April 20, 2017 | Leave a Comment
GDP figures are "man-made" and therefore unreliable, Li said. When evaluating Liaoning's economy, he focuses on three figures: 1) electricity consumption, which was up 10 percent in Liaoning last year; 2) volume of rail cargo, which is fairly accurate because fees are charged for each unit of weight; and 3) amount of loans disbursed, which also tends to be accurate given the interest fees charged. By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth. All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are "for reference only," he said smiling.
Li's metric—since dubbed the "Li Keqiang index"—has declined for four of the past six years, recording an especially precipitous drop in 2015.
But, argue the authors, there are other indicators.
Our results are consistent with work by Rosen and Bao, who argue that Chinese statistical services have chronically underestimated the size of the service sector. Rosen and Bao's hypothesis is consistent with our finding that rail freight growth should receive less weight than the other indicators in the Li Keqiang index. Hence, as the Chinese economy becomes increasingly service-oriented, the (conventional) Li Keqiang index will likely send increasingly faulty signals about the state of China's economy. In fact, our estimate for Chinese growth shows an appreciable acceleration in 2016, even as the official growth rate remained virtually unchanged.
John Floyd comments:
The breadth of Stefan's ken continues to amaze. These are interesting sources of information to put in one's quiver for looking at China and the linkages with related markets. I would add a few points in terms of the data, timeline, and broader market implications:
- Veracity of the data
- Chinese economy is likely to hold up into the Communist Party meeting later in the year
- Important question is beyond that. For example will China follow a Japan style pattern of secular stagnation?
- Various paths China can take will have significant global market implications.
- GDP numbers have merged, but the US is still the largest elephant in the room, and there has been recent cooling.
For the Chinese Communists North Korea is now what Cuba became for the Soviets after Reagan's election. Their mangy dog on a chain in the yard has barked and snarled on cue but the new neighbor's response has been rather different than President Carter's. Since the dog has never economically earned what it eats, its only value has been as a "threat" to the Americans' sense of being "in control". It had worked, in the 1970s to Central America and Southwest Africa, in the 2010s to Japan and South Korea.
But now? China already owns North Korea as the Soviets owned Cuba. Taking it over would be as risky and useless as the Soviets taking direct control of Cuba in 1981. The U.S. simply would not tolerate it. The Cubans in 1980 had no direct means of threatening the United States; the Soviets clearly did. The North Koreans do not yet have the military capacity to threaten even South Korea with a nuclear bomb; they clearly have the missiles and bombers to reach Seoul, but their "bomb" is still far too large and heavy a payload.
The Chinese have just been told that the neighborhood is going to be dog-free, either with or without their help. There is no reason to believe that the North Korean hierarchy has any semblance of rationality; they live in a world of their own information and, in their view, they are now winning the war. The country has survived the terrible famine of the 1990s (itself a product of the Americans' treachery), and it now has nuclear weapons and missiles. (Just as the Iraqi scientists believed in their "progress", the North Koreans' technical people believe in theirs; you do not survive in a dictatorship by thinking that the truth is something that can exists independent of ideology.)
The Chinese have a choice.
(1) They can risk an economic war with the United States similar to the British open blockade of Germany after 1914. The U.S. Navy can effectively seal off all maritime trade with China while staying well out of the range of any land-based anti-ship missiles. The U.S. carriers can do that job just as the British surface ships did and be safe from any submarine threat. The U.S. can immediately confiscate all Chinese holdings of American securities just as we "froze" and then (after 1917) confiscated all German holdings.
(2) They can agree to the Americans' removing the North Korean hierarchy and even offer to help, with their price being the "demilitarization" of the peninsula. (The South Koreans are likely to be willing to accept that at least in nominal terms.)
(3) They can invite Trump to visit.
Our members who are professional traders often write about the feel of the pits and how that information is now missing from any calculations about particular markets. As politics tries to become more and more a matter of computer calculation, there is a similar information loss. The data from what your precinct workers were being told by individual voters is now being discarded in favor of census-based projections.
Here is a war story from the election that suggests that the professional politicians may regret the loss.
"They [Democrats] just didn't have the data or the intelligence. They were using predictive modeling without that human component of knocking doors. They missed it because they assumed they had it. The night of the election, the Democrat chair and I—we spent a lot of time together, so after we finished interviews we said 'you tell me what your polling is saying and I'll tell you what my polling is saying.' Because my polling was saying that Trump was going to win by 8,000 votes, and that's the RNC. It was right. His said 'we're going to win by 5 points.' So when you think you're going to win a state by 5 points, of course you don't invest. You just don't. It changes your compass."
- Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel discussing the vote in Michigan
April 9, 2017 | 3 Comments
Some historical context is necessary. Let us remember that much of the current Syria situation can be attributed to Obama's "red line" and his naive agreement to have the Russians remove all chemical weapons. Does anyone remember that? Let us also remember that the flood of Syrian refugees is a direct result of the former too. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could just "get along" and sing Kumbaya? Perhaps in our next life. But not in this one.
The missile strike is a calculated political signal; not a military one. It's how one sets the table for negotiations — not so much in Syria, which is now a lost cause — but much more importantly in North Korea and other places. And on that subject, Gordon and the others will surely change their views if and when Kim tests a Nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting of San Francisco….
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Kim and I may be hopelessly biased; we think the United States' only sensible policy in the Middle East is to insure the survival and prosperity of Israel. To do that, the U.S. and the Israelis have to choose which side of the ongoing civil war among Muslims is the better bet.
It is not a difficult choice; the Sunni majority countries are the only ones that are not absolutely focused on the destruction of the Great and Little Satans.
What the missile strike - by its size and focus - has done is show the Sunni countries (many of whom just happened to be visiting the White House recently) that President Trump is not someone who believes in military gestures. He is actually willing to break things permanently. That air base is gone.
The fact that the missiles were in the air as the President sat down to dinner with the one country in the world - other than the U.S. - that can destroy North Korea's nuclear threat is, of course, a mere coincidence.
Just like everyone else, you're entitled to your opinion, but please excuse us for questioning another unilateral action in the Middle East that does little to serve US interests. If anything, I would expect it to accelerate nuclear programs in both North Korea AND Iran.
You should be asking yourself who gains from this action, and why Little Marco and McCain are ecstatic about the news. I understand that anything that helps Israel is probably fine in your book, but I find it curious that noone seems to be questioning why a rational actor like Assad would be gassing people on the verge of a peace process.
A civil war has been going on in the WH between the populist platform that Trump ran on, and the globalist policies of the existing state apparatus via the proxy of Kushner. Based on these recent events in Syria, Bannon being stripped from the NSC, and the latest news that he and others may be out completely, things are not headed in the right direction for anyone who actually voted for change last election.
And so it goes…
Your conclusions about how North Korea and Iran will view this are interesting — but are diametrically opposite to how I and many others may view this.
One must ask the question, why would Assad use chemical weapons right now? This is very odd timing, don't you think?
The only plausible explanation was as a test of Trump. And Trump's response was a calculated signal to the world.
You can argue what the signal meant. And you can reasonably argue that it's a bad message.
But for me, it meant several (good) things:
1) International standards (Geneva Convention) matter and we are not going to rely entirely on the "international community" or the UN or useless financial sanctions.
2) Violating deals and treaties have real consequences. This is a signal to Iran regarding their Nuclear accord with Obama.
3) We are not afraid to use force and we will not be intimidated by the playground bully.
Ultimately, you have to decide whether there is good and evil in the world and if there is, who are the "good guys" and who are the "bad guys" in the world. I will readily admit (and here I am being an idealogue) that I am one of the good guys. And I want the good guys to prevail in the least bloody way. And that means carrying a big stick.
The last major change in Federal tax law (excluding 1986, which was not, IMNHO "major") the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. It was also adopted into law in August by a newly-elected President.
There were a few differences. The ERTA had no serious opposition. It was introduced by the Democrats; Dan Rostenkowski, the newly-elected Chairman of Ways and Means, was the initial sponsor. The bill passed the House on July 29, 1981 (323–107), the Senate on July 31, 1981 (by voice vote), was reported by the joint conference committee on August 1, 1981; agreed to by the Senate on August 3, 1981 (67–8) and by the House on August 4, 1981 (282–95) and signed by President Reagan on August 13, 1981.
I have no doubt that the current bill will be introduced by Congressman Brady, the current Chair of Ways and Means, and that it will make it from committee to the House floor. The odds are also better than even that the Republicans will give it a majority vote; but there is absolutely no chance that the bill will pass the Senate on a voice vote.
So, the matter will come down to a guess on the likelihood that the Senate will adopt new rules or a precedent that will effectively nullify the ability of the minority to hold up legislation by talking it to death.
PredictIt makes Gorsuch's confirmation a near certainty.
It is difficult to see how the odds against "tax reform" will be significantly worse.
As to what will be the final compromise that produces the actual bill…. ERTA ended up being named Kemp-Roth, even though neither of its Republican sponsors thought it went nearly far enough towards gutting the absurdity that is U.S. income tax law.
March 30, 2017 | 2 Comments
One sees that everything is topsy turvy with the service reform that repubs are now pointing to. Apparently the agrarian reformers have put a framework in place where a new plan must be revenue neutral or else it has to subject to whatever non-reconciliation is. To the layman that means it's a lot easier to get a revenue neutral plan in. Washington loves that because gov spending won't be decreased. But the fly in the ointment is that any proposal to reduce service rates will generate enormous increased revenues through growth and compliance and proper business activities rather than those designed to reduce payments to the service. Supposedly the "non partisan" budget office made the congress agree that there can't be dynamic scoring. So the Lafferian correlation between reductions in service rates and growth can't be taken into consideration. Thus, the whole thing has an improper foundation, a twisted acorn that must grow into a twisted oak. I've found that all things built on improper foundations eventually crumble.
Rocky Humbert writes:
Since taking office, I count that to-date, Trump has eliminated over 90 government regulations; some of which are very significant and positive from an economic growth perspective (if one is inclined to view the cost/benefit ratio of such regulations as high).
Rocky wonders whether Vic has any hot water in his Connecticut manse. Why? Because he always seems to have a bucket of cold water at the ready.
Ralph Vince adds:
And further to Rocky's point comma it is estimated that these regulations costing economy about to trillion dollars a year. That's one eighth of our economy. Cut that in half reduce half of these regulations and you see an immediate 6% bump in GDP. In my case I have spent over 150 hours in the last month simply wrestling with the regulations caused by Dodd-Frank. Those who oppose the president on the political scale to sew an ideological grounds but in the nuts and bolts world of trying to get anything done and America the regulations are stultifying.
That 6% bump in GDP is before any kind of multiplier is put on it. Can again go back and look at any of the great social programs have been started and worked successfully in America from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid they all coincide with double-digit GDP growth, something I personally and looking for between now and January of 2019. Taking a machete to the Jungle of regulations anyone trying to start or run a business or even so much as take out a mortgage has to contend with, as the numbers illustrate goes a long way towards getting his towards that double-digit growth, and possibly then some type of healthcare plan in America. People have been flying to this putting the cart before the horse.
Kim Zussman shares the article:
Cut taxes, deregulate, build roads, bridges and airports—and don't start a 1930-style trade war.
By ROBERT J. BARRO
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Mr. Barro is looking through the large end of the historical telescope. Trade wars only occur when countries are already having shooting wars; they begin and end when one country loses all its money. The 20th century's "trade war" began in 1914 and only ended in 1945.
What "explains" the 1920s is that the one country in the world that had any money - the United States - decided that it could afford to accept other countries' central banks' valuations of their domestic currencies. What explains the 1930s is that Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt both agreed that the way to solve the collapse of the Wall Street credit bubble was for the U.S. to join the rest of the civilized world and undertake its own default on its domestic currency.
When economists now say that countries can inflate their way out of their debts, they are referring to the magic of the defaults of nearly all the international loans issued after the Great War. No one got paid back because the valuations accepted for the initial loans (mostly from the U.S.) were as fictional as the current Venezuelan exchange rate; and the Americans decided that having the U.S. Treasury own all its citizens' money was the ideal way to revive American credit exchanges.
Academically trained economists insist on treating political economy as a science, yet they believe, without evidence, that international trade was "free" after World War I. They see a world without quotas, currency controls and imperial preferences after 1918 as a kind of mystic vision that is true regardless of any actual facts. They believe this version of history with even more fervor than LDS believe in the story of Joseph Smith and the golden plates. The Mormons, God Bless Them, consider their gospel a matter of faith; Professor Barro and his colleagues must pretend that it is all somehow Reed Smoot's fault.
Bad stories are always the ones that get told. They have the virtue of pretending that events have "lessons" and that history is a sequence of binary choices, each of which determines what happens next.
To this day almost every book about WW II in the Pacific will identify the Battle of Midway as "the turning point" in the struggle between the United States and Japan. The literature about the Civil War does the same thing about Gettysburg. In both cases the reason is simple: you can pick out a single dramatic moment in each battle - Pickett's Charge, the U.S. dive bombers attack - and make it the hinge for all subsequent events.
The Confederacy still had a chance to win the Civil War a year after Gettysburg; but for events that were not under the control of Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, Lee and Davis' goal of a secession settlement through the political defeat of Abraham Lincoln and his Union Party would probably have been achieved. Lee saw Gettysburg as a defeat but hardly as a fatal catastrophe. It had reduced the Union Army in the East to literal impotence; for the rest of 1863 and much of the spring of 1864 the Army of the Potomac literally sat in its field tents and waited.
The Japanese setback at Midway was hardly, in their eyes, the beginning of the end. If the plan to capture Hawaii was now deferred, it was not abandoned. It took the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, which came over 5 months later, for the Japanese Navy to give up its belief that its ships and sailors controlled the Pacific Ocean.
The only reason to study events in detail is to realize, yet again, that the "what happens" is best understood through the data. The numbers in the supply chain are the story that comes closest to the truth; and their fluctuations, like those in the market, are determined by present actions, not past "forces".
Bridgewater just published Dalio’s 61 page treatise on Populism.
In summary, populism is…
• Power to the common man
• Through the tactic of attacking the establishment, the elites, and the powerful
• Brought about by wealth and opportunity gaps, xenophobia, and people being fed up with government not working effectively, which leads to:
• The emergence of the strong leader to serve the common man and make the system run more efficiently
• Greater conflict, and
• Greater attempts to influence or control the media
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
“In the period between the two great wars (1920s-1930s) most countries were swept away by populism” has to be one of the great howlers of all time.
The political parties and leaders which held and gained power in Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, and Poland were all dominated by imperialists whose policies assumed that the nation took priority and that acquiring greater territory was the ultimate goal of warfare itself. There were exceptions among leaders and nations - Leon Blum, the Czechs, the Norwegians, the Swiss and Swedes; but these people had no control over events.
Mr. Dalio should stick to counting his and other people’s money and leave history to us paupers.
As AG correctly notes, most military "news" is very, very old information. But it sometimes seems to take its own sweet time about arriving where the world of money is concerned.
Chris Tucker writes:
So these aren't Bones, but BUF's. (Big Ugly F**ckers), other wise known as B52's. But it's a cute story. And I made up the call sign.
Around about twenty four maybe twenty five years ago. I'm a fresh, new radar controller at ZNY. I'm getting "seasoning" time, working the radar on my own, in full command of the sector, but with a highly experienced old hand sitting next to me in the radar hand-off position (sort of like an assistant) to keep me out of trouble. Happily, the old hand on this particular day was one of the best, most naturally gifted air traffic controllers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. And I've known a few. His name is Dominic.
We are working the Yardley Sector, Sector 55, a busy and complex departure sector that blends southwest bound NY Metro departure traffic from EWR and LGA area airports with west bound and northwest bound JFK departures from the south east. At the same time, we descend BWI and DCA arrivals from the northeast through the departures and sequence the bunch. It's a fun sector to work, some people don't like it because, and I'm serious here, the angles are funny. You have to understand aircraft types and decide, long before they cross, who is going to be on top in any merging situation. We love Boeings - they climb fast. We hate Airbus - they don't.
So I'm working my tail off and I have this great big gaggle of traffic in the southwest corner of the sector, everybody is crossing and I've used almost every single altitude available to me between Flight Level One Eight Zero and Flight Level Two Eight Zero (essentially eighteen to twenty eight thousand feet). I'm waiting for a few pairs of planes to deconflict so I can climb every body and ship them over to the next controller, so my attention is focused (too much so) on this area. A departure checks on the frequency off of LGA, up in the northeast corner of the sector, level at one seven thousand, itching for higher. Standard stuff. So as I'm dragging my eyes up towards him I've already begun speaking: "U.S. Air Seven Forty One, New York Center Roger. Cliiiimb aaaand (eyes not yet there) maiiintaaaaiiiin." And Dominic explodes with a resounding "NO!!!" Aah. Yes. Now, very nonchalantly, I say "U.S. Air Seven Forty One, disregard. Maintain One Seven Thousand. Traffic, twelve o'clock, four miles, opposite direction, a flight of nine B52's in the block, Flight Level One Eight Zero through Flight Level Two Zero Zero". "US Air Seven Forty One roger - we weren't going anywhere - we heard him!"
Certain readers have suggested that your correspondent's comparison of post Civil-War U.S. and post millenium China is, to put it kindly, all wet. They agree that the countries had similar explosions of industrial growth in these two periods; countries that were important but not major economies became, in a decade and a half, the leaders in annual accumulations of wealth throughout the world. But, to think there is not even the remotest comparison between what happened in the last third of the 19th century and what is happening now regarding international money and credit is nonsense.
I can't disagree with the readers' description of what happened 150 years ago. We all think that the broad adoption of the gold standard after 1875 was the response of both Europe and the Americas to the collapse of the gigantic (mostly real estate) credit bubble that developed in the 1860s and early 1870s on both sides of the Atlantic . The cascade of bank failures that is wrongly described as the Panic of 1873 brought the world's banks and national Treasuries to agree that they would all use gold coin specie as units of account and that all their exchanges of credit would be cleared using a single gold standard for all borrowers' and lenders' currencies.
That is, my kind readers point out, precisely the opposite of what is now happening. International exchanges of credit are now cleared using the foreign exchange markets' valuations of the respective monies. While central banks and national Treasuries continue to hold gold bullion as assets, there is no legal obligation of any country to convert their legal tender to specie. So, there is no reason for China or any other country to adopt a physical gold standard as the exchange price for their currency. That would not fix the price of the yuan for the rest of the world; it would only substitute fluctuations of the price of bullion for the managed variations in the official exchange rate of the currency.
But, say the readers, if the United States were to adopt the gold standard, it would be a different matter. The dollar is already a reference currency in open markets for commodities, and U.S. Treasury debts are held as official banking reserves by central banks, even China's. Guaranteeing an exchange rate for gold coin would produce the very golden fetters that Keynes found intolerable; whenever buyers of Treasuries found the rates unattractive or the Treasury's borrowing excessive, they could use the gold exchange guarantee to push back. That was, say the readers, precisely what happened after the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The U.K., France and the U.S. all ended any hint of bi-metallism; and, to its great surprise, Germany had to abandon silver and accept gold as the measure of its domestic currency. No individual Treasury could stand out against the international market's independent assessment of the soundness of its credit.
This was not at all what the believers in unlimited sovereign authority had wanted, and they did their best to find a way around the limitations on state spending that had resulted. The Germans adopted social insurance as a way to stretch the Empire's budget - money for guns and cavalry horses and ship building now, promises to pay pensions later. The British embraced imperial bimetallism - gold for foreign trade, silver for India and China and East Africa. But, in trade among themselves and with America, the books actually had to be cleared; and any country that defaulted lost its credit overnight (Argentina).
My readers are right. For China to establish the yuan as an open currency, it would have to join an already established international gold standard. Fat chance.
March 20, 2017 | Leave a Comment
The Democrats' success in establishing the first national party in American history was hardly the product of inspired military leadership. Jefferson and Madison's careers as CIC were, to be kind, complete failures; and, by the time the Democrats' genuine war hero (Monroe) became President, the party dominated American politics as thoroughly as Roosevelt's New Deal Democrats did in 1934. But, with opponents like Hamilton, how could the Democrats have failed? No one with even half an ear could fail to hear the absolute contempt that the Federalists had for the Republican notion of popular sovereignty. What is even more striking is how determined they were to ignore what Washington himself had said and done.
When, after the Revolution's success, Henry Knox proposed the establishment of the Society of the Cincinnati, the charter provided that membership would be hereditary, by rule of primogeniture. Washington was invited to become a member and was elected its first President; but, when he learned of the hereditary membership clause, he insisted on resigning. There would be no nobility in the United States of America. To keep Washington as President, the Society revised its charter to eliminate all clauses providing for hereditary membership. After Washington resigned to take on the slightly more important duties of President of the United States, the members reinstated the clauses providing for hereditary membership.
“Your own man” lives by Jeff Greenfield regarding Sessions. Politics aside, I chuckled at the eternal NYC playground rules as seen on DailySpec forever and still believe in myself.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Jeff Sessions had no choice if there is going to be even a pretense of “legality”. He cannot investigate himself any more than Senator Cruz could pretend that he was a natural born citizen; a person cannot, under the common law, be the only person who examines his own testimony.
What Mr. Greenfield has not considered is the fact that, having recused himself, the Attorney General is now free to order his deputies to make a complete investigation of “foreign influences on the Presidential campaign of 2016″. He can insist that the scope of the investigation be as broad as possible in order to remove any chance of bias or favor to him.
The Watergate investigation worked precisely because Nixon and his fools for lawyers kept trying to limit the scope of the investigation and thereby narrowed it to only the Watergate burglary. Senator Sessions is not a fool; neither is the President, at least where litigation is concerned. Senator Schumer may want to investigate “the Russians”; the actual investigation will be sufficiently broad that the Democrats will wish the Senator had kept his NY playground smarts to himself.
February 28, 2017 | Leave a Comment
This link is to a map from the Tax Foundation that displays the highest marginal tax rates in each state.
The overlay with the 2016 Presidential and Congressional election results is far from perfect. Mrs. Clinton won two of the 5 states with zero income tax; Trump won the other 3. But there is definitely a correlation between how much the rich are to be soaked and which way the independents drifted in the last election.
The crowd in Orlando understood what Trump was referring to - the "news" that someone had been set on fire in a public square in the country that (once upon a time) gave us Volvo and Saab cars. Here is what the President said on the subject of "Sweden":
"Here's the bottom line. We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening. We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what's happening in Brussels. You look at what's happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris. We've allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing. So we're going to keep our country safe."
When the HuffPost and the former Prime Minister of Sweden and Boris and others "Fact check" Milo's Daddy, they are not doing what copy editors were once paid to do: go to the actual data. But one has to make allowances. What infuriates the educated Left, which includes nearly everyone with an advanced academic degree, is the man's language. It is so maddeningly vulgar - just like "the people's".
When I was in short pants wandering around Harcourt Brace & Co.'s offices on the weekends asking the editors to tell me about their WW II experiences in the early 1950s, Trump's syntax and vocabulary would have been scored as statistically average for 4th graders in the U.S. (I have not seen raw scoring for "English" testing for American elementary schools in nearly 3 decades so I have no idea how they would be scored now; my guess is that it would be 7th-9th.) If my guess for current standards is correct, that
same yardstick would score the language of Obama's speeches at College 1-2 levels.
These facts raises two questions for List members: (1) How many of us have actually run for electoral office - at any level? (2) And how many of us have won? Those who can answer "yes" to the second question know that Trump has, for politics, nearly perfect pitch in terms of his level of language. He knows this; even when he is doing his best to be "Presidential" - i.e. reading his speechwriters' College 1-2 level text - he interjects his own upper middle school diction.
Mrs. Clinton's fundamental mistake was to assume that, because Obama spoke at a "college" level, she could do the same. She ignored the cultural truth that has always applied to politicians who come from previously shunned groups; they have to speak publicly at the next level of schooling to prove that they are respectable. Eisenhower could mumble; Kennedy, as the one and only successful Catholic candidate, had to "prove" that he was "proper". Obama, who has had a lifetime of race hustling, knows that he can never, ever be vulgar; he can be mean and insulting and grossly dishonest but he had to have the calm, "educated" diction that every successful "black" talking head in the news had always had.
The truth of American history is that women, as a group, have never been shunned. No party has ever run on a platform opposing women. Even the people who argued against women's suffrage had to use the argument that women, as the superior gender, should not be sullied by joining the crude world of actual electoral politics.
This raises a terrible challenge for the Democrats: where can they find a woman who comfortably speaks at no more than a 10th grade level?
February 16, 2017 | 1 Comment
My daughter is starting her first professional job as TV producer. What advice would you give some one just starting?
Dan Grossman writes:
Work very hard and long hours the first six months. Then she can dial back to a normal level, but she will have established in everyone's mind that she is a hard worker.
Vince Fulco writes:
I would say, study your superiors ruthlessly and choose one as a mentor who is successful, well mannered, and genuinely cares for others. Working with a good one is a career accelerator. Working with a bad one especially your boss is an anchor which will affect you for years.
Also, get into a Toastmasters asap. I believe they have the most well structured program for both "Competent Communication" and "Competent Leadership", two of their formal tracks. It is an effective, cheap and low time way to boost your skills and resume. One of their meeting activities is impromptu speech giving of 1-3 minutes called Table Topics. It is a great exercise in thinking on your feet.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Learn the mike heads and technicians' jobs well enough to understand what bad producers do that drives them crazy and what good producers do that makes their lives if she learns to do the actual job well Enough that the crews and reporters want her, the career will take care of itself.
Jeff Rollert writes:
Having been in radio, "microphone sense" lacks in many. Learn how to use the different ones like lavaliere, unidirectional, correct cough guards etc. if your sound guy hates you, you are dead. Bad sound is worse than bad video to audience.
Toastmasters is also great. I'm a mentor in one here. Also, if she's serious take sone acting lessons so she learns how to direct and take direction.
Oh, and be very very lucky. Move markets, up the ladder asap. If she's good, she'll make a marine's travels seem modest.
Lastly, never ever date talent.
Hit 'em hard,
Hit 'em low,
And if they get up hit 'em again
I always liked this slogan: "Who must do the hard things? Those who can."
Business/career version: "How much are we going to have to pay the person who does the hard things? Whatever they charge."
1. Avoid any and all social interactions with coworkers - don't even be willing to go to lunch with them. Completely separate work and social life, and leave NO intersection. If it was your son rather than your daughter, I would extend this to include not even making eye contact with females at the workplace, and, inasmuch as is possible, avoid interactions with them. Remember what country and century you are in. It may all sound a little extreme but there is nothing to be gained by violating these rules.
2. The moment she has the slightest hint of any marketable skill, find a third-party agency to begin shopping her around to the next job. Most upward progress comes from the outside, and she should always have aces to play, ever be without an offer sitting on the table. Jobs in the 21st century are wasting assets, vanish and disappear to those not nimble.
While it's not always easy to do, if you can listen to the people who don't like you, it can be very valuable because they won't sugarcoat it and they will give you feedback nobody else will.
Patrick O'Brian in his book A Book of Voyages reports on a 17th century voyage to Denmark from Russia. The necessity was to take a lead horse tied 30 feet ahead of the two horses pulling the chaise. If the ice broke the rope was cut and the lead horse drowned but the passengers and drivers were saved.
The lead horse was called an enfant perdue. The query is what analogy this has to market moves. It has to be tested of course. Also what other two word aphorisms are relevant. The Judas Goat comes to mind.
Not an aphorism but market-related: Reading and listening to post-Super Bowl analysis, at the point when the Pats were down 28-3, many people weren't just thinking "the Pats have lost this one for sure", but "this is the end of the Patriots as we have known them", that Brady is too old and Belichick has used up all his tricks and it's all just over. Then the Pats come back and win the game.
This kind of situation happens all the time in markets, at every time scale on the chart.
Pitt T. Maner III writes:
Flotsam found while surfing on the subject:
1) "After having led thousands of confiding sheep to their death, "Judas Iscariot," as he is called in the yards of Armour & Co., has paid the penalty of his treachery and has been butchered. For eight years "Judas Iscariot" has been the "leading" sheep for the company.
Last week Judas rebelled. He refused to work, and his execution was decided upon. It is said by stockmen that a sudden attachment for a snow-white feminine sheep among the victims is responsible for his rebellion and ultimate death."
2) This article is about "Assembly bombers" and "formation ships". New terms for me.
Russ Sears writes:
It seems that every recession a few company's ropes are cut and then the other struggling companies can ask for a bailout or corporate welfare and money or tax relief for their customers, like the auto industry, etc. But I'm not sure how testable this is as recessions have not been too frequent. What seems to occur is that the lead horse seems to be voted on by the others for their aggressiveness, like Bear, Lehman.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
A further tangent, on the matter of animal attachments and Brian. In the part of the Napoleonic Wars fought on land, horses were the essential element. They not only carried the supplies; they also were the killing machines. Without the horses to haul the artillery, Napoleon had no victories. The collapse on the retreat from Moscow came first among the horses; once the French stopped paying the proper attention to them (cleaning their hooves, wiping them down after each day's march, giving them dry ground to stand on overnight), their feet literally rotted. What all armies found was that only mares and geldings could be used as "war" horses; the stallions would become hopelessly unruly during mating season.
February 9, 2017 | Leave a Comment
The Big Lie about Andrew Jackson is that he made his money as a slave owner and producer of cotton. Wrong. Jackson's plantation, The Hermitage, like Washington's Mount Vernon, is, at best, mediocre cotton land. So, generally, is Tennessee except for Shelby, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, and Madison Counties in the southwestern corner of the state around Memphis. Memphis, not Nashville, is where Jackson made his fortune; Nashville is where he displayed it. The fortune itself came from land speculation and development, not from actually growing cotton. Jackson's slaves in Nashville grew corn to feed themselves and the livestock; what kept the plantation from being hopelessly unprofitable was the sale of meat. Jackson did grow cotton at the Hermitage but only in the same way Washington continued to grow small amounts of tobacco; it was a declaration of cultural solidarity, not a business decision.
The comparison of Trump with Jackson fails utterly when you measure their lives in terms of their experiences with death and destruction. But that has been, for the last century, a largely pointless comparison. If you exclude Teddy Roosevelt's showboating in Cuba (his being awarded the Medal of Honor is as much of a joke as calling John Kerry's a war hero) and John McCain's crash injuries and imprisonment, the last President or Presidential candidate who actually saw the splatter up close was McKinley. Among our current public figures, we do have a number of Congressman who have been to the sand pile; but, among broadly known public figures, there are only two who have been seriously wounded - General Petraeus (whose injury came at a rifle range) and Senator Duckworth.
What is useful is to compare Trump and Jackson's attitudes towards official Washington. When Jackson arrived in Washington, even his fellow Democrats in Congress were wary of him. Jackson was a proud Mason; and the anti-Masonic Party was, at that time, the only remaining stub of what the historians call the Federalists. (The Federalists never were an organized political organization but they had been the banner of the Adams family.) When John Quincy Adams ran against Jackson for his second term, Adams ran as an anti-Mason. Jackson's response to what was the 19th century equivalent of the current accusation of "racism" was exactly what Trump's has been; for every insult he and the Masons received, Jackson returned twice as much vitriol. Anyone who expects Trump to leave off with Twitter and to become less publicly contentious will be disappointed.
At least one public commentator agrees with me that Old Hickory is an appropriate historical analogy:
"Trump and his people know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it the only way it can be done in the post-Obama environment: ostensibly ham-handed and tone-deaf, but really crazy as a fox and wise as an owl. Obama may have taken steps to remove Andrew Jackson from the currency, but no former President's portrait could have been more fitting for Trump to have moved into the Oval Office."
Chernow's Washington does much humanize the otherwise stone and mythical Washington. He had his heroic faults but they were tempered. Some anecdotes demonstrate, for instance, in an early run for Virginia legislature, he asked that his brother and friends be allowed to cast the first votes to start some momentum in his favor. Most elections Washington participated in ( Commander and Chief, Constitutional convention, two Presidency's) were won unanimously so hardly mattered.
He was a land speculator in the Ohio River Valley region and used his status as French and Indian War veteran to buy on the cheap. In later years, however, much of this land was sold or donated to care for his very extended family or pay his may travel expenses in his goal to visit every state, no small venture in those days. In a similar way he befitted from the choice along the Potomac for the new capital just 20 miles from Mt Vernon as land appreciated. Some of theses proceed were donated to found a university. Also, he suffered an almost constant flow of visitors, many complete strangers whom he graciously fed, housed and entertained at great personal expense. A gentleman/businessman he was very focused to keep Mt Vernon a profitable venture and once had the largest distillery in the country on his farm. But his many years away left him with debt and at the mercy of weather and the many trials of agriculture.
He was not oblivious to the fairer sex and more than a few romantic letters exist to Sally Fairfax, Elizabeth Powell and others. He often noted in his diary the number of ladies attending ceremonies in his honor, Charleston holding the record at over 300. But it is highly unlikely he ventured any further than harmless poetic odes, and was faithful to his wife Martha. Far from perfect he was, none the less, a perfect leader and many of the precedents he set in office still stand today.
I found one of the keys to understanding Bernanke and how he may act was to read his academic work and books. Once, not a direct quote and I forget the forum, the future Fed chair was asked something like "what will you do if we have a depression like scenario?" and the response was "that is not going to happen on my watch". Many brilliant minds articulated ideas on economic growth, inflation, and other factors that might drive Fed policy under Bernanke, but that one piece of information turned out to be very telling.
In a similar fashion I remember interviewing in the late 1990's with a Nobel laureate type economist who was an advisor to a hedge fund and arguing to him that Japanese yields where not going up anytime soon and the answer to reflating was to just absolve the debt. He disagreed and belittled me and I never got the job, but that is another lesson in my poor salesmanship. But, if you knew Japanese history and social mores you had an edge. I have been "Trumped" a few times by markets the past month or so.
To that end I am reading The Art of the Deal and also suggest reading other books liked by POTUS advisors. The overriding theme being to ask the right questions that are going to define a scenario and possible outcomes and take care to not get caught up in obfuscating noise.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
You will also want to read his other book The Art of the Comeback if you can find a copy. It is even more revealing. The basic rule is Never, ever give up! That does not mean go down with the ship but find a way to launch a lifeboat and get your lawyer to see how salvage law can work to your benefit.
Trump has no fear of the United States' debt itself. He believes that, if the government runs at a slight surplus in its basic operating account, it can carry its existing debt indefinitely, including the promises for Social Security. I don't know this for a fact, but my guess is that he thinks sending Medicaid and social welfare back to the states is a fair deal for releasing the states from regulation and lowering overall Federal taxation on individuals and entities. That still leaves Social Security and Medicare; but he thinks _ rightly - that Social Security alone is manageable and that Dr. Price will be able to cut Medicare's actual costs dramatically by ending the gaming of the system by the providers. (Senator Pocahantas' grilling of Price was revealing; she wanted him to pledge that he would never, ever "cut" Medicare spending, and he politely declined, even in the face of her reminding him that the President had made that promise. A "cut" in Trump's mind is a cut in what the customer gets, not what the government spends.)
Trump also has no fear of a rising exchange rate for the U.S. dollar. He actually wants a "strong" dollar because that will allow the U.S. to make any necessary trade "adjustments" through collecting tariffs. Fro him an ever "stronger" dollar means a shrinking deficit. That is why his statements about "currency" manipulation by other countries are to be read as an advocacy of tariffs, not a threat of a "trade war".
Hamilton, as a merchant son of the Caribbean, probably understood what the Hanover's central bank had done for Britain in its wars with France for the entire 18th century. He wanted to do the same thing for the United States - to bind the saving and money hoarding citizens' interests to those of the Army and Navy's chronic need for funding. The City could buy the Crown's debt knowing that the Bank would always stand ready to be a counter-party. Ideally the Bank's notes would be convertible into specie but in any case they would be legal tender.
We seem to have come full circle. Just as Britain had nearly borrowed itself into debtor's prison, the U.S. has racked up extraordinary debts. But there is no reason to worry. The Fed can do what the Bank of England and the few surviving country banks had done: funnel all their depositor's money into government debt. The ironic result was to reassure everyone who had money that their savings would be completely safe. If that left businesses with no hope of borrowing from the banks, it also left them free to make whatever private deals they wanted outside of the Crown's regulations. It also meant that no usury laws applied. The notion of crowding out, which still holds sway, is based on the assumption that only banks can create credit. What Britons found was that they could look to shares and participation rights for speculation while keeping the bulk of their fortunes in the bonds that paid so many thousands a year to the eligible young men whom Ms. Austen used for heroes.
Now, if only someone could bring back a mind that could write about families and money and their sense and sensibility.
January 23, 2017 | Leave a Comment
There are some interesting observations in this little piece "5 Big Ideas in Education that Don't work":
1. Spending for education, as for health care, is high in the US, especially compared with the results.
2. All the thinking about charter schools and the like should probably be focused instead on other topics. In 5 days, of course, that won't much matter as we will have a SecEd who sees charter schools as one solution to the problems of the US primary and secondary education systems. Then again, maybe she may be too busy shutting the DoE down to care much.
3. Class size doesn't likely mean anything close to what advocates of smaller classes claim it does.
But hey, why let facts get in the way, right?
Mr. Isomorphisms writes:
I believe if you look into those "facts" you will find they are contentious.
To orient yourself there was a counter-documentary produced against "waiting for superman" by some brooklyn area elem. ed. teachers.
Think about 3 things to start:
a) spending varies widely, covarying with parents' success/$
b) "spending on education" itself is ill-defined. do you pay teachers more (and for what? more degrees? VAM*?) or pay for better science lab? Or pay for support staff (which is what the counter-documentary advocates) to help keep the kids quiet? Greg Wilson posted a book claiming that "what works in education" shows the highest returns to removing the most disruptive child from a classroom.
c) the metrics for success itself are bad. You can read the College Board's own rhetoric about the S.A.T., which they say measures "college and career readiness".
* The American Statistical Association says value-added modelling is not sufficiently good for decision-makers to rely upon it.
There are several EconTalk episodes dealing with education. You can look into the work of the researchers interviewed; I found those analyses wanting. As with the economics literature on college earnings (eg David Card). There is a reason Angrist & Pischke call the study of returns to education an econometrician's pastime rather than a success.
John Taylor Gatto: "Trying to change education is like wrestling a pig. The pig is going to get away and you're going to get dirty." (from memory)
I recommend Gatto's book (lauded by the WSJ) An Underground History of American Education for those who are interested in the topic. There is also some Brookings research finding, eg, poor students with few-to-no family members who attended university, will apply to Harvard only (1 moonshot, and it's the same moonshot for all), when they would be better served applying at -1, 0, +1, +2 deciles above their SAT-score ability — for example a solid state school or the best community college. Those students often cannot tell the difference between 3rd decile and 8th.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
From Gatto's wonderful screed:
"In 1899, James spoke to an idealistic new brigade of teachers recruited by Harvard, men and women meant to inspirit the new institution then rising swiftly from the ashes of the older neighborhood schools, private schools, church schools, and home schools. He spoke to the teachers of the dream that the entire planet could be transformed into a vast Chautauqua."
James' Chautauqua dream is what textbooks, in fact, became: the sanitized politically-acceptable consensus opinion. Those made my father his - at one time - considerable fortune; and had almost nothing to do with his own education.
At the end of his life my dear father fully came to terms with how he himself had actually been "taught". He had had tutoring from his own father almost from the day he was born. As soon as he could wear pants, he would set out every morning with grandfather and his work crew; he would be sat on the porch of whatever house they were working on, literally with an apple and a reader. When he was 5 1/2, he got rheumatic fever so he was spared having to go to school; instead he spent the next 2+ years at home, reading. By the time he was ready to go to school, he was doing a daily reading for his father and mother and two older sisters in whatever newspaper or magazine they wanted to hear that evening, whether it was in Polish, Serbo-Croatian or English.
"I had a 19th century aristocrat's home schooling," he told me. By the time I actually had to sit in class each day, my mind was already fully formed so I could learn from the good teachers and ignore the bad ones AND follow the cardinal rule for both."
That brought the usual laugh from both of us. For those who don't know it, the cardinal rule in schooling is: "write down everything the teacher says and then write it back down again when you take the examinations."
What was sad, for him and for me, was that his John Stuart Mill education was not to be repeated.
What saved me, at least somewhat, was growing up in post-WW II Bronx and Harlem. The schools were on double-sessions and the education bureaucracy that now rules almost every school district was already in place. If you really didn't care about your "permanent record", you could literally skip out on entire semesters and go to the Polo Grounds. I didn't have to "go to school" until Dad started earning a respectable executive salary and we moved to Westchester. I don't think, until recently, that I ever fully forgave him for the tortures of being sent to "good" schools.
One of the truest axioms of trading is that the thing you worry about least is the thing that will bite you in the rear. As others have noted, expectations are extremely positive now and few are worried about the downside. But whose expectations?
Something we have written about previously is the length of historical data being watched closely by professional traders, particularly when juxtaposed with that being watched by those who sit in the bleachers. The best bull moves occur when the pros are looking long term and the amateurs are nervous nellies. Right now we have the opposite. With tonight's close we see the amateurs being complacent; they are looking back at what has happened since Election Day. The pros meanwhile are monitoring prices in a 4-day window, a most tenuous stance.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
One of my dubious theories is that the internal correlations that we all see in "the market" are largely a product of the development of the New York Banks becoming the clearing house for the nation and their converting that dominance into the "need" for official central banking. The data from the 19th century, which is limited enough to be within my meager mathematical capacity, suggests strongly that the business cycle was much more a matter of the fluctuations of particular businesses than one of the movement of the "economy" as a whole. Weyerhauser's fortunes and Swift's were not on the same cycle. The movements of "Timber" and "Pork" were largely independent.
I wonder if that is becoming the case once again. Optimism may be the general news, but the prices of retail companies, particularly those in the clothing business, very much fit the opposite of Bill's description of the general mood. The general assumption is that everyone will lose their business to Amazon.
Russ Sears writes:
"One of the truest axioms of trading is that the thing you worry about least is the thing that will bite you in the rear."
I call this the fundamental law of risk management: What risk you ignore or discount incorrectly are the risk you over-load your portfolio with, thinking you have found the "key to Rebecca"/free lunch or at least you have optimized your risk metric such as sharpe ratio. This is what happened to the modeler of RMBS, unknowingly overloading on model risk.
Alston Mabry writes:
I have often thought (but been unable to effectively implement) that if you could determine what factors the market is not paying attention to, you could place some profitable bets or at least put on some good hedges.
Which leads to a non-quantifiable definition of a bubble as a big move up that continues even after a critical mass of players have become aware of the fatal risks - everybody knows they're playing musical chairs, but it's too profitable to stop.
January 3, 2017 | Leave a Comment
I made the comparison of BitCoin and South Sea Company stock recently. I did so because both are pseudo-monies that began with the serious purpose of evading monopoly restrictions on the movement of official currencies. From the very beginning the usefulness of BitCoin as an alternate currency was unquestionable if you lived in China. It was and, so I am told, still is the easiest way to defeat the PBOC’s restrictions on swapping China’s currency for other national monies. (Again, from what I am told, people in China do not simply trade yuan for BitCoins and hold the BitCoins; they make a second trade and sell BitCoins for Euros et. al. and deposit those in online accounts with foreign securities brokers.)
I thought BitCoin would be a “failed currency swap” because there would come a time when a current Chinese Ministry would no longer allow even relatively small transactions in a pseudo-money to appear to undermine the PBOC’ s control of the conversion price of its IOUs - i.e the official price of foreign exchange. I am not saying that BitCoin would actually have much of an effect; I am saying that “cracking down” on BitCoin would be an easy rattle of the sabers for the people who govern China.
There is also, I am told, the appearance of a technical parallel between the behaviors of BitCoin’s dollar price and the history of the South Sea Company’s share price when it bubbled.
This link is to a chart of Isaac Newton’s speculations in the stock of the South Sea Company. I leave it to the traders to find out if there is any proper comparison; about matters of trading, technical and otherwise, I remain a perfect dunce.
December 19, 2016 | 2 Comments
You really have to ask why Democrats want a new and different foreign affair that will do what Mort Sahl so wonderfully said about the last Cold War: "Every time the Russians would put an American in prison, we would get tough and retaliate. We would put an American in prison."
Politics is not that hard to understand once you see it as a contest of interests. The interests do not have to be rational; usually they are not. But they are comprehensible.
For the last 37 years (ever since the Shia clerics took control of Iran) the world's greatest single source of energy–the Middle East–has squandered more money that the entire U.S. Federal debt on a religious war. (Of course, with our usual American blindness to other people's quarrels, the United States spent its own trillions.) But, just as it is really very difficult for Bushes I and II to explain what exactly was the American interest in joining with the Sunnis (who were the terrorists on 9/11), it becomes harder and harder for the party of the CIA and other national security bureaucracies to explain what the U.S. gets out of confronting the Russians.
I really wish the New York Times could explain it. I also wish the "conservatives" would stop being their covert allies and spouting the usual garbage about Americans dying in foreign wars to "protect our freedoms". The greatest single actual threat to individual Americans' freedoms has always been the self-righteousness of the internal bureaucracies and their self-interest in maintaining law and order. The enforcers of the drug laws and the thuggery of their enforcement remain a far greater threat to "freedom" than all the digital aggressions of the Russians, Chinese and everyone else.
In between bouts of inebriation this morning (after all, Grant is my hero), I was reading about Kitchener, Lloyd George, and Winston Churchill and their parts in helping to make
The Great War almost inevitable. They really were neoCons; even as they shuttled between party loyalties, they remained fixed in their determination to have a long war. Because the war party in the State Department (those believers in mainstream Sunni Islam) did a nasty in the Ukraine, some are determined to see the President-elect as just another puppet. Perhaps they are right. But their assessment does seem to quarrel with the fact that we have Trump and Putin on one side and the national security bureaucracy and the Democrats on the other.
"Progressive" tax rates have the same fatal flaw as bimetallism; people will put enormous time and energy into gaming the rate boundaries. Characterizing the types of income has the same corruption; if all dollars are not treated equally, people will spend time and money doing magic tricks to convert, for example, ordinary income into capital gains.
Tariffs that are taxes had and still have one great virtue: the rate does not change based on how much commerce is being taxed. It has always puzzled me that the advocates for a "flat" income tax never once mention this.
Under tariffs Congress still had the ability to mess with things by assigning different rates to different objects; but there was, under that regime, at least the equilibrium produced by the competing interests of the users and the domestic producers. The lobbyists who wanted the wool tariff rate increased had to argue against the representatives of the clothing industry.
When the country went over to the income tax, that contest of interests was abolished. The people wanting special favors had no one directly pushing back against them. When you added the abolition of the Constitutional protection of money as Coin, there was nothing left to limit the desires of Congress to spend. There still isn't, no matter how many times we "reform" the income tax by reducing the number of brackets.
December 13, 2016 | 1 Comment
An awful lot of investing is simply gambling. A lot of people love to gamble, and investing is the one form of gambling that is legal in all 50 states. When people buy the stock of a company because they know it is going to go up, they may know nothing at all about the company; or they may know nearly everything. Either way, they are betting on a future number; and to call it investing becomes at most a half-truth. Almost all the time, The company itself gets none of the money being spent in the Wall Street casino by the gamblers/investors.
This is where the problem of money and credit comes in. In financial markets, sooner or later, the investors/gamblers can find themselves in danger of default because they do not have the cash on hand to meet their promises to pay. For whatever reason, they face a mismatch between their financial assets and liabilities. Most of the time, they can simply take the loss or get the extra credit they need; but sometimes there are so many people caught short at the same time that new credit can be hard to come by. Even the people in the credit business find themselves wanting to lend less, not more; and those who are willing to lend want what is so impossibly high a price that being saved seems almost as bad as enduring default. for lending it. When this happens, a lot of investors/gamblers, especially if they went to good schools and studied economics, expect the government "to step in". What that means is that they want the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve to give them credit on easy terms. Almost always, the government has obliged.
The irony is that when the government does not step in, when it tells the gamblers/investors to work it out among themselves, the seemingly impossible situation gets resolved. It did in 1873 and again in 1920. It is only When the government does "step in", that the cost becomes considerably greater. Either The country either borrows an enormous amount of money which it never pays off except by borrowing new money or the people see their own savings destroyed through bank failures, outright confiscation or suppression of interest rates. When the government hands out the free money to the investors/gamblers, the Panic turns into a Great Depression/Recession which leads, in turn, to another foreign war.
These dismal facts of history do not answer a serious question: what would happen if the government gave the credit to people and left the investors/gamblers to themselves? Why not give people more money whenever they need it? Ever since the country began as a collection of Dutch, Spanish and British colonies on the western coast of the North Atlantic ocean, "ordinary" (sic) people have been asking what really is a sensible question. If, in 2009, Warren Buffett and the other richest men in the country can get free money "to save the financial system", why can't the rest of us get some?
The rich, who are always the largest part of the government and often all of it (they certainly were in 2009), have a simple answer: the rest of us won't ever pay back the free money. They are right, of course; we need the money to spend it now, not to invest it to earn more money in the future. What the rich don't admit is that they don't pay it back either. Since the U.S. Government first claimed the right to own the country's men of military age (it's called the draft) in 1942, it has never once paid off any of the money it has printed "to save the financial system" and/or "have another foreign war".
Occasionally, the American government ends up in the hands of someone who actually thinks the people need sound money more than the rich do. When that happens, he (and in the future, she) does something truly bizarre. He/she insists that the U.S. government do what the Constitution says and use only Coin for its money. George Washington did it; Andrew Jackson did it; so did Ulysses Grant. They even manage to have the government pay off its debts. Since money is not "free" under such a system, They cannot directly give people more money. What they do instead is create a world where the money people have and can earn goes farther and farther. The wonderfully odd thing about following the Constitution, about allowing only Coin to be money, is that prices fall even faster than wages; every-anyone who earns and saves money finds themselves getting richer and richer without investing/gambling at all.
No wonder so many "educated" people hate the Constitutional money standard; it works far better for "ordinary" people than it does for them. The poor can, with work and thrift, stop being poor; they can do what generations of Americans' ancestors did. But, for the Progressives and the rich owners of the government, a Constitutional money standard takes away their ability to make certain that the government will spend and borrow money for their benefit. Even worse, the CMS takes away the promise that the rich and their friends will always be the winners of the free money lottery. As we all should have learned from the last financial panic, the really successful investors/gamblers are the ones who can have even their losing bets covered by the government's free money.
Money - currencies - are what each country or group of countries uses as its financial unit of account. In the U.S. the unit of account is the dollar. Almost everything borrowed, bought, lent or sold in the U.S. is priced in dollars, including the investing/gambling in the financial markets. Almost all the trading involves promises to pay money. Some of the promises are clear; with bonds you, the investor, get a specified interest rate and your money back on a certain date. Some of the promises are only implied; with stocks you own a piece of a corporation and are entitled to whatever the Board of Directors decides to do for the shareholders.
What is interesting about financial markets is that, as the total amount of financial stuff get larger and larger, the promises to pay actual money come close to disappearing. In really sophisticated investment markets - the ones where some of the gamblers don't even understand their own bets, the trades are swaps where financial stuff is traded directly for other financial stuff. With currency swaps between central banks - the largest trades of all - payment is not even considered. When the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England agree to swap dollars for pounds, neither of them is going to actually use the money to buy something.
None of this is "bad" except in the sense that gambling itself is "bad". And, if you really think gambling is "bad", then you don't want anyone to take the risk of spending their money on starting a new business or developing a better, faster, cheaper way to do things. The problem is not in people using credit and taking risks with it; it is in having the rest of us bail them out when they fail.
The argument made against having only Coin as money is that it will bring the country to a halt. If people can demand that their Federal ReserveNotes be exchanged for gold coin, the argument goes, then there will be no more credit. People won't be able to buy Starbucks lattes with their phones. Why not? Carrying phones and credit and debit cards will still be much more convenient than carrying money. Using paper money will still be easier than carrying a sack of coins. All that will change is the ability of the rich and the educated to have their government spend money they have printed for themselves for free. They will still be able to borrow money; they will just have to do what "ordinary" people have always done - figure out how they will earn enough to pay it back.
November 29, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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."
Excellent piece in Washington Examiner: "Here's How Trump's HHS Pick Wants to Replace Obamacare"
November 28, 2016 | 1 Comment
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.)
November 23, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
October 10, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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.
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.
September 19, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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.
September 19, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.)
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.
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.
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
August 24, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
August 19, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why Stefan Hates the Schoolies and their Monopolies; it is all Ulysses Grant’s Fault, from Stefan Jovanovichi
July 27, 2016 | 1 Comment
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.
July 25, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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.
Markets? We Ain’t Got No Markets! We Don’t Need No Markets! I Don’t Have to Show You Any Stinking Markets!, from Stefan Jovanovich
July 18, 2016 | Leave a Comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 22, 2016 | 1 Comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
— keep looking »
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.
- April 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- August 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- May 2008
- April 2008
- March 2008
- February 2008
- January 2008
- December 2007
- November 2007
- October 2007
- September 2007
- August 2007
- July 2007
- June 2007
- May 2007
- April 2007
- March 2007
- February 2007
- January 2007
- December 2006
- November 2006
- October 2006
- September 2006
- August 2006
- Older Archives
Resources & Links
- The Letters Prize
- Pre-2007 Victor Niederhoffer Posts
- Vic’s NYC Junto
- Reading List
- Programming in 60 Seconds
- The Objectivist Center
- Foundation for Economic Education
- Dick Sears' G.T. Index
- Pre-2007 Daily Speculations
- Laurel & Vics' Worldly Investor Articles