Monthly Archives: October 2012

Crowdfunding science

I have written sometimes in the blog about crowdfunding. How I started funding loans for small entrepreneurs in developing countries via Kiva, or how I invested a small amount in the movie project “El Cosmonauta”, and more generally I have shared yearly contributions to other non-profits.

I heard for the first time about crowdfunding science some time ago, but didn’t keep track of it. Thus, when I read the last week in The Economist an article featuring some platforms where to crowdfund science I decided to take a look at those and to post about it in the blog. The purpose of the post is twofold: raise awareness about an initiative that I support (even if not yet with money) and to let myself keep track of them from now on.

The article mentions 4 platforms. Two of the platforms look more science-focussed and the other two more generalist:

  • Petridish: “Petridish lets you fund promising research projects and join first hand in new discoveries.”
  • Microryza: “We’re researchers and scientists. We live and breathe this stuff. We know that too many important research ideas go unfunded. So we created Microryza. We believe that the discoveries made through research help make the world better, that researchers should keep 100% ownership of the research and results, and that a community of people who care about science is all that’s needed to help seed fund new ideas.”
  • Rockethub: “RocketHub is the world’s funding machine. RocketHub is an international and open community that has helped thousands of artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists raise millions of dollars. We offer an innovative way to raise money (Crowdfunding) and tangible opportunities to take creative products and endeavors to next level (LaunchPad Opportunities).”
  • Indiegogo: “Everyone should have the opportunity to raise money. Now everyone does. People all over the world use our industry-leading platform to raise millions of dollars for all types of campaigns. No matter what you are raising money for, you can start right now with no fee or application process.”

I will let you know the moment I opt to engage with a particular scientific research :-).

Note: I leave aside the debate of whether budget for science should be ensured by the states.

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How high are high taxes?

Taxes are often the subject of heated discussions. Nobody enjoys paying taxes, even if we understand that they’re needed to pay for some state services that otherwise we would not have.

People especially hate when taxes are raised. In Spain income taxes, VAT taxes and some other minor taxes or the cost of public services have been raised recently. In France there is a heated debate on whether the maximum personal income tax rate could be raised up to 75%. A similar heated discussion takes place in the USA about the effective taxes rate paid by the superrich, the top 1%, the top 0.01%… you name it.

You will hear people either claiming that taxing more the rich is what is to be done or that increasing taxes will not forever increase tax revenue collection (the famous Laffer curve); that investors, job creators, etc., will be deterred by the high taxes and take their wealth elsewhere.

Firstly, I am no expert on taxes.

However, seeing today’s tax rates levels (be it Spain, France or the USA), the heated discussions we witness and having had some conversations either with friends or colleagues on taxes, I thought it could be interesting to post in the blog some historical evolution of the different tax rates, just to put in perspective what is high taxes.

I have taken all the graphics from the Wikipedia and all refer to the case of the USA (the one for which there is always more data available). You can see below the evolution of personal income tax rate for the highest and lowest earners, of taxes on capital gains and corporate taxes.

Personal Income Taxes (what in Spain would be IRPF).

You can see in the picture below how the maximum tax rate was for some time above 90% (now is 35%). You can check yearly data on the different tax brackets in the Tax Foundation. In those years with brackets above 90%, maximum effective tax rates were around 70-88%.

“Historical Marginal Tax Rate for Highest and Lowest Income Earners” in USA, from 1912 to 2008 (by Guest2625)

Capital Gains Taxes.

You can see in the picture below how the maximum tax rate was for some time 35% (now is 15%). This is the tax that applies to most of the income of those superrich as they earn it via their investments.

Maximum Federal Tax Rate on Long Term Capital Gains (1972 – 2012) (by Guest2625)

Corporate Taxes.

These are the taxes on corporate profits. You can see in the picture below how the effective tax rate has been continuously decreasing from above 40% in the ’50s (now is under 20%).

US Effective Corporate Tax Rate 1947-2011 (by Guest2625)

Those were the rates.

Then there is a whole lot of studies proving either point or the other. That higher taxes provoke lower investment or the contrary. That higher taxes reduce tax collection or the contrary. That higher taxes reduce growth or the contrary. Pick your study and support your argument. You may have to look for one variable and hide another, pick a country and forget another, pick a decade and not the one before or after. It doesn’t matter, I guess any point can be proven.

Let me finish by sharing two more graphics, obviously handpicked, and a quote:

Top Capital Gains Tax Rates and Economic Growth 1950-2011 (by Leonard Burman).

Capital Gains Taxes and Real Investment (by Jared Bernstein).

From Warren Buffett’s op-ed  “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” in the NYTimes (Aug. 11, 2011):

“I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off.

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Holocaust Memorial (Berlin) and unintended consequences

The Holocaust Memorial or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was inaugurated in Berlin about 7 years ago close to the Brandenburg Gate.

If you see the following picture from Wikimedia, you get a glimpse of what could be a huge cemetery of concrete slabs.

Holocaust Memorial (by de:Benutzer:Schreibkraft).

The memorial is described in the Wikipedia with the following words:

“It consists of a 19,000 square metres (4.7 acres) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae“, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. […] According to Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

However, the memorial is not to be contemplated from the air as seen above, but from the ground and people can walk through it.

If you visit the site you’ll experience or watch some unintended consequences:  people tend to sit on the stones, run between them, jump from one to another, play “hide and seek”… the least people do is to experience with light and shadows, distances, slopes…

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Then there is a poor security guard calling on people (sometimes bunches of playful students) to “behave”, not to run, jump, etc.

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Water counters, water price and incentives

Take a look at the water counter in the picture below:

Water counter at hostel.

We found these water counters at the hostel we were lodged in Berlin. I immediately started taking note of how many litres I consumed in each of the showers I took. First one:

I checked in the internet and found references of average consumptions for showers between 80 and 120 litres. The following days I tried to save some water (of course without compromising the cleaning part :-)). The minimum consumption I had was of 34L, the rest in the end were around 42L.

In the process I discussed with Luca whether hotels could incentivize in some ways (other than displaying the counter at our sight) the saving of water by the guests. We thought of possible messages in the way of “the average guest consumes 100L per shower, see if you can use less water! Do it for the planet!”, or whether some discounts / surcharges could be offered / imposed to those consuming less / more water.

However, I checked water prices in France and in Toulouse and it is around 3.3€ per cubic metre (m3). That is, in 5 days, having seen the counter and having tried to minimize water consumption all I saved was about 0.38 m3 or about 1.25€… this is economically meaningless in comparison with the hotel bill.

At those prices, I guess all we could do is trying to save water out of our consciences and not driven by an economic drive (the same level of saving I achieved could mean ~35€ a year per person).

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Old Berlin key lock system

During our last stay in Berlin we were lodged at a hostel in Fasanenstrasse, close to Kurfürstendamm (Charlottenburg). The pension was in an old building which was protected by some urbanism laws which prevented the owners to perform some works.

Thus, the building maintained a curious key lock system at the front door which was activated by night. The key was double sided as it can be seen in the picture below.

Old Berlin front door key.

In order to open the door you would have to introduce the key in the lock, unlock it and then fully insert the key in the door until it would appear in the interior of the house. You would then have to lock it from the inside and remove the key from the inside by pulling from the other end of the key.

We found it funny and curious, so we recorded this short video showing the system:

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Berlin Tempelhof Airport

Berlin Tempelhof Airport was one of the spots that we wanted to visit in Berlin. The airport was built in the 1920’s and had been an iconic airport for decades, e.g., by the famous Berlin Airlift which with the allied forces supplied West Berlin once surface traffic was blocked by the Soviet Union in 1948.

Other historic events happening in the airport (quoted from Wikipedia):

In 1909, Frenchman Armand Zipfel made the first flight demonstration in Tempelhof, followed by Orville Wright later that same year. Tempelhof was first officially designated as an airport on 8 October 1923. Deutsche Luft Hansa was founded in Tempelhof on 6 January 1926.

[…] described by British architect Sir Norman Foster as “the mother of all airports”.

The airport closed operations in 2008.

The coincidence was that the Berlin marathon fair was organized at Tempelhof thus we didn’t need to schedule the visit since we would go there to pick the running bibs.

See below some pictures from the airport.

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I had some fun with my brother remembering that the airport is also featured in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (when they get into a zeppelin). I tried to find in Youtube some scenes in which the airport could be recognised, but the only scene that I find related to it is when Indiana and his father are already aboard the zeppelin:

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East Side Gallery (Berlin)

A whole decade has passed since the first time that I visited Berlin with my brother. This time again, we dedicated some time to visit some touristic highlights. I will write some posts in relation to that visit.

This first one will be dedicated to the East Side Gallery. From the Wikipedia:

 

The East Side Gallery is an international memorial for freedom. It is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall located near the centre of Berlin on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. […]
The Gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. […]
It is possibly the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world. […]
The paintings at the East Side Gallery document the time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better and free future for all people of the world. […]

The wall has been damaged by several reasons and gone through subsequent series of restorations.

See below some pictures from the East Side Gallery (status from September 2012):

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