Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

The horrific fire and consequent loss of life at Tazreen Fashions made the International pages of newspapers worldwide when it struck in November of this year. The New York Times has been particularly diligent in tracking the story, and has devoted many op-ed column inches to decrying the poor health and safety environment that the Bangladeshi workers that clothe US citizens are forced to work in. It is not surprising that in the West the story has resonated most deeply with an American audience given firstly that Tazreen was supplying American corporations, and secondly that there are clear parallels between what happened in the blaze here and the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City some hundred years ago. In both of these incidents stairwells were locked so that workers were unable to escape, forcing many to jump to their death rather than face the agony of immolation.

That the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City lead to widespread unionization of factory workers as well as a slew of labour legislation aimed at protecting the workers in the garment industry begs the question: will the same happen here in Bangladesh? It is true that the aftermath of the fire has seen public anger which has manifested itself in demonstrations and vandalism against factories. To a certain extent this ire has been subsumed by a wider unrest that is occurring here in the run up to elections in 2013. The opposition party is calling on the incumbent government to install a caretaker regime to oversee the nationwide polls in order to ensure a free and fair election process. Thus far the government has resisted these calls. This has led to widespread strikes, roadblocks and violence. In other words, the calls for government attention from garments workers may have been drowned out in what is already a very noisy political atmosphere.

Political clamour notwithstanding, it is doubtful whether the Tazreen fire will be a catalyst for meaningful change in Bangladesh. Many in the west are blaming globalization for this sad fact. It is argued that globalization creates incentives to “race to the bottom” in terms of safety and labour costs. Certainly it is true that in recent years, production has increasingly moved here from China as the cost of Chinese labour rises. Whether this is a bad thing or not is open to interpretation.

On the one hand people see immorality on the part of western buyers who, rapacious in their pursuit of profits, move production to a country where they can get away with paying workers 4000 taka a month ($50) a month for working 60 plus hour weeks. On the other hand this has led to a large increase in growth in both GDP and textile based exports in Bangladesh as well as providing a living for tens of thousands people (predominantly women) where previously there may have been none.  Furthermore, it should not be overlooked that the reason that Chinese wages are now relatively more expensive is partly due to the fact that human capital and technical experience has accumulated in the garment industry there pursuant to their having once been at the bottom of the global race for cheap labour.

The existence of these benefits from being one of the most competitive countries in the world in terms of labour price does not mean however, that it is right that workers should be subjected to working conditions that denigrate them as humans. Thus, a globalized race to the bottom for labour costs may well bring some benefits but it is hard to argue that a consequent race to the bottom of the working standards is in some way productive, and even if it were, it would certainly be hard to argue that it was justified in the pursuit of profit.

Thankfully the race to the bottom of the health and safety pile is not as ubiquitous in globalizing economies as the race for low labour costs.  An interesting example is dolphin friendly tuna. In that case western consumers, consumer groups and special interest NGOs used their purchasing power and political clout to pressure for domestic means of identifying tuna that had been caught using dolphin friendly fishing techniques. This created a race in the international supplier nations to ensure that systems were in place such that the tuna caught would be eligible for sale in the huge Western markets. The West imported tuna, and in effect exported their expectations about environmental standards.  Given that the health and safety in garments factories is as much a question of production standards as the means with which wild fish are turned into sashimi, there is no reason to suspect that a similar exporting of standards could not be achieved in the case of the garments industry. Western consumer pressure can therefore have real clout in increasing protections both for marine mammals and factory workers.

Unfortunately there are least three constraints on this kind of change. Firstly, people are not as photogenic as dolphins. Although there was a flurry of western media activity in relation to the fire, it is much harder to sustain that kind of attention for people than it is for animals or the environment. Even in the case of animals,

international-standards changing movements can only really galvanize behind those beasts which are easily anthropomorphised, such as orangutans and dolphins. The threat to sea slugs from trawler fishing is hardly likely to get anyone excited. This is pretty ironic, as when the beasts in question are in fact anthro – i.e. human – it can be even harder to generate enough sustained interest for change. Sadly this means that although there was a lot of rightful indignation at the senseless waste of life that this fire caused it is very likely that sufficient pressure will be put neither upon the Western governments to restrict imports on garments that come from factories that routinely flout safety compliance measures, nor on the buyers to ensure safety standards in their supplier factories.

Secondly, factory owners often tell buyers one thing and do quite another. Thus although Walmart’s cry of “we didn’t know” may sound hollow to Western skeptics, it is actually fairly plausible. Big buyers conduct spot audits of the factories that supply them with goods in order to gauge how up to date they are on social compliance (including health and safety). These requirements are frequently imposed not by the home government of Bangladesh but by the buyers themselves as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy.  For example, Marks and Spencer work to ensure that a certain fraction of jobs within a supplier factory are given to the disabled.

Despite this system of audit, factories will often illegally outsource production to cheaper suppliers who are less constrained by the demands of the buyers across many dimensions, and are thus able to supply the goods at a cheaper price than the factory with which the buyer directly contracted. This ensures that factories with poor working conditions can still operate despite the preference of buyers to work with factories that will not generate the kind of bad press that the Tazreen fire did for Walmart.

Is it possible that Walmart really did know that their goods were being produced Tazreen? Yes, I would not put it past them as they have a fairly well documented history of greed for profit margins. However, is it possible they really were unaware? Yes it is. All buyers have large teams of expensive-to-maintain compliance officers that check on the factories. But eliciting truthful information from factories is often extremely difficult, as I know from my own direct experience from working in the field.

Thirdly, and most obstinately, Western consumers are addicted to cheap clothing. Factory owners here may appear greedy in terms of how much they take home relative to their workers, but they are faced with difficult decisions. Metal values are soaring pushing the prices of machines upwards. Raw material prices are on the rise. Even labour costs, as paltry as they may seem to the West, are also creeping upwards. Against this backdrop, the West is in recession with all the focus on austerity and low cost options that that entails. Buyers want lower prices every year. Many factories operate at losses for part of the year. In such a climate, all energies are focused on staying open, keeping production running. They are not likely to be focused on how to improve fire safety.

This is not to say that low prices justify factories in not providing safe environments for their workers. Indeed it is quite possible that the Tazreen disaster would have occurred even with prices such that they could better afford to focus more on social compliance. This is because some factory owners are just greedy, thoughtless capitalists with no care for their workers. These men, even with better prices from their buyers, would probably siphon off the extra profits without making efforts to improve conditions in their factories. After the fire alarm was raised in Tazreen Fashions, workers were instructed to go back to work. This disgustingly callus and complacent attitude toward worker safety on the part of management is not likely related to low prices for output. However it would be naïve to believe that in general low prices do not contribute to low health and safety standards in the industry.

The upshot of these three constraints on change is that for conditions in the Bangladeshi garment industry to improve due to Western pressure, several things must happen almost simultaneously: Bangladeshis must become more attractive relative to dolphins, audits systems must be tightened (or Bangladeshi factory owners must not seek out ways to increase their margins through subcontracting), and either Western buyers will have to live with smaller margins, or Western consumers will have to be willing to pay higher prices for their clothes. With the exception of the possibility of improving audit systems, the likelihood of these things occurring seem pretty slim given what we know about physiognomy, capitalism, and the predilection of Western consumers for 3 Euro T-Shirts. Thus it seems that Western pressure in the wake of this fire will not be a sufficient vehicle for change here in Bangladesh.

This is not the end of the story, as change could plausibly come not pursuant to Western pressure, but from within. It will require some major upheavals. The major difference between the New York of 10 years ago, and the Bangladesh of today, was ability of the New Yorkers to organize into unions. Here in Bangladesh the rules regarding unionization are prohibitive. At least 30% of any workforce must be members for a union to form. Membership is restricted to those that are employed, meaning that termination from employment prevents membership of the union. Violence and intimidation are frequently practiced against union demonstrations, and the demonstrations themselves are subject to government approval. Thus it is that there is a chronic shortage of labour in the sector which should mean greater worker power to call for increased wages and better standards whilst the absence of unions means that this power cannot be turned into improved working conditions. The capitalist classes hold sway in government circles whereas workers have no means of expressing their demands.

As it stands, the formation of unions is even less sexy a cause than the poor old sea slug. Therefore there are not really any circumstances where Western pressure will be sufficient to induce meaningful change here. For real progress to be made in ensuring a decent working environment for garments industry workers, the workers themselves will have to fight for their right to freely organize.


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San Jose del Pacifico

San Jose del Pacifico

San José del Pacifico seemed, as most of the villages I had seen on the 130km journey from Oaxaca City (wa-ha-ka), in the deepest of REM sleep. The only other people who disembarked from a bus that was in such a state it surely could not make intact another journey across the vast mountains that separate the capital of Oaxaca State from its Pacific side satellites, were two other travellers from France, one of whom for some reason unknown to me had yet to discover the miracle of shoes. I had heard that there was a lot of hongos related activities in this tiny mountain village, but when I questioned the woman who served me a delicious portion of chiles rellenos -stuffed chiles- in the first comedor -buget restaurant/road side shack/ tent etc.- I spotted, what there was to do in the area, she neglected to mention being off your head on magic mushrooms. What she did tell me however was where the cheapest cabañas -cabins- in town were. As I was finishing my meal I took a napkin to wipe my face and noticed that the napkin holder was a small group of mushrooms carved in wood.

There were other little tell-tale details around the town; mushrooms painted on the sign pointing to my temporary residence, a mushroom drawn in ink on the wood panelling of said dwelling, wooden carvings, and a disproportionate number of hotels in an out-of-the-way, miniscule settlement. However, I was not interested in anything hallucinogenic at that moment. I rather felt like exploring some of the trails that wind through the thickly pine forested mountains.

The señora in charge of my hotel confirmed my suspicions that there was no map of the local area available, and that guides were not necessary. All that was required was that I follow the only road until it ran out, and from there pick a path to follow. It was, so I was told, impossible to get lost. As it turned out she was completely right (assuming you have a vague sense of direction), as I weaved in and out of the pines, changing paths, up then down through the heavily scented air, such that I should have been lost deep in the labyrinth. Yet I emerged somehow exactly where I had started. The pine incensed atmosphere, for me forever associated with Tamworth, New Hampshire, brought back memories of our family’s twice a decade trips to New England. However, these were swiftly purged when I came across giant cacti that served as reminders that I was in fact still in Mexico.

San Jose del Pacifico

San Jose del Pacifico

Early the next morning I had a bowl of Oaxacan hot chocolate and pan dulce -sweet bread- in a comedor in which pictures of Maria Sabrina, a curandera or shaman like woman who lived and died in northern Oaxaca, adorned the walls. She was a priestess of the mushroom and it is said that John Lennon, among other notables, made pilgrimages to trip with her. Thus the rumours about the village could only be true, and I was determined to investigate. In the next comedor where I went for my fix of eggs and frijoles –beans- I asked the woman if it was true that the town was famous for its mushrooms, and she told me it was. Had she tried them helself? “no”. Then who was eating them? “extranjeros”, foreigners.

I was left with the impression that the mushrooms were not so much part of everyday life here, rather there was a demand from tourists, and the forest and locals were only to happy to be the supply. However, Adolfo, who I was to question next told a different story altogether.

He had lived in the village all his life and had seen many come to sample the wildlife. He told me that the local families would “use” them once a year or so. In my vernacular I would say I had “taken” mushrooms, and the difference between the verbs “to use” and “to take” perhaps illustrates the different attitudes toward the drug in the UK and this part of Mexico. I explained to Adolfo that mushrooms had been legal in Britain until two or three years ago when a legal loophole was finally closed. In my experience they were primarily a party drug, taken at festivals and the such. Adolfo told me that in his village they had a more sacred purpose; not explicitly religious, but the ingestion of the fungus could resolve problems or difficulties in your life. “Such as?” I asked. “Well, if you have problems with your wife, mushrooms can help.”

Adolfo had experienced severe lower back pain until he dosed himself with one of the three varieties of mushroom that grow in these hills. Also, he had been an alcoholic and a prolific smoker of mota (marijuana) until he consulted the schroom and he was now coming up to eight years sober. I got the feeling he may have been laying it on a bit thick for my benefit given that he later asked me in a tone of voice that surely indicated an imminant offer, if I liked to smoke weed.

It was a shame I had not come in the rainy season when the mushrooms were fresh, as the preserved specimens were rarely as effective. During this time the town would be full of people. Adolfo wanted to know if I had tried them before, yes, and with a twinkle in his eye “would you like to try some now?”. It turned out that he could get his hands on some preserved ones and make me a tea, apologising that it would cost 200 pesos (10 pounds) as stocks were so low this far out of season. I accepted and we agreed to meet in two hours, so in the intervening time I went on an dramatic hike in the valley before climbing back up the mountain.

During my time thus surveying the seemingly endless pattern of valleys and peaks to the north, and the Pacific Ocean, just visible in the south, I got to thinking about what I had heard that morning. Physical ailments aside (I am no doctor) I do see one of the benefits of psychoactive elements being that they can help you understand how to fix problems, or to realise what ought to be done in life. However, I do not believe this is because they are magical or holy as Adolfo might, and certainly his pre-hispanic forbears did, but rather because they can help to switch off the part of the brain that suppresses deep desires and knowledge of oneself. Somewhere inside of me, I know what I want, and how to solve problems in my life but I so often lack the self-realisation and belief to first detect these elements, and secondly to have the courage to act on them. I assume I am not alone.

Thus when we find something that grows naturally such as a hallucinogenic mushroom, and the “trip” tells us something, gives us a vision or sign, then it is far simpler to outsource our conviction than to act on our own previously undiscovered initiative. This effect is multiplied ten fold when the enabler in question is considered holy or sacred. After all, it is impossible to ignore a message from the divine, but all too easy to ignore a self-generated sentiment.


Whilst celebrating the Day of the Dead by watching 12 metre kites being flown in a small town in Guatemala I met Chris who had spent the best part of his young working life the head of a successful film company based in LA. His greatest achievement was overseeing the production of American Psycho based on the novel which I thoroughly enjoyed, by Bret Easton-Ellis. One day he gave up this life and set out from his Californian home to walk to the centre of the Brazilian Amazon. One of the driving impetuses behind this epic journey was a vision he had received as part of a service in the church of Santo Daime. This church uses a drink called ayahuasca which contains a powerful psychoactive element, in the same way that the Catholic Church uses alter wine and guilt. Having drunk the ayahuasca Chris had a vision of himself walking and he interpreted this as a sign from God that he should undertake this great pilgrimage.

Yet it seems to me that this vision could have been interpreted in various different ways; that he should be abandoning the car as it is harmful to the environment; that he should be getting out and enjoying the Californian scenery more frequently, or even that he is out of milk and should walk to the shop to stock up. But he interpreted it as meaning he should set in motion an inspiring and life changing series of events.


If we draw a Maltese cross in black on a white background, we will either see a black cross or a white flower. It is impossible to see both at the same time and what is more, if the illusion is not explained to us we may continue to only see one of the symbols. Which we see first, it is thought by phenomenologists, is effected by our background. To simplify, if you are a gardener you will see the flower, and if you are soldier you will see the cross. Thus our reading of the image is a product of choices already made and experiences already lived. This explains why Chris interpreted his vision as mentioned: he told me that prior to the vision he was already aware that his company made violent films and he felt he was not therefore doing good in the world. Is it not natural that he would then choose to give up this life in a broader search for meaning? It also explains why Adolfo told me he saw an image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe (the most celebrated holy image in Mexico): he is a Catholic Mexican. In my view, both experienced visions of experiences and decisions long ago embedded and made, deep inside their own brains. To me such hallucinations are not sent from God, do not occur due to the sacred nature of a plant or fungus or root. They are not signs from above, but signs from ourselves, equally as potent, productive, and even more important. They are pure moments of realisation.


In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, there is a parable about a man who wants access to “The Law”. He finds a door that will give him this access but his way is blocked by a doorkeeper who says he may not pass. Although the doorkeeper himself will not stop him, the man is made aware that after this particular doorkeeper there are many more doorkeepers each more terrifying than the last. The man decides to wait until he may be permitted to enter. Just before the man dies the doorman reveals to him that the door he was dying outside had in fact been intended for him all this time.

Such is life! We all have deep desires, dreams, ideas, solutions, but a part of our brain is condicioned to tell us that even if we overcome the immediate problems facing us in an attempt to realise these deep held wants, be it money, work, family or whatever, there will only be further and more grave problems around the corner. Thus we continue on a path which, had we been bathed in the soothing light of the infinity of our options in this world, we may not have even chosen. We miss opportunities that are rightfully ours; rightfully mine.

Since I began this journey (which started many months before I physically got on the plane), I have been slowly working toward a better understanding of myself. I now know that what I want in life is to travel the world and be a full-time writer. I am terrified at this prospect and see many hurdles and future problems, amplified in my mind to many times their actual size. Whether I am strong enough to overcome them, and how I shall feel to thus read this back to myself in 30 years remains to be seen. I have had my eureka moment, my dawn of realisation. I have received and interpreted the message from myself, and as such I do not need to rely on the revelatory nature of hallucinogenic drugs. This does not mean that they do not remain incredibly good fun though.

Enjoy responsibly.

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sandringham_house2Aubrey Rutherford and I recently visited the Sandringham Estate and House, which as we all know is the private residence of the Royal Family. We paid the £10 entrance, and sauntered off into the park land, before following the tour through the house. We gawped at some porcelain and muskets and then left firm in the conviction that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II should immediately forbid the public from entering her properties, use the royal prerogative to instruct Parliament to give her enough money to keep her them going without the need to open her doors to all and sundry, and then have a big bonfire of all the left over velvet ropes.

What could possibly lead me to make such a statement I hear you cry. Well let me tell you: the majesty of monarchy, the nobility of an ancient ruling family, and more specifically, the sumptuousness of the residences themselves are totally degraded by the opening of these buildings to the public. At Sandringham shabby carpet is laid down over the beautiful rugs that cover the floor, velvet ropes inhibit your every curiosity, and the dinner plates are on display like a Wedgewood catalogue. Scores of septuagenarians shuffle slowly around the house asking inane questions about whether the Queen has actually sat on this or that cushion all the while trying to appear more knowledgeable about the royal history than the others that came with them on the coach.

 Rutherford posited, and I agree wholeheartedly, that rather than see royal residences reduced thus, we would rather live safe in the knowledge that our Queen and her family can enjoy these buildings as they were intended, as private residences. Perhaps the closure of the houses coupled with the odd OK photo shoot of the interiors would actually increase our fascination with monarchy as the horribly real and mundane nature of actually visiting (car parking, ticket buying, being ‘moved along’ etc.) would be replaced by having to use our imagination, to picture the royal family enjoying what history has allowed them to acquire. What we want from the royals is pomp, circumstance, majesty, and the odd scandal, NOT gift shops and home made fudge.

As we were leaving the house I overheard the following conversation:

Old Woman:   oh thank you so much, we have had such a lovely time

Usher:             I’m so glad you enjoyed in ma’am

Old Woman:   Its wonderful to be able to see all these beautiful objects

Usher:             Indeed

Old Woman:   and I mean, really they belong to all of us don’t they?, they really do belong to the nation,  they belong to all of us.

Usher:             Well hmmm…… actually they belong to the Queen.

I felt like going up to the usher and shaking his hand. He hit the nail on the head. None of it belongs to nation, it all belongs to the bloody Queen, and that is the way it should be. What would be the point in having a Queen at all if she did not own palaces and art and magnificent furniture? Why do we want to have a Queen on the one hand, and yet with the other we are determined to drag her down to the level of a normal person? Surely that is entirely beside the point.

The conclusion we must therefore draw from all of this, is that if we are going to have a queen, we should allow her to be regal and stop reducing her to the life of a common capitalist by forcing her to open her doors to the great unwashed for a meagre tenner. She only costs us £0.69 per tax payer per year, the price of a can of coke, or a Mars Bar in these inflation heavy times, sugary treats that I for one would happily surrender, so lets up it to one whole pound (£1) and let her get on with being a full blown, resplendent and stately monarch.  

You might retort that we should do away with the monarchy altogether, saying that such an institution can have no relevence in the 21st century. I daresay you would be right, but it is an entirely different debate. Thus, my advice to Her Majesty the Queen is: whilst we allow you to remain in power, you should reclaim your homes, close your doors, forget not your public, but leave them firmly at the gates for they are morons.

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The Anatomy of a Motto

Major Gressingham FRCO, FCC, Bar

“No Pain, No Gain” – How oft are those words spoken by many a PE teacher, Army General, hiker and athlete, but do we actually know what it means? If it is true that there is no gain with out pain how can we judge if we are getting sufficient gain from the pain to justify undertaking the activity at hand?

In the following paragraph I will attempt to answer just those questions and along the way provide an explanation of The Pain/Gain Theory, a theory that finds its strongest proponent in the work of Sir William Wilmot who outlined the details to me whilst we rambled through the Gloucestershire countryside one day in May 2009. It struck me then, as I hope it will soon strike you, how the theory can be described in terms originally coined for the science of macro-economics, and in applying the workings of that noble discipline to the Pain/Gain theory we can rationalise something that previously had been product of instinct.

The Gain Line

If we were to plot gain as a line it would look something like this:


 Simple Gain

Q is the amount of gain, the Quantity. Strictly speaking $ is the amount of money you would be willing to pay for each of the corresponding units of gain although it may be more useful to think of it in terms of how much energy you would choose to expend in acquiring each additional unit of gain. Thus, for any point along the gain line we can say exactly how much one would be willing to pay (or how much energy one would expend) for each of the units of gain that fall along the line.


The line is downward sloping because of the law of diminishing marginal returns. That law states that the more of a good one has the less we are willing to pay for it. For example, if you have a proclivity for Mars Ice Creams you might derive a great benefit from your first bar of the day. That pleasure may even carry through to the second bar. By the time you are stuffing your face with ice cream number three, you may start to get weary. Come number ten you may well be completely indifferent to Mars Ice Creams. Talking in terms of deriving benefit is the same as talking in terms of price. In other words you would be willing to pay £1.20 for your first ice cream as you would get £1.20 worth of pleasure. By the time you reach Ice cream number nine you may think each helping is only worth £0.30 because you are deriving less benefit from each further bar. This concept explains why a student will gain much more pleasure from a tenner than will a millionaire who sleeps on a mattress stuffed with tenners.

Now that we understand why the line is downward sloping we need to consider its gradient. The steepness of the line reflects what is termed the elasticity of gain. The steepness of the line reflects the loss of benefit as an additional unit of gain is acquired.


 Steeper Gain


A comparison of Figure A and Figure B illustrates the concept of elasticity. The gain line in Figure B is relatively steeper than that of figure A. This means that benefit derived for each extra unit of gain in Figure B is less than that in figure A. So for example the unit of gain in Figure B may be linked to an activity such as masturbation. The benefit from the first wank is high, but the gain from the second is very much less and pretty much after that all you want to do is go to sleep. The gain in Figure A is most likely linked to a less benefit intensive activity such as eating a bag of kettle chips. The benefit from the first crisp is high, and the second is less good but in a dramatically smaller way than the second wank; the gain from eating additional crisps does drop, but much more gently possibly until the whole bag has been eaten. Thus the line in Figure B is steeper, or more elastic than the line in figure A.

Perfect elasticity or inelasticity of gain can exist. So for instance the gain line may be totally inelastic (horizontal) for an activity such as breathing, because each breath you take does not make you want to take the next one less. One never tires of breathing, and as each breath is critical the line is perfectly inelastic; breathing therefore, is not subject to the law of diminishing marginal returns. Gain may theoretically be perfectly elastic (vertical) , although the circumstances are hard to imagine. It would involve gain relating to an activity which you would want to do just once and never again because there would be no benefit to you from one more until of gain – perhaps taking one’s own life might be an example.

The Pain Line

Pain is an altogether different beast, and the concept of plotting the pain line stretches the economics analogy to its limit. Yet it holds true.


 Pain Simple

Here again Q is the quantity or amount of pain. When thinking about $ on the y axis we must think not of money, but of energy. So if the amount of energy expended (be it physical, emotional, or mental) on an activity is high the pain will be high, this is a function of the upward slop of the line.


As with gain, the pain line is elastic. It may be more elastic (steeper) when the extra energy involved in the activity increases the pain by a lesser amount than a relatively inelastic line (flatter). Computer gaming would have a steep pain curve, as even a huge increase in energy will be accompanied by only a small increase in the amount of pain. Conversely, mountaineering is an activity with a flatter pain line as a small increase in the energy expended will result in a relatively larger amount of pain.

 The Pain Gain Equilibrium

Having an understanding of the shape of the pain and gain lines allows us to map the equilibrium point. When looking at the following graphs you need to think of $ as the value of the experience not necessarily in monetary terms, although how much you would have to pay for the experience is a handy way of thinking about the concept.


 Pain.Gain Eq

The equilibrium point is where the pain line crosses the gain line and is thus a product of the interaction of pain and gain. This is the point of greatest efficiency. At this point you are experiencing the maximum amount of gain for the most efficient amount of pain. Put another way, the pain to gain ratio is at its most economical. Thus e$ is the worth you are deriving from the activity in question whereas eQ is the amount of pain and gain that will be experienced.

 Thus when doing an activity we can now check using this method whether we are experiencing enough gain for the level of pain we are experiencing, and also a fair price for undertaking the pursuit can be calculated (if for instance you wanted to charge others to do the activity with you).

 For illustrative purposes you can see in Figure E how the elasticity of one of the lines will effect the pain/gain outcomes.


 Steeper Gain.Pain Eq

As illustrated, if the gain line is relatively more elastic (steeper) the equilibrium point is closer to zero, thus less value is achieved as the commensurate gains will be lower than a relatively less elastic gain line activity.







Shifts in the Pain/Gain Lines

If there is a shift in either of the pain or gain lines the equilibrium point will shift accordingly.


 Pain Shift

A parallel shift in the pain curve in an upwards direction is effectively an easing of conditions of pain. So for example a hiker may have a day’s rest at which point the nasty blister on his right foot and the knob rot that set in somewhere just past Cirencester have had a chance to heal. Thus at value level e$1 the amount of pain will be less. However, the shift in the pain line means that the equilibrium point where the pain and gain lines interact also shifts. So we see that when this happens the value f the experience is increased to e$2 there is less pain but critically,  also less gain eQ2.

 This really is the crux of the pain/gain theory, and is also its most controversial tenet because what we are in fact saying is that the hiker who had a blister and knob rot was actually experiencing more gain with those ailments despite the pain being greater.


The pain line may also shift downwards for example if a skier twisted his leg and had to ski on it for the remaining 4 days of the family holiday to St Moritz.


 Pain Shift Gain Shift

There can also be shifts in the gain curve as we can see in figure G. an upward shift would indicate an improvement in circumstance which increases gain and value without requiring any extra effort; an example would be when cycling from John O’Groats to Lands end, the exact moment you left Scotland and entered England would be an upward gain line shift. The exact reverse is true and a downward shift the result when cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats.

 Figure G then illustrates both a pain line shift and a gain line shift. Initially the equilibrium point is eQ1 with value e$1. Then an upward pain line shift (improvement in pain conditions) moves the equilibrium to eQ2 with value e$2, if there is then an upward shift of the gain line also the equilibrium point returns to eQ1, so the pain and gain is the same as it was initially before pain conditions improved and there was a change of scenery or other gain curve shifting event, but the value of the experience has increased. This is called Pleasure Inflation.

 A Note on Meanings

The author is of the opinion that there is scope for considerable confusion in much of the above paragraphs due to the similar meanings or connotations attaching to the words gain and value or worth. So although for example in Figure G when we are at equilibrium eQ2 and value e$2 the amount of gain (eQ2) is lower than when we are at eQ1, and yet the value e$2 is higher than e$1. Thus we can see that gain and value are not necessarily positively correlated. Value is a monetary type evaluation whereas gain is a more esoteric type of benefit.

 The value of an experience is a product not of how much gain there is, but of how a certain amount of gain interact with the corresponding amount of pain. If the combination is just right it needn’t matter that the amount of gain is smaller, the experience will still have a relatively higher value or worth.


Pain and Gain have been understood by humans since the dawn of time, but much like the functioning of the markets we had an intuitive understanding without any technical foundations. I have broken down the wall of ignorance and formalised what has for centuries been based on divination.

 With my handy and easy to use graphs you can make sure you are getting the most out of your life at any given moment.

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