’s the same as my initial thoughts except:

1)  they ignore the fancy stuff about choice, buyers etc

2)  they refer to shortage/high price of shop space generally

3)  they point out the real problem with the tariff is what the Customs officer will actually charge you

4)  they say that [the same as with housing in the UK] people expect to pay stupid prices.

Of these, (2) & (3) are probably true but they would apply to all imported goods in shops and generally they’re not that dear in Russia.  You do need more floorspace to flog clothes than some other things, but wherever you are you need to put some effort in to turning over the stock so that you cover your overheads.

So we might say that unrealistic expectations are more a part of fashion than some other businesses, and that could be ‘the’ answer.

But then I got some expert economic advice:

Can’t say I’m convinced by the expectation argument.  People are not perfectly rational, but they’re not stupid.  With few exceptions ( ) offer people better quality at lower prices and they will buy.  The cost and supply side constraints sound a much more believable explanation.

Thinking about this, if it was a case of expectations there should probably be a differential effect in different market sectors, which would be easy enough to check for.  Offhand I think the answer is No.

Otherwise the explanation has to show why clothes are different from other imported goods.

1)  The UK price of clothes is too low relative to other goods
–some evidence here, for instance M&S cross-subsidy and people seem to come here from abroad to buy clothes more than other things

2)  UK has high tariffs on non-clothes imports compared with Russia
–hard to believe since UK policy is generally non-protectionist and EU tends to play by the WTO/GATT rules

3)  Something about costs of variety
–not too convinced:  there are lots of diverse clothing factories in China

So my current answer would be the combination of a)  weakness in retailing (indolence, incompetence and shortage of suitable premises means they don’t shift enough stuff per square metre) and b)  difficulties in importation (in particular, uncertainty in knowing what the Customs officer is going to demand and how long he’s going to hang on to your container–the official tariff is perfectly reasonable).

Now under a) they manage perfectly reasonable supermarkets and rather nice chain restaurants at the Pizza Express-ish level and with sensible prices in both cases [but enough of the stuff is domestically sourced to make this not so difficult], while under b) the prices for say cars and computers are…tolerable (maybe 2/3 of the price here), but there’s not the same need to shift the stuff quickly I think.

One problem with this explanation is that if you don’t believe in expectation based on UK/’Western’ prices, then a different set of factors is managing to reproduce them with surprising accuracy.

Then you could ask whether all this means that home dressmaking is more popular in Russia.

There Are No Excuses: A Civil Service Management Guide

November 3, 2013


I found this Russian version of ‘There are no excuses’ (‘Expressions forbidden in this unit’) while looking for something else. If you put ‘that piece of advice’ for ‘order’ in No.8 the list would make a reasonable draft of an operating manual for the modern Civil Service, but you really need entries about computers and Special Advisers to make it fully comprehensive.

1. That’s the first I’ve heard of it.

2. I rang but couldn’t get through.

3. I dropped in, but you weren’t there.

4. I looked, but I couldn’t find it.

5. But I thought…

6. That was before my time.

7. But I made a report…

8. Most likely the order never reached me.

9. But why me?

10. But nobody told me.

11. I never heard about it.

12. I don’t know.

13. They didn’t pass that on.

14. I meant well…

15. I tried but it didn’t work.

16. I wanted to report it, but you weren’t there.

17. I told him but he didn’t do it.

18. I wasn’t there at that time. I must have been ill (on leave)