Five facts about the modern world that will make you think

Allister Heath

1 IN the US, over 8,000 waiters have PhDs or equivalent qualifications, as have 5,057 cleaners. Roughly 317,000 waiters have university degrees, as have 80,000 bartenders and 18,000 parking attendants. These figures have been highlighted by Richard Vedder of the University of Ohio, and are based on official statistics from 2010; today’s situation is unlikely to have improved. A similar trend is becoming visible in the UK, with more graduates having to take jobs for which they are over-qualified; and many bright, hard-working graduates from around the world work in London’s sandwich and coffee shops. A mismatch between the supply and demand of university degrees is an increasingly tragic problem.

2 For those of us addicted to our iPhones, it is often hard to remember what the world was like before they were around – scarily, Apple launched its bestselling smartphone just six years ago. The product has been the most successful consumer launch of all times, and the sales of iPhones are now so large that they already exceed the total revenues of 474 of the S&P 500’s member firms. This is an astonishing fact, calculated by Eric Chemi of Bloomberg Businessweek; iPhone sales are worth more than Boeing’s entire turnover, or that of Procter and Gamble. iPhone sales are worth more than the entire turnover of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s combined. They are worth more than the turnover of almost all FTSE 100 companies. At some point, Apple will inevitably falter – but its achievement has been monumental.

3 Britain no longer makes things – and certainly not best-selling phones and computers – or so we are always told. That is certainly true of London, which earns a good living selling services. Yet car production is one of the great exceptions to the decline of British manufacturing. Car making is roaring back in the UK and is likely to finally overtake its 1972 peak at some point before the end of the decade. British factories produced a record 1.92m cars in 1972, many of which turned out to be disastrous rust buckets. The industry subsequently went into crisis, destroyed by nationalisation, militant trade unions, incompetent management, crippling taxes and generalised chaos. Over the past 12 months, however, car production hit 1.5m units, according to figures out this morning; output is up by 9.9 per cent over the year to September. Indian, German and Japanese ownership and investment has dramatically saved the industry.

4 Fancy your chances as an entrepreneur? Ready to head to Silicon Roundabout to set up a tech firm, or to Mayfair to launch your very own hedge fund? Here’s the bad news: there is a 0.00006 per cent chance of building a company that will eventually be worth $1bn, according to David Friedberg, a man who recently pulled off that extremely unlikely feat when he sold his Climate Corporation to Monsanto. Interviewed by, he explains that the median time to pull off the feat in the US these days is 49 months from start to flotation or trade sale (these are Silicon Valley stats, obviously). If there are three founders, the median expected payoff is therefore just $73,000 a year, with a 67 per cent chance of making nothing at all. You need love to be a real entrepreneur.

5 We all know that Americans crave orange juice and Italians love pasta, right? Well, that’s no longer true. US sales of orange juice in volume terms are now back to levels last seen in 1999 and are down by a third since peak, according to Nielsen, partly because of price hikes. The culinary revolution engulfing Italy is even more striking. Sales of pasta are down from 40kgs per family a year a decade ago to just 31kgs per family a year. Fashions – and cultures – are a changing.
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