Nov

29

 Dr. Price's recent remarks: "the problem I have right now is that we are imprisoned by a system that doesn't provide high-quality care for many individuals in our society, especially at the lower end of the economic spectrum, because of the rules that have been put in place by the federal government. So, if we freed up the patients to select the kind of coverage that they want, we would get a model and a system that actually worked for them and not for government."

Here is his alternative to what became Obamacare.

Excellent piece in Washington Examiner: "Here's How Trump's HHS Pick Wants to Replace Obamacare"

Nov

28

 In its first Naturalization Act, passed in 1790, Congress required two years of residency and no "notice" time. "Notice" time was the delay imposed after a person formally declared their intention to become a citizen. In the Naturalization Act of 1795, the residency time was extended to five years and a 2 year notice time requirement was enacted; so, the total time to citizenship went from 2 years to 7 years.

John Adams then tried to literally slam the door shut on extensions of citizenship to immigrants. He and the Federalist majority enacted the 1798 Naturalization Act. That law extended the residency requirement to 14 years and notice time to 5 years, almost tripling total time for citizenship from 7 years to 19.

In 1800 the Democratic-Republicans ran the table, electing Thomas Jefferson President and winning 68 of the 106 seats in the House of Representatives - one of the great landslides in American political history. That led to the last change in the time requirements for naturalization for the remainder of the 19th century; the terms of the 1795 Act, adopted by George Washington, were restored: residency 5 years, notice time 2 years, total time: 7 years.

All Naturalization Acts applied only to "free white persons".

The only two changes after that were these:

(1) In 1855 alien wives of U.S. citizen husbands were granted automatic citizenship (but not, of course, alien husbands of U.S. citizen wives);

(2) In 1870 (yet again Ulysses Grant does the right thing) naturalization was opened "to persons of African descent". (Grant wanted all racial restrictions eliminated but Congress was unwilling to accept "Asians" for citizenship, only for immigration.)

Nov

23

 Today is Ernest J. King's birthday.

Borrowed from StrategyPage:

One night, about two years before Pearl Harbor, young Ens. Arthur R. Manning was serving as communications watch officer of the carrier Saratoga. A message came in. After it was decrypted, Manning took it up to the ship's darkened bridge.

Stumbling about in the dark, Manning bumped into someone. Excusing himself, he asked, "Sir, are you on duty?"

The reply came swiftly, "Young man, this is the admiral. I am always on duty," said Rear-Adm. Ernest J. King.

Nov

22

 I grew up in New York City and its suburb Westchester County, but my home town is Mobile, Alabama where my mother's family lived I was born there and spent half of my first 5 years there (the other half in Denver, Colorado, with grandfather Jovanovich) while my father first struggled to find a job and then spent nearly all his time on the road selling books. I owe my passion for geography to having traced his journeys across the U.S. Before he stopped being the Professor Harold Hill of textbooks, he had been to every one of the 48 continental states, all by railroad. I owe my passion for baseball to Mobile. When I started going to the Polo Grounds on my own at age 7 1/2, it was already an old habit. I had been going to Hartwell Field to watch the Mobile Bears play ever since I could remember. (Of course, the nanny and I sat in the colored section.)

There must have been something in the water. Even someone with my indifferent athletic talent was able to get good enough at the sport to be half good as a catcher. To this day Mobile has the glory of being the hometown of more members of the Baseball Hall of Fame than all but two places in America. (New York City and Los Angeles). Even now, the place is still basically a small town; the entire metropolitan area is barely 400,000.

I mention all this because you all will have to get ready for having another nut from Mobile in your lives - Jeff Sessions. Sessions was born there, but he also moved away. He grew up in Calhoun County, which is, even by Mobile standards, the back of the beyond. He can recall working in a hardware store in Minden, which is now a ghost town, and selling horse collars.

Get ready for it. "Jeff Sessions is all that the outlaws now about to be trundled out of town on the tumbrel are not. Above all, he is honest."

Greg Von Kipnis writes: 

By "another nut" and the quote at the end, it is unclear if you are supporting him or being sarcastic?

Nov

15

 Opposing new, better machinery is always and everywhere a complaint about productivity in the name of "the people".

See Ned Ludd.

When the self-driving vehicles actually take to the roads in numbers, someone somewhere will trash one; and it will be Big News. It isn't; neither will the political efforts to prohibit innovation be new. The English Crown started banning industrial machinery in the 16th century and they are still at it, thanks to the Princely idiot who is first in line.

As the Liberty lads o'er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
     So we, boys, we
   Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
   We will fling the winding-sheet
   O'er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has pour'd.
Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
    Yet this is the dew
   Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!

Nov

14

 I applaud the prescience of those who made the [election] prediction and stuck with it these many months and hope they were well rewarded. Regarding the fall-out, I have some in my own extended family going through the stages of denial, anger,bargaining, depression, acceptance. My sister-in-laws are in the stage of anger. But as market participants and professional, the quicker we get to acceptance and beyond, the better. As the chair points out, the market got to acceptance around 2 am the mourning after the election. There are remarkable changes going on with bonds, crude, emerging markets all way down, Dow outperforming and big shifting of sectors. It is fascinating to watch the speed at which the discounting process unfolds in real time.

Somewhat related I am reading the Chernow's biography of Washington and highly recommend it. When I complete it, I will review it, but one thing I find interesting is the level of risk Washington was willing to take on. He had a great deal to lose when accepting the commission to lead the fledgling army, reputation and honor being the greatest. Also he was amazingly calm and brave under literal fire. In an early battle he emerged unscathed but with four bullet holes in his hat and garments. Qualities very fitting for markets and life.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

I boycott Chernow's work, probably out of envy. The man is incredibly industrious. But, he is also completely credulous. Washington had a great deal to prove as a soldier when he went to Philadelphia wearing his colonial militia uniform. He had participated in the greatest defeat of British troops in over a century of campaigning against the French - Braddock's massacre. He was guilty of having allowed a French officer - Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville - to be literally butchered by the troops under his first independent command after the officer had surrendered.

He was forced to surrender Fort Necessity to Jumonville's brother who made Washington include in the surrender documents an admission of his guilt in allowing Ensign Joseph to be slaughtered. For the rest of his life Washington tap danced around this fact, claiming that he had not known what the surrender document said because it was written in French. Like Churchill in his Boer War adventures, Washington was able to make lemonade out of lemons and wrote the story of his adventures; but, just as Churchill's own part had involved defeat and capture, Washington's actual campaigning experience had been a loser. This was part of the reason why his attempt to join the British regular Army was rejected. Governor Dinwiddie did his best to create the image of Washington as the hero of the Battle of Monongahela; but that is like Roosevelt's preserving Douglas MacArthur after he skedaddled from the Philippines. Political necessity required both men to be treated as war heroes after they had presided over military disasters.

Washington went to Philadelphia to redeem and establish his honor, not to "defend" it. He was the husband by second marriage to the richest woman in the colonies, but he was, in no sense, a figure of respect for his military prowess. But, judged among men who had never even fought duels, let alone served in wartime, he did have the virtue of having actually been shot at. Even so, he was chosen to be Commander in Chief for purely political reasons; Franklin knew that the Southern states had to become involved in the rebellion if it was to have any hope of succeeding. The New Englanders had begun the fight; but the merchant colonies - NY and PA - and the planters - VA and SC - needed to be brought on board.

What makes Washington a great man is that he did achieve his goal - he became the American Cincinnatus. His own personal courage is indisputable; he led from the front - always. His example was so dominating that it compelled men young enough to be his children to put their own lives at risk. Both Hamilton and Monroe were wounded, Monroe almost fatally, while serving under Washington's command.

But, to start the story with a tale of illustrious George is to fall into what Gary Gallagher rightly calls the Appomattox trap - i.e. of course, everyone in 1861, 1862, 1863 and 1864 knew the South would lose, their Ouija boards had already shown them what happened at Appomattox. Washington in 1775 was not the man he would become.

Nov

14

 Marx was right about one thing: there is a constant tug of war between employers and employees over what he called "surplus value". The companies whose shares are traded in the U.S. stock market have been used to having the stronger hand on the rope. Even the best employees - the ones whose work actually produces the profits - have been in a relatively poor bargaining position since the last economic crisis in 2007/8/9.

But, the wheel has turned, once again. If a person has real skills, he or she once again has a choice of jobs. This is the first period in nearly a decade when skilled workers actually have some bargaining power. Even as the journalists continue to discuss the coming of mass unemployment because of automation, the actual market for people smart enough to do the automating was getting tight enough that employers had to get serious once again about stealing each other's employees.

"Uber gutted Carnegie Mellon’s top robotics lab to build self-driving cars"

The relative wage costs of capable people are the most reliable indicator of the ebb and flow of business operating profits. Anyone with any experience as a manager knows that the 80-20 rule applies to employees as much as it does to customers. The proof of this is the common experience of anyone who has had to meet a serious deadline; you give the work to the people who are already busy doing their jobs. Much of the extraordinary rise in profits for American companies since the credit panic of 2008/9 has come from companies being able to give more and more work to the people who are already busy. That leverage in operating efficiency has been enormous.

It has come to an end. The people with skills are not only going to get a larger slice of the pie; they are also going to be using a larger knife. The people old and skilled enough to know the difference between work and life are asking for more.

See Samuel Gomper's "What Does the Working Man Want?"

Now that quality people have, once again, gained some leverage in their bargaining power, the rate of corporate profit growth is going to decline significantly and with it, the prices of company shares.

Nov

10

 We have no way of knowing, but I would be willing to bet that Trump's foul mouth is what gave him the 12K edge in Michigan. The conclusions that some want to draw - that a respectable Republican could have won - are based on a sample taken in August of roughly 2000 people who were reached by random digit dialing. In an actual campaign 2K polled over a week would be a useful sample size for a large state like Michigan or Ohio; as a sample from which to derive general observations about the entire country…

Garbage in = garbage out.

Anonymous writes:

The last GOP presidential standard bearer not framed as Lucifer, was Ike the war hero.

The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn during his re-election campaign.

Nov

4

 Here's a great article how sabermetrics solved baseball…..for now.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

People have been doing sabermetrics forever. They just didn't have the mathematical tools. Exit velocity - which is the best measure of a hitter's "power" - was the first thing scouts looked for, but they had to judge it by the sound of the ball leaving the bat. That is why the first thing a good scout would do is show up early and check the wood on the bats of the team he was scouting. Theo Epstein is a bright, bright guy; and he deserves nothing but praise; but his reputation still rests in large measure on Dave Robert's ability to steal bases and Bill Mueller's pure grace.

Nov

1

 Eddy's Mom is the brains in the family so, like Vic, Russ, Rocky and the other smart people, she does her best to ignore politics. She tolerates my historical obsessions because, as she said to Eddy the other night, "it keeps your father off the streets". Now that it is only a week before the election, she has relented enough to listen to my data babble. I went over the polls from early last week - to remove all possibility of their results being tainted by "the news".

What I was looking for were the thumb prints, where the pollsters had done their best to skew the results based not on the survey responses but on the sampling assumptions. I looked at 3 polls: ABC, IBD and CNN and went far enough into the footnotes to find out how they weighted their samples among Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

ABC's electorate: 36D, 27R, 31I IBD: 37D, 29R, 34I CNN: 37D, 31R, 32I

The Gallup people have stopped doing election campaign polls, but they continue to do periodic surveys of the registered voter party affiliations. The most recent one, taken in December 2015, showed 42/43R, 35/36D, 21/22I, and 1 3rd Party. I trust those numbers for one very simple reason: they reflect the actual distribution of elected representatives among the 3 party groups. Measured by solely by ballot box results, the country is 7/5 Republican.

If you take the data from the ABC,IBD and CNN surveys and allocate the results using Gallup's distribution of party affiliations, you get ABC: Clinton - 40, Trump - 39 IBD: Clinton - 37, Trump - 37 CNN: Clinton - 39, Trump - 41

The announced results by the pollsters, using their own distributions, were quite different:

ABC: Clinton - 50, Trump - 37 IBD: Clinton - 41, Trump - 41 CNN: Clinton - 51, Trump - 45

When I showed these numbers to Eddy's Mom, she was not surprised. Neither was I. But, what she said was something that I have heard only from Pat Caddell among the public figures; and he made the remark tangentially, in discussing the "undecided" voters. This is, announced the EMom, an "undisclosed" election. In public here in Tar Heel land, Vic's wardroom rules generally apply; people don't think it is productive or polite to discuss politics in public gatherings. But, this year that is overwhelmingly the case. The only people who think they have an open invitation to discuss "the election" are the Democrats' hard-core patronage constituents: the professional academics and the people of color who are on the dole.

In 1980 a week before the election the "undisclosed" were 12-15% of the electorate; this year they may be closer to 20%. If the "undisclosed" split evenly and the decline in black turnout in Virginia does not continue (their early voting is down nearly 50% from 2012), Mrs. Clinton will squeak through. If the "undisclosed" vote the way Independents have polled (6/7 out of 10 for Trump), the incumbent party will lose as badly as they did in 2008.

Oct

31

 "I have noticed that 538 are quite incompetent (and aggressively so)– they don't grasp something basic about an election probability as an estimator of a future binary outcome. The more uncertainty, the closer the estimator to 50%. But let us 'price' it as an arbitrage-free option."

I think that Taleb is correct here. The point estimate of an election probability is far more unstable than the 538 model portrays. Also, on the betting markets, the uncertainty should be reflected in wide bid-ask spreads, which is not the case in these markets either.

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

The poll numbers are not trades that must be cleared; they are, at best, applied social science research.  There is no penalty for getting the estimate wrong; no one ever gets fired for having missed the spread.  When you all lay on a single trade, there is actual money at stake - far more serious money than anything these D List celebrities on the tube ever put at risk. (Reminder: "Politics is show business for ugly people.")  The stuff fascinates me because it is the random walk of actual history, but why do any of you serious punters pay attention to it as anything other than a minor sports bet - like wagering on Columbia basketball in Casino (the movie)?

For all the supposed money at stake in politics and the outcomes of political elections, the actual net expenditures - the money spent that goes outside the bubble of the campaign organization itself - are trivial.  There is more money spent by GEIGO and its rivals on pitching auto liability coverage than all the net payments to television for Presidential campaign ads for both parties. 

The poll numbers being reported, even this morning, are for samples taken before Friday's revelation about the Danger Man's laptop.  They "changed" because the pollsters decided to use a sample that was a statistical probability rather than one that was completely bent in favor of Mrs. Clinton.  ABC News had a headline that says it all "Shift in the Electorate's Makeup Tightens the Presidential Contest".  Yeah, right.  The makeup of the electorate over an entire campaign season does not change.  If it did, the Democrats would not be so passionate about enacting same day registration and voting. 

A week ago ABC News had a poll that showed Mrs. Clinton up by 12 points and at the magic number of 50.  The poll with the headline had her at 47 and Trump at 45.  What "changed" was the weighting of the sample.  The earlier poll divided the electorate as 36% Democrat, 27% Republican and 31% Independent.  The more recent one splits it 37, 29, 29. 

So, Stefan, how does this prove your thesis?  Easy.  The folks at ABC decided that 81% of the registered Republicans are now going to vote, as opposed to only 75% a week ago.  They also decided that 5% fewer registered Democrats were actually going to vote.

Who is in the electorate does not change.  Who is going to be foolish enough to waste their time to actually vote is always the question.

The enduring paradox of representative government is the fact that there is no statistically valid reason for any individual to bother with voting.  Your individual vote NEVER counts.  It is a pure act of faith.  That is the reason that the countries that are actual democracies are wise enough to make voting have a real cost; it is only in autocracies that voting is free, easy and compulsory.

As for who will win next week, I still favor the Harold Macmillan prediction.  When asked by a journalist (who else?) what will determine the coming Parliamentary election, he replied: "Events, dear boy, events."

Oct

24

 You all will be saved from any future lectures about Ulysses Grant next week. That is when Ron White's biography becomes available on Amazon. It is, by far, the best ever written.

Apologies for not adding the appropriate "but". White comes closest among all the biographers to understanding who Grant was, but he still falls far short of understanding what he thought. The biography's treatment of Grant's economic ideas avoids repeating Henry Adams' lies; but it falls far short of understanding why Grant's pushing through Resumption was the key to the United States' extraordinary rise to wealth and power after for the last century and a half. That part of the story still remains to be written.

P.S. The best single modern volume on Grant, though not a full biography, is Mark Perry's book on Mark Twain and the man he admired more than any other.

Oct

24

On this date in 1775 the Second Continental Congress adopted, with modification, the motion that Edward Rutledge had first proposed in July. Rutledge had been appalled that the Continental Army and its predecessor the New England Army had black-skinned soldiers. (Under the Crown "blacks" had been excluded from all formally-established state militias, but the rebellious colonists in Massachusetts had accepted all comers.) Rutledge moved that all negroes be immediately discharged from the Army; the Congress, with its usual talent for Paul Ryan spreadsheet logic, decided that it would not discharge serving soldiers who were black-skinned but would not recruit any new "blacks".

The British responded immediately by publishing what became known as Dunmore's Proclamation, offering freedom to slaves who agreed to fight for the British. On November 12, 1775 General Washington had entered in the Army's Orderly Book Congress' formal instruction that negroes no longer be enlisted in the army. He then wrote to Congress to tell them what they had done: "the free negroes who have served in this army are very much dissatisfied at being discarded . . . it is to be apprehended that they may seek employ in the Ministerial [British] Army."

Simon Schama, who hates Americans almost as much as he despises Israelis, claims that as many as 100,000 slaves ran away from plantations as the result of Dunmore's Proclamation. (General query: What is it about this particular number that makes it a source of rhetorical magic? One is reminded of the first President Clinton's 100,000 cops, for example.)

The number was, according to the one scholar who has tried to do the actual counting, somewhere between 800 and 2,000. Roughly 250 of these became members of the Ethiopian Regiment. Another 300 embarked with Dunmore in 1776 when he fled Williamsburg. There is, with all of this, the usual irony. Like every man of property in the colonies, except for Quakers and the odd free-thinker, Dunmore himself was a slave owner.

People with extra melanin did continue to fight in the War for Independence. As the war dragged on, the "manpower shortage" (lovely phrase that only perfumed princes can use without gagging) forced even Virginia to accept negroes and mulattoes, when necessary.

The best summary of the full story is here.

Its author, Noel Poirier, now runs the National Watch and Clock Museum, which a wonderful antidote to all the worship of the dead at Gettysburg, if you find yourself in that part of the world.

Oct

24

The greatest single demographic change of the last 20 years among people born in the United States has been the collapse in the relative rate of growth of the "black" and Asian populations. (The growth rate for Hispanics born in the United States has not changed from what it has been for the last 50 years; what catches people's attention are the numbers that come from steady compounding.)

Sometime in the 1990s the production of new "white" people who do not have Hispanic surnames and new "black" and became the same; and the birth rate for new "Asian" people fell below that of non-Hispanic whites. The nomination of Barack Obama in 2008 did a great deal to hide this fact because registration and voting - turnout - by black people surged; that higher level of participation continued in 2012, even though there was no further increase.

The best evidence for this is the shameless weighting of the current political polls. No public pollster offers racial breakdowns of their party weightings. They tell you how many Democrats and Republicans and Independents they have but not how many members of each Census racial category make up the partisan groupings. If, as the networks clearly do, you want Mrs. Clinton's numbers to be up, you can do what I explained in my piece about ESPN polling: you can overweight Democrats slightly in relation to Republicans and then dramatically underweight Independents. You can then double down by overweighting the number of black and Asian Democrats and underweighting Hispanic and non-Hispanic white ones. (Note: Asians have replaced Jews as the second most reliable Census category of Democratic voters; it is the historical gift of Earl Warren that keeps on giving.)

Those of us who still profit shamelessly from selling services to "the media" are amused by the hand-wringing over the decline in the NFL's ratings. Your most popular player retires, and his famous rival is suspended and you wonder that your ratings go DOWN? Yet, the grieving and lamentation in network TV land may also be the recognition of the fact that, in terms of present and future ratings, neither blacks nor Asians now offer the prospect of more and more eyeballs. Soccer - i.e. the "real" football - anyone?

Oct

20

On the way to the office today I was blasted by Bloomberg from so many angles and reporters about Trumps "I will keep you in suspense".

A little context to remember is that during the Republican primary debate, all of Trump's opponents solemnly raised their right arm to pledge to support the Republican nominee, whoever it might be. Trump was the lone holdout, and he took heat for it.

Then more than half of them reneged on their pledges, including Jeb! Bush and St. John Kasich.

The truth is that if any candidate seriously suspected fraud, or a miscount, or whatever, they would field an army of litigatin' lawyers, as did Al Gore. Trump's the only one honest enough to acknowledge that.

Rudolf Hauser writes: 

You may recall that Nixon did not do that in 1960 despite the likelihood that the Chicago vote was rigged and that winning Illinois would have given him the presidency. He did not want to put the nation through such a crisis.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

It is a nice story, which Nixon did his best to promote; but the numbers do not support RH's assertion. Nixon only got 219 votes; adding Illinois and its 27 would have left him 24 short. Subtracting those votes from Kennedy's total of 303 would have left him with 276, 6 more than he needed. What few people mention about the election is that it was the last time a 3rd candidate won electoral votes. Harry Byrd won 15.

Oct

20

Fairness, from anonymous

October 20, 2016 | 1 Comment

 My daughter Eddy used to be interested in the question of Fairness. Not any more. "Since it is not a question of whether but only one of where and when, why bother?"

But we do still talk about it with regard to taxes. We still laugh over her reaction to her first paycheck (issued for cleaning the animal cages at the local vet's office on the graveyard shift). "Who is this bitch FICA and why is she getting my money?"

The best that the two of us have come up with for a "fair" tax system is our own variation of the Major League Baseball "luxury tax" and revenue sharing model. Under the collective bargaining agreement that expires this year, each team in MLB puts roughly 1/3rd of its own revenues into a pool. The money in the pool is then divided up and distributed equally to each team. In 2016 the richest teams (those in the 15 largest markets) no longer received their share as a payout but instead received a credit against their revenue share to be paid the following year. (This was, IMHO, an artful way of assuring that the rich teams would agree to have revenue sharing as part of the next CBA.)

The Eddy and I conclude that FDR's unerring political instincts were wise policy. (When his Marxist academic advisers wanted Social Security to be means-tested, he told them to get real. The American people would only support a program that had a fundamental equality; if you paid into the system, you got something out of it.) We would like to see all government benefits to have the same recognition of the Constitution and its equal protection clause; if a benefit is paid to someone simply for breathing, then everyone gets it. If the government collects taxes, then everyone pays the same rate.

Eddy's final word: "Never going to happen, Dad. Too simple and too fair."

Alston Mabry writes: 

This reminds me to recommend an excellent recent EconTalk:

How are those in favor of bigger government and those who want smaller government like a couple stuck in a bad marriage? Economist John Cochraneof Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how to take a different approach to the standard policy arguments. Cochrane wants to get away from the stale big government/small government arguments which he likens to a couple who have gotten stuck in a rut making the same ineffective arguments over and over. Cochrane argues for a fresh approach to economic policy including applications to growth, taxes and financial regulation.

Oct

19

 Many full moons ago Mr. Bollinger asked me if I could find the source for the remark about Joplin that I quoted. I don't remember what I wrote then, but the gist of it was that Joplin was the only one of the ragtime players who had the guts to write down what he had improvised the night before on the piano. I still have not found the source of the remark; but I have no doubt that it was true.

I also have no doubt that we are not going to be seeing Bollinger and Joplin's kind of candor about methods of thinking - where "public opinion" is concerned. The current response rate for telephone polling is - allegedly - 9%. That is the number the Pew people disclosed about their own polling in 2012; and it is now taken as current gospel. In 1997 when the Pew people also disclosed their response rate, the number was 37%. It is likely that the actual response rate now is roughly 1 in 20; but that is a mere guess. The actual polling may be even less.

But, have no fear, the Pew people assure us that their numbers are still good because the results track with the data acquired by the government in its census and other surveys, where the response rate is unquestionably high enough to be accurate. "Pew Research Center devotes considerable effort to ensuring that our surveys are representative of the general population. For individual surveys, this involves making numerous callbacks over several days in order to maximize the chances of reaching respondents and making sure that an appropriate share of our sample are interviewed on cellphones. We carefully weight our surveys to match the general population demographically."

Thurston Trowel III replies: 

What is your point on low response rate?

A low response rate merely means the polling outfit has to make more phone calls to get the requisite representative sample.

It does not reflect negatively on the scientific accuracy of a poll in any way, if this is what you were suggesting. No idea if that is the case but it seemed to be where you were going and apologies if wrong.

As to Joplin writing down improvised ideas, musicians everywhere for decades have recorded sketches as part of the creative process of developing ideas. I do this all the time. Whether one does so on paper, magnetic tape, hard drive or cell phone is largely irrelevant, and a matter of personal preference and convenience.

Stefan Jovanovich retorts: 

Dear Third Shovel: Joplin had the courage to share his method at a time when the people playing ragtime were selling it as magic. They were not sharing the tricks of their trade. Mr. Bollinger remains exceptional in much the same way. The solution you offer– the polling people just have to make more calls - sounds logical until you ask the question the broker posed to his client. Who are the new people going to be? The reliability of opinion polling has been founded on the assumption that the sample will be homogeneously responsive, that the response rates will not vary no matter what the respondents answers are. But that is no longer the case. Making greater effort becomes a statistical frontal assault; the added costs gain no ground. Then there is the further issue of outright bias. How do you know what the proper weighting should be if you choose to ignore the only data that you have– the results of the most recent elections before this one? 

Oct

17

 In every election since 1984 and in 19 of the 22 elections since the Composite Index was introduced in 1923, the S&P 500 Index has been the most reliable gauge of Presidential election results. If the Index on election day is higher than it was three months earlier, the incumbent party retains the White House. 2181 is the magic number; that was the close on August 8th. Back to life not lived through "the news"….

Andy Aiken writes: 

I am also low-news/high-information. I seek out primary sources, e.g. read the academic paper or CBO study instead of a journalism student's usually flawed interpretation of it. As Nietzsche said, "All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." The major media in the US have been speaking power to truth for a long time.

Oct

10

 What were significant real estate bubbles in history? What were the aftermaths of their popping?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

In U.S. History you can start with William Duer and the Ohio Company.

anonymous writes:

The book Manias, Panics and Crashes is good as is the book Devil Take The Hindmost

Sep

30

 Do you see any analogies between the Eurozone banking situation today and the failure of CreditAnstalt in 1931? - A Reader

The business of credit is always a Ponzi scheme in the sense that the issuer of notes, checks and IOUs never have enough money on hand to cash out all the promises. How could it not be? The stock and bond markets are nothing but promises to pay in the future rather than now. From the very beginning the United States has been founded on IOUs, not cash; George Washington's first pay day as President came in the form of a check, not dollars. The entire justification in U.S. law for having banks and insurance companies and securities firms all be special entities is that "the law" will somehow guarantee that these special people called bankers and brokers will never make imprudent promises to pay. Most of the time, the banks, insurance companies and securities firms succeed in at least the appearance of being prudent. They have to; their business is to sell their reputation for being "safe". But there are no actual guarantees being made; that is why the fine print always ends up saying "we promise but we don't personally back what we are saying".

The conventional financial histories try to point to "events" like the formal bankruptcy of the CreditAnstalt in 1931 as "causes". They follow the same approach that most military histories do - and all German General Staffs did - in studying the "lessons" of war. (Apologies for all the quotation marks, but the infection of the language by scholastic theology is now universal. Just as almost all discussions of enterprise end up using Marx's vocabulary, history has not escape from the assumption that life is a classroom.)

The CreditAnstalt had failed by 1919. Its assets - loans made before the Great War - had been melted away to nothing by a pile of sugar in the rain; having Hayek in the bureaucracy did nothing to prevent the new stub of a country called Austria from printing its way to hyperinflation. What happened in the next dozen years was simply the redecorating of the accountings of all the banks in Central Europe to pretend that there had been no default by the authorities that controlled domestic legal tender. (As long as your depositors have no ability to swap their paper money and statements of account for coin, the banks as custodians have no trouble.) The country was ruined, but the banks were still fine. Their trouble came when their foreign counter-parties who had been sending gold to Vienna in the 1920s lost faith that they would ever see any repayments that could be sent abroad and actually cashed out into other currencies.

The event that caused that loss of faith was a decision to "save" the Atlantic world from the Great Depression. You will not find anything in the contemporary accounts or the current academic histories that says otherwise. In January 1930 The Hoover Administration led the Allies to agree that reparations need no longer be paid; what that meant, of course, was that Austria's currency would no longer have even an indirect connection to specie because there would be no more international lending by the U.S.

It seems to me that the present offers a completely different situation. Anyone can escape the clutches of official IOU currency by following Kyle Bass and buying bullion; they can also go further down the rabbit hole and buy Bitcoins. But, in neither case is there any doubt that the person selling gold or digital currency for conventional legal tender can go into the FX market and choose which other StayPuffedMarshmallow currency - pounds, euros, dollars, yen, francs, pesos, etc. - he wants to trade for.

By 1931 the world of commerce had literally begun to freeze because large foreign exchange transactions were no longer possible except the pseudo ones between the central banks and even the people with "good" money (U.S. dollars, in particular) found that they no longer had any. For a comparable modern situation, imagine that half the credit and debit cards in the U.S. suddenly disappeared and there were no replacements and no new extensions of consumer credit.

Deutsche Bank has already failed in the same way the Credit Anstalt did in 1919; the difference is that the units of account that DB's credit and debit cards use have not have lost all exchange value. Germans will still be able to go to Florida for their winter holidays and use magnetic stripe and chip credit to pay for their Mai Tais.

Sep

30

 If you measure wars by what proves lethal to your own side, then this is one like no other, as far as Americans are concerned. 2 out of every 3 casualties (killed and wounded) in Iraq and Afghanistan have been caused by the enemy's use of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In the last Asian war (called "Vietnam" although it really was the 2nd Indochina War) fought by Americans, the fighting was largely conventional. The Viet Minh and Viet Cong used land mines, as did the Americans and their allies; but the use of what were then called booby traps was not greatly different from what it had been in Korea. Only 1 out of 7 or 8 casualties (roughly 14%) were from landmines.

The "war on terror" has become a terrorist war.

Sep

19

 Emerson state polls for Colorado, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri.

The "news" is that Trump is now up 2 in Colorado. The poll has a MOE of 3.4.

Reuters-Ipsos now has "high confidence" that Trump will win Vermont. Their current Electoral Vote prediction is Trump 243, Clinton 242. They rate Maine as a "toss-up" and do not predict Rhode Island because of insufficient data. (General commentary has recently said Trump has a chance in R.I.)

Their 60% turnout model has Clinton winning the election by 13; their current odds are Clinton 3:2.

anonymous writes: 

OK but Rhode Island is the most liberal spot in the country. It's not even worth looking there. I don't think it has voted Republican since 1908.

I live in Manhattan and believe a terrorist did the new work. The Rep was not my candidate, but he is now. My mother's family built the wall here. I am no stranger to work.
 

Sep

19

 There are only two rules for a successful education: (1) have parents with high IQs and (2) have teachers with high IQs. I leave it to each of you to determine what the cumulative score is for your particular situation.

As for educational systems and testing, always remember that they are designed for the "norm" - the roughly 2/3rd of the test takers who fit nicely in the middle of the presumed bell curve. The curve for skills is not, in fact, in the shape of any bell known to man; but the political demands for education are, and always will be, a perfectly symmetrical one.

If tests were used and designed properly, they would not be for "grading" at all; but for diagnosis of the particular students' skill levels in very particular subjects - not "math" but numeracy (how easily a child memorizes times tables), spacial geometry (fitting blocks into holes), visual pattern recognition, capacity for abstraction and so on. Of course, selling such tests to publicly funded schools will and always has been impossible for a number of reasons.

Good luck with your struggles and believe in your children. (My particular good fortune was to have scarlet fever as a child so I missed the first few years of indoctrination and was able to teach myself to read and write with the help of my older sisters when they came home from middle school. I also had the absolute loyalty and affection of our father.)

Sep

18

 Today is the anniversary of Jay Cooke and Company's bankruptcy in 1873, after failing to secure a government loan. But what seems to me most memorable is the fact that Henry Clews advised Grant NOT to make the loan to "save" Wall Street, even though it put Clews' own fortunes in jeopardy.

The Clews family is an extraordinary clan.

Henry Clews

Elsie Clews Parsons

Henry Clews Jr

Henry Clews Museum

Sep

12

 Bertrand Russel's sage advice is a two minute meal for a lifetime.

Stefan Jovanovich counters: 

Fortunately, by that time, the old fart didn't have that much longer to live. Why does anyone ever believe anything that a communist ever says - even the ones who later recant? Russell ignored the central facts about Marxism for almost his entire life and believed that "communism is necessary to the world". He criticized the Soviet Union but that seems to have been primarily the result of Lenin's being uninterested in Russell's own genius (they met in 1920 when the philosopher went to Moscow to see what wonders had been wrought by the "communist experiment"). To the end of his life Russell believed in and praised the tyranny of experts. That seems to be the vice of very, very smart people; they cannot understand how or why all the stupid people should be left to be free to muddle through their own individual lives.

That sentiment was behind Russell's belief in his own racial superiority: "It seems on the whole fair to regard Negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from the question of humanity) would be highly undesirable." He wrote that in 1929. When he discovered how much that opinion went against the grain of good Leftist doctrine, he did his best to pretend he hadn't meant what he wrote and that, in any case, he was only discussing the question of environmental conditioning.

As for his advice about study and school, only someone born a Lord could be so ridiculous. No one who goes through conventional education is allowed to ignore what the school teachers "wish to believe". If they persist in the delusion that they should only ask "what are the facts?", the smarter they are the less likely they are to make it through. Nora's favorite Physics professor at Cal dropped out of high school in the 10th grade because, as he put it, "I could either go completely crazy or finish". Russell never once in his life faced those hurdles so, of course, he could give people the kind of advice that regularly got people shot everywhere that Marx and Engels were part of the curriculum.

Aug

29

 By far, the worst day in my life has been the day our family arrived in Denver (by train!) and got the news that grandfather Jovanovich had died of a heart attack while walking to Union Station to meet us.

Whenever we visited Denver and when I had lived there as a small child, he and I would walk around the terminal and he would tell me stories. They were wonderful; he found humor in all his (mis)adventures, even the ones that were violent (being up on the hogback with the other striking miners watching the National Guard strut their stuff after Ludlow ).

On his last visit to see us in New York, he and I went for our usual drive to look at the "New" Croton Dam. He loved the engineering; I loved the fact that he let me drive the car even though I had no license and was well under the age for one. (This established a family tradition; 40 years later Eddy began her illegal driving career in the back roads of north Contra Costa County behind the abandoned Spreckels sugar factory in Martinez.) You can no longer do what we did - drive across the top of the dam. (Yet another gift of the permanent official fright that is the true legacy of 9/11.)

I was thinking about that trip the other day and trying to remember if I had ever once heard him malign anyone by name. The answer is "one time". He was reading from his stack of magazines that had made their way to America from what was then Yugoslavia; and I heard him mutter "rot in Hell, you bastard" to himself. (He said it in a language I used to know - Serbo-Croatian.)

I asked him who he was talking about. He said "never mind, I said something foolish." He hadn't; but it was kind of him to avoid explaining why, even at my young age, I had no surviving relatives from his immediate family.

Who had he read about in the paper? It was Mile Budak, Ustasha ideologue

Aug

24

 Thanks to someone who has actually made a living dealing with Central Banks and their best friends, I have discovered Holger Zschaepitz. Mr. Zschaepitz is a journalist who has a talent for observing the obvious.

There will be no government debt problem in Europe in another decade. The prudent Finns will be "debt-free" in 7 years; for the Irish it will take twice as long.

This calculation assumes that the ECB will continue its current pace of bond buying for the duration. But, one asks, why wouldn't they? When all is done, they will have achieved what Henry Pelham did - the outstanding government debt will have no maturity. Since there is no one left in the world who will trade coin for paper at a par value, they do not have Pelham's challenge; where, in a world of fiat currencies, would a disgruntled holder of euros, dollars, pounds want to go in order to take the money and run?

We may want to look back at the "inflation" of the 1970s and early 1980s and see it as a kind of nostalgia craze. The U.S. Central banks thought it had to "preserve the value of the dollar" - i.e. prevent the exchange rate from declining. (Why, at a time when U.S. costs were no longer competitive with our major trading partners, this should be perceived as a "threat" is itself an interesting question.) So, using the Bagehot formula (x% will draw gold from the moon), the U.S. restored "faith" in the dollar with double-digit interest rates.

The more I study the history of political economy the more I find that that money has become a matter of theology. How the stuff was actually invented and used as a unit of account has no bearing on present belief. As someone recently said, all money is now credit - entirely a matter of faith.

Aug

19

Do we want to protect the jobs of those who work in industries where the U.S. is uncompetitive, or do we want to allow U.S. consumers as a whole to minimize their cost of living? [I]t's one or the other. - Howard Marks.

[It is not a question of uncompetitiveness, or the future coming of robots.] A tremendous percent of middle class jobs are already obsolete. Indeed many of the jobs and even entire professions have been obsolete since they came into existence as part of things such as the "great society" program. Regulation, the welfare state, etc, is a huge middle class jobs program. It's not really the supposed beneficiary who truly benefits, it's the overhead, the regulation enforcers, compliance officers, case workers, etc.

The real crisis is that these 'Make work" jobs can now often be done by software of by a communication line to a cubicle farm in India–it kind of killed the idea of it–kind of like offshore manufacturing arbitraged the increased labor protections and union rules, etc. It's not that automation is making more jobs obsolete (though it is), it's that it is making jobs that have always been obsolete more transparently obsolete to more people.

I don't think we will see mass "joblessness" much more likely, we will see a massive expansion of regulatory state in a way that requires "jobs". take the boondoggle of the TSA who mostly just inconvenience the rest of us. If there is not enough crime to hire all the people with social work degrees or who would like to be police officers, etc, we will import criminals to create the need. etc. It's already happening.

Rudolf Hauser writes: 

Or create more crimes so that more people living their ordinary everyday lives become criminals for not being in compliance for some stupid regulation.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

To add my worn shilling to what Ed and Rudolph have so beautifully said: so much of the warfare in European history from the Greeks onward can be attributed to the need to find something for the "middle class" males to do. The Great Alexander's initial Macedonian Army - the one that crossed into Asia - was over 75% mercenaries, and their replacements were almost entirely mercenaries. (The good people back home in Macedon who still had farms and pastures wanted and needed no part in his conquests.) Where would the British Empire have been without all the younger gentlemen who were never going to inherit?

Productivity has absolutely nothing to do with the number of hours worked. Part-time workers are no more "marginal" than full-time ones; they just can't put in a full day because they have other responsibilities. (Having owned 7 "small" businesses, I know more than I would like to about this basic fact of economic life. There are only two categories of employees: those who actually want to be told what the job is and then left alone and those who think kissing higher asses is what employment is really about.

Before the labor "reforms" of the Progressive era, coal miners and mill workers and garment workers were paid on the piece rate. This "horror" was complemented by the fact that people could work "odd" shifts - for the women who were garment workers, that could be 8 hours on Sundays (not the Jewish Sabbath), 4 hours on weekdays so there was time for shopping, cooking and childcare. The Progressive reforms were based on the notion that women should not be in the workplace and they most certainly should not be competing with men. A "man" should have a full-time job with wife and children at home. Almost all of the current social legislation - disability, unemployment, welfare - is still premised on this ridiculous presumption. And, of course, payment for piecework is as completely illegal as selling moonshine.

Machines do not have to be "more productive" than people to be a sensible investment. People are a very large liability tail; and they require management by other human beings, which is, of course, the very activity that is least capable of being measured economically. (Try doing a look-up on productivity in government and education, where middle management - mostly gone from manufacturing and distribution - is now the principle job category.) The tax and labor codes also help; you can get a great deal more after-tax profit out of money spent on equipment than the same money spent on labor.

Aug

3

Most investment is currently directed to the most profitable asset: Renewables. It's so voluntary that non-utilities and utilities alike are jumping into the game. This includes Exelon, Southern, Duke, Dominion, NextEra. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Berkshire and several new players.

Today, renewables are the industry's cost leaders. Everyone wants margins. Few are willing to risk billions in marginal assets (new coal, new nuclear, new gas boilers, new oil burners).

Keep in mind, that the nation has surplus capacity. The market for that capacity is clearing, but it will take several more years to reach stability.

Also, keep in mind that the nation's utilities all received 100% government guarantees when they build existing coal, nuclear and oil-fired power plants. Some utilities, like Southern, are capturing more than 100% government assistance. Others, like Exelon and Entergy are capturing a second round of government guarantees on fully depreciated power plants (New York). However, for the most part, government tired of these guarantees and told utilities that (1) they would be compensated for any stranded costs, (2) after receiving payment they are on their own and (3) they must rely on the free market for future revenues. Apparently, the free market valued these depreciated assets so low that owners are now begging for new government support (Exelon, Entergy, Dynegy). Renewables never received the same level of government assistance as their larger cousins and they are not needing additional financial support.

Jul

28

Pollyvote still has Herself ahead, but the gap is narrowing.

538 had Trump moving ahead at the end of last week, but it has now reversed.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

If one has to choose between Professor Armstrong and the one-hit wonder,
I have to vote for the academic, whom someone really does not like.

anonymous writes:

There are few thought leaders who have influenced my work as much as Scott Armstrong, but the election will be decided by state-level polls, not by the two-party popular vote.

Silver's model is a direct implementation of the work of Andrew Gelman on Bayesian Hierarchical models.

Jul

27

 You cannot teach school in Mexico if you are not a member of the SNTE - the Mexican Teachers Union. If the SNTE does not like you, they send their friends from the CNTE - the non-profit foundation for Mexican education. The CNTE's favorite tactic is to block the public highways. Right now their focus is in the province of Oaxaca. Their "cause" is a 2013 law that, for the first time, actually required teachers to have qualifications.

This has been attacked in the Mexican press and legislature in the same way Grant's civil service reforms were - by accusing the reformers of being corrupt. How dare anyone demand to know where the money has gone and how it was spent.

The reformers will have a way to go to catch up with Elba Esther Gordillo.

Jul

25

 The events in Turkey bring to mind the Revolution in the Park. The wikipedia article has the politics all wrong (Celman was no more "conservative" than Erdogan is), but it will have to do as a point of reference.

The comparison between Argentina in 1890 and Turkey in 2016 - like all historical analogies - is only useful for finding what I think Vic and others mean by "the drift" - the compass direction in which Time's arrow is pointing. What makes the comparison interesting for me is the history of foreign exchange dealings and the subsequent Baring crisis. That crisis in Europe is what brought on the Panic of 1893 here in the United States.

There are real parallels between what has happened in the Middle East over the past 25 years and what happened in the region surrounding the Rio de la Plata in the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. There was a succession of nasty and utterly stupid territorial wars over mineral wealth - the worst of which had the same coalition of the self-righteous that glorified Bush I's war.

There are also real differences. Argentina in the decade of the 1880s enjoyed large immigration and, with that, persistent transfers of money by the immigrants to their families back home. For Turkey the money flows have been in the opposite direction.

What has been the same is the rise and fall of belief in a supposedly new "modern" nation. Just as Turkey has, until recently, enjoyed enthusiastic support from the moneyed interests for its joining the EU, Argentina was the darling of the City of London during the 1880s. Under Roca the country had adopted yet another currency reform, this one to put the peso on the international gold standard. (This meant you could ask for gold coin in exchange for paper money at a fixed rate - something the world has not seen now for 84 years.) Even as the country suspended convertibility in 1884, people continued to believe in the investment prospects for the river Plate. By 1885 the paper peso had risen to 134% of par, and Roca's government had been replaced by Celman; but the flow of funds into the country actually accelerated. (The argument was, then as now, that currency depreciation made the country more competitive and its businesses more profitable.) Even as the Turkish lira has declined from .45 to .3 Euros since the end of 2012, "belief" in Turkey as the next member of the EU has continued to rise. The suggestion by Brexit supporters that adding a poor Muslim country might not be such a great idea was taken as proof of the fundamental economic and political ignorance of the backward English. Those in the City who had questions about the profitability of buying Argentine railway bonds in 1887 faced similar scorn.

If the lira now goes to .24 to the Euro, it will only be matching the performance of the peso under Celman. By 1889 it has fallen to 191% of par.

When the full crisis hit the following year, it crashed to 387%; and Barings failed.

You can read the full story here.

Jul

18

 The dictator of Turkey. He's not a dictator.  He's been duly elected every time.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Lots of dictators have been selected by the people in elections (Hitler, Chavez), or appointed and granted dictatorial powers by democratic representative bodies (Mussolini). One of the great concerns of the founding fathers of the United States was the tendency of democracies to devolve into dictatorial tyrannies.

Pete Earle writes: 

Democracy is the lowest rung on the collectivist ladder and an essential precursor to socialism. The idea that a pulse, and nothing more, would qualify an individual to take part in the political process is ludicrous to anyone who has spent even a cursory amount of time in the real world. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The G Boys are retailing another of those lessons from history that is really a bad sermon about the awful citizenry. No one in Philadelphia in 1787 was concerned about democratic tyranny. They gave control of the Union to the House of Representatives and to the appointees of the States' own popular houses. The Senate exists, not as a check on democratic impulses, but as a scheme that gave small states a reason to believe that they would not be surrendering their own popular sovereignties. Hitler did not win an electoral majority; his dictatorial powers came from the emergency legislation adopted after the Reichstag fire. There is nothing in the record of German aristocracies to suggest that they would have been any more temperate in their judgment than "the people" we're in 1933; after all, they were Hitler's party's principal source of campaign funds.

What is wrong with Venezuela and Turkey and the EU, for that matter, is that their democracy is an ideology for giving the state absolute authority in the name of "the people", not what our American democracies - state and Federal - were agreed upon to be: the legal mechanism for the exercise by individuals of their own particular rights as citizens.

Jul

18

When newly Great Britain was saved from its war debts by Henry Pelham and his brother, the cost to be paid was simple: the markets and not the Bank of England would determine the rates of exchange between foreign and domestic money and the price of borrowing - i.e. the interest rate. A note from the Bank of England and other banks of issue would be measured against specie; and no bank could risk having its paper being priced at any discount. (Given the convenience of paper, notes normally enjoyed a slight premium over gold and silver coin.)

The debt - sold to finance the Churchill family adventures in the Lowlands - would have no maturity but would be what Alexander Hamilton wanted our Federal debt to be - a permanently sound fund where people could park their wealth when they were not using the cash for speculation. Its price would determined by how much people wanted to spend cash instead of sitting on it. When times were dull or worse, the interest rate would fall because people had no better place for their cash. When interest rates were "high", it would be a sign of how much people wanted to speculate, not a measure of how fearful they were that the Crown would default. (A decade earlier, when Bonnie Prince Charlie's men had come as far South as Derby, the first "Black Friday" in the history of English-speaking finance, the quote of 3% debt had fallen below 50.)

The world may have given up on what the Pelhams considered to be the only effective restraint of government spending - the requirement that the Bank of England and everyone else's notes be redeemable in coin at par. But we do seem to be back in their world of consolidated finance as far as interest rates on government debt are concerned and our betters will no longer have to worry about what those pesky speculators think.

July 14 – Bloomberg (Toru Fujioka and Keiko Ujikane):

Etsuro Honda, who has emerged as a matchmaker for Abe in corralling foreign economic experts to offer policy guidance, said that during an hour-long discussion with Bernanke in April the former Federal Reserve chief warned there was a risk Japan at any time could return to deflation. He noted that helicopter money — in which the government issues non-marketable perpetual bonds with no maturity date and the Bank of Japan directly buys them — could work as the strongest tool to overcome deflation, according to Honda.

Jul

18

Keynes wanted central banks and their #1 borrowers - the governments whose laws made central bank IOUs into money - to write checks that would pay for more consumption.

They did - eventually; they had World War II and all the subsequent ones that have justified government check-writing in excess of tax collection.

The beauty of the belief system is that its failures guarantee a further application of its promises of salvation. Whenever the extra "money" (actually credit since no one could ever ask for gold coin in exchange for their legal tender paper) gets ahead of the supply of what is being consumed, prices rise permanently. For the people who have money savings, this price rise is a tax on their accumulated wealth and can be celebrated as evidence of a change towards greater greater "equality". For the people who have little or no money, the price increase become a fundamental reason why the government must add to their incomes or, at the very least, index their pay to "inflation". Either way, the solution to the problem requires the government to have more money/credit to spend.

Jul

12

 Merkel does not see a banking crisis in Italy. She is waiting for Italy to intervene and save the banks with BAIL-IN and only after be able to save Deutsche bank with bail out. It would serve an avalanche for Deutsche bank …

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

Does anyone think that the world's central banks can "control" the relative prices of their national currencies? I don't; but I have the luxury of being completely ignorant about what and how GZ and others do in the trading of IOUs. I just see it as analogous to what the national Treasuries tried and failed to do with bi-metallism; no matter how much they huffed and puffed, they could never bring their official ratios for the prices of gold and silver into balance with what people bet they were worth.

If central banks cannot, in fact, "control" the exchange ratios of their own legal tender, they certainly can "control" the price of their domestic debts. No one doubts that the Fed or the Bank of Japan or the Bank of China or the Bank of England can determine what their national Treasuries will pay as interest on the country's central government's new borrowings and outstanding debt.

Can the European central bank prevent the Bank of Italy from funding whatever additional borrowings the Italian central government wants to make? Even those of us who are completely ignorant know that the answer is not going to be determined by "the law" but by the same politics that always govern essentially closed systems of interest. To put it in 18th century parliamentary terms, will the interests of the owners of the sugar islands and the city merchants who did their finance win out once again or will there be another tax revolt in the commons? So many people everywhere in Europe now get their money direct from the EU just as so many people in England got theirs from the Navy; but that is of no benefit to the people who are on the local government and private payrolls. They want their own payouts.

I confess I do not understand the notion of "peak" debt. The direct liabilities of the central governments are "high" but they are insignificant compared to the off-balance sheet promises that have been made for future retirement, medical and welfare payments. Governments can keep rolling over their debts and adding to them as long as they want; they have a zero interest credit card from their central banks. The only risk is that the professional scolds will (1) demand a "strict accounting" that brings those never-never plan obligations onto the country's official balance sheets AND (2) decide that the poor will have to go first in terms of "belt-tightening" (after all, they are all fat and should go on a diet).

Rocky Humbert responds:

Stefan's post reminds of Ben Graham's quote: "In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it is a weighing machine."

In the short run, the Bank of Italy, or any Central Bank or any Government or any enterprise for that matter, can do whatever they choose. In the long run, unsustainable policies are reflected in the exchange rate; or the cost of capital; or the access to capital; or in the wealth of a nation.

Right now, the ECB's policies have seemingly altered both the signals from markets and what defines "long run." I am not unique in making these observations of course.

My database shows that from May 1973 to September 1982, the Italian Lire declined from 800L/$ to about 2000L/$ — and it traded in a extremely wide band (+/- 50%) subsequently — until the conversion to the Euro. In the post-Gold Standard world, the Lire (and for that matter, most paper currency purchasing power) have always moved in one direction: down.

The current Euro regime is unprecedented in all of our lifetimes– it's creating all sorts of novel imbalances — both similar to and different from previous fixed exchange rate periods (which always resulted in violent or gentle devaluation). The biggest imbalance of all is being created by the ECB's QE buying of sovereign debt — which essentially allows the Bank of Italy to be immune from the discipline of the market. I don't know how this will resolve, but the Greek experience of the past years is one possibility.

The discussion about Scott's annuities are not unrelated. We have been in a protracted period of inflationary quiescence. When inflation and interest rates are low, people focus on "income income income." But when inflation is high, people focus on preserving their purchasing power. The most dangerous mistake any investor can make is taking for granted certain embedded truths — which turn out not to be a truth, but rather an assumption.

Jun

24

Is there a good empirical argument for the European Union? It started in 1999, and "from the cheap seats" (as Big Al says) it seems like things haven't gone all that well over the past 17 years. There have been two huge stock market crashes in 2001-2 and 2008. Immigrants have made large areas into havens for terrorists, off-limits to law enforcement. The "PIIGS" countries have had serial bailouts, and there is huge tension between them and the more responsible Germans. Are things supposed to be better than they were before, or better than they would have been otherwise?

Jeff Sasmor writes:

Doesn't the British parliament have to actually vote on withdrawing via article 50? That will be a rolling brou-ha-ha all by itself. If the British government needs to reconstitute, as they seem to indicate, that process alone could take the rest of 2016.

Furthermore, once article 50 is invoked, it automatically ends in two years, at least by statute, even if the parties have not agreed on specifics. And the UK will be out. The implementation of this untried process should be interesting, to say the least.

So it might be reasonable to think that this process will take perhaps three years to complete, potentially up to five years before a full resolution. So be prepared for endless press releases, speculation, bloviation, etc., from anyone who has a mouth or keyboard; from those who get paid to bloviate to those who can profit from increasing volatility.

But anyone who believes that they know how this will all turn out is either feeling quite grandiose or perhaps indulging in wishful thinking.

The idea that what's going on in the UK and Europe is a template for what's happening here is another example of people extrapolating that situation with their own filters and their own wishful thinking. Believing that you can predict world or market events aside from if-then relationships (i.e., Brexit = Cable slide) is an illusion and is a way to get your head handed to you. We saw this in action last week as those who believed polls and bet on "Remain" got zorched.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

I do appreciate the irony of the advocates of the EU defending its freedom of trade. The thing is a customs union. If you are inside it, you pay more for foreign goods than the rest of the world does unless, of course, the country has adopted its own rules for freedom of movement. Isn't Trump's wall just another implimentation of EU trade policy? As for banning all Muslims, the Constitution is appallingly specific: Congress can make any rules that it wants and neither the 1st nor the 5th nor the 14th Amendments apply because foreigners are not citizens until they have complied with Congress' rules for naturalization. As Minford points out, leaving the EU will produce greater free trade for Britain because it will lose all the EU's regulatory costs and tariffs - except for those barriers that the current beneficiaries can wheedle Parliament into adopting all over again. It was about sovereignty, Boris. Democracy, as actually practiced, has one great virtue: if a majority of people care enough to get off their asses and vote, they can throw the current bums out and get a new set. That freedom to try something new is the one liberty that no authoritarian system like the EU ever allows, either for individuals or for groups of people.
 

Jun

22

 During yesterday's Yellen testimony, a Senator asked a profound economics question that we should all be considering:

In essence, he probed Yellen whether the sole effect of monetary easing is to shift forward consumption and investment–that's it's all about timing–and that after nearly a decade of ultra-low interest rates, whether all of the forward consumption and investment had been exhausted.Yellen somewhat demurred–acknowledging that economists agree that there is a shift, but that there are other lasting effects–notably in the housing market.

I was surprised by Yellen's response, especially with respect to investment (not consumption).

Do businessmen lower their hurdle rate on investment based on the market cost of capital? When companies issue new debt and buy back their stock is that an illustration of this effect? And if a company is planning to make a capital investment, does it look at the valuation of its stock as one element of the Capx decision. For example, if a company is considering building a new plant, surely the ability to finance at 3% versus 9% affects the decision…as does the implied cost of capital in its stock price??

Perhaps the counter argument is that this ignores the final demand for goods that come out of the new plant. And it ignores the potential overinvestment and malinvestment that will eventually occur when interest rates are "too low".

But if the Senator is right — then it's not going to be pretty…

Stefan Martinek writes:

Ludwig von Mises ("Human Action") would agree with the Senator:

Resource misallocations => liquidation.

Alan Millhone writes: 

whether the sole effect of monetary easing is to shift forward consumption and investment — that's it's all about timing — and that after nearly a decade of ultra-low interest rates, whether all of the forward consumption and investment had been exhausted.

From the cheat seats, this has been the theory of choice for a while. Of course cheap financing moves future consumption into the present. The problem is that every form of consumption has absolute limits unrelated to cost: We only really need one house, and moving is a pain no matter how cheap the financing is; we bought two new vehicles in the last two years, and my prediction is that we will not be in the market for another one for a long time, no matter how cheap the financing is; if Macy's puts shirts on sale for 50%, I might go buy some, but it won't fundamentally change the rate at which I consume shirts.

Add in the profound effects of China+globalization (and India and other countries as well) as an inflation sink, a strong downward vector on global wages, and a powerful upward vector on productive capacity, and it doesn't seem surprising at all that we are kind of muddling along. The real action globally is the chance for poor people to get less poor. The next big phase will be China and India developing and expanding new patterns of consumption.

Eyeballing the data, M2 fell by about 30% from 1929 to 1932. The Bernank's pledge was that no matter how bad things got in the Great Recession, a contraction in money supply was not going to make things worse, and the Fed kept that promise, as far as I can tell, though some argue they acted too slowly.

So here we are with negative interest rates, sub-replacement birth rates, seemingly endless productive capacity, the interweb allowing the cheap utilization of all sorts of physical and human capital…what's not to like?

Question: When a company buys back the last share of its stock, who then owns the company?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

A corporation does not legally exist without shareholders. The last share of its own stock a company can buy is #2. I have often wondered why Buffett did not follow Henry Singleton's model and use B-H's cash to buy in shares when the stock price was down and keep doing it until he is the last shareholder standing. The snarky explanations I have ever come come up with are (1) buy-backs would screw up his successful tax evasion use of the state insurance laws regulating accounting for reserves, and (2) he has calculated that saving the cash for large acquisitions is a better use of his talents, since he is not a particularly gifted trader.

Gregory Van Kipnis writes: 

Had I been Yellen and asked the question and felt free from political retribution I would have answered:

It's not so much a question of bringing forward as it is increasing the set of investment and consumption opportunities which would exceed the hurdle rate (cost of capital in the case of investment) and consumer time preferences (the marginal rate of substitution of present and future consumption). However, nothing occurs in a static environment where only one variable (interest rates) change. If pessimism, risk, and the profit margins associated with investments are worsening at the same pace as interest rates are declining, there will be little positive response from lower interest rates. Take note, however, that economic activity would be a lot more depressed were interest rates not lower. As for the outlook for confidence and profit margins much of that is being adversely impacted by fiscal, administrative and political policies.

Jun

20

Can events be classified into those that have a certain date, but are uncertain in magnitude as opposed to those that come out of blue sky and are uncertain in both magnitude and time? Is there a difference in the market reaction? At a more general level, how many qualitative events such as Brexit have come down the pike to create terrible fear in the market and is this bullish or bearish? And for what time?

Allen Gillespie writes: 

This question is near and dear to my research efforts. If any one is interested in discussing further I have been attempting to get DARPA to reconsider the question as they shut down their program after 9/11 [DarpaPAM ] and instead choose to record all information and to what effect? I have attached a few items on the question.

Biotechs would be in the first class of events given the known timing certainty of FDA events and ability to estimate markets for drugs, pricing, distribution, etc.  Political events to a degree fall in the second - though there may be some momentum towards the event and ability to contingency plan but the time and magnitude of the event may be unknown and the pressures building. Also, political events and calculus are different than market events in that control is the key independent of price (think old school corners, like the Northern Pacific, or strategic petroleum reserves for the US and CHINA in 2008).

Historically, whether an event is bullish or bearish depends on the positioning in relation to the object in question. For example, it would be a negative squeeze if a key commodity (i.e. wheat prices prior to Arab Spring or Oil in the US prior to recession) one imports rises quickly in price and bullish if it falls quickly in price. 

All I known is that defense stocks had momentum before 9/11. Gold has momentum now, however, momentum tends to have a reversal pattern from Mid April thru the third week of august before a re-acceleration. Momentum also tends to turn around calendar points particularly if there are legitimate season patterns or tax effects (for example Jan 1 in the US).

The central banks say you can't recognize bubble but in my experience you can recognize a bubble the following way - when leverage continues to increase and price accelerates despite rising interest rates and future returns are negative - then there is a good chance there is a bubble - I think German Bunds futures reached that point as there are only three reasons to own negative interest rate bonds.
1) You have to [e.g. German life insurance companies]

2) You are so scared as to the future you assume your loss is less than on something else.

3) You believe Central Banks can maintain their corner on the market.

The Euro is Europe's gold standard and has choked many countries. Britain was the first to leave gold in 1931 - so as least some magnitude estimates can be developed as well as an outline of subsequent events. The central planners would hate for Britain to spread freedom once again around the globe and let it be known that markets set prices better than planners. 

After 9/11 it took the market about 3 months to reprice stocks like INVN when it correctly opened the stock around $9 from $3 ran it to $50 by year end which was the cash value GE ultimately bought the stock for year later.

The Japanese and Fed broke the bond corner last week.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

A minor historical correction. Britain left the gold exchange standard in 1931; it left the gold standard in 1914, as did all other countries in Europe, when their citizens and foreigners both lost all rights to convert bank notes into coin. The U.S. took a slightly different path, first shutting out stock and bond holders from any exchange rights by closing the NYSE for 6 months and then by allowing exporters to have the Federal Reserve guarantee their customers' IOUs to be as good as gold.  Since all modern academic histories are written with the standard Bernanke assumption that money and its legal tender definitions (and their changes) have no economic effects, nothing written on this subject after 1940 has any relation to reality.

Jun

20

The thing about votes like Scotland and brexit is that after having their say and shaking their fists, many people get nervous and change averse when it comes time to actually mark the ballot.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Big Al's comment needs a footnote. People do not actually change their minds at the polling place. If, as he notes, "they get nervous and change averse", that shows up in the turnout itself. The turnout for Scotland was below what was predicted. My completely ignorant hunch is that the turnout for Brexit will be slightly large than anticipated.

The 2012 Presidential election failure by Romney was the last example of people not voting in large numbers. If the "evangelicals" had, in fact, voted for him in the numbers that their own internal polls predicted, we would be seeing the end of the the first term of our first Mormon President. Romney thought he was going to do as well as Bush had in 2004 and win 78% of the evangelical vote but he only go 76% and there was no greater turnout than there had been in 2008. My back of the envelope calculation is that Romney "lost" 2.5 million potential votes from lack of turnout and a failure to match Bush's percentage. That would not have given him the popular majority; but he would have carried Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Virginia and gained 272 electoral votes. (President Tilden, anyone?) The interesting question is why Romney's campaign did so little to enliven the evangelical vote during the last few months of the campaign; his speech at Liberty University in May was the last time he specifically reached out for the God vote.

You can chalk these back of the envelope calculations to a fit of ecstatic lunacy, if you want. (Eddy just re-qualified for IFR this morning and officially finished her medical residency yesterday and the Giants have won 7 straight.) But, there is an inescapable fact about the 2012 results that does give at least some support for my hunches; President Obama was the first incumbent President to be re-elected with a lower electoral vote total and lower popular vote percentage since the end of WW II. (If you want evidence of how sick Americans get of incumbents by the 3rd year of a foreign war, consider this; the last President to match Obama's poor showing as a successful incumbent was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.)

Happy Father's Day to all.

Jun

17

 The last time ten year german bonds went negative

Orson Terrill writes: 

No. Every episode of hyperinflation involved government essentially going to debt markets, spending it all, going to debt markets to cover interest and raise new money, spending it all….each iteration increases inflation, reduces demand for the debt, and undermines the perception of the currency as a store of value (all equivalents in this case). The plummeting value of the of the currency (hyperinflation) is the end game.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

The German, Austrian, Hungarian and Italian currency collapses after World War I had nothing to do with "going to debt markets" because the domestic markets for private debt had literally disappeared. In each case the collapse of the exchange value of the currency began with wage indexing; payments to government workers and all those covered by union labor agreements were linked to price indexes, and the governments literally printed the money for those increased payments.
There is one part of the suggested parallel to the present that is accurate. The governments "borrowed" the money from the central bank in the same way the Japanese and American Treasuries now cover all current fiscal deficits.

But there was no problem for these nations' Treasuries to "cover the interest" on their domestic debts; while tax revenues fell behind price increases, they were still more than enough to cover the "old" coupon interest charges on the government debt issued before wage indexing had begun.

As for "the plummeting value of the currency" the German central bankers and Treasurer were completely convinced that their funding the government's wage increases had had absolutely no effect on prices; after all, the price level in Germany as measured by the pre-war gold standard had not gone up at all and German exports were thriving! What stopped the wage indexing was the realization that German domestic assets were not keeping pace; at one point, the entire value of Daimler Benz as a company was reduced to the price the factory was charging in dollars for sending 4 of its phaetons to America.

Bresciani-Turroni's book, Economics of Inflation, is essential reading on the subject. The Mises Institute has a PDF; but one should ignore their own explanation by Thorsten Polleit. He refers to B-T's book but does not seem to have actually read it.

Peter Tep writes: 

Have you read Martin Armstrong's work? He relates Weimar Germany to previous episodes of hyperinflation, which is just collapse in confidence of government and then currency.

Look at Argentina, well at least few years ago. You could go to the street "cambio" to get better rates than the bank. That's loss in confidence.

Don't mean to sound condescending because you gents are far smarter than me! Doesn't hyperinflation require a high velocity of money?

Seems gold bug narrative is fixed to the issue of "money printing", and I don't know the specifics of how repo market works but I thought QE was a swap of bonds for cash and not helicopter money, hence US velocity of money down due to the banks parking at Fed, or in this case the ECB.

Just my two cents, but an interesting conversation for sure!

Gordan Haave writes: 

Stefan, you said "Here in the bleachers we have a hard time understanding the fine distinctions of the forms of central bank lending/purchasing in a fiat currency scheme."

This is by design.

Anyway, it reminds me of art history. When I went to Greenwich High School I spent my senior year in a program called "shapers of the world" which was a western core art, music, and literature program. Then I went to Columbia which had, and still has, the finest western civ core curriculum.

I studied art history for years. One day, sophomore year we were looking at slides in an art history class. I wish I remember the name of the artist and painting, but anyway, it was a landscape painting with a tree in the foreground. One of the secondary branches of the tree was crooked, and the professor said that it was the artists way of rebelling against the conformist society he lived in.

Bear in mind that prior to this I liked my identity as a high-class protestant western civ genius. But, when he said that something clicked. A lightbulb went off in my head that said "you know Gord, this is all bullshit".

Anyway, later in life I studied economics for years and years. I can tell you all the mainstream answers about why creating money left and right is not, in fact, "printing money" as Mr. Tep said above.

However, my conclusion about it is the same as my conclusion about art history. "It's all bullshit".

They are creating money and giving it to themselves to print first, no differently than the way roman emperors called in coins and re-issued the with less silver content.

The rest is all obfuscation.

The key in all of this is not to become a paranoid permabear, but rather to learn to accept reality for what it is and learn to play the game.

Jun

13

 Time to torture you all with another of my disreputable acquaintances. This one makes the hermit seem like a publicity whore. He (male, age 30) is not on Facebook or any other social media but is long Pandora and Etsy. I have been pestering him about Bitcoin because (1) I have no understanding of computers, software or any mathematics beyond algebra and geometry, (2) my lawyer brain says "scam" (so does the hermit's FWVLIW), and (3) the parallels with Ivar Krueger (and Ponzi and Madoff, for that matter) are too delicious to ignore.

Here is what the E*E has told me about Bitcoin:

"All computer systems are rife with security vulnerabilities, most of which are due to flaws in the software themselves.

Often times, this pattern occurs

1) Developer realizes flaw in software (like Windows for example)
2) Developer fixes flaw and releases patch
3) Users download and apply patch (via Windows update)
4) Hackers realize how to exploit flaw, and use it to attack people who haven't yet been updated

Although steps 1, 2, and 3 must happen in order, step 4 is relatively independent, and could occur at any time.

Let's say instead the following happens (also a very common occurrence)

1) Security researcher discovers flaw and goes public to the whole world.
2) Developers race to fix bug while at the same time hackers race to exploit it. The hackers finish first
3) Innocent end users, despite always following best practices and being vigilant about updating their software, fall victim to the flaw and get hacked
4) Developers finally fix the flaw, and release a patch to the world. Now, the hackers can only go after people who haven't yet updated.

The worst case scenario is also quite common, and very popular among state level actors

1) Hackers find the flaw, figure out how to exploit it, and start attacking innocent people in the wild.
2) Developers finally discover that there's a flaw, but only because the hackers are actively using it! They now have zero days to fix it, and deploy the fix (hence the term "Zero Day Exploit")

According to a Forbes article, here are some black market prices for zero day exploits.

What that's basically saying, is that for $100k, you can buy an exploit that could potentially let you into any and every windows computer in the world. Why so cheap? Because for now, there isn't a lot you can easily do to make money by hacking some random person's computer. Up until just the past few years, people would sell remote access to compromised windows machines for about $0.10 each, and they were used to either send spam email or launch denial of service attacks (basically, buy 10,000 hacked computers and have them all try to access the same website over and over to bog its server down with requests and thus not let legitimate users in).

Gibbons Burke writes: 

It seems to me that companies such as Apple and Microsoft would be prudently advised to purchase zero day exploits from the intrepid entrepreneurs who discovered them, potentially saving R&D expenses on internal staff who might spend years not finding these vulnerabilities. Seems like a bargain.

The scarcity thus created by eliminating the vulnerabilities from the wild would drive up market prices for exploits, putting them out of the reach of ordinary evildoers, but only within the budgetary abilities of national security agencies and the like who, we presume, can be trusted (!?) to make use of these vulnerabilities for the purposes of compelling national interest, if not simply to take them off the table, denying them to national enemies.
 

Jun

7

 What are the investment implications of this FT article?

What happens in Italy may actually be more important than the UK referendum. Consider Italy's place in the Euro, macro imbalances, and the size of a bond market which is too big for the ECB. Renzi must regain a zeal to reform for Italy's sake

Matteo Renzi has long been regarded as one of Europe's more assured and charismatic leaders, with a tangible record of economic reform to his credit. But two years after coming to power in Italy, the wave of populism sweeping European politics is now threatening his centre-left government.

Last weekend's local elections in Italy have cast a spotlight on the challenge he faces. Back in 2014, Mr Renzi's Democratic party won a commanding victory at the European elections, securing a 40 per cent share of the national vote. This has now slumped to about 30 per cent, putting the centre-left only slightly ahead of the populist Five Star Movement founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo. The populists scored a notable success in Rome where Mr. Grillo's candidate won the first round in the race for mayor and looks set for victory.

Given that the next general election may be two years away, the decline in the Democrats' popularity might not seem threatening for Mr. Renzi. But it comes ahead of a referendum on constitutional reform in October that aims to overhaul the country's gridlocked legislature. The prime minister has staked his future on the plebiscite, saying he will resign if he loses. Such an outcome now looks a possibility and would throw Italy into a period of fresh instability that it can ill-afford.

It is easy to see why some Italians are becoming disillusioned with Mr. Renzi and tempted by the siren voices of populism. Although the economy is growing at an annual rate of 1 per cent, it remains well below its pre-crisis peak. Many voters feel the government has failed to tackle what they view as a detached and corrupt political class. Mr. Renzi's tendency to run his party as though it were a one-man show has drawn particular criticism because few of his allies are allowed to shine.

For some of his supporters, the prime minister has also proved disappointingly inconsistent on the question of reform. In his first year he showed zeal, overhauling the country's sluggish labour market, its cumbersome electoral law and parts of the banking sector. More recently he has been tempted to mimic the populists, most notably by resorting to tax giveaways that have done little to boost economic growth.

Mr. Renzi's flaws need to be placed in their proper context. As the constitutional referendum approaches, Italians should be in no doubt where their interests lie. The plebiscite, if passed, would rightly shrink the Italian Senate and strip its legislative powers. For decades, parliament's work has been hampered because bills ping-pong endlessly between its two chambers. An end to the deadlock is sorely needed.

Jun

2

 After the Battle of Malvern Hill, Phillip Kearny wrote this in response to McClellan's order to retreat:

"I, Philip Kearny, an old soldier, enter my solemn protest against this order for retreat. We ought instead of retreating should follow up the enemy and take Richmond. And in full view of all responsible for such declaration, I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason."

Kearny was right. Because of McClellan's vanity (his most abiding trait), the Army of the Potomac threw away its best early chance of total victory and the war lasted three more years.

But McClellan still has the last laugh. There are only two equestrian statues in Arlington - one for Kearny - whom Winfield Scott called "the bravest man I ever knew" - and one for a British general who is the perfect representative of the McClellan school - John Greer Dill. This link has the photo of Truman dedicating the Dill statue in 1950; it is a perfect image of why, since that time, the best the United States has ever done in a war is win a tie.

May

31

 As much as I continue to enjoy David Hume's robust skepticism about our human understanding, I have come to see him as yet another gold bug ninny when it comes to political economy. A year after Henry Pelham's wonderful consolidation, Hume is still grousing about the prospect of future bankruptcy because of "the debt". Hume did not believe in God, but he most certainly believed in a kind of monetary fundamentalism. Only hard money could be the instrument of righteousness; the ability of credit to create structures of exchange reaching around the world was "of no very great importance", not when measured against the fundamental evil of debts secured only by the promise to pay.

Hume was complaining because Henry Pelham had removed refunding of all but short-term borrowings by the government. Its debts, including the South Sea annuities, were consolidated into IOU's without maturities. As a result the Bank of England became what the Federal Reserve is now, if you exclude from its activities all "management" of the Federal debt with 1 year or greater maturities. The Bank of England would provide cash management to the Exchequer by acting as its agent for the sale and redemption of short-term credit and would act as the agent for the transfers and payments of interest on the consols; but "the debt" was now a permanent fund that would never be "paid off".

In spite of the fact that they were the authors of the single most extraordinary change in the history of finance, you can barely find a mention of Pelham or his brother, the 1st Duke of Newcastle. They ran Britain's finances from the aftermath of the South Sea bubble to Henry Pelham's death in 1754; but they are essentially anonymous as far as political economy is concerned.

May

16

 Another forgotten battle has its anniversary today. When he read the after-action report of his commander in the field William Beresford, Wellington was not happy. He is reported to have said to one of his staff officers, "This won't do. It will drive the people in England mad. Write me down a victory." 'The report was duly rewritten, although Wellington privately acknowledged that another such battle would ruin his army.' (from Wikipedia)

Soult, the French commander, did his own rewriting. In his initial report to Napoleon the Marshall proudly announced that France had achieved a "a signal victory". Soult had accurately estimated British, Portuguese and Spanish casualties at around 5,000; he reported his own at half that number - which was half what they actually were.

In Robert Southey's History of the Peninsular War Soult is quoted as having confirmed the general opinion of Wellington's soldiers: "I always thought they were bad soldiers, now I am sure of it. I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!"

The folks at Strategy Page have a note on the anniversary that includes a section from Henry Evelyn Wood's memoir. Wood had become Lt. Colonel of 90th Perthshire Light Infantry. The regiment had been given new colors, and Wood (probably on his own initiative) wanted to arrange for the old ones to be properly retired by being hung in town's cathedral. On a visit to Perth Wood met an old man whom he recognized as a former soldier. Wood recalled:

I asked one of (the Perth City councilmen), pointing to a distinguished looking old man, with a long white beard, who he was, and received the somewhat contemptuous reply, "Oh, he is of no importance - only an old Peninsula soldier."

I repeated my question to the stationmaster, who was more sympathetic, and at my request, obtained his initials from the Goods Office.

When I got back to Stirling, I went up to the Mess-room, where we had the Army Lists for eighty years past, and was rewarded by finding the name of the distinguished-looking old man who had been present in a Fusilier Regiment at the Battle of Albuera in 1811……. On the 27th June we went up to Perth – 16 officers and 14 non-commissioned officers, and the Commanding officer asked me to return thanks for our reception at the luncheon given to us by the Provost and Council.

On rising, I said, "I should have been glad to do so, but that I stand in the presence of one who has taken part in a more stubborn struggle than it has been my fate to see," and I recited Napier's stirring description. As I finished the last sentence, "The rain flowed after in streams discoloured with blood, and 1500 unwounded men, the remnant of 6000 unconquerable British soldiers, stood triumphant on the fatal hill!" I said, "I call on Lieutenant _____ of the Fusiliers to answer for the Army."

He was at the end of the Council Chamber, having taken literally and metaphorically, a back seat, and rising slowly and with difficulty, for he was more than eighty years of age, he doddered over to the table, and leaning heavily upon it said, simply "Let me greit [cry]!"

And "greit" he did; but presently brushing away his tears, and drawing his body up to its full height – and he was 6 foot 2 inches – he made an admirable speech, the gist of which was that he had lived in the City of Perth since 1814, and no one had ever asked him anything about the Peninsula; no one had ever spoken to him about the Battle of Albuera; "but now" he concluded, "when I have one foot in the grave, I see before me officers in the same coloured coats, and with the same sort of faces, and instead of talking about what they did in the Crimea or the Indian Mutiny, they recount in wonderful language the crowning scene of my military life." Then sinking back into a chair, he added, "I shall die happy."

—————–

For another day:

Napier, ac

May

10

Colonial counterfeiter Owen Syllavan (Sullivan) was executed in New York on this date in 1756.

The police blotter is the best single source of the actual facts of American history until you get to the time when progressives turned incarceration into a major domestic industry.

May

9

 Last fall Pat Caddell did a thorough poll on American attitudes. His findings were interesting:

72% of adult Americans believed that the country was "in decline" 60% of adult Americans thought that their children would NOT be "better off" than than they were; the same percentage thought that their parents had left them better off than their parents had been 86% of adult Americans do NOT think that they can succeed by working hard and playing by the rules; they think the rules are rigged 89% of adult Americans think both political parties are fundamentally corrupt

And yet, somehow, the journalists, commentators and political party leaders and spokespeople are surprised that Donald Trump has won the Republican Party nomination and Bernie Sanders would have won the Democrat Party nomination if Clinton Cash had not been able to buy the Iowa Caucus and subsequent party allocations of delegates.

I like Caddell because he is one of the few people left in American political consulting who knows what it is like to win AND to lose; and he never pretends that the losing did not happen (vide Bob Schrumpf and everyone who "advised" McCain and Romney).

In his interview Caddell compares what is happening to William Jennings Bryan, and that is just wrong. Bryan was a complete unknown, and the Democrat Party was literally being torn apart by the conflict between the Cleveland supporters and the silverites. Bryan was the ideal candidate because he was in favor of segregation and prohibition but not a Southerner. The modern historians who are Democrats have to sweep that under the rug just the way the Schelsingeristas ignored the fact that Jackson's "democratic" revolution had the active support of the New Yorker boys who wanted to take all the Federal bank business away from Biddle's Philadelphians.

You can't look to history for repeats or rhymes, only box scores of past contests of personality and political economic interest and accident.

In terms of personality Trump is clearly Teddy Roosevelt, Sanders is Henry Wallace and Mrs. Clinton is Robert Taft, Jr.

In terms of political economic interest the present contest is between the party of the people who now get money directly from the government and the party of those who don't get money from the government. The Democrats represent most elementary and secondary school teachers, almost all current Federal and most state and local public employees, lawyers, everyone in college and graduate school education, and everyone in medicine whose pay is determined not by what they do but by what their status is. The Republicans represent everyone who works for themselves and the people who get the money from the government but think they earn or earned it (the recipients of Social Security and military and government pensions, people in the military outside the Pentagon, cops, firefighters, prison guards).

If you choose, you can add to the box score the people who provide and handle the graft - the campaign contributors, consultants, et. al. - but they are rarely important. The Unruh rule applies, at least for the electoral winners: "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you've got no business being up here." 

Money may be the mother's milk of politics, as Unruh also said; but anyone who has children knows that they teeth at a very early age. The voters are the children; and they remain permanently unruly in their attention and inattention.

What remains are the elements of accident.
 

May

9

 If you come to accounting from business, as people did up to the the 1920s, you marvel at two things: (1) the ability of the system of ledgers and accounts to identify individual transactions and (2) the inability of the system of balancing of accounts to explain enterprise.

The numbers add up; they just don't get to the sense of things.

They can't. The essential part of any business–its customer and supply relationships–cannot be assessed or even assayed using the calculations of profit and loss, asset and liability. The stock market, with its extraordinary and persistent volatility and seemingly irrational sensitivity to quarterly earnings numbers, is the only mechanism that comes close to even implying what the accurate number of a business's net worth is. The balance sheet and its residual–equity– are worse than a bad guess.

Yet, almost all the "serious" thinking done by economists uses accounting logic for an explanation of how the world does business. Here is a recent sample of the such wisdom:

As an accounting matter, a country's income is allocated to either consumption or saving while spending goes to either consumption or investment spending. These two identities mean that a nation's saving equals its investment spending when income equals spending. Opening up to trade allows a country to have its income exceed its spending when its exports exceed its imports, and this difference exactly equals the difference between saving and investment spending. The insight here is that the gaps between spending and income, between saving and investment spending, and between exports and imports all equal a nation's lending to (or borrowing from) the rest of the world.

The logic is irrefutable; under the system of accounts that economists use, investment must everywhere and always = savings; and the reverse must also be true.

Yet, to the people who invented double-entry (the Italians in the late 11th century), this and the other tautologies of balance sheet accounting would have seemed a bad joke. For one thing, there was no attention paid to the question of number - what defined the unit of account itself?

The primitive minds who were able to lend money to from Milan to London using only ink and parchment thought this was an important question. Accepting the sovereign definitions of money at face value was foolish; even the dimmest wits at the trade fairs seemed to have an amazing ability to estimate how much of the metal in coin was actually precious. 9 centuries later, things seem to have gone backward.

Measuring cross-border financial flows is also difficult. The financial account in the balance of payments is supposed to do this, but those numbers often differ substantially from the current account when they should be of the exact same magnitude, ignoring the trivial capital account. It is easier to measure imports and exports than financial flows, which makes the current account balance a better measure of net financial flows. The relative reliability of the two balances was important last year when China reported net financial outflows from both public (the central bank) and private investors at $143 billion, while the current account implied that net financial outflows totaled $331 billion.

May

5

The "book" on these elections is meager; there have only been only 43 people sworn into office as President and only 44 distinct administrations (Grover Cleveland got a do over).

The statistics for elections after a re-elected President is completing his second term in office are even fewer. Here are the 11 Presidents who were elected twice, in succession, and then left office:

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

James Madison

James Monroe

Andrew Jackson

Ulysses S. Grant

Woodrow Wilson

Dwight Eisenhower

Ronald Reagan

Bill Clinton

George W. Bush

How many of these Presidents saw their own political party's nominee win the succeeding election?

Washington - yes and no. Adams claimed to be Washington's party successor; but Washington never participated in Federalist politics and thought Adams was precisely the kind of lawyer/faction-monger the country did not need for President. (Of course, he held the same opinion of Adams' successor Jefferson.)

Jefferson - yes. Madison - yes. Monroe - no. Jackson - yes. Grant - yes. Wilson - no Eisenhower - no Reagan - yes Clinton - no Bush - no

The American people have not been reluctant to elect a party to the White House more than 2 times in a row, but they only seem to do it if they can think they are re-electing the person already in the White House. Madison was Jefferson's protege; Monroe has literally the anointed one of all of Virginia's previously-elected Presidents. from Virginia. (Monroe is the only President besides Washington to be re-elected by acclamation; neither man had any formal opposition to their second run.)

Van Buren was Jackson's Vice-President. Grant was, for everywhere except the die-hard South, as popular as Washington had been. Like Washington he established a national dominance for his party and its "home" region that lasted for decades. (Ohio was for the last quarter of the 19th century what Virginia had been for the first quarter.)

But after Grant and his mid-Western Republican successors, the odds turn against people seeking to put their party in the White House for a 3rd consecutive term. in the last century and a third only two people have done it: Truman, who ran and won a 5th consecutive term for the Democrats (but was already in office as Roosevelt's Constitutional successor) and G. H. W. Bush, a sitting Vice-President.

The assumption that Mrs. Clinton will win easily seems to be based on the presumption that Donald Trump will do his best to follow Michael Dukakis' example and that her term as Secretary of State gives her the status of President Obama's formal successor.

Apr

25

 Geoffrey Williams has done a study of the Fraud in the Development of Victorian British Banking. I came across it while doing some research into the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878.

Two comments were particularly interesting:

"In the first 20 years of the Victorian era, 1837 to 1857, there were more than a half-dozen large-scale bank failures due to fraud in England, as well as a number of others in Ireland and Scotland, not to mention fraud-induced failures of smaller banks."

"Fraud at the high levels of financial institution management appears to have been a major issue across the period, with serious consequences for shareholders, depositors and the general public. The early years of joint stock banking were particularly problematic, with particular problems during the boom years of the 1850, and in the Lancashire region."

Lancashire was the Jiangsu and Zhejiang of its day. Those of you who understand what is going on now in the world of large credits and debits can tell us whether our time is seeing a variation on a 19th century theme.

Apr

8

 "As the poor die earlier, Social Security isn't paying off"

This noise is a prelude to a means to testing. It will eventually be a reality.

BTW, has anyone really dug into the new 2012 mortality tables? IMHO, they are a real game changer for both SS and pensions.

I posit that most defined benefit plans will be underfunded once they have to apply the 2012 tables to their calculations.

Big changes are coming in the pension world. I'm seeing a lot more buyout offers being made, even from pension funds that are supposedly over funded.

Data point: I don't know if it was across the country, but I know that locally retired teamsters have seen their monthly pension checks cut by 40% - 50%. That's a real unpleasant surprise to couple who is living on their pension and SS. Couple that with the fact that their SS COLA was (almost) completely eaten up by the increase in medicare premiums and we have a recipe for a real problem cooking…..but of course, I've been saying this for years on this site.

Apr

7

 I hypothesize that the prevalence and visibility of homeless and poverty and related downtrodden stricken people is an intentional manifestation of the collectivists attempt to keep us all small–i.e the idea that has the world in its grip. It makes us think purpose of life is to take care of the unworthy. The underlying cause of this might not be conscious activity by evil collectivists but could be an invisible evil hand at work. I'd be interested in your views on this hypothesis.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The "news" has only two sources:

1. press releases from the government and businesses and non-profit agencies and celebrities and academics who are announcing to the world what they are (or claim to be) doing

2. journalists' own "investigations"

There are no incentives for either group to minimize the "visibility" of poverty, any more than there were any incentives for missionary groups to tell the congregations back home that "actually the heathen seem quite content to remain unconverted".

The government gets its money because of "problems". Businesses want always to seem "charitable". Non-profit agencies are in the business of "charity" and "problems"; and, as Jason Reitman's wonderful script puts it, every celebrity needs a "cause". No explanation is needed for the academics.

Here is something for those who have not yet heard of Nick Naylor.

Apr

6

 My friend said to me the other night, "I don't seem many people carrying or using cash much any more, except in the gangsta videos. Coins certainly are a pain in the neck to carry and spend."

Even street level drug dealers use Square now a days since their users utilize 7-eleven bought money cards. Wholesale drug pushers can carry around 500k easily in money cards and the police wouldn't know the difference. Lot more deceptive than the gangsta rolls with rubber bands (Escobar spent 25k per mo.). You can hide money! So, even the lowest level of illegal activity is paperless these days.

Jim Sogi reflects:

In Roman times, leaders coined their own currency. In old England, when the mint failed to print small enough coins to pay small labourers, a private company came up with a copper penny to allow wages to be paid and business to go on.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

There is a fascinating (to me, at least) book on the question of private coinage that is freely available through Google books: Private gold coinage of California, 1849-55, its history and its issues, Edgar Holmes Adams.

Adams describes how the shortage of legal tender coins led to private minting in California after the gold rush began. What is fascinating is that the private coinage did its best to imitate the products of the U.S. Mint even as people were busy accepting ingots as payment. The private money-makers did so because that allowed them to do a minor bit of counterfeiting; the private coins were, on average, 3% less than the proper weight and fineness that the Coinage law specified.

This is not the story told by the Misean gospel; it directly contradicts what Murray Rothbard used the incident to try to prove - namely, that sovereignty was irrelevant to the question of money.

Sovereignty is the only question where money is concerned - what monopoly authority has decreed that their paper, coins and digits are legal tender as far as the sheriff, bailiff, court clerk, tax collector and other licensed strong-arm agents of the government are concerned.

Bitcoin is not yet money for the simply reason that you have to get someone to exchange it for legal tender if you want to use it to buy any legal tender currency. Neither are the phone cards, money cards and other forms of wealth verified by magnetic strips that the dealers are using. (I think J.T. is unfairly maligning N.C. cops; according to K.H. (a now-dead vice cop for one of the cities here in the Triangle and a truly wonderful person) the first thing cops do is run the plastic through the dealer's own Square to see what it is worth.)

Bit coin may become money; some forms of credit are now as officially sovereign as the Federal Reserve's own certificates of IOU. You can now pay your taxes and court fines (though not yet large judgments) using credit cards that Visa and Master Card (though not, in this jurisdiction, American Express) are willing to clear.

The authors of the Constitution gave Congress and Congress alone the authority to "Coin Money" because they had seen the ruin caused by the States abusing their sovereignties to issue money that was, in fact, nothing more than bad credit. That remains the central question of all discussions about "money" now - how good is the credit. J.T. and James are right; money, as legal tender, is no longer Coin. It is now only and everywhere an IOU that is a form of credit officially-approved by the sovereign.

The tricky part remains the one people dealt with in California in 1849. How good is the assay? For us retards Bitcoin's assay remains far more than 3% below par. 

Jeffrey Hirsch dissents: 

Cash is still king. US $20 bill is still the best global icebreaker.

Anonymous writes: 

In Argentina a $20 US bill buys $100 in value, and is readily accepted and preferred over the peso. 

Apr

4

 The results of a recent study of 119 tank vs. tank combat actions during the Korean War (U.S. Sherman, Pershing, Patton, and Chafee and British Centurion tanks vs. Russian, Chinese,N. Korean T-34s:

Allied tank fired first 60%, roughly 2/3rds resulting in kills T-34 fired first 40%, with 3/8ths resulting in kills

75% of enemy tanks lost to Allied air strikes 1/3rd of Allied tanks lost to mines (Kill-ratio for enemy anti-tank mines: 1 tank for every 1000 mines laid)

The Lessons: "Boots on the ground" most reliably get killed by what is under it and what is up in the air.

Andrew Goodwin writes: 

The Vietcong mastered the counterattack methods in their tunnel defenses. Some great defenses emerged that allowed entire hospitals and armies to gather in cities underground that were nearly impervious to attack. Here are some of the methods they employed. I got these tactics from an army manual on counter guerrilla warfare that General Petraeus helped constuct:

1) Build an elevated chamber near the tunnel entrance that collects the smoke from incendiaries designed to flush you out of the tunnel. The smoke gathers in the chamber and nullifies the clearing tactic. If they throw grenades down the tunnel entrance, then you need a capture chamber for these with a drop tunnel beyond the first cavity impervious to this first assault.

2) Place one mine that is obvious to the tunnel rat invader's eye so he avoids that one while the really big mine is buried a short distance behind the obvious one. When the rat dismantles the obvious mine he thinks he's found the trap but gets in trouble with the secondary hidden charge.

3) Hang live poisonous snakes from the roof of the tunnel to terrorize the raiders. Otherwise leash poisonous snakes to an anchor inside the tunnel on the natural approach line.

Basically the tunnels allowed infiltration into enemy areas and were too dangerous to dismantle. Aerial bombardment in the Iron Triangle could not alleviate the tunneling method successfully.

In avoiding a corporate raid or a bear raid, the number of toxic defense strategies and deceptions are limited only by one's devious creativity.
 

Apr

1

 My daughter has been given the assignment of writing a 4 page paper on global warming. What might others more knowledgeable than I suggest for research that would lead to a balanced gathering of facts in an objective fashion?

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

There are three basic questions to be asked:

(1) Has human activity over the last 150 years, in particular, increased the release of CO2 into the atmosphere over what it would have been if tail-less monkeys had not been using carbon-based fuels?

The answer, by everyone who has studied the data, is "Yes"?

(2) Does an increase in CO2 releases into the atmosphere cause an increase in below surface and surface temperatures in the oceans, surface temperatures on land and low altitude temperatures in the atmosphere?

The answer is "It depends". The evidence from ice core samples drilled near the poles tends to suggest that temperature rises come BEFORE increases in CO2; this is somewhat confirmed by tree ring data. But there is other evidence that suggests that CO2 increases come first.

(3) Is the interaction between CO2 and global temperature so intensely powerful that the projected releases of CO2 over the next half century will cause a climate catastrophe?

The answer, so far, is "No". The scientists who think that we are on the eve of destruction have not distinguished themselves by being scrupulously honest about their research data. Some of them have been downright dishonest in the way they have rewritten the data to make it say what they want. Does that prove them wrong? No. But it does suggest that their certainty is more religious than scientific. That may explain why their criticisms of the scientists who disagree have used the terms that the devout have applied to heretics and non-believers.

As our Chair and KSS wisely remind us, religious discussions are best left for private exchanges after dinner in the ward room is formally adjourned.

Simon Franak writes:

Some quotes

"The cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people in poor nations. It has already made food and fuel more precious, thus increasing the price of everything we buy. If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come by the year 2000."
–Lowell Ponte, The Cooling, 1976.

The facts have emerged, in recent years and months, from research into past ice ages. They imply that the threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind."
–Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist and producer of scientific television documentaries, "In the Grip of a New Ice Age," International Wildlife, July 1975.

I believe that increasing global air pollution, through its effect on the reflectivity of the earth, is currently dominant and is responsible for the temperature decline of the past decade or two" Reid Bryson, "Environmental Roulette, Global Ecology: Readings Toward a Rational Strategy for Man, John P. Holdren and Paul R. Ehrlich, eds., 1971.

At this point, the world's climatologists are agreed…Once the freeze starts, it will be too late."
–Douglas Colligan, "Brace Yourself for Another Ice Age," Science Digest, February 1973.

——————

Because you can't argue with science. There is always something to be scared of, from which the State has to save us. The problem is usually artificially created, so then it can justify expansion of the State. Like in Atlas Shrugged, they always "need to do something."

No problem that there were no goods on the shelves, it's the cost one must've paid for peace in the Soviet bloc. It can be a diseases such as sars, bird flu, and ebola; it can be2 terrorists such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. The more invisible but potentially dangerous and global it is, the better. Climate change is then perfect problem for the State to save us from.

Mar

28

 "Johan Cruyff, footballer - obituary: Proud and mercurial Dutch football star who developed a fast-moving and fluid
style of play"

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

OMG Stefan! I was a big fan circa WC 1974 (could it be his upright "arrogant" posture?) As the youngest Master of Sports among all official sports in that era's Soviet Union, I think I was pervasively identifying.

In most of the 10×10 checkers games (each game lasting 4-6 hours in a daily round-robin) that I won in category under-19 (I wasn't 13 yet), my opponents felt somehow crashed right out of the theoretical openings. Their sitting posture at the board was somehow deficient, believe it or not. They might have been more gifted tactically, and counted forward better than my max. 30 or so moves - but they felt I somehow had strategic grip, and they slowly relinquished key cell configurations, resorting to (the inferior) off-center surround strategies.

RIP Maestro Cruyff.

Mar

22

 It's clear to me personally, that whatever the mouthpiece for the Fed will be next week, will try to tepidly unwind a bit of dovishness that triggered the USD collapse this week…

A much longer term consideration is that I'm speculating that USD will remain the world's single reserve currency for quite some time, despite the growing mountain of debt. This will keep US inflation in check, no matter what horrible deficit picture will need to be addressed from time to time. And Europe's inflation will be checked by wage stagnation. As to the emerging markets' real world: they have decades of survival experience with 5-10% inflation, and such would not be an issue to their economies and population.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

Could we all agree to stop using obsolete terms like "reserve currency"? The term had a specific meaning before 1914 when banks throughout the world held pounds sterling as a reserve against calls for specie redemption by their depositors and counter-parties. It had a shadowy meaning after WW 2 when central banks agreed that the U.S. Dollar would be treated as being as good as gold, but no part of that Bretton Woods notion of the dollar as a reserve currency included the right to demand specie itself from either the Fed or the U.S. Treasury. If people and banks and central banks now choose to own dollars, they do so because they expect to use the dollars to pay someone else or they expect the exchange price of the dollar to rise against another currency or currencies. There is no reason to believe that people's preferences for holding dollars has any direct effect on the prices of goods and services traded in open markets, given the fact that all "major" currencies can be fully hedged and arbitraged. In such a world "inflation" itself has no independent meaning that can be distinguished from changes in exchange rates and price increases that are caused either by reductions in supply or rising demand. Monetarist theory itself becomes a tautology when all legal tenders are central bank IOUs.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Thanks Stefan! To re-iterate the technical picture: I anticipate very profound USD strength going into Q2 2016. This will test the commodities anew…And curiously, I also anticipate Yen's renewed strength - albeit after it first digests its sizeable 2016 gains to date. There, I'm at a bit of a loss for fundamental explanation: to envision this peculiar global macro scenario, in which both the risk currency USD and the risk-off currency JPY will suddenly dominate Q2!

Stefan Jovanovich comments:

Almost from the first day Vic was kind enough to let me wander in from the street, I have been panhandling his List's members for answers to my foolish questions. Thanks to AV's recent comments, I think I have found another.

It always puzzled me why people who traded stocks, futures and bonds were so sensitive to what a government spokesman said or was rumored to be about to say. Why should the people who were directly engaged in the most directly competitive of enterprises want to know about stale information from people whose idea of risk was going to a new restaurant on their government-paid expense accounts? Why would Henry Kaufman's guesstimates about M numbers be able to move the markets?

"Markets" are no more "free" than trade is; what distinguishes them from autocratic directives is the fact that their activities are open to anyone willing to make a bid. That is stating the obvious; but what is not so obvious is the fact that people use their bids in open markets to offset the risks from autocratic directives. The markets move in response to government (fill in the blank as to type) statistics as a hedge against (1) what those statistics are likely to make the government do and (2) what future bids are likely to be after the government "does something". A market cannot controlled by the government; if it is, then people stop coming into the room to bid. But all markets, because they settle in legal tender, end up being like taxpayers; they have to account for what the large idiot in the room will do.

Feb

12

 In the Chaos Manor that is our family's daily round, Kurzweil's web site and Vic's List and our own discussions are the 3 constants. Kurzweil had a great article on the gravitational waves.

Then Jeff's email mentioning Newton arrived.

That led to her idiot Dad asking the daughter if medicine had arrived at its equivalent of Newtonian physics. Eddy said, "yes, but just barely. In practice we are barely past the Newcomen steam engine.

That led to an expression of hope from Eddy that, in her lifetime, medicine will get to what would be the equivalent of Maxwell's equations for the body's messaging. But, Kurzweil's dream of immortality will remain as permanent elusive as time travel. The machines will have to do the exploring.

Feb

10

 The Iowa Caucus system for Presidential candidate selection began in 1972 for Democrats and 1976 for Republicans. Since they started 40 years ago for the GOP, every Republican candidate who received the party nomination had these results:

(1) First in Iowa, Second in New Hampshire (2) Second in Iowa, First in New Hampshire

Ford, Reagan (twice), G.H.W. Bush, Dole, G.W. Bush, Romney all had these results.

Among the present candidates Donald Trump is the only one who has passed the 1-2 test.

Feb

10

Negative rates are:

1. Tax on cash.
2. Service charge, like a bank.
3. Currency war weapon. Weaponize as Mr. E used to say.
4. Policy tool to encourage risk and capital movement.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Negative rates are, as James writes, a tax on short-term IOUs from government-guaranteed issuers; but they are a subsidy for actual cash currency. The banks already charge for holding our "cash"; and anyone who has held significant balances already knows that their cash has been trashed in terms of any returns from interest.

Those of us sitting here in the back of the bleachers see the central banks as doing everything they can to force the banks to "go long" - i.e. push the maturity of their reserves much further out than they have been. Could it be that we have a new consensus among the countries that have dealings in size in each other's currencies? They will each do their best to enable their national Treasures, state-owned enterprises and retirement systems to continue to fund the transfer payments that are now at least 2/3rds of total government expenditures and no one will worry about exchange rates because capital flows between countries are now a trivial concern compared to the actual and potential losses of capital itself from a "crash".

Feb

6

 After reading this article "The Rich Are Already Using Robo-Advisers, and That Scares Banks", I wonder three things:

1. Making a broad assumption that most of these "artificial intelligence" schemes do similar things isn't it likely to cause even more herding behavior as assets in these plans increase?

2. Placing money in several plans and observing what's done might provide foreknowledge of what might be executed in the future.

3. Are they using ETFs or individual stocks? From the small amount I've read about these plans it seems to be ETFs.

For sure the assets in these plans are not currently enough to move markets -yet. But like ETFs which began as a small force and grew to be of great influence they could eventually move markets on their own. It's the commoditization of investment advisors in a similar way that ETFs commoditized retail trading.

Rudy Hauser writes: 

I would add the move by pension funds into equity investing. When my late friend, Prof. Paul Howell, who at the time ran the NYC pension funds, wrote an article in 1958 that appeared in the Harvard Business Review and madeg the case why pension funds should mainly be invested in equities, it had the largest request for reprints of any article in that publication up to that time. The idea of pension funds investing most of their assets in stocks was a new trend at the time. I would also add the event of mutual fund investing, that really took off in the decades after WWII.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Another really dumb question for Jonathan and the other pros. But, first, a brief description of what those of sitting in the bleachers see as the great events in "financial history" since WW II.

1. End of fixed commissions; "discount" brokerage
2. Retail/commercial trading in Financial futures
3. Retail/commercial trading in Options
4. Derivative trading
5. Retail/commercial trading in Currencies

Now the dumb question: Which, if any, of these 5 developments are the historically comparable to the rise in ETFs?

Feb

6

 The comment has been made that Moneyball strategies undervalue pitching and defense. As a Braves fan I can most assuredly attest that post-season pitching needs and season pitching needs are different. During the season, a 4 deep pitching rotation almost assures extra wins as the other teams pitching tends not to be as deep (so hence the long runs of divisional wins), however, post season pitching rotations get shortened, so one needs one less pitcher and one more bat (hence all the post-season loses). This is why the Braves had incredible records but only the one World Series during their amazing run.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

The data suggests something else: they (the GM and Cox) never let John Schmoltz–their one genuine strikeout pitcher–start Game 1. Strikeouts win World Series.

Feb

1

 A friend of my daughter works for Tesla. His parents described driving in a self driving car in San Francisico. As I drove through LA traffic, I thought of the many benefits self driving communicated net cars would have.

Almost all accidents are caused by driver error. If all cars were self driving, and communicated with each other, it would reduce accidents, increase traffic flow and congestion. Lane changes could be done quicker and more safely when other cars knew the changer's intention. Cars could drive faster and closer together where human reaction attention and reaction time were eliminated by communicating cars. Rear enders would be eliminated by front sensing brakes. Cars could self park like auto valets.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

This is really the night for "let's all submit to higher authority". The problem Google and others are trying to solve - traffic congestion - is not going to be resolved by turning the public roads into digital autobahns, not without the complete loss of individual liberty.

Our "traffic" problem comes entirely from the commons theory of access. Right now, no one pays any direct price for deciding to use the freeway during rush hour; the road usage is - quite literally - free. If those same smart, smart folks would put their attention to the question of mechanisms that priced timed usage by location…

Thomas Miller writes: 

One problem with self driving cars, (for municipalities) is that they wold lose all the revenue they now make from traffic tickets, which is not insignificant. Self driving cars would never break the speed limit, run red lights, make illegal turns, etc.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

When roads were uncommon, they were privately owned and subject to usage tolls. Road travel was incredibly expensive because of the physics of friction and gravity (in a boat the water does the carrying; in a wagon the rims) so almost all freight moved by ocean and river which were the commons. When iron and steel rails solved the friction problem, land transport exploded - still under private ownership. Our present commons of free public roads only really go started in the 1920 after the development of pneumatic tires and leaf spring suspensions made transport of heavy loads possible. There was no practical way to put tariffs on the road usage but cars were so expensive to own that "traffic" did not become a problem until the combination of cheap gasoline and inexpensive used cars developed in the late 1950s.

This is not a difficult problem to solve, given the capacities of digital technology. What I find fascinating is how much the people who know that technology best (the folks at Google) are determined to use it to limit people's freedoms and prevent government's monopolies from dissolving under their own economic obsolescence. There is no social justification for "driverless cars" - auto accidents continue to decline and the injury rates for vehicles where people are passengers, not drivers - buses, vans - are far, far more bloody than for personal vehicles. This is a technology avoiding a useful solution in order to promote what will be an utterly useless green fascism.

Feb

1

 On this day in 1835 on this day Richard Lawrence attempted to kill President Andrew Jackson. Jackson survived the attack because both of Lawrence's pistols misfired (probably because the powder was too damp to ignite).

The Schlesinger story of the Jackson Administration focuses on the Bank War; but that was not nearly as important as the political explosions that came during Jackson's second term. No one, who had not been bribed, was in favor of Biddle's bank, any more than people now are in favor of the Federal Reserve. (According to Gallup's last poll on the subject, the IRS is the only Federal agency that has a lower current approval rating that the Fed.)

The Lawrence incident brought out into the open the much more important split that would be Jackson's legacy - the divide among the two tribes of War Hawk spenders. The moral issue of slavery was not the cause of the Civil War; it was, if anything, the camouflage for the rivalry between the people who wanted the U.S. to go West and those who wanted it to go South (to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America). That is the sub-text of Horace Greeley's famous bit of advice that gets completely lost.

If the Bank issue had been truly divisive, Jackson would not have chosen a New Yorker, Martin Van Buren, as his successor; and accused his long-time ally, George Poindexter, of being part of Lawrence's "conspiracy" (sic).

The argument between Richard Mentor Johnson, Van Buren's Vice-President, and Senator Poindexter, over the subject of race is fascinating. Johnson had married his Julia Chinn, his slave mistress, openly.

"Unlike Jefferson, Clay, Poindexter and others, I married my wife under the eyes of God, and apparently He has found no objections."

Feb

1

 Moneyball is a wonderful movie made out of what is a lousy baseball book. The A's teams that Billie Beane built ignored defensive skills and looked for home run power. Beane's giving Billy Butler $30M in 2014 is a classic example of his trying to buy "power" on the cheap. The result was absolutely the worst team in American League baseball.

What wins in the post season is (1) pitching (everybody knows that), (2) fielding and (3) being able to put the bat on the ball, even if all you do is hit a weak ground ball to 3rd base.

Kansas City, winner in 2015, runner-up in 2014, has the formula: "Because contact is less prized by modern teams than patience and power, it's also less expensive. And given the physical skills of the players who tend to possess it, it might also be easier to pair with good defense, another commodity that the free-agent market has historically undervalued. In the most generous interpretation of their roster construction, the Royals' old-school approach is actually innovation in disguise, a version of Moneyball built on the opposite strategy of the early-aughts A's."

Jan

28

 After some practice, a kid can throw a ball and compute the trajectory on the fly. It becomes internalized. Mathematically it is a complicated computation. Normally people don't think statistically unless say after 45 years of doing it it is internalized.

My question to Chair and others is whether after trading for many years using statistically based evidence you have internalized the data and math such that a trade is similar to throwing a ball. Computations of course help reject ideas, or deflate misconception, or identify newly arising cycles but what percent is intuition? Even system traders identify new systems by eyeballing data or plots or using analogies.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

If we are talking baseball, the throwing equations have their own internal derivatives. To throw a ball well enough to play the game at even a semi-professional level as a pitcher requires a great deal more than "some practice"; for the people who make it all the way to "the show" the internal computations get down to the questions of how much pressure you place on the joint of each toe. The calculations about how you hold the ball for each pitch are maddeningly complex; then there is what you do with your biceps, elbows, trunk, etc.

I suspect surfers have the same kind of subtlety in their thinking about what they do. But, I don't know: can't pitch, wouldn't dream of surfing. What I do know as a catcher is that pitcher's internalization process is never finished; they are flakes because they have to be.

anonymous writes: 

When surfing at the home break, most of the good locals have it pretty well wired. Knowledge of the bottom, how the surf breaks on different tides, swell direction, currents, winds, and where the wave will peak allows a local to successfully get waves. When traveling for waves, new breaks tend to present a host of different challenges. While I will never have another place wired like my local break, when visiting a different one, I'll catch a few waves, but the locals will catch many more. I find injuries are more common at other breaks, mainly because of the lack of knowledge of the wave and the lineup. An outsider never knows all of the quirks, inside rules, players, and forces at a beach.

Seems like a good time to present a market analogy. A competent local surfer generally gets more waves than a competent outsider, just like an insider or specialist in a single market generally has more opportunities than outsiders for good trades. The insider/specialist knows his market just like the surfer knows his home break.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Surfing is a good example of an intuitive process internalizing complex multiple variables. At my big wave spot I know the secret line up markers: a grass spot on the mountain, the tops of certain palm trees, a rock, some foam. It puts me in a 6 foot square in the ocean. I can see the waves in the distance, sit in a certain spot, and the wave come right to me. Someone 6 feet to the right is in the wrong spot. Newbies often get slaughtered. For example, there was a big crowd out two days ago with medium size waves when a HUGE set came thru and washed almost everyone out who were sitting on the inside.

On the rare occasion that I hit it right, I enter a trade at a good spot and ride it on most of the full move. You can feel the variables, the amount the market has fallen, its speed of trading and movement, the way its trading. The price location in relation to the last week, the last few days, the last few hours give info. When to go out and not watch. Seems like there is a lot of info being processed internally, somewhat unconsciously that has valuable input. Ideally one could quantify all these and have a computer do it with AI better than a human. The multiple variables make it hard to quantify though. I suppose some simple rules apply: after multiple 2% drops is a good time to buy or after a 50 point down move in a day on the third or fourth down day, after fake bad news, on on some stupid announcement like FOMC and the market dives 50 points for no reason. I'm sure there are more rules of thumb that one always keeps in the back of your mind, including all of Chair's caveats, and all Wiswell's proverbs. Maybe that's the point, over time one internalized all the rules, the basic setups, the data, even more complex set ups, without having to count on the fingers as its happening. 

Jan

28

Since 1955 the national student-teacher ratio has gone from 27 to 16. Per pupil expenditures, after adjustment for inflation, have increased by more than 400%. The United States now has the highest per pupil expenditures in the world.

And the winner is… The Program for International Student Assessment has published its rankings for academic achievements by 15-year-old students, in 34 OECD countries, using the most recent data (Calendar year 2012).

In mathematics U.S. students ranked 27th; in reading, 17th; in science, 20th.

Clearly, "we" - i.e. those of us who have already escaped the schoolies–need to spend more money so they can continue to torture the young.

Jan

14

 A popular TV journalist from NZ sent me a link to this story with the comment that it explains lots of things and that I must read it: "The Gujarati Way"

Interest has been expressed in the Rothschilds and their business secrets among this group. This story on the secrets of the Gujaratis should be intersting to you as well.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

If you substitute the word "Lutheran" for Gujaratis, you could tell the same story about their "secret" success in becoming the largest grain farmers of North and South America. It would not actually tell you anything, but it would be an equally plausible fiction and yet another iteration of the Carlisle/Emerson/Roosevelt (TR)/Rhodes fantasy about commercially favored strands of ethnic DNA.

The Rothschilds had no "secrets"; they had connections and the advantage of being permanent outsiders. Since they were Jews, they could be trusted by the Royal Houses of Europe precisely because they had no chance of becoming politically-influential in their own right. They could be trusted to hedge every position. Their influence declined precisely when the Germans and French and British all decided that the answers to questions finance were political and the rewards of empire would pay for all the military peculation.

Jan

11

 These are hard times for those of us who live in a Rogers Hornsby world. When asked what he did after the baseball season, Hornsby replied, "Look out the window and wait until spring". Note: he said spring, not spring training. It is only baseball when the games count. So, one is left with the short-timer calendar and idle thoughts.

The idle thought for today is this: the fundamental correlation with stock prices is not "the economy" or even expectations about "the economy". What moves quotes is the supply of free and easy money. Leverage, through central bank and government guarantee lending, offers easy money; but the stuff that is both free and easy is never borrowed. It is the cash flow from businesses, colonies, possessions, conquests that have wonderful margins between what they cost and what they earn. The great bubbles of the early years of stock trading all came from one source: the discovery of a new territory that would duplicate the wealth that the Spanish had enjoyed for nearly two centuries from their ownership of the mines of the New World. "Mississippi" and the "South Sea" were going to produce the same fabulous returns. (Secondary idle thought: bubbles are created when pricing reacts not to the flows of free and easy money but to mattress money - the stuff people have been saving - that is tired of its meager returns.)

Since 1973 the free and easy money of the world has come from one source: the Middle Eastern oil fields. For the third of a century after the embargo that quadrupled the "normal" price of oil, the spread between what it cost to produce the black gold and what it reliably sold for was never less than 20 times the profit margins of everyone else's business. The collapse in prices in 2008-2009 was the first time that the sovereign wealth funds of the oil-exporting countries had had to examine the question of what to sell rather than what to buy. The current episode is a repeat, with the added pressure of the end of the Iranian embargo.

Is there any free and easy money left? The answer may be "yes, but not from energy but from American business itself". The Byron Wiens of this world have no idea of what regulation and taxation do to "average" profit margins. How could they? They live in a city where space itself is rationed by the government. If Mr. Wien's prediction about the Queen of the Night's election proves false, we may have one of those infrequent "ah-hah" moments in American political history when a significant number of the regulators are sent packing. Grant's election in 1868 was one; the Schlesingeristas in academia are still trying to square the circle of how the last third of the 19th century saw the country's greatest ever explosion of wealth, immigration and technology during a period of what they called "ruinous deflation". Harding and Coolidge's election in 1920 was another. 2016 might be yet another. After all, it is another even year. Go Giants!

Vince Fulco writes: 

Every seven years, roughly, since 1973/4 at least, we have seen spots of liquidity vacuums, and as I have made mention on here before, it's the liquidity vacuums that re the thing to fear, not the proverbial "bear markets" (though they can coincide, see 80/81). Yes, 94 wasn't much of anything, but the recent action (go look at the opening on big, broad stocks on August 24, 2015) and it all fits the cyclical pattern of 7 year liquidity messes (and translates out into the future years of troubling asteroid flyby's coming up).

Is the liquidity vacuum that began in August over? Or do we have another wave coming? Either way, every single one of these situations we have seen, the market has moved on to higher highs in very short order, and I can;t find any compelling reason for that not to be the case here.

Dec

31

 The historians say that the Eurodollar trade developed as a way for recipients of U.S. dollars to escape the Federal Reserve requirements on deposits and acquire a better interest rate. But, what had it explode in volumes and size was the fact that eurodollars were the one way people could hedge against the future exchange rate of the dollar. The dollar might be as good as gold but you had to be a central bank to be able to ask for bullion instead of paper on settlement day. Contrary to all the textbooks and most of the journal articles, the "inflation" of the 1970s that resulted in double-digit interest rates on U.S. Treasuries is best explained as the reaction of the Eurodollar market to the sustained anticipation of lower dollar exchange rates. Offering sky-high interest rates was the only way to create a Buy side for the Eurodollar trade.

The "Euro" Yuan trade that developed in Hong Kong now offers the same opportunities for hedging. But the dynamic is rather different. People now buy yuan in anticipation of selling them when they have to pay for Chinese exports - if the exporter will not accept dollars or euros. People sell yuan because the anticipate that they will get a better exchange rate now than in the future. If the markets were to anticipate a sustained fall in the exchange rate of the yuan, the result would be zero or even negative discounts for the sellers. To get someone to take the Buy side, the Sellers would have to imitate the behavior of their cousins in the 70s and offer a sufficient interest rate spread to offset the cost of the likely yuan decline.

And for those of us eating popcorn in the bleachers this will mean?: "Offshore Yuan Rebounds From Five-Year Low on Intervention Bets"

"China Fires a Warning Shot at Yuan Speculators With Bank Bans"

Dec

28

 Someone sent me this: "U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time"

1. No one can be an "enthusiast" of any war, even a cold one. One studies wars because they have always been the way stupid people in charge destroy each other and take the rest of us along with them.

2. There were no norms that protected "civilians" from carnage before the Americans had their civil war and ended their Indian wars. In the last quarter of the 19th century treaties were signed that were supposed to limit the direct brutality of Europeans towards each other, but they had zero effect on the terrible carnage done in Asia, Africa and South America. They continue to be rules for the people who are not fighting or war planning to follow.

3. The serious studies of WW 2 bombing showed that Harris had been right but for the wrong reason. He had thought that the enemy's civilian morale would crack. What broke was the tolerance of the High Command for allowing cities to be bombed because of the disruptions to supply. So, instead of sending 88s to the Eastern Front to defeat the T-34s, they were kept at home to shoot at bombers in the night sky

4. Targeting civilians is the only purpose of nuclear weapons; it was inherent in their original design.

Dec

14

 Alec Guiness as George Smiley in the 1982 BBC adaptation of "Smiley's People by John le Carré, Part 4 (some things never change):

"In my time, Peter Guillam, I've seen Whitehall skirts go up and come down again. I've listened to all the excellent argument for doing nothing, and reaped the consequent frightful harvest. I've watched people hop up and down and call it progress. I've seen good men go to the wall and the idiots get promoted with a dazzling regularity. All I'm left with is me and thirty odd years of cold war without the option."

"So what does that mean in little words?"

"It means, that if a rogue elephant, to use Saul Enderby's happy phrase, charges at me out of the thickets of my past, and gives me a second shot at it, I intend to shoot it dead. But with the minimum of force."

Link to a place a minute or so ahead :

Full link, go to time 1:48:08.

Guinness also played Smiley in the prior BBC production of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"–they are both worth watching in their entirety. Old school and extremely well done.

Dec

14

One of Wikipedia's better articles about enterprise and its rise and fall: Gimbels

Nov

30

 Nothing I or anyone else ever sees in the movies, either in front of or behind the camera, has even the remotest connection to what goes on in a war or a traffic accident, for that matter.

The phrase "Full Metal Jacket" appears nowhere in Gustav Hasford's novel. There is no reason why it should have; full metal jacketed rounds have been the standard ammunition since the Lebel rifle was adopted by the French Army in the late 1880s.

Enjoy the movies for what they are, not for what their PR claims for them. They are real as themselves but not as a portrayal of life. The only time they come close is when they are about themselves.

Intolerable Cruelty is wonderfully accurate; Kubrick's movies are less real about war than a Met production of Die Walkure.

keep looking »

Archives

Resources & Links

Search