Saturday, February 22, 2014

Defining the middle class

The middle class is all the rage these days amongst Canadian politicians, but no party has bothered to define it.  Here are some suggestions for how I think it could be defined.

  1. Divide the population up into income quantiles, i.e. parts of equal size where each person in one part has a lower income than everyone in the next part.  Take the people in some of the middle quantiles to be the middle class.  For example, if five quantiles are used, then they are called quintiles.  We could take second, third, and fourth quintiles to be the middle class, or maybe just the second and third, or maybe just the third and the fourth.
  2. Adopt some measure for average income (mean income or median income, etc.) and some measure of deviation from the average (standard deviation, absolute deviation, etc.).  Pick some number x and say that someone is in the middle class if they are within x times the chosen deviation measure of the chosen type of average. 

    For example, suppose that the chosen average is the median and the chosen deviation is the absolute deviation.  Let M be the median income, and let D be the absolute deviation of income from the median.  Then someone with income I is middle class if the difference between I and M is less than x times D (in math notation, |I-M|
  3. Ask someone "Are you middle class?"  If they say yes, then they are middle class.  If they say no, then they aren't.  (In the interests of academic honestly, I feel compelled to say that this wasn't my idea.  It actually comes to me, indirectly, from MP Scott Andrews, through James McCleod, politics reporter for The Telegram. Here's an image if the tweet disappears).

    Politically, this definition is probably the most useful, because many people consider themselves middle class even when they are not.  This definition is also the most hilarious, in my opinion.
These are only suggestions, of course, and should not be taken too seriously (especially not number 3).  Economists are probably better suited to giving an reasonable definition than some guy who knows math terms and what the word "middle" means.  Regardless, if a politician feels the middle class needs helping, and they have some ideas for helping it, it would be nice if politicians would articulate more precisely just what this middle class is.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Recycling Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

As we rang in the New Year in Canada, a partial ban on incandescent light bulbs came into effect.  The full ban will come into effect at the end of this year.  For now, it is illegal to import 100W and 75W bulbs.  Next year, it will also be illegal to import 60W and 40W bulbs.  (Are there no domestic producers?  If not, will we see domestic producers popping up?  Or is the article misleading, and the ban applies to non-imported bulbs as well?).  Luckily, not many seem to know about it, so if you want to stock up, you might still have a pretty good chance.  I find 100W bulbs too bright for any room in my current dwelling, and 60W is not that much lower than 75W, so I'll be alright for now.

But once the full ban comes into effect, we'll have to buy compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs after our stocks of incandescent bulbs run out (which could take a while, since the bulbs don't burn out that quickly).  Aside from sharp glass if they're broken, incandescent bulbs pose no health or environmental threat.  CFLs, on the other hand, contain mercury, which causes health problems after too much exposure.  Thus, they must be properly disposed of, lest the mercury be released into the environment.

I haven't had many CFLs go on me, so I haven't had to deal with the disposal issue that often.  In fact, I'm having trouble recalling the last time I lost one.  Maybe I never have.  If I did, then I didn't dispose of it properly, because I would have had to go out of the way to dispose of it and I would certainly remember that.  As I'm writing this blog post, my desk is being illuminated by compact fluorescent bulbs.  When they finally expire (I've had them for 4-5 years by now), I'll be sure to dispose of them properly.

According to the article I linked to above, many besides myself do not dispose of the bulbs properly.  This reminds me of recycling pop cans in Ontario, something I wrote about a long time ago.  Other provinces charge a deposit on pop cans, which is given back to the consumer when the pop cans are returned for recycling.  Some states in the US do this as well, but for some reason, Ontario doesn't.  Ontario does charge a deposit for beer cans and bottles, however, and the return rates are much higher for beer bottles and cans than for pop cans (a few years ago, wine bottles were added to the list of things that customers pay a deposit on).  This suggests to me that even a small deposit of a mere dime (not worth much these days) is enough incentive to significantly increase the return rate.

Maybe the amount of mercury that gets released by a broken CFL is insignificant.  But if it could potentially result in serious negative consequences, one wonders whether it wouldn't be worth considering a deposit on them that would operate similarly to the deposit systems currently in place for beer bottles and cans.  Then again, someone wouldn't kill a six pack of compact fluorescent bulbs in an afternoon like they could a six pack of beer (one of the supposed upsides of CFLs, aside from lower energy consumption, is longer life), so maybe it wouldn't be worth the infrastructure.  On the other hand, if they intake is so low, the infrastructure demands would also be low, making it easy for this or that retail outlet to fit one into some corner of their store.


I fully support the move to more energy efficient means of illumination, but I've largely been disappointed with the quality of light from CFLs.  The colour is often not to my liking, sometimes there's a noticeable flicker, and sometimes they just take too long to light up.  I'm also nervous about breaking them by accident--they're rather fragile--and inhaling the mercury vapour.  Perhaps these things will get better in time.  Or perhaps CFLs will just fall out of favour as LED lighting, which is even more energy efficient, takes over.