CUTTING ROOM: The cost of forecourt ATMs; the pink pay packet - bigger or smaller?; go on then, name a happy socialist state; interpreting US statistics ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: The cost of forecourt ATMs; the pink pay packet - bigger or smaller?; go on then, name a happy socialist state; interpreting US statistics ... Evan Davis at large - An interesting fact: of the 36,000 or so cash machines in the UK, only 15 ar

by EVAN DAVIS, economics editor of the BBC
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

An interesting fact: of the 36,000 or so cash machines in the UK, only 15 are not connected to the Link network. I don't recommend you try to find them, but if you want to photograph one, I can tell you that Harrods Bank has an un-Linked terminal at its Knightsbridge branch.

Link itself, though, is one of the unsung UK success stories of recent times. Over the past 15 years, the network has handled five billion transactions; no fewer than a third of those were in 2001 alone. All managed by 130 people in Harrogate.

But the big development in Link over the past 12 months or so is the charging structure. You might remember that Barclays tried to impose big fees on non-Barclays Link customers, with the perhaps inevitable result that all direct user fees for bank ATMs were abolished. So most of us don't pay for ATMs. Now, however, the fast growth in Link is in non-bank ATMs, smaller machines placed in less popular locations (such as filling stations) and with significant fees attached. These are popular in the US, and the expectation is that they will be popular here too.

So we now have an interesting test: can vendors with direct user fees really succeed in a market so dominated by suppliers that charge nothing.

The US offers no guidance, as most ATM transactions away from your own bank already carry a fee.

If people use the new machines en masse, the banks might raise the spectre of charging again.

Now another statistic, this time from a paper at the Annual Conference of the Royal Economic Society. According to three researchers, gay men suffer pay discrimination, being paid 6% less than similar heterosexual counterparts.

However, the key word there is 'similar'. Because, buried beneath the 'discriminated minority' headline was a far more striking finding. If you compare the whole sample of gay men to straight men (without trying to match similar gay men and straight men), you find that gay men earn 9% more than straight men and are twice as likely to have a degree.

Having uncovered such a significant difference, why didn't they make that the focus of the paper?

I read with interest that Cuba has banned sales of personal computers to the public. I would miss my PC if our government chose to ban it, but as a BBC person I can have no opinion on a government policy of this kind, or on the general political system that might give rise to such a policy.

But I find myself asking if there is anyone who still supports the PC-banning creed of state socialism that Cuba practises?

Of course, people can always find excuses for Cuba's problems - there's a US embargo, for example. But would anyone like to defend socialism generally as a system that generates personal wellbeing?

Maybe that's too difficult. So let me ask: can anybody name just two successful examples of properly socialist states? To make it easier, I'll give you one: the southern Indian province of Kerala, which by all accounts is more successful than the rest of the country, a province where PCs are not banned and where infant mortality has fallen far enough to deter excessive population growth. I challenge readers to find one more.

Confused by statistics you hear from the US? Me too. None more so than those on the US government surplus. Washington has gone from projecting a surplus of dollars 3.4 trillion last year to one of dollars 1.6 trillion this year - yet you still hear about a government deficit of dollars 21 billion this year.

How can we put some meaning on numbers so large and variable?

Well, here's a useful rule of thumb you can adopt to convert these or any figure about the US economy into a more manageable equivalent for the UK. All you have to do is divide by 10, as the US economy measured in dollars is 10 times the UK economy measured in pounds. Thus, this year's deficit of dollars 21 billion in the US would be about pounds 2.1 billion expressed for us. That's far more comprehensible.

In the US, though, they prefer not to talk about an actual deficit this year or that, as we do, but about projections of government surpluses over 10-year periods. So to convert those figures into English, the trick is: divide by 100.

Together, these rules of thumb mean that a projected American surplus that sounds as large as a Texan steak - dollars 1.6 trillion - would translate over here to a more modest pounds 16 billion. As small as an English hotel bathroom.

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