Browsing Tag: wendover

    Why Trains Suck in America
    Articles, Blog

    Why Trains Suck in America

    November 4, 2019

    Let’s face it: trains kinda suck in America. They’re slow, expensive, and just don’t
    exist in many parts of the country. The simple reason for this is because the
    US is so sparsely populated. Aside from here, here, and here, cities just
    aren’t close enough together to make train travel faster or cheaper than plane travel. When cities are within 200-300 miles of each
    other, it’s often faster to take a train from downtown to downtown rather than driving
    to an airport, checking in, going through security, flying, then driving downtown. However, as I mentioned, there definitely
    are regions in the US with cities this distance away from each other, so why do trains still
    suck? The United States has the geography to support
    trains in certain areas and yet a train from DC to New York costs at least $49 dollars
    and takes 3 hours and 29 minutes, only 30 minutes less than driving. A train from Rennes to Paris, France, a very
    similar distance, costs 27 euros, the equivalent of 30 dollars, and takes only 2 hours and
    4 minutes. The US does have one high speed train, the
    Acela express, but it costs at least $120 dollars for a ride from DC to New York and
    still takes 2 hours and 50 minutes. Turkey, Poland, and Uzbekistan all have trains
    that travel faster that America’s fastest train. Alright, so understanding the whole issue
    requires a bit of background knowledge. Back in their heyday, railroads in America
    were… amazing. We built our first in 1826 and had a transcontinental
    line by 1869—only 19 years after California even became a state. Trains travelled almost everywhere and most
    historians agree that the development of railroads was an absolutely crucial catalyst to the
    American industrialization period from 1843 to 1860. They even prompted the US to create one of
    the world’s first standardized time systems as discussed in an old video of mine which
    you can find here. While passenger trains could sometimes be
    profitable, freight services were where the real money was so most rail companies basically
    ran passenger services as a mobile advertisement for their freight services to the executives
    that would decide which company to ship goods on. Trains were, after all, the most glamorous
    and efficient way to travel. However, as cars became popular in the 30’s
    and planes became popular in the 50’s, there was little purpose any more to set up passenger
    services as advertisements to executives who would be taking the more trendy car or plane
    instead. At this point, the few profitable passenger
    services only made money because of their contracts with the US Postal Service. Most trains would have one car that served
    as the railway post office—an office on wheels where workers would sort letters en
    route to the destination to save time. In the 1960’s, mail sorting was mechanized,
    trucks and planes began to transport letters, and railway post offices were discontinued. It became essentially impossible to make money
    with a passenger railroad. By the end of the 1960’s the only thing
    keeping the few passenger routes alive was a legal obligation by the Interstate Commerce
    Commission for the train companies to keep running those routes. But then Amtrak came along. In 1970, President Nixon signed into law the
    Rail Passenger Service Act which formed the federally funded national rail company that
    promised to save and make great again passenger rail travel… except it didn’t. In the United States, a nation of 319 million
    people, Amtrak operates a mere 300 train journeys a day, while in France, a nation of 66 million
    people, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, also known as SNCF, operates
    14,000 trips every single day, 800 of which are high speed. One common criticism of Amtrak is its unreliability. On average, only 72% of Amtrak’s trains
    arrive on time. The California Zephyr route from Chicago to
    San Francisco even arrived on time a paltry 31% in June of 2016. So what does Amtrak blame the delays on: freight
    trains. You see, Amtrak only owns 730 miles of the
    21,300 miles of track it operates on. On the California Zephyr route, Union Pacific
    owns about half the track and BNSF owns the other half. According to Amtrak, only 1.4% of all delays
    on this route were their fault. The other 98.6 percent were reportedly the
    fault of the rail companies who own the track. Union Pacific will naturally lend priority
    to their own trains on their tracks instead of Amtrak’s so Amtrak trains are often told
    to wait to let a freight train pass. After all, it’s not like Amtrak can go and
    use competing tracks so there’s little incentive to give priority to passenger trains. Most rail operators in Europe don’t have
    this problem. In France, for example, the national rail
    company owns all the track so priority can be given to passenger trains. Also, only 8% of freight in Europe is moved
    by rail compared to 38% in the United States, so there are far fewer freight trains congesting
    the tracks. Since Amtrak is so young, they never got the
    opportunity to build their own tracks. The Northeast corridor—which is absolutely
    perfectly shaped to have a high speed rail network with five major urban centers located
    on a straight line—built up it’s rail system in the 1800’s and the railroad had
    such an impact that towns and people flocked to the area around it. For that reason, this area is incredibly densely
    populated and there truly is no open space between the cities. Consequently, it would be unbelievably expensive
    to raze a bunch of houses and build a new, straighter route of high speed tracks from
    DC to Boston. Amtrak says that it would cost an estimated
    $151 billion dollars to build tracks up the spec of France’s high speed rail network
    in the Northeast corridor. Since the Northeast Regional, the train running
    between DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, is one of the few routes that
    makes money, there’s little incentive for Amtrak to sink a lot of funds into upgrading
    the tracks. Additionally, American cities just aren’t
    built like many European cities. With population densities averaging lower
    than 15,000 people per square mile, cities in the United States are far less walkable
    than their European counterparts which can have as many as 55,000 people per square mile. Due to their ancient roots, European cities
    naturally developed compact urban cores since for all but the rich there was no option but
    to walk everywhere. Given that, it’s much easier to walk to
    your destination from a train station in a European city than it is in an American city. It’s believed that since most Americans
    have to take another form of transport to get to their destination after taking the
    train in America, they see the train as not that much more convenient than the plane where
    you also have to take another form of transport to get to your final destination. So what’s the solution? How should America fix it’s rails? Well, unfortunately, we’ll probably never
    get a big network of fancy high-speed trains like in France or Germany. There are dozens of plans in the US to build
    high-speed rail lines, however few if any of them will likely come to fruition. There is a high-speed rail line currently
    being built between Miami and Orlando by a private company called All Aboard Florida,
    however, with a top speed of 125 miles per hour, the service will only be slightly faster
    than driving due to speed restrictions on many parts of the route. The state of California is also building a
    high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Anaheim with a estimated transit time
    of 2 hours and 40 minutes which would be less than half the driving time between the two
    cities. Despite construction already beginning, phase
    1 of the project isn’t estimated to be completed until 2029 and public support is diminishing. Many have proposed that America shouldn’t
    be concerned with building a flashy high-speed network. Amtrak’s 151 billion dollar proposal for
    a true high-speed northeast corridor system divides down to $320 million dollars per mile
    or $60,000 per foot of high speed track. What would be far more efficient would be
    to upgrade current track to allow trains to operate at their top speeds. On the Northeast Regional route, trains reach
    a top speed of 125mph briefly, and if they operated at that speed for all of the DC to
    New York leg, the trip from DC to New York would take only slightly longer than two hours. Small improvements can cut minutes from the
    journey times which can add up to hours. Unfortunately, Amtrak is stuck in a rut where
    they have no money to improve anything, which causes low ridership, which worsens the problem
    of no money. SNCF in France is so great because taxpayers
    pay for about half of the operating cost of every journey, while Amtrak is designed to
    be a for-profit yet government subsidized corporation. Right now, Amtrak is kinda like the neglected
    little brother in the US transit family who doesn’t get any money, and until that changes,
    we’re still going to have our slow, expensive trains. Thank you for watching! Make sure to click here to subscribe to Wendover
    Productions. You can also follow me on Twitter @WendoverPro
    for behind the scenes updates between videos. Aside from that, make sure to check out my
    last video on Maritime Law here. Thanks again, and I’ll see you soon for
    another Wendover Productions video.

    Sydney Metro North West – Chatswood to Tallawong Full Ride
    Articles, Blog

    Sydney Metro North West – Chatswood to Tallawong Full Ride

    October 11, 2019

    Chatswood (Platform 3) Departure time: 10:40am Distance Elapsed: 35 kilometres Time elapsed: 42 minutes (+5 minutes delayed) Maximum Speed: 100 km/h Average speed: 50 km/h ECRL Tunnel Entrance Recommended that volume is set on mute due to a squabbling kid next to me. North Ryde (Platform 2) Macquarie Park (Platform 2) Macquarie University (Platform 2) Epping (Platform 6) > Cherrybrook (Platform 2) Castle Hill Cross-Cavern Castle Hill (Platform 2) Hills Showground (Platform 2) Norwest (Platform 2) Tunnel Exit Bella Vista (Platform 2) Skytrain start Speed increased: 80-100 km/h Kellyville (Platform 2) Rouse Hill (Platform 2) Speed Reduced: 100-60 km/h Windsor Road Bridge (270m) Tallawong Station (Platform 1 Arriving) Date Recorded: 26/5/2019

    The Fake Neighborhoods on Google Maps
    Articles, Blog

    The Fake Neighborhoods on Google Maps

    August 28, 2019

    This video was made possible by Brilliant. Start learning with Brilliant for 20% off
    by being one of the first 200 to sign up at If you’re from San Francisco there’s a
    few things you’ve probably never heard of: toast without avocados, three figure rent,
    republicans, and the East Cut neighborhood. If you go on Google Maps though and search
    for East Cut it’ll tell you that’s this neighborhood between Market Street and the
    Bay Bridge even though, before a year ago, nobody had even tried to call this area the
    East Cut. Nowadays, however, the “East Cut” name
    is seeping into the real world all thanks to the world’s benevolent dictator—Google. Now of course Google is amazing and lovely
    and I don’t mean to be critical at all of such a fantastic organization but they do
    have a certain amount of power over, well, everything. More than half of the world’s smartphone
    users have used Google Maps in the past month and, considering that there are 2.5 billion
    smartphone users in the world, that’s a lot. Google Maps is the most popular mapping service
    in the world and that means that when someone wants to figure out what something is, they
    check Google Maps. Quite bafflingly, the benevolent dictator
    almost almost started a war in 2010. You see, where Nicaragua and Costa Rica meet
    on the Atlantic Ocean Nicaragua believes the border to be this while Costa Rica believes
    it to be this. In 2010 a Nicaraguan military troop was sent
    to the area to do dredging work on the San Juan River. While there, though, the troop just happened
    to meander onto Calero Island which, as far as Costa Rica was concerned, was Costa Rica. Now, having a foreign military strut into
    your country with no prior warning doesn’t look great. It looks a whole lot like an invasion so Costa
    Rica, being, interestingly, the most populous country in the world without a military, sent
    70 police officers to make sure that this wasn’t the beginning of the Nicaraguan annexation
    of Costa Rica. In response, Nicaragua sent an additional
    50 troops and the two parties sort of just had a stand off while the two country’s
    leaders had a discussion. As it turned out, the few dozen troops that
    entered Costa Rica had no intentions to singlehandedly overthrow a country of five million. Their commander was just using Google Maps
    to navigate which showed the border as this. Costa Rica then went to the International
    Court of Justice, and complained and then, after years of back and forth, the court ruled
    that this area was in fact Costa Rica and so now Google Maps shows it as Costa Rica
    and Nicaragua lays off the invasions. Unfortunately Apple missed the opportunity
    to create a great Apple Maps ad. Google Maps does try more or less to follow
    what people say places are but sometimes some people disagree on what a thing is. For example, some say New Zealand, other say
    “where?” Some say Machias Seal Island is part of Canada,
    other say it’s part of the US so if you search it on Google it won’t tell you which
    country it is like it does for the rest of the US or Canada. It’ll do the same if you look at a town
    in Western Sahara, Kashmir, the South China Sea, or any other disputed territory. But perhaps the biggest issue for Google Maps
    is what to call neighborhoods. You see, in most cases, neighborhood names
    aren’t official—they’re just decided through what people colloquially call places. People just refer to this area in San Francisco
    as Russian Hill or this area Telegraph Hill, this area Jackson Hill, and at least a few
    people call this area the East Cut. In 2015, you see, an organization was founded
    to improve what was then called Rincon Hill. For some inexplicable reason they decided
    they needed a rebranding and they settled on the neighborhood name “the East Cut.” They updated street signs and their website
    and everything but still, when asked, the mayor of San Francisco said he had never heard
    of the neighborhood. Lucky for the East Cut organization, one of
    their board members just happened to work at Google, whose offices are in the East Cut,
    and, according to the New York Times in an article about this debacle, was able to persuade
    the company to switch the name which is the most San Francisco story ever. Some neighborhood names on Google Maps are
    even more baffling, though. In Detroit Google Maps refers to this area
    as “the Eye” even though really nobody has ever referred to this area by that name. A blogger did some detective work and was
    able to figure out that Google Maps copied the neighborhood names from a map that some
    random website published in 2003. Google Maps even copied the misspellings from
    that map. As it turns out, “the Eye” was the name
    of a community watch organization in the area so there were signs around the area saying
    “the Eye” and somewhere along the line someone got confused and assumed it was the
    neighborhood name. Still today that name shows up on Google Maps
    and, if you really want, you can search and buy real estate in the prestigious Eye neighborhood. In true Detroit fashion, houses start at $8,000. Nobody’s really sure exactly how Google
    determines neighborhood names but, once they do, that name essentially becomes official. According to Google Maps Machias Seal island
    is both Canada and the US at the same time but you know what’s also two things at once—Quantum
    objects since, thanks to Quantum superposition, these particles can be in two or more quantum
    states at the same time. This is what Schrodinger’s Cat is about—it’s
    like if a cat was both dead and alive at the same time. Quantum mechanics is like magic that’s happening
    in our world right now and it’s sort of complicated but Brilliant is the expert in
    teaching super complex things in an understandable way. If you take their quantum objects course you’ll
    go away knowing what only specialized physicists understand. Of course Brilliant has plenty of other great
    courses too and if you want to take them you can try a selection of them for free by signing
    up at and then, by being one of the first 200 to use that link to upgrade
    to premium, you’ll get 20% off.

    Why Trains are so Expensive
    Articles, Blog

    Why Trains are so Expensive

    August 27, 2019

    This is a Wendover Productions video made
    possible by Videoblocks. Get an exclusive 7 day free trial of Videoblocks
    with up to 140 free stock footage clips for your videos by using the link Before I start, I want to quickly mention
    that I started a podcast with Brian from Real Engineering called “Showmakers.” In the very first episode which is out now
    we chat with none other than Hank Green. I’d really appreciate if you give it a try
    and the link is down in the description. Trains are expensive. So expensive, in fact, that on three of the
    most travelled routes in three countries—New York to Washington in the US, Edinburgh to
    London in the UK, and Paris to Lyon in France—they’re pretty much the same price as the plane. These routes start at $49, £30, and €30
    respectively on the train and $52, £13, and €53 on the plane. On a longer route like New York to Chicago,
    the difference is even more pronounced: $59 for the plane, $108 for the train. And that’s keeping in mind that trains are
    subsidized or government run in almost every country while airlines are highly profitable
    commercial enterprises. The planes flying between DC and New York
    are $49 million dollar machines, while the trains traveling the route cost no more than
    $10 million total. The plane has to burn 1.7 gallons of fuel
    per mile flown (3.9 liters per km) while the train relies on cheap, clean electric power. All this therefore begs the question, why
    are trains so expensive? Now, I mentioned that fares between DC and
    New York start at $49, but that’s far from the average price—$73. Let’s look at the expenses that go into
    that fare. The single largest expense for Amtrak is staffing. Trains require a lot of people to operate. 85,000 passengers journey on Amtrak daily,
    but for that Amtrak employs 20,000 people meaning that, daily, Amtrak requires one employee
    for every four passengers. On top of that, the majority of those working
    for Amtrak are highly specialized, unionized workers who demand high salaries. Amtrak’s financial reports tell us that
    they spend $105,000 per employee, but that’s not to say that everyone at Amtrak is making
    six figures. Taxes and benefits typically cost an employer
    30-40% of a salary so the actual average salary for an Amtrak employee is around $75,000. These salary costs are so high that they account
    for over a third of the ticket price between DC and New York—$25.82 total. The cost of employees is so high for train
    operators largely because trains are so slow. For a flight from DC to New York, an airline
    would only have to pay employees for an hour of work while Amtrak has to pay their employees
    for three and a half hours of work. The difference is even more striking on long-haul
    routes—Chicago to Los Angeles for example. An airline would have to pay for four hours
    of work, while Amtrak pays for 44 hours of work. In addition, trains have physical infrastructure
    to maintain along the journey—the rails. Airlines also have infrastructure to pay for
    on each end—the airports—but between those they just use the sky, which is free. Amtrak only owns 730 miles of the 21,000 miles
    of track they use, but they still indirectly pay for the employees who maintain those 20,000
    miles of rented track through the fees charged by the track owners for their use. The next largest cost for train operators
    is that of the trains themselves. Trains aren’t that expensive compared to
    airplanes, but they still cost millions of dollars. The locomotive pulling the train from DC to
    New York costs $6.5 million dollars and then each one of the passenger cars costs an additional
    $400,000. With a seven car train, that works out to
    $9.4 million dollars which accounts for $9.67 on this particular ticket. The other part of infrastructure—rails—costs
    Amtrak an additional $3.66 on this ticket. Railroad tracks are extraordinarily expensive
    to build—typically more than $1 million per mile—but on routes like DC to New York,
    they’re just used so much that the per train or per ticket cost is negligible. Amtrak is a business, so it also needs to
    pay to run the business. $2.15 of this ticket goes to administrative
    costs, and then another $1.31 to advertising. Moving on, trains are extremely safe compared
    to cars, but you’re still more than 3 times as likely to be killed on or by a train than
    a plane. Trains do occasionally crash, and they also
    crash into people. When this happens, Amtrak often has to pay
    a settlement to the victims, and the fees associated with that account for $0.79 of
    the DC to New York ticket. That does mean that when traveling between
    DC and New York, in essence, you’re paying $0.79 in order for Amtrak to kill or injure
    people. Those were all the major costs to run a train,
    but there’s still another $5.91 on that ticket that just represents other minor costs. So the total expense for Amtrak to run that
    train is $50.14. The remaining $22.86 is pure profit. You see, the train from DC to New York, the
    Northeast Regional, is one of the few Amtrak routes to make a profit. The demand, speed, and frequency of the train
    helps it succeed financially where other routes failed. Per passenger per mile, Amtrak makes eight
    cents of profit on the northeast regional, the low speed train, and 29 cents per passenger
    mile on the Acela Express, the high-speed train. These profitable routes help pay for Amtrak’s
    unprofitable routes… and there are a lot of them. Some routes like the Sunset Limited between
    New Orleans and Los Angeles lose as many as 21.7 cents per passenger per mile, and when
    passengers can travel 2,000 miles on that route, that’s a lot of loss. As I mentioned, that $49 fare is not the average
    ticket price to travel between DC and New York. The $49 fare is the price at which Amtrak
    starts selling tickets, but as the date of travel nears, the price can increase to hundreds
    of dollars. That might seem like price gouging, but its
    actually a way to make sure everyone can afford a ticket. That’s not to say Amtrak and other train
    companies are these altruistic organizations trying to bring travel to the masses—it
    just makes more money. Especially with trains where it costs the
    operator roughly the same to transport 5 passengers as it does to transport 500, the operator
    always wants to have as many seats as possible filled, even if that means selling cheap tickets. In a perfect world for the operator, they
    could ask every potential passenger what the maximum amount they’d be willing to pay
    for a journey is. If they adapt the ticket price to every passengers
    maximum price then they can fill each seat with passengers paying the highest possible
    amount. However, in practice, nobody would ever answer
    the question truthfully so it would never work. Ticketing systems, however, try to ask this
    question subliminally. Going back to that route from Edinburgh to
    London, the operator, Virgin Trains East Coast, sells three types of tickets—advance, off-peak,
    and anytime. The advance tickets range anywhere from 30
    pounds to 140 pounds, the off-peak fares cost 137 pounds, and the anytime fares cost 148.50
    pounds. For the advance fares, there are a certain
    unknown number of tickets at different price levels on sale and once they’re gone, they’re
    gone. For example, there might be 15 tickets at
    30 pounds and once they’re sold, the price would increase to 35 pounds, then 40, 45,
    and so on a so forth. That encourages those who can buy early to
    buy early. Normally that means tourists. Tourists tend to plan far in advance and are
    more budget conscious since they’re paying their own costs. They’re also more likely to travel down
    to London on the often cheaper plane since they’re less attracted by the convenience
    of the train. These advance fares are only valid for the
    exact route, day, and time bought which is fine for leisure travelers, but business travelers
    typically want more flexibility. Buying advance fares often doesn’t work
    for business travelers since their plans are only made a few weeks or days in advance and,
    since they don’t personally pay for their tickets, its no problem for them to pay for
    the convenience of taking the train on a flexible ticket. That’s why they often pay £148.50 for an
    anytime ticket. With these, you can just hop on a train whenever—it
    doesn’t matter if its in 10 minute or 10 days. You just step on the train and take a seat. The middle ground between those two is the
    off-peak single which lets you take any train that arrives in London after 11:17 am or is
    on the weekend. These fares are still geared towards business
    travelers, but by restricting against the early morning trains they give a discount
    to those who can avoid the busiest morning trains.. For each of these fares there are equivalents
    in first class—the advance first fares range between 40 and 200 pounds, the off-peak fares
    are 185.50 pounds, and the anytime fares are 236.50 pounds. On top of that, young, disabled, and elderly
    people get up to 1/3 off their fares with a rail-card. This all means that there are essentially
    12 different types of tickets for sale and that one person heading to London might be
    paying 20 pounds while the person sitting right next to them is paying 200 but what
    they’re really paying for is convenience. Now, back in the US, if Amtrak only operated
    profitable lines, their route map would look like this, but the routes that don’t make
    money are the ones that really matter. Amtrak serves over 500 destinations in 46
    states—many of which are small towns with no other means of public transportation. While trains are normally the more expensive
    means of transport, they are less expensive than planes to service small communities. The small airports in the rural parts of America
    are extraordinarily expensive to operate. Even if there are just two or three flights
    a day, they still need a runway, terminal, security, and air traffic control while a
    rural train station needs barely any infrastructure or maintenance. In fact, it’s cheaper to fly from Chicago
    to London ($741) than it is to fly from Havre, Montana to Chicago ($811 May 17-22) whereas
    Amtrak brings passengers from Havre to Chicago for only a few hundred dollars—much more
    in budget for the average resident of Havre who makes only $22,000 per year. Of course this is a political issue, but a
    part of why trains are so expensive is to allow train operators to fulfill obligations
    to serve small communities who need solid transport links. Research has shown that ease of access to
    transport has a stronger influence on whether someone will earn more than their parents
    did than the level of crime in their area or whether they grew up in a two-parent household
    and so keeping trains running through rural America is incredibly important. Next time you take the train from DC to New
    York, just keep in mind that that $22.86 of profit goes to making sure that someone from
    Havre can get to Chicago for less than you can fly to Europe. So you see this number? That’s how much these last few seconds would
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    How Airlines Price Flights
    Articles, Blog

    How Airlines Price Flights

    August 27, 2019

    This video was made possible by Blue Apron. Get three free meals from Blue Apron by being
    one of the first 100 people to sign up at the link below. Airline ticket pricing probably seems like
    a crapshoot. The numbers change seemingly arbitrarily every
    week, day, or hour, but there’s some real science behind these prices. People spend their whole lives figuring out
    what to charge you to fly. Let’s take a look at one flight on one route
    by one airline to understand. American Flight 33 leaves New York’s JFK
    airport every day at 7 AM bound for Los Angeles arriving at 10:51 AM pacific time. This transcontinental route is one of the
    most competitive in the world with over 3.5 million yearly passengers and five major airlines
    connecting the country’s two largest cities. There’s nowhere where pricing strategies
    are more important for airlines than here. Looking at three months of fares for this
    flight, there are eight distinct prices for economy ranging from $129 to $472. These all get you on the exact same flight
    in the exact same seat but each and every price has a purpose and place. The lowest price, $129, is the most competitive
    price. This fare only shows up three times in our
    three month span—each time on Tuesdays. Now, Tuesdays are very often the cheapest
    days of the week to fly. Business travelers tend to make up much of
    the demand during the week and they most often want to fly out on Monday and return on Thursday
    or Friday so Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays tend to be the most expensive travel days
    while Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often the cheapest. The average ticket price for this flight shows
    this—Tuesdays average $182 and Wednesdays $173. Even if the demand is lower American Airlines
    runs the flight anyways and they have to fill seats to break even so they sell the flight
    at rock-bottom prices. The next price, $144, actually demonstrates
    a very interesting phenomenon. Whenever American prices their flight at $144,
    they are not alone. Take March 6th for example. American, Delta, Virgin America, JetBlue,
    and United all have flights from New York to LA at around 7 in the morning selling for
    $144. They’re doing what is called price matching. Because this is one of the most competitive
    routes in the world and because the number one determinant for travelers on which airline
    they take is price, all five airlines flying this route match each others prices. This way, travelers make their decision based
    off the reputation of each airline rather than the price. The price stays at $144 because it’s in
    each airlines best interest to keep it there. In a normal market, if Delta, for example,
    dropped their price to $119 they would get more travelers since they were the cheapest,
    but in this price matched market all the other airlines would drop their prices as soon as
    Delta drops theirs so all of them would get the same amount of travelers as before while
    earning less money, but there are some cases where it can make business sense for airlines
    to drop prices to below even being profitable. Around the year 2000, WestJet and the now
    defunct CanJet airlines started flying from central Canada to Newfoundland. These routes were historically operated exclusively
    by Air Canada and they were expensive. A one-way flight from Montreal in 1999 cost
    over $600, but when the budget airlines WestJet and CanJet started flying the route, prices
    dropped dramatically and Air Canada was threatened, so they dropped their prices even lower. The $600 Air Canada fares then cost $89. Now, it wouldn’t make sense for anyone to
    fly a budget airline over Air Canada at the same price so WestJet and CanJet were almost
    driven out of business on these routes, until Canada’s Competition Bureau stepped in. They concluded that Air Canada was engaging
    in the uncompetitive action of predatory pricing since they were pricing flights below what
    it cost to operate them, so they were forced to stop. Airlines in the US, with some newly strong
    budget competitors, are engaging in similar actions nowadays. United airlines, for example, is matching
    Frontier’s $40 fares on many days from Denver to Chicago, among other routes, in order to
    maintain their market stronghold in Denver and Chicago even though their cost to operate
    the route is drastically higher than Frontier so they are almost certainly loosing money
    on those fares. But back to the New York to LA route. $159 is the lowest regular fare for this flight. The $129 and $144 price points were both basic
    economy fares—the most restrictive type with no seat selection, no carry on bags,
    and no changes or refunds. Every flight has a bunch of different booking
    classes each with a fare code. For example, the basic economy fare code for
    the $129 and $144 price is B, but the $159 price books into fare code N. These different
    booking classes are sometimes known are fare buckets. Essentially the airline decides it’s going
    to sell a certain number of tickets at the $159 price with fare code N, let’s say 10,
    then when those ten tickets are sold the airline then sells economy at fare code G for $204
    then when those are sold it sells economy at fare code V for $269 then fare code L for
    $318 and so on and so forth. There are also some cases where a ticket will
    default to a more expensive fare bucket because of reasons other than the lower fare selling
    out. Many fares, including each mentioned so far,
    have advance purchase requirements meaning that, even if a flight is not full at all,
    the price will increase closer to departure. All the fares below $204 have an advance purchase
    requirement of two weeks meaning that you can only purchase them more than two weeks
    before departure while the $269 fare, for example, has an advance purchase requirement
    of only one week. Although, the cheapest fare without an advance
    purchase requirement at all, that is, the cheapest fare that you could buy day-of for
    this flight is fare class K at $472 which happens to be the most expensive economy class
    fare. And now for some caveats. Not every fare for this flight is going to
    be priced at one of these eight prices. Airlines have mechanisms to adjust fares from
    these buckets. In the short-term, they can adjust things
    like the fuel surcharge to raise the price if other factors, like oil prices, increase. In the long term they can adjust the actual
    prices of the different fare buckets. Airline often increase the base fares for
    busy seasons like summer. American Airlines does exactly that on this
    New York to LA route where their fare class M, for example, increases from $357 to $410
    in August. But so far we’ve looked at this at a micro
    level—how prices differ on one flight—but we also have to consider the macro level. Why if you leave on Tuesday February 6th and
    fly 2,469 miles to the west to LA do you pay $129 while if you fly 3,442 miles to the east
    to London—only a thousand miles further than LA—you pay $2,772. Well, the second figure is a bit deceptive
    because that’s the price of a one-way ticket. If you switch the LA flight to a round-trip
    ticket returning a week later it will cost $257—exactly double—while if you turn
    the London flight into a round-trip returning a week later the price will drop to $602—almost
    five times less. This is understandably confusing—a one-way
    ticket that costs more than a roundtrip—but the reason this is goes back to the fare codes. Embedded within each fare code are a bunch
    of little restrictions that dictate when you can use that fare. On the New York to LA trip those restrictions
    are just things like blackout dates for the fare and advance purchase requirements, but
    the New York to London ticket has loads more restrictions and the ones that make one-ways
    more expensive than round-trips are the minimum stay requirements. These requirements dictate how soon your return
    flight can be in order to get a particular fare. The idea is to price discriminate—business
    travelers should pay more because they can pay more. Meanwhile, airlines try to give the lowest
    prices to leisure travelers since they’re the ones paying for their own tickets and
    therefore they’re the ones that are the most price sensitive. Business travelers often want to be home for
    the weekend, so many of these minimum stay requirements, like with fares Q, N, and S,
    just require a Sunday at your destination. Others, trying to accomplish the same thing,
    require seven days, a full week, which would also require a traveller to stay the weekend
    at their destination. Now as the prices go up the requirements go
    down so once you get to paying around $2000 you can stay for as few as three days, but
    the cheapest roundtrip base airfare with no stay requirement at all is $5,544 in fare
    class Y—exactly double the one way price. So that explains this—the one way ticket
    is so expensive because, since the airline doesn’t know how long the traveller will
    stay at their destination the one-way fare has to be booked into the least restrictive
    fare class without the minimum stay requirement. You’ll see this idea of price discrimination
    all over ticketing structures. It’s a genius pricing concept that allows
    different people to buy products at the prices they can afford and therefore its allows businesses
    to sell the same product to more people. Tickets increase in price closer to departure
    because leisure travelers buy tickets far-out and business travelers buy their tickets close
    to departure and flexible tickets are more expensive because that’s what business travelers
    need, but there’s another pricing difference going on that’s less fair—between routes. It’s all about competition. Different routes of the same distance cost
    different amounts generally not because they cost different amounts to operate, but because
    of how much the competitors are charging. This is part of why flights into small airports
    are so expensive—because they lack competition. You can fly the 240 miles from Detroit to
    Pellston, Michigan on a CRJ 200 for $242 or you can fly the 170 miles from Detroit to
    South Bend, Indiana on a CRJ 200 for $76. The only difference is that South Bend Airport
    has flights from United, Delta, and Allegiant while Pellston only has flights from Delta. The same phenomenon happens over the Atlantic. There’s more competition on the six hour
    flight from New York to LA than on the six hour flight from New York to Dublin so you
    can fly to LA for $250 round trip while Dublin costs $500 round trip. Of course, travelers from New York to LA can
    drive, take the bus, take the train, or take a flight connecting halfway there while travelers
    to Dublin only have one choice—to fly. In all, the truth is that prices reflect what
    people will pay and so people will pay what flights are priced. If you’re a busy person like me, you know
    that eating healthy can be difficult. Sometimes it seems like you have two choices—quick
    food or healthy food—but you have another one—quick and healthy food because that’s
    what Blue Apron is. Blue Apron ships you boxes every week with
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    that you’ll actually like because they have a selection of eight different recipes each
    week from which you can pick. All the ingredients arrive in a refrigerated
    bag, ship to most everywhere in the US, and start at just $8.99/10.99 per serving. I highly recommend you try Blue Apron out
    and the good news is that you can try out three meals for free at the link in the description.

    North Korea’s Tiny, Terrible Airline
    Articles, Blog

    North Korea’s Tiny, Terrible Airline

    August 24, 2019

    This video was made possible by CuriosityStream. Watch for free for 31-days by signing up at and using the code, “HAI.” North Korea—it would be great as a reality
    show, but it’s less great as reality. As much as this country likes to pretend that
    the rest of the world is made up exclusively of brainwashed heathens living in hell-scape
    garbage fire countries, sometimes certain North Koreans, special enough to get a hall
    pass, need to get out, and sometimes other people go there to experience the dictator
    Disneyland. Now, there is a train to the DPRK from Russia
    and China, but honestly, what are trains good for… other than low-cost, long distance,
    time-efficient, economically stimulating, carbon minimal, socially egalitarian, death-reducing
    transport? Nothing, because they don’t have wings. That’s why North Korea has its own extra
    special, tiny, terrible, airline… and here’s some boring history, made possible by my declining
    audience retention statistics. Back in the 50’s, the USSR was North Korea’s
    sugar daddy, and so the airline was first established to fly to the eastern bit of the
    Soviet Union so that people could connect onto Aeroflot services to Moscow. In the early days, they flew exclusively Soviet
    planes, which sometimes didn’t crash, and mostly focused on flights to the USSR and
    later China. Eventually, though, they got some big boy
    Ilyushin Il-62 and Tupolev Tu-154’s, which, surprisingly, are not the names of toaster
    models but rather planes that could fly all the way to Eastern Europe. That meant they could finally fly the crucial
    non-stop route of Pyongyang to Moscow. They also eventually added some flights going
    all the way to some of the other Soviet united places like East Germany and Bulgaria. But then the USSR became USS not, North Korea
    and Russia’s relationship diminished, and Air Koryo started flying to some definitively
    non-Soviet places. As recently as 2010, they were flying to far
    flung destinations like Zurich, Budapest, and Prague, but then, the DPRK’s flag carrier
    ran into two major issues. One was that they were added to the prestigious,
    “Airlines Banned in the EU” list meaning that, for the most part, they could no longer
    fly through, to, or from most of Europe and two was that, especially in the past decade,
    a whole host of sanctions were imposed on North Korea by both individual nations and
    the United Nations. These sanctions, preventing all UN member
    states from conducting almost all types of trade with North Korea, mean that there’s
    barely any economic activity with the country so there’s little reason for people to travel
    there. Nowadays, Air Koryo is more modest in size
    compared to its former glory. They fly to just five destinations—Vladivostok,
    Shenyang, Beijing, Shanghai, and they just recently started a new route to Macau in August,
    2019 to allow the small number of North Korean elites to get to this gambling hub for some
    good old fashioned sinning. Since this longest flight is only three hours
    long, they don’t have to deal with some of the complications that would arise from
    their crew liking some of their layover cities a little too much since they don’t have
    to have any overnight layovers. They do, however, have plenty of complications
    arising from operating from one of the most sanctioned countries on earth. These sanctions have long prevented them from
    purchasing Boeing or Airbus planes so they bought Soviet or Russian built planes, but
    then North Korea accidentally pressed the big red, “sanction me more,” button. On November 28, 2017, North Korea launched
    a ballistic missile that landed uncomfortably close to Japan and, in response, the UN dropped
    the mother of all sanction packages outlined in this bad boy document—UN Resolution 2397. This resolution resolved, among other things,
    that all UN members states would, “prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer
    to the DPRK, of all transportation vehicles.” It clarifies that this includes everything
    between HS codes 86 and 89, which are codes used by customs organizations, and if you
    pull up HS codes 86 through 89, you’ll see that that includes, among other things, locomotives,
    tractors, tanks, baby carriages, buoys, and aircraft. Therefore, since that’s a United Nations
    sanction, that means that North Korea can’t buy aircraft from, let me pull up my map,
    ummm, these countries. They could always buy from, like, Kosovo. They’re not a UN member. I wonder how their aircraft manufacturing
    industry is… not that Kosovo is a country… or not a country… or part of a country…
    or not part of a country… just forget I ever mentioned Kosovo. Anyway, what this all means is that Air Koryo
    can only operate aircraft it had pre-2017 and those were almost all old Russian, Ukrainian,
    or Soviet planes. UN Resolution 2397 specifically allows the
    DPRK to buy spare parts for their passenger planes, presumably to be sure they don’t
    fall out of the sky, so that’s not an issue, but many of their planes are old, and only
    getting older, that’s how time works, so their lack of plane buying ability certainly
    is becoming more and more of a problem. While plenty of countries regularly violate
    the sanctions in secret (*cough* Russia,) it would certainly raise some questions if
    North Korea just suddenly started flying around a shiny new Russian jet, I’d imagine. UN Resolution 2270 also bans all sales of
    aviation fuel to the DPRK, but it specifically includes an exemption for fuel used for passenger,
    commercial flights. It does, however, warn its members to only
    sell the exact amount an aircraft needs to get from, in the example of Russia, Vladivostok,
    to Pyongyang, and back to Vladivostok—no more that could sneakily make its way into
    a military jet, you know, somehow. Perhaps the craziest bit about Air Koryo,
    though, is that you can book a flight on their website, just like any other airline—it’s
    scarily easy. The reception when you get there—well, that
    might be less than warm. Of course, on their rickety Russian jets,
    Air Koryo lets you experience aviation’s past but, if you want to see what flying will
    be like in the future, you should watch, “Into the Skies”— a new episode of the Curiosity
    Stream original series, “Speed.” This covers how aircraft design will change
    to cope with a time not far off when 10 billion passengers will fly each year. This is just one of more than 2,400 titles
    that you can watch on Desktop, Smart TV, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and more
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    Why Iceland Imports Ice
    Articles, Blog

    Why Iceland Imports Ice

    August 22, 2019

    This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your beautiful website with Squarespace
    for 10% off at Chances are that somewhere on the internet
    you’ve heard the “fact” that Iceland was named Iceland by its viking settlers to
    stop their enemies from coming to the island. Well, that fact is about as wrong as pineapple
    on pizza. The truth is that the first norse settler
    of the island was feeling a little bummed out upon arrival since his daughter and livestock
    died en route so he just stayed for the winter before returning to Norway and, since the
    particular area he stayed in happened to be icy he figured all of the island was icy and
    therefore called it Iceland. Of course that’d be as absurd as, you know,
    seeing that the sidewalk was flat and deciding the whole earth must be flat, or something. Iceland is cold and has plenty of snow and
    ice during the winter but as a whole, the country is fairly green. Still, for such a northern and wintery country
    the idea that it imports ice is pretty absurd. Nonetheless that is reality but Iceland’s
    ice importation has a surprisingly rational explanation. Now, taking ice from one place and selling
    it in another is nothing new. El Chapo was great at it but as it turns out,
    centuries ago people’s refrigerators didn’t have ice dispensers. For the majority of history people just dealt
    with having warm drinks like cave-people but when the 19th century rolled around that all
    changed. An entrepreneur named Frederic Tudor started
    taking ice from cold places like Maine and selling it in hot places like Cuba. Genius, right? Only problem, ice melts. Frederic understood this and insulated his
    cargo with sawdust and, with enough ice, at least some of it would make it through the
    1,600 mile journey from Maine to Cuba. At first Frederick received a frosty reception
    from the hot place people as they were doubtful that they needed ice so Frederic channeled
    his inner drug dealer and gave them their first bit of ice for free to get them addicted. Soon, business was booming. Now, places like New York and DC get too cold
    in the winter for people to want ice but in the summer, they too get swelteringly hot
    so Frederic wanted to make a way to be able to sell ice in the mid-Atlantic summers. Really the only solution was to take a whole
    lot of ice, put it in an insulated building, and hope some of it lasts until summer and,
    crazily enough, that worked. Most of North America started to rely on ice
    so it was time for Frederick to take the ice trade intercontinental. The rest of the world also had hot places
    like India so Frederic Tudor set up a regular shipment of ice to Calcutta, India which became
    hugely popular with the rich English colonialists who were used to cooler temperatures. Amazingly, he had the process refined so well
    at that point that the ice from New England was selling in India for, adjusted for inflation,
    only $1 per pound. Soon after, ice from New England was shipped
    and sold in London, in Rio de Janeiro, in Cape Town, in Hong Kong, the New England ice
    even reached as far as Sydney, Australia where it sold for only $2 per pound. So, was it a coincidence that the climate
    starting rapidly warming only a century after the world’s elite started using ice shipped
    from the other side of the world by steamship all so they could have a chilled beverage? I’m not saying the ice trade singlehandedly
    caused climate change, but it certainly didn’t help. Of course, with time artificial refrigeration
    became cheap and widespread but not before making Frederic Tudor a very rich man. Iceland today, despite what some may think,
    is not some backwards heathen society that shuns the use of refrigerators. Its importation of ice has to do with something
    else—economics. You see, Iceland is a very expensive place. Like many isolated, northern counties, Iceland
    relies on imports for many things like oil, wood, wheat, and other food. It just doesn’t have the ability to produce
    these items domestically due to its geography but shipping to Iceland is also relatively
    cheap since its economy is export-driven. While fish is Iceland’s biggest export this
    is mostly shipped by plane but the country also has an enormous aluminum industry thanks
    to its low electricity cost. Aluminum, along with most everything else
    Iceland makes, is exported by ship which means that there’s demand for shipping from Iceland. That means that ships are already coming to
    Iceland to bring items elsewhere so its relatively inexpensive to fill those ships with other
    goods to bring to Iceland. At the same time, the average Icelander makes
    about $57,000 per year, it’s one of the highest income countries in the world, so
    that means making things in Iceland, in most cases, is expensive. If you go and check your handy dandy Icelandic
    schedule of tariffs, though, you see that water, ice, and snow have no import duty if
    imported from the European Economic Area. Therefore, Iceland imports ice from other
    less expensive countries in the EEZ such as Scotland and the only additional cost is the
    cheap shipping. While there are plenty of other countries
    that don’t charge import duties on ice, there are few that have the mix of high domestic
    labor costs and cheap inbound shipping that make it worth it for Iceland to import ice. That’s why Iceland’s grocery stores are
    stocked with this imported ice from hundreds or thousands of miles away as it ends up being
    about 40% less than Icelandic ice. If you want to sell a different kind of ice
    you definitely need a Squarespace website. You can build a fully functional online store
    within minutes using their website builder so you can put all your attention into building
    your ice cream empire. In fact, if you run any sort of business whether
    that be a brick and mortar store, a podcast, a youtube channel, or anything else you want
    to make a great first impression for your potential customers and Squarespace helps
    you do that because their beautiful designer templates make it easy to build a website
    that looks great. Best of all, you can start building your website
    for free at and then, when you’re ready to launch, that same link
    will get you 10% off.

    Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do
    Articles, Blog

    Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do

    August 18, 2019

    This is Wendover Productions. Sponsored by the Great Courses Plus. Here’s an interesting question: which city
    do you think is more dense—Paris, France or New York, United States? It probably seems obvious: New York, the land
    of skyscrapers, the Big Apple… right? Wrong. New York, in fact, has a population density
    of less than half that of Paris. Paris’s is 56,000 people per square mile
    (22,000 per square kilometer) while New York’s is only 27,000 people per square mile (10,500
    per square kilometer.) To find a European city with a comparable
    population density to New York’s—the densest American city—you have to go all the way
    down to number six on the list: Lyon France (27,000 per sq/mile; 10,500 per sq/km.) New York of course has a super-dense urban
    core, but then around it is miles and miles of suburbia—just like almost every other
    American city. Paris, on the other hand, packs almost its
    entire population into a compact urban core. There’s also another interesting pattern
    that differs between the two continents: rich Americans live outside the city, rich Europeans
    live city center. Compare the income map of Paris to that of
    Philadelphia. Of course it’s not perfect, but you can
    definitely see a pattern. The most commonly cited reason for both these
    trends is the difference in age. Most European cities have existed for hundreds
    if not thousands of years, while all but a few American cities only gathered enough population
    to be called cities in the past one or two hundred years. What that means is that European cities existed
    when all but the super-rich had to commute to work by foot. In the middle ages, Paris had a population
    of two to three hundred thousand people, but you could walk from one side to the other
    in thirty minutes. It was incredibly densely populated. You just had to live within walking distance
    of work. Therefore, the rich paid more for the houses
    closest to the center of the city. This is a similar reason to why in historic
    European hotels, you’ll often see the nicest and largest rooms on the lower floors—the
    opposite of what you’d see today. Before elevators existed, the rich didn’t
    want to have to walk up as many flights of stairs. Walking distance was not only important to
    big cities. Small villages across Europe were almost always
    the same size because their population was dictated by the walkability of the surrounding
    fields. European farmers tended to live in small towns
    and walk to their fields during the day rather than the homesteading approach used in America. Therefore, villages would only be as large
    as the amount of people needed to work the fields within walking distance. American cities, on the other hand, began
    their period of rapid growth in a more modern era when decentralizing technologies were
    much more advanced. By the time North American cities grew larger
    than the distance people could reasonably walk, there was already the technological
    capability to create public transportation systems. The first major public transportation innovation
    was the steam train in the mid 19th century. This was a very expensive means of transport
    and was therefore only for the super rich. Interestingly, because steam trains take an
    enormous amount of time to reach speed, the towns that the rich commuted from, known as
    railroad suburbs, were generally not just at the nearest bit of countryside, but separated
    from the city by a few miles of countryside. The impact of railroad suburbs remains today. On the track of the old Philadelphia Main
    Line, there’s a stretch of super-rich communities with huge estates and country clubs from Ardmore
    to Malvern. The demographics just never changed from the
    time of the railroad suburb. A few decades later, streetcars emerged and
    quickly became an instrumental part of the American commute. Much like steam trains, streetcars also created
    new communities—this time with slightly less rich upper-middle class individuals. In Washington DC, the wealthy suburbs of Tenleytown,
    Chevy Chase, Bethesda, McLean, Rockville, and more all grew as a result of the streetcar. But once again, walking distance influenced
    geography. Streetcar commuters had to live within walking
    distance of a stop, so naturally there would be a radius of civilization about 20 or 30
    minutes walking distance from a stop, then past that…nothing. That meant that between the lines, there was
    all this open space where nobody could commute from. Enter: the automobile. At first the car was only for upper class
    individuals especially with the distraction of the two World Wars and Great Depression,
    however, by the time young Americans returned from World War Two, there had been enough
    technological advances to make the automobile affordable for the middle class. Over 50% of households had cars by 1950. At the same time, the government was offering
    loans to returning veterans which significantly increased the number of americans who could
    afford to buy homes. Instead of buying a small central city home,
    this generation opted to use their new cars to commute from cheaper, nicer, and larger
    suburban homes. The idea was that the working parents would
    go downtown each day while the rest of the family would stay to enjoy the suburb. It was the perfect deal. So that whole history was absolutely true,
    but it doesn’t entirely explain why European cities didn’t experience suburbanization as
    well. In Germany, for example, many, if not most,
    cities were bombed to rubble during World War Two. They had the opportunity to rebuild in any
    way they wanted, but then chose to keep their compact design. Today, the average metropolitan population
    density in Germany is four times higher than the US’s. At the same time, other cities across Europe
    that survived the war experienced enormous population influxes and still maintained their
    mammoth population densities. Perhaps the least commonly cited reason for
    suburbanization in the US is crime. It’s a bit of an ugly period in American
    history that we sometimes forget, but crime levels were absolutely insane in the 70’s,
    80’s, and 90’s. There are a ton of different theories for
    why this was—perhaps the most interesting being the that the rise in gasoline emitted
    lead caused lower IQ’s and higher aggressively. New York had an astronomical 2,245 murders
    in 1990. London didn’t even have that many in the
    entire 90’s decade. Violent crime rates are still consistently
    10 or more times higher in the US. In 1992, a poll was conducted asking departing
    New Yorkers why they were moving to the suburbs, and the most commonly cited reason was crime
    at 47%. Cost and quality of living were way down at
    lower than 10% each. Crime rates are significantly lower in suburbs
    as they are typically havens for higher-income individuals. Europeans don’t have to worry as much about
    inter-city crime so they’re much more willing to live downtown. Land for suburban housing is also readily
    available in the US because farmers have always been quick to sell their relatively unprofitable
    land to developers. By contrast, In France, for example, agricultural
    subsidies are 12 times higher per acre of land than the US. That’s a big reason why large European cities
    are still closely surrounded by small farms. In many European cities, you can literally
    take the city bus to farms. Lastly, all sorts of energy are cheaper in
    the US. A gallon of gas costs as much as $7 in some
    parts of Europe compared to the US average of $2.20. It’s significantly more expensive to commute
    by car in Europe so there’s more motivation to live closer to work where either the drive
    is shorter or you can take public transportation. Also, big suburban homes aren’t as attractive
    in Europe because electricity and heating costs are higher. Suburban life really didn’t live up to expectations. Americans now spend an average of 4.25 hours
    per week sitting in cars, buses, or trains traveling to and from work. That’s 2.5% of their entire lives. It’s also been scientifically proven that
    commuting from the suburbs is linked to higher blood pressure, lower frustration tolerance,
    and higher rates of anxiety. Also, the suburbs are no longer the countryside
    havens that they once were. They’re just a continuation of the urban
    sprawl. Rich Americans are therefore beginning to
    return to the city. With lower crime rates, higher fuel costs,
    and an overall shift in attitude, urban cores are having a second renaissance. So that’s why we live where we do. It’s a complicated, controversial, and surprisingly
    political history. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Production
    video. I first need to thank my amazing sponsor—the
    Great Courses Plus. The Great Courses Plus is a subscription on-demand
    video learning service where you can watch unlimited top-notch courses from Ivy League
    Professors, National Geographic Scientists, Culinary Institute of America Chefs, and hundreds
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    the course on Cultural and Human Geography. It’s a super-interesting topic, and this
    course absolutely does it justice. You can watch this or any other of the hundreds
    of courses for free when you sign up for a 30-day free trial using the link
    or the link is also in the description. I also recently started a Patreon which you
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    you in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

    Brazil’s Geography Problem
    Articles, Blog

    Brazil’s Geography Problem

    August 14, 2019

    This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn from 21,000 classes for free for two
    months at There are plenty of lines you can draw on
    the globe but perhaps none is more consequential than the equator. Of the 15 wealthiest countries
    in the world as measured by GDP per capita, all are in the northern hemisphere. Only 800
    million of earth’s 7.6 billion residents live south of the equator. There is a clear
    divide between north and south but of those 800 million people a quarter of them, about
    207 million, live here in Brazil. The country is an exception to the global trend. Brazil
    is the fifth most populous country in the world and the most populous entirely within
    the southern hemisphere. Its economy has grown enormously and the country is quickly developing.
    Although, the very land it sits on stacks the odds against it. Its location gives it
    a disadvantage. Given this, the question is whether Brazil can develop into a world superpower
    by the likes of the US, Europe, Russia, India, and China or if the country is doomed to fail? Brazil, of course, looks like this but in
    reality almost 80% of the country’s population lives here—within 200 miles of the coast.
    You do see a concentration of population near the coast in any country as it provides a
    cheap and easy means of transportation by boats and a source of food through fishing
    but few countries have such a severe concentration of people by the oceans as Brazil. This small
    area, for example, is home to three of Brazil’s six largest cities. Normally this would help
    development as the area in between cities will urbanize but this map doesn’t tell
    the whole story—this one does. You see, this area of Brazil is rather mountainous.
    The major cities mostly exist in small pockets of low-altitude, flat land on the ocean. This
    is because major cities need easy water access to get goods in and out. The majority of Brazil’s
    coast is defined by steep, sheer cliffs. Petrópolis, for example, a suburb of Rio, is a mere 13
    miles from the ocean and yet it sits at almost 3,000 feet of altitude. The rare areas with
    low-altitude land on the water are where cities like Porte Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife
    are but this pattern has two consequences. First, these cities, while being on flat land
    themselves are surrounded by cliffs and mountainous regions which means their growth is limited.
    There are plenty of cities that exist in mountainous regions but the world’s largest and most
    influential cities like London and Delhi and Beijing all exist in areas with absolutely
    no geographical features limiting their growth. The fact that Brazil’s cities locate in
    rare low-altitude coastal land means that the country will likely never have a megalopolis
    by the likes of the Pearl River Delta or the US Northeast. It takes a surprising six hours
    to drive between Rio and Sao Paolo and since there’s no low-altitude coastal land in
    between them, there are really no major cities in between them too. Brazil’s cities are
    confined to the geographically convenient areas which are spread out from each other.
    This means the cities can’t collaborate easily with each other thereby limiting Brazil’s
    impact on the world stage. Like any large country, Brazil’s development
    potential is also linked to how it gets its food. This, in fact, might be Brazil’s greatest
    obstacle as it really doesn’t hav e much great farmland, at least yet. The country’s
    main agricultural region is its south which is blessed with great soil and great rivers
    that help transport crops away from their farms. Interestingly, the same elevation that
    leads to steep coastal cliffs causes rivers to run in a counterintuitive direction. The
    Tietê river, for example, starts near Sao Paolo a mere 10 miles away from the Atlantic
    ocean but then runs inland almost 500 miles where it flows into the Paraná River which
    eventually flows out into the ocean near Buenos Aires, Argentina. If a farmer wants to export
    their food abroad, it’s often cheaper to first ship it the thousands of miles by boat
    on these rivers than just hundreds of miles overland to Brazil’s coast due to their
    poor road infrastructure. This means that Argentina gets the business of packing up
    and shipping Brazil’s food to other countries. That’s just lost money for Brazil as a result
    of their geography. Brazil’s south, though, does not even have enough land to feed the
    country’s own 200 million residents. Given that, the question is where to put the rest
    of the farms. In Brazil’s north is the Amazon basin. The
    central feature of this region is, of course, the Amazon River which is navigable for boats.
    Normally this feature would lead to a significant population as navigable rivers serve as cheap
    and easy transport for crops and goods but the banks of the Amazon are a tough place
    to farm or live. Not only are they muddy and unstable which makes building difficult, but
    the Amazon also regularly floods which means that every year many of the communities on
    the banks of the Amazon can have their streets underwater for months. Building and living
    in the Amazonian cities is difficult, but what’s more difficult is building the roads
    in and out. The largest city in the Amazon, Manaus, is home to 2.6 million people, it’s
    as big as Baltimore, and yet there are only three roads connecting the city to the outside
    world. Many of the smaller towns around the Amazon have no roads going in and out as its
    just incredibly costly and difficult to build roads through the rainforest. In fact, rather
    unbelievably, there is not a single bridge spanning over the Amazon so there is no way
    to drive from the northernmost region of Brazil to the rest without taking a ferry. Overall,
    this whole area is just empty. Even if there was the infrastructure to transport crops
    to market, farming in the Amazon involves clearing huge amounts of land and even then,
    the soil is relatively infertile which leads to poor yields. Despite being Brazil’s largest
    state, Amazonas is home to just 1.8% of its population. It just costs too much to build
    the infrastructure needed to live there. To the south of the Amazon, though, is an
    area known as the Cerrado. This vast savanna used to be in the same category as the Amazon—it
    was empty. The problem was not only that there was no natural network of rivers to get crops
    out of the area but also that the soil was too acidic and lacking enough nutrients to
    easily grow large quantities of crops. Between both the Amazon and the Cerrado being off-limits
    for large-scale farming, that meant that Brazil really didn’t have much land at all for
    farming. 30 years ago, with only the south to farm, Brazil was actually a net importer
    of food—it bought more food from other countries than it sold. That was until researchers discovered
    that all you needed to do to fix the soil was add phosphorous and lime. The phosphorous
    served as a fertilizer in the place of natural nutrients and the lime worked to reduce the
    level of acidity. In the early 2000’s, the country spread more than 25 million tons of
    lime per year and so today the Cerrado accounts for 70% of Brazil’s farmland. In addition,
    Brazil has begun growing soybeans. This plant is normally grown in more temperate climates
    such as the US, northern China, or Japan, but through cross-breeding and genetic modification
    it can be modified to grow in warmer and acidic environments such as the Brazilian Cerrado.
    Thanks to the enormous amount of land Brazil has and these technological advancements the
    country has gone from producing 16% of the world’s soybean in 2005 to 31% today.
    A country’s level of development is often to linked to how good its natural transportation
    system is. That’s part of why the US developed so much so fast—it has a great system of
    navigable rivers right in its agricultural heartland that helps get goods from the fields
    to cities fast and inexpensively. The Brazilian Cerrado, though, does not have that. It doesn’t
    even have much of a preexisting network of roads since before this recent agricultural
    advancement barely anyone lived there. Therefore anyone who wants to farm in the Cerrado has
    to find land, level it, treat it with phosphate and lime, and build roads to get supplies
    in and crops out. Cerrado farms can be profitable but it takes an enormous amount of money to
    build the infrastructure needed to start a farm. It’s not like the US or France or
    China where all you need is some land. The consequence of this is that farms in Brazil
    tend to owned by corporations rather than individuals because only corporations have
    the money to build farms. That therefore increases the level of wealth disparity in Brazil. According
    to the World Bank’s Gini index, Brazil is the 11th most economically unequal country
    in the world. Lower wealth disparity and the emergence of a middle class are indicators
    of economic development so the country should want to fix this. Brazil’s government has
    recognized its infrastructure problem as a source of its wealth disparity and has therefore
    worked to build roads in the interior so that more individuals can run farms but the government
    only has so much money to spend and it’s a big country.
    Brazil does, though, understand the importance of its core. It understands that the coastal
    cities are constrained and that economic development will come from the center. It was partially
    for that reason that the country decided to move its capital from Rio de Janeiro to here—Brasília.
    The thinking was that putting the capital in the core would stimulate the economically
    underdeveloped region and, in many ways, it worked. The city simply did not exist before
    1960 yet today more than 4 million people live in its metropolitan area. Being located
    on relatively flat land unlike Rio, the city can just grow and grow and grow without hinderance.
    Brazil has potential, but its defining issue is that it’s an expensive place. It’s a
    vicious cycle. In order to make money, Brazil needs to invest in its infrastructure but
    without people making money it doesn’t have the tax money to build what it takes t o transition
    into the first world. The question of why tropical countries are less developed is an
    enormous one without a clear answer, but Brazil is one of the most likely candidates to break
    this trend. It certainly lags behind other developing countries like China, but as its
    agriculture industry develops it will become a bigger and bigger exporter which will bring
    more money in. With time, its average income will inch up. The country already does have
    major companies in other industries such as banking, manufacturing, and oil but with how
    big Brazil is, agriculture is the one that’s the world’s focus right now. Only France,
    Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States export more agricultural products per year
    which is good company to be in. Brazil may not have the explosive growth rate of some
    other less developed countries but by continuously taking what it earns and reinvesting it to
    open up more of the country to agricultural production it will continue its path to superpower
    status. One of the common questions I receive is how
    I started making these videos. The first step was learning the skills needed from writing
    to research to sound design and editing, but for each and every one of them there’s a
    course on Skillshare. Skillshare, you see, is an online learning community that has more
    than 21,000 classes on whatever you want to learn. The variety is astounding. You can
    learn skills to help you make videos, to show off at parties, or even to help you get a
    job. There are also some great courses taught by fellow YouTubers such as Mike Boyd and
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    months exclusively by going to Skillshare makes this show possible and its
    a great place to learn or improve your skills so please do check them out, once again, at Thanks for watching and I’ll see you again in three weeks for another
    Wendover Productions video.