Articles

I have written a number of articles for CounterPunch, The World of Statistics, and Caracolas. The CounterPunch and The World of Statistics articles are based on research from Do The Math! On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013) with updated information where appropriate. Caracolas is a semi-regular blog about my ongoing adventures in Spain. Suggested topics welcome.

    
  • How Big is My Tribe? The Crisis in Catalonia, CounterPunch, November 8, 2017
    What makes a border today: the natural divide of a river, mountain, or sea, a ruled mark on a dusty map such as in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that carved up the Ottoman Empire, or the common history, language, or race of a group, not at all mutually exclusive or easily defined? Of course, one should expect trouble when a straight-edge ruler marks the difference between you and me, but the bigger question now is how atomized must we become before we stop drawing lines between us? Simply put, how big is my tribe? [ More ...]

  • Liars, damn liars, and scoundrels, CounterPunch, June 13, 2017
    In his 1906 autobiography, Mark Twain immortalized the line "lies, damn lies, and statistics" elegantly citing a burgeoning problem with troublesome numbers. Twain said little about any liars or damn liars responsible for such mathematical worries, although he did add to his famous trilemma by fingering the worst type of lie: "there are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Enter the scoundrel and his inchoate finger-pointing in the name of patriotism, where one wonders if a permanent state of lying is now a new norm. [ More ...]

  • President Mudslinger: A strategy of dirt, CounterPunch, March 3, 2017
    It seems we are living in a tit-for-tat world, playing games at all levels, regularly calling out the opposition with bold aplomb. Call it chess if you can see 10 moves ahead or checkers if you like going here and there and getting crowned with occasional local glory. Hopefully it's not a mutually-assured-destruction game of tic-tac-toe. [ More ...]

  • Is Equality Overrated, Too?, CounterPunch, January 17, 2017
    Some say we are embarking on new times, where fake truth is stranger than fake fiction, where rural life has retaken a rusted world, where the new rulers want to show us how a real "free" market system works. In fact, the latest rulers want to pull their own levers, all of them. Perhaps it has ever been thus, though never so brazenly obvious as a citizen-billionaire accepts the American crown for the first time. As Mr Moneybags goes to Washington, the number of dollars one hoards is now the official measure of a man. Indeed, in Trumpland there are only 2 kinds of people: winners and losers. [ More ...]

  • Hill and Don in Lyrics and in Numbers, CounterPunch, November 15, 2016
    We all want to make sense of the toxic tea leaves, overturned in the craziest of modern mugs, from a year of daily dissings by our would-be political masters to the seemingly endless ongoing violence around the world. Okay, it's hard to agree with anyone these days in the overly aggressive blogverse, our shrinking global village now one big virtual graffiti dump and dog lamp post. In the words of Harry Nilsson (via Fred Neil) 'Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're saying, Only the echoes of my mind.' [ More ...]

  • A Bill of Goods for Xmas, CounterPunch, December 23, 2015
    Christmas is here again, our erstwhile annual day of hope now hijacked by marketers, junk consumerism, and burly red-coated pagan Santas. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt brought forward the date of Thanksgiving to squeeze in more buying time, the commercial bonanza that is now Xmas lost the Christ for good. [ More ...]

  • Life on the Layaway Plan: We're all Greek Now, CounterPunch, August 5, 2015
    Is modern economics one big Ponzi game, where the debt of today is continuously postponed beyond any ultimate day of reckoning? The European debt crisis may have been temporarily managed with a quick-fix German bailout of Greek insolvency, but does anyone really think that a country with a GNP of $X can repay almost $2X after its economy has shrunk by 25% (insert current value of X = 240 billion for Greece)? I have some swamp land in Florida if you do. [ More ...]

  • A Simple Recipe for the Future, CounterPunch, June 26, 2015
    The 64,000-dollar question these days is "Are we destroying the world?" Is man finally doing himself in after years of neglect, fulfilling the doomsday sandwich board message that "The End is Nigh?" With a NASA report on the loss of global aquifers, a scientific paper on the extinction of many more species than expected since 1900, and the Pope's encyclical on global warming, all published last week, predicting the end is now a cottage industry. Hashtag doom. [ More ...]

  • Selfie Economics, CounterPunch, May 15, 2015
    Archimedes famously noted, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the world." If Archimedes were alive today, he might use his savvy to leverage the smallest of margins and make trillions as a fund manager. Or fashion another Eureka moment when he figured out that now is a good time to short-sell the long bull market and make a few trillion more. So what if more people live in poverty than at any time in history, while more than 40% of all corporate profits go to the financial industry? What's another trillion to a smart guy? [ More ...]

  • Trickle-Down Democracy, CounterPunch, April 10, 2015
    Whether the restrictive policies of Lord North or the madness of King George III lost the American colonies, if George Washington had had a son, the new American republic would likely have become a monarchy, and almost five percent of the world's population would now be living in the biggest monarchy in the world, the United Kingdom of America. More than two centuries on, one has to wonder: Is it Crown Prince Jeb versus Queen Hillary for prez now, with their eye-popping war chests? [ More ...]

  • Science in the Age of Opinion, CounterPunch, March 6, 2015
    Scientific disinformation is going round like a bad cough these days, including doubts about vaccines and global warming, never mind a belief in a 6,000-year-old earth or free energy. Of course, one should always be sceptical of one's sources, but are the basics of good science becoming derided because of the rise of the internet and so-called pockets of new authority? Are we becoming our own curators, the last arbiters about what is correct and right despite much contrary evidence? Are we living in an Age of Opinion? [ More ...]

  • Lottomania: Mega Millions Madness, CounterPunch, February 12, 2015
    The government lotto hucksters are at it again, hoping to exploit our ignorance and cultivate our superstitions, this time with another blockbuster Powerball lottery, set at a mind-numbing half a billion dollars. Nothing beats the numbers game to separate our money from our wallets, but why are our governments so keen to encourage gambling in our lives? [ More ...]

  • Made in Spain: ArcelorMittal Steel, Caracolas, February 11, 2015
    ArcelorMittal is the world's largest steel making company in the world with almost 240,000 employees in 20 countries, including at six locations in Spain: Etxebarri, Lesaka, and Sestao in the Basque Country, Avilés and Gijón in Asturias, and Sagunto in Valencia. The former owner of Mittal Steel, multi-billionaire Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, is the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the company that was formed in the 2006 merger of Mittal and Arcelor (itself the result of a 2002 merger between Aceralia (Spain), Usinor (France) and Arbed (Luxembourg). The Mittal family owns 40% of the company. [ More ...]

  • The Politics of Inequality, CounterPunch, January 21, 2015
    Stop the presses! Inequality is still getting worse. Last year, prior to the start of the Davos World Economic Forum, Oxfam came out with its briefing paper, Working for the Few: Political Capture and Economic Inequality, stating that "Economic inequality is rapidly increasing in the majority of countries." We all remember the chilliest of soundbites: 85 people equal 3.5 billion, an almost unimaginable see-saw of inequality, indifference, and greed. Well, this year Oxfam stated that only 80 people equal 3.5 billion. Not exactly the progress most people were calling for. [ More ...]

  • Crisis? What Crisis?, CounterPunch, December 19, 2014
    During the last major financial crisis of 2008, bad positions on more than $60 trillion worth of over-leveraged credit default swaps were unwound at the same time, creating a chain of events that brought the international banking system to a halt, resulting in a wave of bank bailouts and austerity budgets still with us today. All because banks were betting money they didn't have at ever larger margins. It seems it's all systems go again as the U.S. Congress relaxed regulations put in place to prevent a similar crisis as part of its 1.1 trillion-dollar budget bill passed this week. [ More ...]

  • 'Returning to live in Ireland after 30 years, I was hatched', Irish Times, December 9, 2014
    Growing up in Toronto was the best of many worlds, but never one I called home. Home was where I was born in Dublin, Ireland, at the Hatch Street Nursing Home, half a block from John Millington Synge's birthplace. Upon my return to Ireland to live thirty years later though, I prefer to say I was hatched. It's more poetic and to me Ireland was always home to the poetic - a land whose "history began before the angelic clan." [ More ...]

  • Terror Games: Just Say No, CounterPunch, December 3, 2014
    People maiming and killing people for other people's entertainment is not my idea of fun. I've never been high on the theatrics of war or blood sport, but the ultra-violent is everywhere now, on the nightly news, extreme sports, and our 3D big screens with action-toy tie-ins. One wonders how much cruelty we can stomach as we munch our popcorn and eat our twizzlers. Is this modern art meant to imitate life? [ More ...]

  • Inequality Battles: A Permanent IOU, CounterPunch, November 6, 2014
    The results are in! - inequality is getting worse. Or at least some in power are now mentioning it above a whisper, from Fed Chairman Janet Yellen to Bank of England governor Mark Carney. It's not just Thomas Piketty, Occupy movements around the world, or Oxfam who earlier this year encapsulated the disparity of our new old world in the catchiest of sound bites: 85 = 3.5 billion. Yes, that's 85 as in 85 people. [ More ...]

  • The New Old Capitalism: Workers Versus Owners (again), CounterPunch, October 9, 2014
    What do authors and taxi drivers have in common? No, this is not a lead-in for a joke, but a question about the same old problem with unregulated capitalism. Answer: They're both being squeezed by cut-throat competition; authors by Amazon who are selling books for pennies and taxi drivers by Uber who are being beaten to fares by smart-phone apps. It's no surprise - slash-and burn capitalism purposefully changes innovation into efficient selling - but the real question is, Who benefits - owners or workers? That one is as old as the hills and certainly no joke. [ More ...]

  • The Manufactured Need: Just Say No, CounterPunch, September 2, 2014
    In a self-interested society, competition is king and individualism reigns supreme, nowhere more evident than in the world of advertising, which peddles lifestyles instead of products, ignorance over intelligence, and wants rather than needs. But such thinking is a "race to the bottom," resulting in greater inequality and widening economic disparity. What's worse, when we fall for scrubbing bubbles, bouncy hair, and "plop, plop, fizz, fizz," how much easier is it to stomach the bigger lies like war in the name of peace, trickle-down economics, or a 6,000-year-old world where glaciers don't melt? [ More ...]

  • Renewable Energy in Spain: How the Wind and the Sun are Changing our World, Caracolas, August 30, 2014
    Everyone knows the windmills of La Mancha from Don Quixote and that the south of Spain is one of the sunniest and hottest parts of Europe, drawing record numbers of tourists each year. But did you know that Spain is a world leader in wind and solar power generation? Poised to make renewable energy a cornerstone of a revived economy, Spain now boasts wind as its number one power producer (20.9%) ahead of nuclear (20.8%) and hydro (14.4%). In fact, last year Spain was the first country ever to use wind as its primary energy source. That's good news for sustainable energy and good news for the environment. [ More ...]

  • In a Rich Man's World: Money, Money, Money, CounterPunch, August 1, 2014
    I don't like to disagree with Paul Krugman, I really don't. He's done so much to raise awareness about inequality. And not just in the academic world, where he won the so-called 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics for "his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity." So-called, because it was never bequeathed in Alfred Nobel's will. [ More ...]

  • The World Cup of Oil: Haven't We Learned Anything?, CounterPunch, July 7, 2014
    It was reported last week that the United States is now the number 1 oil producer in the world ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia, adding to its 2010 lead in gas production, all thanks to the fracking revolution and shale gas. And because cheap energy drives the American economy everyone is happy again. Crisis, what crisis? Full steam ahead! Wrong, Do not collect $200 trillion in future oil revenues unequally taxed, Do not exhaust an already limited resource, Do not increase global warming. Please. Haven't we learned anything in the last 150 years? [ More ...]

  • Inequality: Fair or foul?, CounterPunch, June 6, 2014
    Inequality is fast becoming the issue of our times, as more and more reports appear about widening income and wealth distribution between the wealthy and the poor. It seems, however, that some don't agree with the reports or deny their significance in our lives. There is a minefield of numbers and conflicting data, but can we simplify the numbers and use basic statistics to illustrate that inequality is rising? Can we use readily available, reliable sources to do the math ourselves and bypass the partisan hyperbole that pits one versus another in increasingly caustic terms? In the name of liberty, one hopes so. [ More ...]

  • USA RIP? Less Tax for the Rich Versus Infrastructure for the Rest, CounterPunch, May 7, 2014
    American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer wants to become British, joining the ranks of other major corporations opening "headquarters" in low-tax-rate countries. At 21.0 percent in the U.K. versus 32.8 percent in the U.S., it's a no-brainer. At the same time, roads, bridges, and airports - infrastructure that helped make the U.S. great more than a half century ago - is falling apart. Is there a connection? [More ...]

  • All the World's a Strategy: Should I Play the Bad Guy to Get My Way?, CounterPunch, April 23, 2014
    It seems everyone is playing the bad guy these days. From the ever deadlocked, hold-no-prisoners U.S. Congress and its sand-box politics to the ongoing finger-pointing between the super and not-so-super powers over what constitutes New Europe. From how unequal the world has become to the pages of online commentary about whether Miley Cyrus is a new feminist model or Bob Dylan is a sellout. Indeed, tit-for-tat, he-said-she-said stuff is the new strategy for dispute resolution. [More ...]

  • The Unequal Divide: Am I My Brother or Sister's Keeper?, CounterPunch, April 2, 2014
    One could imagine that inequality has been around forever, part of a natural process whenever people or groups compete. Today's obscene levels of inequality, however, suggest that the divide is not a natural condition of human existence, but a product of how we compete, with the rich always getting richer. In any competitive society, there will always be winners and losers. In a stacked, speed-of-light trading society, big winners and big losers. [More ...]

  • Beyond Bubble Economics: Countercyclical Systems, Conservation, and Cooperation, CounterPunch, March 18, 2014
    Many argue that our increasingly globalized economy cannot keep up with the speed at which financial systems are changing - because of differing national laws, unregulated financial practices, or the still-prevalent unequal living and labor standards throughout the world - which simply postpones asking the hard questions about whether greed and the demand for more should be at the root of economic practice. And whether it's time to put Bubble Economics into the trash can of history. [More ...]

  • Capitalism 2.0: Another Lube Job or an Engine Change?, CounterPunch, February 28, 2014
    Few would argue that our economic system is in need of an overhaul, what with income and wealth inequality beyond levels thought possible in an enlightened world, national debts and mortgage defaults at bursting points, corporate lobbyists and tax evasion realigning the needs of everyday workers, and a near global financial meltdown that almost destroyed the world banking system still steaming. But one wonders how anything can change when governments refuse to reign in the big boys playing games with the economy. [More ...]

  • Rampant Inequality: Whose World is it Anyway?, CounterPunch, Vol 21, 1, January, 2014 [subscription]
    A simple calculation in The Irish Times got me thinking again about inequality and just why it's so dangerous. In the article (Jan 20), it was reported that 85 people are as wealthy as half of the world's population. Incredible, unimaginable, mind-boggling. Others have made similar comparisons. Paul Krugman noted that the typical worker's income is about 35% less since the '70s, while income gains for the richest 0.01% increased 7-fold in the same period. In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood wrote that the world's 25 million richest people equalled the 2 billion poorest, as if documenting our modern Faustian pact with money. In Do The Math!, I made my own simple comparison, calculating that the Forbes Top 100 (at an average of $7.7 billion each) matched the population of Indonesia making an average world income ($6,300). We live in the most sophisticated, technologically advanced society ever, where armies of aid can be mobilized in minutes, and yet staggering inequality still exists. But just who does the world belong to? [More ...]

  • Gordon Brown and Economic Inequality: 10 Years Later, He Finally Does the Math, CounterPunch, December 20, 2013
    Many things are said and written during an economic crisis, especially one that has been going on for five years and counting. The Federal Reserve easing up too soon/not soon enough on the stimulus (whether quantitatively eased or not), inequality rising/shrinking, the national debt too great/not that big a deal, opinions all regularly espoused in the media these days, both for and against with equal aplomb. [More ...]

  • Music Statistics: Seeing the Business Side to Songs, The International Year of Statistics, October 18, 2013
    Since August 4, 1958, Billboard has been compiling its Hot 100 from an amalgam of record sales and DJ plays. More than 2,500 weeks later with over 1,000 different No. 1s, such data tells us about changing styles. But can it also tell us about competition and business? [More ...]

  • Teeter-Totter Averages: How to See Everyday Statistics, The International Year of Statistics, August 19, 2013
    The most basic national demographic is a country's population distribution. According to the latest U.S. census, 8,391,881 people live in New York, 3,831,868 in Los Angeles, and 2,851,268 in Chicago. Using only three such data points, we can easily work out the centre, or population-weighted mid-point, of the United States, and in the process learn about weighted averages and comparative statistics, ever more important as we celebrate the International Year of Statistics in an ever shrinking globalized world. [More ...]

  • Patterns in Probability: How to See Binomial Statistics, The International Year of Statistics, July 8, 2013
    We've all come across either-or decisions in our lives, like the proverbial fork in the road: left-right, head-tails, red-black. The likelihood of a series of such decisions underpins the basics of probability, from gambling odds to stock markets, from weather simulations to a host of new social networking interactions. But as we celebrate the International Year of Statistics, can we make the statistics more visual? Can we see the underlying patterns in such binomial probabilities and in so doing make the math less daunting? [More ...]

  • Soundbite Science: Mr Bacon, Your Time Is Up, The University Observer, March 20, 2010
    An Irish company claims that it has broken the laws of physics with a so-called "free energy", or over-unity device. The contraption involves an arrangement of magnets that somehow breaks the holiest of physic laws - that energy cannot be created from nothing. But the real news is that the scientific method has been broken. It isn't the physics that is suspect: it's the hype. [More ...]

  • Small Is Getting Smaller, The University Observer, April 14, 2009
    In the semiconductor business, small is good. Consider the incredible shrinking size of integrated circuits in mobile phones, cameras and computers. To continue expanding the multi-billion dollar chip business, however, small has to get even smaller. Just how they make integrated circuits so small is the focus of a recently funded Science Foundation Ireland research project in the UCD School of Physics, headed by Professor Gerry O'Sullivan. [More ...]

  • A Day in the Life -- John White: Computational Physicist, The Institute of Physics in Ireland
    My work day begins around 9:00, depending on the number 10 bus. Sometimes there isn't one for a half an hour and then they come all at once. I always wonder if five 10s come in a row is that the same as one big 50? As a physicist, I always think about systems and how they work, whether I am at work or, as usual at 8:45 in the morning, waiting for a bus. For example, when the buses get bunched together, should the drivers wait for the lead bus to get ahead before continuing? But, by waiting, no one goes anywhere. And how does the system work when affected by outside influences (traffic, rain, an accident) or, in the language of physics, perturbed by external forces? [More ...]



  • Doesn't Add Up (Review of Do The Math!), Shane Whelan, Dublin Review of Books, September 23, 2013
    Literacy and numeracy open up different worlds. Literacy accesses other people's thoughts - rich with nuance, colour, texture. Numeracy, on the other hand, never seems to get out of Mr Gradgrind's classroom full of dull repetition: "wrong, again! Do the Math!" This book, despite its title, was not written by Mr Gradgrind. It was written by someone who knows that mathematical thinking is not really about numbers but about processes. So, from the first chapter, we find ourselves out in the world with an engaging guide whisking us from Bernie Madoff's recent pyramid scam, to population growth, to Moore's Law in electronics, to economic growth and the emergence of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) to overtake the G7 in the next two decades, state pension systems, global warming, and commodity shortages. All these are examples of the same process - exponential growth - and, in a finite world, must end in the same way. The question he playfully poses is when each will have its Minsky moment. All that is breezily covered in just the first chapter without straining the understanding of the general reader. [More ...]


    About the author

    John K. White received a B.Sc. in Applied Physics from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and a Ph.D. from University College Dublin, Ireland.

    He has worked around the world as a physicist, lecturer, project manager, and computational analyst over a 25-year career. He has worked as a project manager and technical writer for Sun Microsystems, The Netherlands Organization, and Berminghammer Foundation Equipment, consultant for Interactive Image Technologies, ScotiaBank, and the Ontario Government, and as a lecturer and research fellow at University College Dublin, and has analyzed game playing strategies, from professional sports teams to the stock market as well as many other thought provoking systems.

    He is also active in promoting physics and numeracy in schools, and has published widely in academic journals, contributed chapters to edited volumes, and authored numerous technical publications. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he grew up in Toronto, Canada, and now lives and works in Dublin.


    Do the Math! On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking

    John K. White
    Softcover, 350 pages, Sage Publications (2013)

    Better numeracy, Do-it-yourself analysis, Social inclusiveness, Foster critical and strategic thinking, Uncomplicated mathematical discussion

    Our world has become more complicated, and the notion of growth at any cost has led to constant economic uncertainty, a permanently stressed-out workforce, and everyday stories of government and corporate abuse. John K. White argues that a better knowledge of basic systems is needed to understand the world we live in, from pyramid scams to government bailouts, from sports leagues to stock markets, from the everyday to the seemingly complex.



       John K White