Spelling and the internet

The BBC reports that Great Britain’s online economy is harmed by bad spelling:

An online entrepreneur says that poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.

Charles Duncombe says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.

Mr Duncombe says when recruiting staff he has been “shocked at the poor quality of written English”.

He says the big problem for online firms isn’t technology but finding staff who can spell.

The concerns were echoed by the CBI whose head of education and skills warned that too many employers were having to invest in remedial literacy lessons for their staff.

Mr Duncombe, who runs travel, mobile phones and clothing websites, says that poor spelling is a serious problem for the online economy.

Charles Duncombe says poor spelling is costing the economy millions

“Often these cutting-edge companies depend upon old-fashioned skills,” says Mr Duncombe.

And he says that the struggle to recruit enough staff who can spell means that this sector of the economy is not as efficient as it might be.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published last month showed internet sales in the UK running at £527m per week.

“I know that industry bemoaning the education system is nothing new but it is becoming more and more of a problem with more companies going online.

“This is because when you sell or communicate on the internet 99% of the time it is done by the written word.”

Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales.

He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected.

“If you project this across the whole of internet retail then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes,” says Mr Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please group.

Spelling is important to the credibility of a website, he says. When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.

via BBC News – Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales.

This reminds us that information technology still communicates most of that information by language and therefore the classic skills of writing and reading well are still necessary.

Are there other cues that make you not trust an internet site?

The McConnell plan

It’s hard to  decipher what Mitch McConnell’s plan to deal with the debt ceiling even is, if you just go by the vague news reports and the wildly opposed or enthusiastic descriptions of it by both advocates and foes, both of whom exist among both Republicans and Democrats.  Essentially, as I understand it, McConnell’s plan is for Congress to pass a resolution that will put the onus of requesting debt hikes, which must be accompanied by spending cuts, onto the President.  Here is a relatively lucid explanation of what it is:

The McConnell approach is convoluted because it is intended to allow Republicans to avoid bringing down the U.S. economy without having to cast politically unpopular votes to raise the debt ceiling. Mr. McConnell proposes a series of maneuvers that would end up authorizing a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit, enough to take the country past the 2012 election. He contemplates that President Obama will seek an increase in three installments — $700 billion, $900 billion and $900 billion. Congress would have a chance to vote against each of these. The president would, presumably, veto those resolutions of disapproval and, presumably, enough Democrats would stand by him to uphold the vetoes.

Meanwhile, the president would have to specify — although he wouldn’t be required to implement — spending cuts equivalent to the amount of increase requested in the debt ceiling. It’s not hard to imagine Republicans putting this list of cuts to good political use. However, the political sting is softened by the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not need the votes of the most endangered members of his caucus to sustain the president’s vetoes, which may explain some of his expressions of interest in the arrangement.

Here is how conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin explains the measure and the controversies:

If you go onto Twitter or check some Web sites (right and left) you will find loads of chatter about the McConnell debt disapproval plan. Most of it is wrong. Members of the chattering class are so anxious to chatter that they feel compelled to do so without understanding the subject matter at hand. Throw in some bad faith (certain right-wing bloggers would declare the GOP leadership traitors if they proposed only $4 trillion in cuts and got President Obama to decline to run for reelection), add in some liberal suspicion (warranted since this is not the first time that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has eaten their lunch), and presto: You get some of the worst “reporting” in recent memory.

The concept isn’t that hard to understand. 1. McConnell had enough of the phony White House talks. The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts. 2. McConnell gave a speech to make clear that wasn’t enough and that the debt limit would be raised only with real cuts and without tax hikes. 3. McConnell could sit back and wait for default. 4. But he comes up with a mechanism to force Obama to put up cuts, send them to Congress and face “default” if the president’s cuts don’t get through. 5. In the process he makes 34 Democratic senators vote over and over again on cuts. (The sound you hear in the background is the conga line at the Senate Republican Committee headquarters.)

There are no tax increases in the plan. The onus is on the president to send a request for a debt-ceiling increase and the cuts to go along with it. If he doesn’t do it or if the Congress disapproves of what he sends up (and sustains a veto) the debt ceiling remains in place. But the Senate Democrats will have the power to sustain a veto (and thereby allow phony cuts to be used to raise the debt ceiling), right? Which 34 senators exactly are going to do this? Certainly not the ones in unsafe seats with voters clamoring for real spending cuts.

The critics who dimly understand the plan forget that the alternatives are limited. What are the alternatives? Default. Or accept the tax hike offer from the White House. Or maybe Obama will cave. McConnell is more than happy to keep on trying to get rid of the tax hikes and get the White House to cough up real spending cuts.

But if there is no deal (grand or otherwise) then the default will not be on the shoulders of the Republicans. McConnell is providing them with a backstop to avoid default.

via McConnell’s plan confuses the chattering class – Right Turn – The Washington Post.

The plan gives up on trying to get spending cuts without tax hikes from the President, but it also attempts a kind of political jui  jitzu, by which Republicans will be put in the position of opposing higher debt and Democrats will shoulder all of the blame.   Indeed, it seems, as things now stand, that these negotiations and every possible outcome will make the Republicans look bad.  If the compromises go through, they will be blamed for cutting spending on popular programs, such as Medicare, while also being blamed for obstructionist tactics that put the country on the edge of default.  McConnell would seem to get the Republicans out of that mess, but now he is being accused of blowing the chance to cut spending and caving in to the Democrats, who, suspiciously, are voicing support for the plan.

What is your analysis?

National debt impasse

So President Obama offered $4 trillion in budgetary cuts if the Republicans would accept a tax increase on the higher brackets.  House Speaker Boehner rejected increasing anyone’s taxes, indicating that he would accept a $ 2.4 trillion trim in cuts alone.

Talks between President Obama and congressional Republicans grew increasingly contentious on Monday, as GOP leaders flatly rejected his call to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of a bipartisan agreement to restrain the nation’s mounting debt.

Dueling news conferences by Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) served as a testy prelude to an afternoon bargaining session that only emphasized the partisan divide, according to people on both sides with knowledge of the closed-door discussions.

During the meeting, Obama challenged Boehner to buck the anti-tax hard-liners in his party, who, the president suggested, are blocking the path to a landmark compromise to reduce borrowing by as much as $4 trillion over the next decade. Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) responded by urging Democrats to settle for a more modest reductions-only deal that would save $2.4 trillion but would not touch tax breaks for the nation’s richest households.

In addition to major cuts to domestic agencies, the House GOP proposal calls for slicing about $250 billion from Medicare over the next decade by asking well-off seniors to pay more for health coverage, placing new restrictions on Medigap policies and putting in place new co-payments and cost-sharing provisions for home health care, among other changes. Those reductions would come on top of about $500 billion in Medicare savings previously enacted as part of Obama’s overhaul of the health-care system — cuts Republicans denounced during last fall’s midterm campaign.

via Debt talks between Obama, Republican leaders grow more contentious – The Washington Post.

Isn’t it better to have a $4 trillion cut than a $2.4 trillion cut?  And wouldn’t a tax increase cut the deficit even more, on top of that?  Isn’t the deficit such a huge problem that we need to attack it both by cutting spending and by increasing revenues somehow?  Given that Democrats don’t want to cut entitlements and Republicans don’t want to increase taxes, do you see any way out of this impasse?

The National Debt and the Constitution

As we wrestle with the national debt and as Congress debates over whether to raise the debt limit or risk default, we should consider what the Constitution says about the issue.  First, Congress does have the right to borrow money:

‘The Congress shall have power … To borrow money on the credit of the United States.’  Article I, Section 8

But read on to the 14th Amendment and you find this:

‘The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.’  14th Amendment, Section 4

The 14th Amendment deals with the wreckage of the Civil War, giving citizenship to former slaves by virtue of their having been born here (another controversial issue in the immigration debate, though clearly addressed in the Constitution) among other things.  Article 4 repudiated the debt of the Confederacy, but in doing so it affirmed that the United States will always honor its debts.

This was a brilliant addition, serving as the basis for the idea that U.S. bonds are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States of America, meaning they are a rock solid investment.  It isn’t just our full faith and credit that backs them but the Constitution itself.  It would be unconstitutional to default on our loans.

But, as some experts are saying now in the midst of the debt ceiling negotiations in Congress, the 14th Amendment would render all of that moot.  There is no need to raise the debt ceiling because the Constitution provides that all debt that we incur must be paid.  The money that our lawmakers are squabbling over has already been spent and has been authorized by statute.  According to the 14th Amendment, that debt has to be honored.

Debt can certainly be too high and need to be controlled.  But the 14th Amendment means that whatever we borrow must be paid back.   According to some attorneys, if the current negotiations to raise the debt ceiling break down, to prevent the country from going into default, the President simply needs to sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment and keep borrowing money to pay our obligations, despite what Congress does.

Do you see any flaws in this legal reasoning?

 

see U.S. Constitution Under Siege over Libya, Taxes, Health Care – TIME.

HT:  Jimmy Veith

The great comic book bubble

Jonathan V. Last offers a fascinating mashup of two of my favorite topics:  comic books and economics.   Not only that, he draws lessons that apply to the recent popping of the housing bubble:

In 1974 you could buy an average copy of Action Comics #1—the first appearance of Superman—for about $400. By 1984, that comic cost about $5,000. This was real money, and by the end of the decade, comics sales at auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s were so impressive that the New York Times would take note when, for instance, Detective Comics #27—the first appearance of Batman—sold for a record-breaking $55,000 in December 1991. The Times was there again a few months later, when a copy of Action Comics #1 shattered that record, selling for $82,500. Comic books were as hot as a market could be. At the investment level, high-value comics were appreciating at a fantastic rate. At the retail level, comic-book stores were popping up all across the country to meet a burgeoning demand. As a result, even comics of recent vintage saw giant price gains. A comic that sold initially for 60 cents could often fetch a 1,000 percent return on the investment just a few months later.

But 1992 was the height of the comic-book bubble. Within two years, the entire industry was in danger of going belly up. The business’s biggest player, Marvel, faced bankruptcy. Even the value of blue chips, like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, plunged. The resulting carnage devastated the lives of thousands of adolescadolescent boys. I know. As a 12-year-old I had a collection worth around $5,000. By the time I was ready to sell my comic books to buy a car—such are the long-term financial plans of teenagers—they were worthless.

The comic-book bubble was the result not of a single mania, but of a confluence of events. Speculation was part of the story. Price gains for the high-value comics throughout the 1980s attracted speculators, who pushed the prices up further. At the retail level, the possibility that each new issue might someday sell for thousands of dollars drove both the sale of new comics and the market for back-issue comics. It was not uncommon for a comic book to sell at its cover price (generally 60 cents or $1) the month it was released and then appreciate to $10 or $15 a few months later.

But the principal cause of the bubble was the industry’s distribution system.

via The Crash of 1993 | The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Last goes on to spell out how the distribution system both inflated the comic book market–not just collectibles but the whole industry–and then brought it crashing down.  Marvel Comics actually went bankrupt in 1996.

The market did recover somewhat. In 2009, thirteen years after bankruptcy, Marvel was bought out by Disney for $4 billion.  And Action Comics #1 now sells for $1.5 million.   But the money today comes not from selling magazines on woodpulp but from intellectual property:  the movies that get made from comic books–as well as the accompanying toys and merchandise–make them valuable.

I lived through what Mr. Last describes.  In my years of reading comic books as a kid, I accumulated some titles that actually became rather valuable.  In the early 1970s, as a college student perennially in need of money, I sold them.  Soon the money was gone and a few years later I was kicking myself at how those titles had skyrocketed in value.  Now I just wish I had them so that I could read them again and re-experience my childhood imagination.

HT: Tom Hering

How free is your state?

Check out this site from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which gives rankings and assessments of the level of “freedom” in each state in the union.   According to these findings, New Hampshire (“Live free or die!”) is the state with the most freedoms, while New York is the most oppressive.  See

Now what is interesting is the way the study factors in both “economic freedom”  (low taxes, minimal government regulations on business, limited government, etc.) and also “personal freedom.”  This category includes both things conservatives like, such as openness to homeschooling and minimal gun control, but it also puts a premium on gay marriage and lax drug law enforcement.   Nevada scores big (at #6) because of its legalized gambling and because it allows localities to legalize prostitution.

Freedom in the 50 States | Mercatus.

Today conservatives tend to want economic freedom but decry this version of “personal freedom.”   While liberals demand this version of “personal freedom” while decrying “economic freedom.”

My prediction:  The new political and cultural consensus will demand both, with libertarianism reigning supreme.   Right now, this kind of libertarianism is opposed by both the left and the right, but for different reasons.  But I suspect a realignment may be in the future.  It’s already happening among some in the Republican elite.

So if you are a “freedom loving American” opposing government intrusions into the economy, how can you also oppose “personal freedoms” such as the liberty to use drugs and go to prostitutes?

Conversely, if you are a liberal who believes that gays should have the freedom to marry and that women should have the freedom to get an abortion, on what grounds would you deny a business owner the freedom to make money without government interference?

Or are you willing to accept libertarianism if it would give you whichever kind of freedom you find most important, even at the cost of the kind that you do not approve of?

HT:  Jackie


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