I continue to be amazed that anyone takes Warren Buffett's public comments seriously. What the man does in his tax management of ongoing businesses deserves absolute attention; what he says is the kind of stuff that used to be dispensed by every barker at a medicine show.
The only people who make money buying and selling shares are the rocket scientists. Sometimes their experiments blow up, but they are the only people who have ever made a killing on Wall Street, since the Morgan family was blessed with not one but two genius partners (Peabody and Drexel).
Buffett pretends that his great fortune has come from buying socks and stocks when they are on sale; but his actual stock portfolio's performance has been mediocre ever since the quants and index funds joined the party. Buffett's actual success has come from copying what the best merchant bankers did in the 19th century: buying whole companies and eliminating internal their bureaucracies and combining their income statements and balance sheets to turn the government into a minor partner in the future gains. (The merchant bankers in the 19th century did this as well, with tariffs and what they called "money shaving".)
The world Buffett describes is gone. There are no times now "when no one else is (interested)" and patent medicines are readily available everywhere.
According to the CDC, the U.S. population's growth rate is undergoing a dramatic decline.
The teenage birth rate - which, in the past, has been the leading indicator for overall population change - has fallen in half.
In 2007 births per 1000 females aged 15-19 in 2007 were 41.5; for 2015 the number was 22.3.
An old high school friend (who reads and has commented on DS) recently told me that he is burned out in his career and wants to trade FX for a living. Apparently he knows 2 people that make a living trading through one of those shops. I gave him more than several reasons why he should consider taking a pass on this new career, but he's going to a 4 hour seminar to learn why FX trading is the way to go. He is willing to invest $10K in this venture. My immediate comment when hearing about his limited bank roll was that he would need to generate an extraordinary return on his money just to make a living and that would be near impossible. I ask the list for some guidance….questions he should ask the FX broker, questions he should ask himself. I've tried to talk him out of this, but he is still considering taking the plunge. What are your thoughts about someone 60 years old, quitting his job and trading FX on a $10K bankroll. I know my thoughts, but ask the list to add some of their own.
Generally speaking, when casual acquaintances ask me this question, I tell them that they will do better going to Vegas….at least when one blows through the $10K bankroll, they might get a few comps….the mistress of the market will just take one's money without even a thank you kiss in return.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Cue Marcel Proust: We remember the stories of our lives but there is very little of the past that our nervous systems actually keeps in the present.
One of the lucky and tough survivors of the torpedoing of a merchant ship sinking in WW II described the part of the whole thing that stayed longest in his active memory.
It was the voices of the barely 20 year old seamen in their Mae West's calling for their mothers.
Jeff's friend seems to be another believer in the age-old faith that Mommy is still out there somewhere and will magically save us from the hardships of shipwreck.
Bud Conrad writes:
Read the opening personal story of Education of a Speculator for an example of how hard the high leverage can become. You could quote me as saying: "I wouldn't trade forex without a $300,000 portfolio." This kind of desperation often accompanies market reversals. For forex I don't know what the change will be, but I would warn your friend in the strongest terms.
I think risk of ruin is too high if you're under 100k bankroll. With 10k there is leverage needed to make a living, but with a 100k you can survive a couple bad streaks.
Jim Lackey writes:
Good afternoon, Chair, Brothers, ladies and gentlemen. Interesting post, I just caught a young man screen watching. It's the stare of hope. If one would focus enough the prices would go our way. I was asking him if he wanted to buy the truck or not. He cursed and I knew it was about something online. I said what is going on dude? He said "look at this. " He motioned me to look at his screen. It was forex quotes, I said, what is your position?. "Long the Euro and they said it is going up because….". I asked who are they and why would they tell you and what is their position? He looked up and………., huh? First off one must start with individual stocks 2-1 only. Secondly they always know and I was always the last to know. Huh? Do you want the truck or not? He looked back at the screen and said "but the Euro….." If he bought the truck I would have given him a few good books. I'm sticking with trading cars and trucks. It is not a very profitable business margin wise. It is a lot of physical work. I am in excellent physical shape. I can sleep at night. I'm not sure if it is a permanent disability, but I have lost my ability to take risk in the financial markets. However, I would never discourage anyone from speculating for a living. Buy them a cup of coffee and after an hour see if they would read the good books. Specs are honorable and benefit society in ways that I did not comprehend until years after I hung up the racing helmets.
Larry Williams writes:
While I've already agreed with the majority comment on the subject let me add this…
A few years back I got a letter at Christmas time from a guy who wrote basically saying, "Larry I bought your trading course I actually went to the blood bank and saw blood to buy it. I raise some capital while I was learning started trading now here I am in Vail Colorado. I'm a single father my kids are with me I'm living in a house beyond my wildest expectation, all because of learning to trade etc., etc."
Of course I replied that it had nothing to do with me was his success and good fortune but nonetheless this was a wake-up call in lesson for me it's hard to tell people know don't do this because this letter was not an exception have had others, not as extreme, but in a similar vein. Clearly there been other people who have lost money, some probably even shirts or shorts.
This is a hard-core to stop somebody so what I personally do is let them see the doors open but also all the dragons and monstrous just beyond the door. Full disclosure, brutal disclosure then if they want to pick up the craft they can.
I know you don't build good athletes by telling them they can't do something you have to encourage them so this trader, want to be trader need some encouragement.
Jim Lackey adds:
This is what happens in forex too: Cascading margin calls for so many and who was holding the other side after everyone was forced out of their positions? GDAX affiliates? GDAX?
A side point: a few million worth and the price is crushed. Small market. Any medium sized player can own the price action in that arena…
The Liddell Hart theory–i.e. a war of movement can avoid the costs of frontal assault–has been almost entirely discounted by modern studies of what actually happened in WW II. If the Great War was so much bloodier than WW II for the British and Americans (but not for the Russians and Germans), it was not because of any change in tactics or strategy but because the Anglo-American forces spent so much less time at the sharp end. When you compare killed, wounded and missing per day of direct combat, the WW II battles (the Bulge, to take one, which is still and is likely to always be the bloodiest battle in American history) are no less "massive showdowns" than Western front struggles in the Great War and just as awful. The casualty rates are the same.
Hart's hope that tanks could produce battles of movement was not proven true; as soon as the opposing forces learned to use them, the anti-tank guns created their own stalemate. Kursk became a mechanized meatgrinder equal to Verdun.
The military analogy that comes to mind for the Bezinator's successful campaign is Curtis LeMay's firebombing of Japan. With its massive capacities for warehousing and delivery and the logistic coordination that allows customer orders to be processed without interruption, Amazon has done an incendiary bombing of its competitor's profit margins.
Andrew Goodwin writes:
I have read Liddell Hart and Clausewitz. The losses on a frontal assault were too high in land campaigns.
Napoleon did the indirect attack in a formulaic way by a mock frontal assault covered by a horse screen on one wing ending in a back side cutoff of the supply line of the enemy. The maps of his campaigns are well seen through the book called "The Campaigns of Napoleon" written by David G. Chandler.
This approach appears to create a panic in the enemy lines. The method to defend against this has developed considerably since then. You have to think about how they worked a way to defend against the elephant charge.
If you leave corridors open, the elephants will look for less resistance and charge through the gaps you create. Then you can cut them off from behind.
The one who figured out how to use this in more modern warfare was Von Manstein. He created passes and then encircled from the rear. How this is done today with air and sea and land combat is not of my reading yet.
Stefan Jovanovich replies:
Er, not quite. Neither von Manstein nor Napoleon ever doubted his own genius, but we can't take them at their face value. Von Manstein managed to be consistently blind to any possibilities that the Soviets might also use their brains. His great triumph - Kharkov - came between two disasters that were far more consequential - Stalingrad and Kursk.
Napoleon's genius came almost entirely from his ability to move his cannon quickly to the point of attack. In the set piece battles for which he is justly famous, that allowed him to bring massive firepower to bear and then follow it up with attacks in column by infantry that were classically "frontal" - most of the time the infantry did not even discharge their muskets but marched forward in a phalanx of bayonets. In the wars that he lost, his cannons were useless; in Russia because of the mud (the same factor that lost him his chances at Waterloo), in Spain and Portugal because of impossible terrain.
Nelson followed largely the same tactics, with the same success. His ships attacked in column, not line, and in direct frontal assaults.
The actual record of the use of elephants is that they look impressive but are - like the massive artillery guns the Germans loved - not worth the trouble. Alexander refused to use them; and Hannibal discarded them (they probably ate them) long before Cannae.
It was only after business men and women sent their children off to be thoroughly schooled in administration in the late 19th century that there were economics textbooks. Poor Jack Morgan never fully regained his father's respect after he came home from Harvard and told Dad what he had learned about banking from Charles Franklin Dunbar.
The beauty of the late 19th century in the United States was that its massive failures were awful but never frightening. For people who had endured the Civil War, the financial collapse of a third of the railroads in the U.S. was something to be gotten over; but not the end of the world. Sensible people bought and owned the bonds that the Morgans put their names on and understood that the money market was a fascinating place to go gambling but hardly the appropriate investment for themselves and the other people who were not speculators.
Morgan made only one public prediction about "the market" in his entire life; when asked what it would do, he laughed and said, "It will fluctuate." He knew that his customers would accept fluctuations precisely because they were owners, not traders. That is why his bonds could be paying 4.5% when offers of 15% were failing to draw sufficient call money to carry a position through from Saturday afternoon to Monday's open.
The present portents of an inverted yield curve are supposedly warnings about recession and inflation. What they might be instead is a signal from the Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve that the central bank is no longer willing to be the Treasury's bitch - i.e. the customer of first resort - now that the ECB really needs a friend. Ms. Yellen can either help the ECB pretend that European sovereign debt is never ever going to be a problem or allow Secretary Mnuchin to roll over his inherited overdraft at bargain rates. For those who believe in the global future of globalism, that is hardly a choice; the Euro must be saved by being discounted freely just as Bagehot commanded. (Oh, wait, he was talking about domestic borrowers, wasn't he - since FX did not allow for any discounting until the Austrians decided that they wanted a Balkan War of their own.)
I show that the curve is still in up trend-bullish. Am I missing something (as I usually am)?
Ken Burns' Vietnam series starts in September.
I wonder if Gen. Vang Pao's story will be part of it:
Even before President Dwight D. Eisenhower's vow in 1960 that Laos must not fall to the Communists, the country was immersed in bloody conflict. Its importance grew immensely during the Vietnam War, when most of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the serpentine route that North Vietnam used to funnel supplies southward, ran through Laotian territory.
The United States wanted to interdict the supply route, rescue American pilots shot down over Laos and aid anti-Communist forces in a continuing civil war, but was hampered in doing so publicly because Laos was officially neutral, so the C.I.A. recruited General Vang Pao for the job. At the time, he held the highest rank ever achieved by a Hmong in the Royal Laotian Army, major general.
The Hmong are a tribe in the fog-shrouded mountains separating Laos from southern China, and they were natural allies for the C.I.A. because of their enmity toward Laotian lowlanders to the south, who dominated the Communist leadership.
General Vang Pao quickly organized 7,000 guerrillas, then steadily increased the force to 39,000, leading them in many successful battles, often against daunting odds. William Colby, C.I.A. director in the mid-1970s, called him "the biggest hero of the Vietnam War."
Lionel Rosenblatt, president emeritus of Refugees International, in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 2008, put it more bluntly, saying General Vang Pao's Hmong were put "into this meat grinder, mostly to save U.S. soldiers from fighting and dying there."
When the C.I.A. approached him in 1960, he was already fighting Laotian Communists. The next year, he would also fight Communists from Vietnam after they had crossed the Laotian border. The Times in 1971 said that the C.I.A. did not command the general's army at any level, because his pride and temper would have never permitted it.
The general led troops into combat personally, suffered serious wounds and was known to declare: "If we die, we die together. Nobody will be left behind." About 35,000 Hmong died in battle.
General Vang Pao was also skilled at uniting the 18 clans of Hmong. One technique was to marry women from different tribes, as multiple marriages were permitted in Laos. He had to divorce all but one of his five wives when he went to the United States in 1975, settling on a ranch in Montana.
General Vang Pao lived more recently in Southern California and Minnesota, where many of the 200,000 Hmong that followed him to the United States or were born here live. His picture hangs in thousands of homes.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
The beauty of the New York Times is that they always get it wrong. Eisenhower's "vow" came in 1954, not 1960. There is even video.
I can guarantee that Burns et. cie. will get wrong the other unspoken part of Eisenhower's "domino" theory - the one that was communicated privately to the Soviets now that Stalin was dead: Indochina would be the last acceptance by the U.S. of territorial war by the Comintern. Spying, subversion - everything that Stalin had initiated as part of communism's "cold" war - would be accepted as part of the normal woofing between major power; but this would be the last "war of liberation". If the Soviets persisted in that policy, they risked bringing on their own nuclear destruction.
The Soviets knew Eisenhower was serious because Admiral Radford as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had asked for permission to use atomic bombs to rescue the French from Dien Bien Phu. Ike knew that the Soviets knew what his reply had been; the U.S. would not "defend" British, Dutch or French imperial possessions in Asia. As the British later learned over Suez, Eisenhower meant what he had said. The U.S. had not fought WW 2 to defend European empire.
But it had fought WW 2 and Korea to defend Europeans' and East Asians' rights to "self-determination". That is the part of the story that the Democrats never ever seem to understand even though the policy itself goes back to Woodrow Wilson - the one thing the man got right.
He sees a case against Prez but the 30,000 emails deleted, smashed computers, emoluments to foundation contributors were not enough for a reasonable prosecutor to consider a case against cattle.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
The monopoly on prosecution is another part of the American legal structure that has no support in either canon or common law. It is based on sovereign presumption and preemption; to a horrible extent, allowing a district or U.S. attorney the discretion to decide whether or not someone should do the time for their crime is a product of the desires of the early New England emigrants to North America. They wanted to establish a Congregationalist theocracy. They succeeded. Now, of course, we have the high priests throw the Federal Criminal Code instead of scripture at the apostates; but the outcomes are entirely the same. None of us is without sin, and we are all guilty of something; our actual freedom is almost entirely a matter of having not yet pissed off someone in authority who thinks we are a ham sandwich in human form.
19th century Americans understood this in their bones. That is why The Scarlet Letter was the first blockbuster novel in U.S. publishing history. I know we are all supposed to prefer Melville's tract; but I think the public got it right. It remains the best single work of fiction ever written by an American.
The standard academic introductions to economics spend no time discussing the invention of credit. They usually have the conventional summaries about the uses of money - store of value, et. al. - but there is literally nothing about the invention of promises to do and to pay. In one way, that is completely understandable. People live their economic lives in a world of futures; they measure even their savings by what the hoards will earn; evn in Rousseau's world of pure nature, financial promises would be made. Given those facts, it makes sense that economic textbooks do not spend any time discussing the invention of credit; IOUs have always been part of human interaction itself.
But, if credit's origins do not need to be part of the history of economics, surely the invention of legal tender deserves at least some small attention. Coinage is usually given at least a few paragraphs, but there are rarely any discussions of how the law came to be the method that defined what would be the financial unit of account. Hayek, at the very end of his life, complained that money had been literally hijacked by the state, that people should be free to use whatever money they choose. Even his theoretical opponents agree; current "mainstream" economic theory begins with the assumption that there is no need to give state money any special legal status; in the natural world of credit people can buy and sell using whatever coinage they want, as the success of BitCoin has proven. And yet, the IRS insists on being paid only in dollars, by check or credit card or wire transfer. (One of the wonderful ironies of the current age is that actual money - currency printed by the Treasury for the Federal Reserve Bank - is NOT an acceptable means of tax payment.)
Legal tender - officially enforced money - only exists because some exchanges are not and never have been voluntary. Hayek's assumption that money developed as a means of payment to clear private debts is bad history. The archaeological record shows that the earliest money coinages survive from the Greek city states that traded with one another in the Aegean Sea in the 7th century B.C.E. The first known coin, the Lydian Lion, (formed from electrum - a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver) can be dated to 610-600 B.C.E. It was minted by the tyrant Alyattes in Sardis. Every money hoard discovered by archaeologists in that region has been found in sites that were government treasuries, not private merchants. The German historical school's standard story (the one used by all the textbooks) is that people invented money as a "store of value". No. Tyrants, monarchs, emperors and - eventually - democracies all created money as a means of collecting taxes.
Why? Well, for one thing, the governments could do what the people who control governments always want them to do - keep crooked books and fiddle with the tax rates and preferences . The taxpayers would have to use drachmas, and the state would define what a drachma was. The standard historical theory for "inflation" is that when people with the power of the state stretched their credit beyond its limit, the state would increase its "money supply" by changing what a drachma was. The more realistic assumption is that coinage as legal tender was manipulated from the moment of its invention. Tyrants did not have to wait around to discover that they could "manage" their economies by "tightening" and "loosening" public credit. Even the U.S. Constitution takes it for granted that the Federal government will charge a fee for making its own money. Needless to say, this "money" thing caught on. Within two centuries every part of the Mediterranean world had its official money.
As Hayek so beautifully points out, free human exchange creates its own systems that work even though they defy logic. When confronted with the demand for tax payments in "money", people did what they always do - they started trading. The money market was born. As every black market in the world confirms, there is the official price for currency and then there is the market price. If you owed tax to Necho II, you could save some of its cost through arbitrage among the coins minted by Aegina, Samos and Miletus. (The Egyptian Pharaohs used all 3 as their official money.)
The academics have it backwards. "Money" was never a store of value and never the primary mechanism through which human exchange developed. It was how the state paid for and exercised its own power through war.
The J.P. Morgan test applies for both customers and employees: you should only deal with people whose character you trust. Every successful business I have owned (including the one I still own) applied those rules; in every failed one I thought that exceptions should continue to be made.
I have never been shrewd enough to be able to judge the character of people until I have dealt with them. So, for me, until experience has proven otherwise, I deal on the assumption that others will be honest. (There is also a good deal of evidence from applications of game theory that this Tit for Tat approach has actual rewards, provided that the game is one of repeated encounters, each with limited risk.)
But, once you have seen someone cheat, there is no excuse for continuing to deal with them. Every significant business failure I have had started with my telling myself that a lie did not matter. That meant, of course, that the dishonest had already begun to compound itself; I had lied to myself and others by letting the dishonest person skate.
How I got out of Florida condos at the top:
1) The tennis pro at the building became a realtor.
2) The fellow who installed my window treatments became a realtor.
3) Hurricane season was approaching.
4) A "ballerina" I knew quite well told me to delay selling my condo until she could take the newly instituted 5 day cram course to get a realtor license for which there was a several month waiting list.
This week I heard from a fashion model eagerly desirous of entering the coin market who had opened up accounts at several shops and was mad because they had a waiting period for her buying of various coins.
The conventions on coin presentations were oversold and standing room only.
Sad I can't hand out a statistical answer to document the froth, but there are many.
1) Control of more than 50% of the coins potentially weakens the security.
2) The leaked ability of the hackers to enter any computer in multiple ways retrospectively.
3) The advent of access to quantum cloud computers by corporations in beta (which means govts have had access longer)
4) The untested nature of the post-quantum algos.
5) The need for the governments to track and tax money flows.
6) The investigation powers newly needed to stop ransom attacks requiring payment of coins to "anonymous" wallets.
Andy Aiken writes:
Possibly some lessons are:
Techies, anarchocapitalist utopians, Chinese elites, even ordinary people desire a currency not controlled by the state, that offers privacy and security without requiring armed guards for a big gold stash.
The financial technology and payment processing systems for USD, Euro, etc are antiquated and slow, decades behind what is feasible and in reach, struggling under a mountain of regulation.
A currency is what people use to pay for things. When the European banking system was in shambles after WW II, people paid for food with cigarettes. Scrip has been used many times throughout history.
Getting financing for a company by working with bankers is an expensive, frustrating experience. Business founders will find a way to cut the middlemen out of the game if they don’t add value.
The cryptocurrency mkt is definitely frothy. As with the dot com bubble, most of the coins & firms will fail. Some will go on to be the future Amazons. These human needs are in search of a solution even if all of cryptocurrency goes to zero tomorrow.
Orson Terrill writes:
Same here, starting about 2 weeks ago, yet again, people are asking me about bitcoin. This has usually coincided with near term top, and has been true since 2012. Same for stocks.
I do some consulting in this area, and last week I had a few calls (one from a PE firm) come in asking me for a general overview of the competitive crypto landscape, including who mines, what the pecking order of coins is (in terms of best, most used, etc.) and so on; stuff that could pretty easily be found on the web, by haunting Reddit, etc.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Thanks to Andy Aiken, I have been able to get some sense of how Bitcoin actually trades. Also thanks to him, I learned - yet again - the most important lesson about trading: you can't claim to understand a market if you don't actually trade it.
I don't trade Bitcoin and have absolutely no idea what will happen to the markets for it. But, it does seem to me that the participants in the markets for cryptocurrencies - whether long or short - are making one assumption that is simply not proven by the evidence.
Bitcoin is not a currency. Neither, for that matter, are ounces of gold. These days a currency is an IOU that
(1) is accepted as a credit for deposit by the banks that are willing to use that currency as a unit of account; (2) is accepted as final payment for taxes and legal judgments; and (3) is the face denomination for the government debts that are accepted as officially-sanctioned reserves for financial institutions
That Bitcoin is not a legal tender has not mattered in the slightest as far as the traders in Bitcoin are concerned.
In the days when money was coin, there was a long history of unofficial credits being actively traded and readily exchanged and even accepted for deposit. The Virginia lawyers who most closely followed Washington as President (Jefferson, Madison) were infuriated by the speculation they saw in New York over the debts that were to be redeemable in the country's new money. They were themselves active speculators, as Washington had been; but their gambles and savings were in warrants and other paper claims on the Western lands. When the people who support and believe in Bitcoin argue that the digital claims they have bought or mined are as "real" than as the digits that represent the vast bulk of people's dollar/pound/Euro/yen/renminbi "money" (sic), they are absolutely right. Bitcoins and dollars are both simply collective promises that what is represented has the value of scarcity and is not counterfeit, and they both have to be taken on faith.
There is only one problem. Governments, as Hamilton demonstrated, have a serious interest in having their official fictions take precedence. The risk of any Bitcoin "bubble" is that, in the name of the protection of official legal tender, unofficial digits may find themselves being investigated for their risks of "fraud". Government can always be relied on to investigate others for having committed the very sins that the government wants to preserve for its own spiritual authority.
Anatoly Veltman writes:
Centrals may investigate and outlaw whatever they wish - but since they've encouraged the vastness of the internet, it's impossible for them to replace the cork. Eventually, they'll be adapters of a protocol.
And that is exactly the point.
With crypto there are no groups of individuals painstakingly crafting bills in basements OR shadowy dictators buying eight figure currency printing machines from manufacturing facilities in Bavaria or Switzerland. Even if governments manage to cripple or persecute the Bitcoiners - (who? miners? users? developers? writers? consultants?) - there are as I type this 735 existing crypto issues, over 100 crypto assets, and thousands of tokens trading in nearly 4000 markets of varying mechanisms and liquidity around the world. Far more important than that, each day tens of thousands of new minds are brought into the crypto sphere, some of whom are brilliant programmers both (a) eager to outdo the best of what is currently available, and (b) eager to get rich. There is no, absolutely no, putting the proverbial genie back in the equally-proverbial bottle.
The Pentagon has confirmed that the USS Dewey sailed within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys. The DOD spokesman stated that the U.S. "operate(s) in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea….We operate in accordance with international law. We fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows."
This "violates" the claim that these waters are sovereign territory of the PRC. The Chinese report that two frigates drove the Dewey out of the area.
If American Enterprise Institute's numbers are correct and if the Trump Administration is serious about their promise of creating jobs, Trump should immediately give up on coal and focus on solar. Unfortunately, AEI's presentation is wrong.
AEI put their thumb on the solar scale. For solar, they included employees dedicated to the construction and installation of new solar assets in addition to operating employees. They did not do the same for coal. They didn't do it for coal because almost no one is building a new coal plant.
Instead of comparing apples with oranges, AEI compared apples with orange trucks. Nevertheless, on the jobs front, the conclusion is the same: Trump should give up on coal.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
When Milton Friedman was shown a construction project in The Third World where the earth moving was done by people using shovels, he was told that this was helping with employment. Friedman is said to have replied: "Then why not take away the shovels and give them trowels." The output for solar remains trivial - .04 billion MWH vs. 1.24 billion for coal and 1.38 billion for natural gas. Even the most optimistic projections of the DOE don't have solar producing even 10% of the present output of either coal or natural gas before 2025. Perhaps the solution to the employment problem is to abolish the long-wall mining equipment and bring back the shovels.
Leo Jia writes:
It is alive and well here in China. At my building complex on the east side of Shanghai, which was an early 1990s series of lux buildings, they'll send a ground crew of 10 to trim hedges all day. I could have easily done the same with a trimmer in an afternoon during my summer odd jobs.
Other bizarre aspects of town– even in some of the most posh areas with the latest buildings, there are a dirth of street lights and almost none of the bicycles, runners, and electric mopeds, even the newest, have lights and/or reflectors.
Another thing I wince at is workmen of all kinds not using safety glasses which cost all of a couple of USD equivalent. The ones I see wearing are the supervisors well away from the dangers.
Carlo Cipolla's Five Fundamental Laws of Stupidity:
1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person
Here's a link to Cipolla's essay.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Many many thanks to AC. Cipolla's Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400–1700 (1965) should be required reading for anyone who wants to presume to understand our "modern" world.
I have the most trouble identifying my own stupidity.
My swat drove home the lessons of liberalism and progressive taxation. It was in Mr Gallagher's 8th grade history class. Before class started, noxious Paul initiated a fencing match with me using pencils. It wasn't my idea but I did score the only point - with a leaden puncture to Paul's forearm. He promptly took his wound to Mr Gallagher, who summarily referred me to the vice principle's office.
Mr Curtis had me grab my ankles for three humiliating whacks. They didn't hurt so much as worry me that my parents would find out (they didn't). And it seemed unfair as I only attacked in self defense.
I won the skirmish but lost the battle, because the system was rigged pro "victim", even then. It would have been better, in a away, had I lost the fight. I wouldn't have snitched but would have learned about another kid to avoid.
Russ Sears writes:
What I have observed is that some people are too stupid to realize that they are stupid. Studies show that those that do the worst overestimate their abilities on a test of just about anything, while those that do the best underestimate their abilities to test on just about anything. Socrates was right that the beginning of wisdom is to know one is ignorant. However, as his untimely death implies, he was wrong to point this out to stupid but powerful people. However the leaders should not be as Aristotle implies (perhaps as survival mechanism learned from Socrates experience), the most learned dictator, but the ones most capable of producing cooperation from all individuals talents.
I was told that the reason most people do not know they are stupid is that they attribute their knowledge as being the most important, and therefore under-estimate the importance of their ignorance. Perhaps this is a form of denial, to justify their self-worth. The market's in general is brutally honest on what is "important".
Bitcoin is currently stalling out on transaction speed and will force the hand of the core development team to make adjustments.
At present, the miners are clearing (very roughly) 2000 transactions every 10 minutes, this is primarily due to the limit of the block size of 1 megabyte and the amount of transactional information they can place into that size.
There is a lot of hand-waving about the slowing rate of growth of bitcoin versus other cryptos and the glacial adoption of newer protocols is certainly a part of it. For my part, I am content that the developers are overly cautious as any bug in the implementation can crash the economy. Ethereum learned this firsthand last year after they lost millions due to a bug. That said, Ethereum is also a model about how resilient the cryptos can be in the face of lost confidence.
At some point, bitcoin will increase the size of the block above 1MB and punt the transaction problem down the road for a while, but it exposes one of the problems with it's design which is transactional throughput. Most of the cryptos out there have the same tree-based transactional design that at greater scale will eventually cause the system to come to a crawl under normal load, not to mention making them vulnerable to spam attacks.
There is some promise in a new way of guaranteeing transactional integrity without a tree in DAG (directed acyclic graphs). The concept is more of a mesh of (very) lightweight transactions, each of which is forced to validate two other previous transactions. This obviates the need for miners and makes every initiator of a transaction do the proof of work. This concept would scale far better than (what has become) the centralized miner model of the major cryptos.
I am aware of two cryptocurrencies being developed that use this model, Byteball and Iota, with Iota having a better marketing department. They are completely unproven, flawed, hoarded and still in development, but already have a solid following and are trading at what I'd consider high premiums. If they somehow reach critical mass without implosion there may be a big future in actual microtransactions, fulfilling the promise of cryptocurrencies years ago.
Andy Aiken writes:
Ethereum is on track to convert to a Proof of Stake transaction model sometime in 2018. Like bitcoin, ethereum is currently a Proof of Work cryptocurrency, in which transactions must be included in each new block being "mined".
As Jayson indicates, mining is highly computationally intensive. BTC and ETH mining requires special hardware, and consumes hundreds of gigawatts of power globally.
In a Proof of Stake (PoS) system, the network consists of nodes that reach network consensus on transactions without the computational intensity. The owners of the nodes (stakeholders) get a share of the transaction fees. A node could be run on an ordinary PC. There are currently PoS coins, but they are much less popular than bitcoin and ethereum.
On May 22, there is an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for Tezos, which will be Proof of Stake right out of the gate. Tezos claims to be a direct competitor to Ethereum for the mantle of next-generation bitcoin. I'm skeptical of this ICO since the issuance is uncapped. This means that interested individuals and institutions will be able to get a piece, unlike other recent ICOs (e.g. Blockchain Capital, a venture fund that issued its own coin) that closed within 5-10 minutes of opening. On the other hand, Tezos could raise billions of dollars while being years from developing anything close to what Ethereum has already developed.
Byteball and Iota are using an entirely different model and a unique distribution system. E.g., if you hold BTC, you can get an allotment of Byteball by providing some personal information.
Cryptocurrency is much like the auto industry of the early 1920s. The failure rate of new coins/businesses will be high. Regulatory agencies are barely present, there are many scams, and a gambling mentality at the cryptocurrency exchanges. But the opportunities appear to be commensurate with the risk.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
AA may want to adjust his historical analogy slightly. The failure rate for automobile manufacturers peaked not in the 1920s but in the preceding decade. By the "early 1920s" the "Big 3" were already established.
The historical analogy that works best for me is the growth in the collectibles market pioneered by Joseph Segel. No one can question the Marxist measure of value for the objects that the Franklin Mint and others produced just as no one can quarrel with the enormous amounts of human labor, energy and computation that have gone into producing these current digital collectibles. One wonders what network of Quality Value Convenience will evolve out of all this buying and selling of precious man-made objects.
The investigation of Iran-Contra diminished Reagan's authority with Congress and killed the second tax rate cuts. This time the appointment of a special counsel has saved a Republican President from himself. The language of Mueller's mandate is to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and…any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." Those "any matters" are far more likely to be questions into the FBI's own conduct and those of the Obama DOJ than recordings of Trump plotting with Putin. The delicious irony of all this is that a career civil servant, not the Republican Congress, has forced the President to return to trade and taxes and Israel and China even as the Democrats celebrate and convince themselves into that "the Russian connection" will be their winning issue for 2018.
We in the bleachers are doubling down on our U.S. Common stock longs.
Ralph Vince writes:
I'm with you Stefan. It's still a bull market, you have a volume bar buy signal tomorrow (a very short term thing) at any point lower than today's low (or for any of the next couple of subsequent days).
I may take some heat on it, but that's what must be done.
Shields up and let's go.
The founder of the modern cow flesh trade Phillip Danforth Armour was born on this day in 1832 in Stockbridge, NY. The town then was the same size that it is now - two thousand people. Armour went to California when he was twenty and came back four years later with a fortune - what would be roughly $5 million now ($8000 then). His next killing came when he got the contract to sell beef to the Union Army.
Thanks to Nelson Miles, Roosevelt's "brave peacock", Armour and Swift are still seen as villains. Miles was, what else, a Progressive Democrat; thanks largely to Miles' testimony as a non-witness, the body counts of the last Indian War have the same accuracy as John Kerry's estimates of what our Genghis Kahn hoards did in Viet-Nam.
The thing about PD Armour that intrigues me the most is his actions in the wheat market in 1897. In the spring of 1897, 28 year old Joe Leiter decided to corner the wheat market. Leiter had money as his dad was a partner of Marshall Field. The novice Leiter also had a great first trade in wheat, netting $500,000. When he started buying wheat in 1897, it was trading at $0.50 and his buying promptly ran it up to a dollar. (Armour was a seller of wheat). Since dollar wheat hadn't been seen since the Civil War, the farmers sold every grain of wheat they had in storage. Leiter was a hero to the farmers for his "Patriotism." Leiter happened to be a customer of PD Armour, as Armour owned many grain elevators with a capacity of a few million bushels of wheat. He also owned 7,000 reefer rail cars for shipping meat that could be used to ship wheat(or tie up rail lines,) if necessary. Leiter had 1.2 million bushels of wheat in Armour's elevators, which he exported during November of that year, emptying Armour's elevators.
Leiter had a few million bushels of Dec wheat (WZ8 Comdty) and intended on taking delivery which would have left Armour short because he had no wheat to deliver. Armour had his agents scour the country buying up every bushel they could get, plus he also bought wheat futures to cover his short position. Since it was late in the season, Armour had to charter tugs to keep the ice from blocking the waterways and Great Lakes clear so he could get his grain ships through. Armour also built the largest grain elevator in the world on Goose Island to store all the wheat. Interesting factoid…the elevator was built in 28 days.
Armour got all the cash wheat he needed(he had been short 9 million bushels) and was able to make delivery of 9 million bushels of Dec wheat to Leiter. Incidentally, Leiter had to pay storage to Armour of 3/4 cent per bushel per month. In the spring of 1898, the US went to war with Spain, and the wheat market rallied. However, Leiter was forced to buy May wheat (WK8 Comdty) to keep his corner going. Armour had the wheat, and stuffed another million bushels of wheat on Leiter in May. Armour was hoping that Leiter didn't have the cash but he did have the cash, barely, and was able to hang on.
In March 1898, Leiter charted 21 ships and started exporting wheat. He began lightening up on his July wheat position, selling 6.5 million bushels. While he was selling his July (WN8 Comdty) position, he was attempting to corner the May wheat. Leiter went to Pillsbury and Peavey and got them to double cross Armour and not sell him any wheat. In the meantime, with the war against Spain, wheat traded up to $1.85 and Leiter looked golden. However, Leiter never thought of other variables and left his flank exposed. The wheat crop came in early and huge, and as much as 4.5 million bushels flooded into Chicago in May alone. Armour got Peavey and Pillsbury to re-double cross Leiter and sell him the wheat to stuff down Leiter's throat. The rest of the summer saw Chicago's elevators fill up to the bursting point. All the elevators in the country quickly became full of wheat. The crop turned out to be 650+ million bushels, the war with Spain was short, and the wheat price broke hard very quickly.
Leiter was long 15 million bushels of wheat in both cash and futures. To say he was hurting would be an understatement. His father, Levi, had to come out of retirement to bail Joe out. They ended up selling the 15 million bushels using the very wily Armour as their broker. Leiter never traded wheat again, and he spent the rest of his days being a dandy while hanging around at the track.
The moral of this story is that the cash grain market will always trump the grain futures market. This is very apparent when the front month goes into delivery near the contract expiration.
"What about America and Europe?"
"Except for its white population, which is falling, America is in demographic neutrality. Europe, however, is in demographic capitulation. Several European countries have birth rates so low they are committing demographic suicide.
Supposedly, the EU was formed because Europeans were tired of fighting. 'Five hundred years of war is enough,' they said. But there is a great lie here.
Why wasn't four hundred years of war enough? Or three hundred?
The real reason Europeans decided to stop killing each other is that they were no longer having big families. They had no more superfluous sons to burn on the battlefield. I talk about these things in my book. I will talk about them today, as well."
"Your book hasn't been published in English," I said. "A demographic theory of war and terror could be a tough sell to a military audience in London." Heinsohn smiled. "Generals understand. If you don't have children today, you won't have soldiers tomorrow.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
Heinsohn's economic theories are interesting to me. He is another creditista - i.e. someone who thinks credit is the oxygen for the voluntary systems of exchange that human beings have spontaneously created. But I doubt he would let this amateur into the Otto Steiger club; they join nearly everyone else in the academic world in believing that central banks are somehow essential to commerce.
I don't think anyone can argue successfully with the "youth bulge" theory as it applies to street crime and mob violence; but I wonder if it explains much about how the really bad wars start. There were no "surplus" young males in France, Prussia, Austria or Britain in 1790. There were in Russia, but the Russians were brought into the several Napoleonic Wars by their allies; they were not the ones who started the official killing. There was no demographic bulges in Spain, Germany and Japan in the 1930s or in the United Kingdom, France, Austria and Germany, net of emigration, in the 1910s.
In any case, if demography starts wars, it does not pay for them. For that you need central government taxation and the central banks that can turn government credit into payment, which takes us back to Heinsohn's economics…..
On healthcare, the actual voters wanted "repeal and replace", not just repeal. Even among Republican likely voters, few than half wanted complete repeal and "start all over", according to the most recent Rasmussen; and an equal number wanted "Go through the law piece by piece to improve it". Overall, the poll results were 54% for "piece by piece", 31% for "repeal only" and only 13% for "leave as is". Trump's judgment was proven correct: the voters wanted him to do something that was an attempt to "fix" healthcare.
On the question of churches in politics, his instincts were also in line with the likely voters. On the question of whether churches should be banned from politics, their response was 39% Yes, 52% No and 9% undecided.
Among Republicans Trump has a nearly 5-to-1 Approval ratio: 51% Strongly Approve, 11% Strongly Disapprove. The Never Trump "conservatives" are even outvoted by the 15% of Democrats who Strongly Approve. The overall result is 47% Approve, 53% Disapprove which are exactly 3% below what the beloved outgoing President's numbers were at this time last year. For a Republican President, who never ever wins the net approval of the "non-partisan" middle until they are faced with an actual ballot, those are more than satisfactory numbers.
TL;DR: Tax-Cuts actually raise tax revenue, especially from wealthy. Increase in debt during Reagan years was Congress outspending the increased revenue, not the effects of the tax-cuts.. Happy to see Sowell writing again.
One of the painful realities of our times is how long a political lie can survive, even after having been disproved years ago, or even generations ago.
A classic example is the phrase "tax cuts for the rich," which is loudly proclaimed by opponents, whenever there is a proposal to reduce tax rates. The current proposal to reduce federal tax rates has revived this phrase, which was disproved by facts, as far back as the 1920s — and by now should be called "tax lies for the gullible."
How is the claim of "tax cuts for the rich" false? Let me count the ways. More important, you can easily check out the facts for yourself with a simple visit to your local public library or, for those more computer-minded, on the internet.
One of the key arguments of those who oppose what they call "tax cuts for the rich" is that the Reagan administration tax cuts led to huge federal government deficits, contrary to "supply side economics" which said that lower tax rates would lead to higher tax revenues.
This reduces the whole issue to a question about facts — and the hard facts are available in many places, including a local public library or on the internet.
The hardest of these hard facts is that the revenues collected from federal income taxes during every year of the Reagan administration were higher than the revenues collected from federal income taxes during any year of any previous administration.
How can that be? Because tax rates and tax revenues are two different things. Tax rates and tax revenues can move in either the same direction or in opposite directions, depending on how the economy responds.
But why should you take my word for it that federal income tax revenues were higher than before during the Reagan administration? Check it out.
Official statistics are available in many places. The easiest way to find those statistics is to go look at a copy of the annual "Economic Report of the President." It doesn't have to be the latest Report under President Trump. It can be a Report from any administration, from the Obama administration all the way back to the administration of the elder George Bush.
Each annual "Economic Report of the President" has the history of federal revenues and expenditures, going back for decades. And that is just one of the places where you can get this data. The truth is readily available, if you want it. But, if you are satisfied with political rhetoric, so be it.
Before we turn to the question of "the rich," let's first understand the implications of higher income tax revenues after income tax rates were cut during the Reagan administration.
That should have put an end to the talk about how lower tax rates reduce government revenues and therefore tax cuts need to be "paid for" or else there will be rising deficits. There were in fact rising deficits in the 1980s, but that was due to spending that outran even the rising tax revenues.
Congress does the spending, and there is no amount of money that Congress cannot outspend.
As for "the rich," higher-income taxpayers paid more — repeat, more tax revenues into the federal treasury under the lower tax rates than they had under the previous higher tax rates. That happened not only during the Reagan administration, but also during the Coolidge administration and the Kennedy administration before Reagan, and under the G.W. Bush administration after Reagan. All these administrations cut tax rates and received higher tax revenues than before.
More than that, "the rich" not only paid higher total tax revenues after the so-called "tax cuts for the rich," they also paid a higher percentage of all tax revenues afterwards. Data on this can be found in a number of places, including documented sources listed in my monograph titled "'Trickle Down' Theory and 'Tax Cuts for the Rich.'"
As a source more congenial to some, a front-page story in The New York Times on July 9, 2006 — during the Bush 43 administration — reported, "An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year." Expectations, of course, are in the eye of the beholder.
Stefan Jovanovich writes:
With defenders like Sowell, "conservatives" don't need any enemies. Tax cuts don't raise revenue; how could they? You said that taxes would be "cut". As Sowell finally explains, marginal Tax RATE cuts raise revenues. But they do so precisely because they do reward the rich. That reward is the price to be paid for making the country as a whole richer. To pretend otherwise is fatuous.
Lower marginal tax rates work because they reduce the incentives to cheat, especially for the rich. If you are only saving a few hundred basis points, there is very little reason to pay your lawyers to do tax planning - er, legally cheat. If the return is thousands (basis points on your overall tax rate, not dollars), that is an entirely different matter. The Reagan tax rate cuts were effective precisely because they gave the rich a reprieve from the Ford-Carter reforms that had made the high marginal tax rates real. Throughout the 50s and 60s the Roosevelt era Rates of Socialist confiscation had been invisibly moderated by the wonderful loophole of non-recourse financing tat the 54 Act allowed. But that all changed with the 1976 Act - which brought Venezuelan tax rates to bear and persuaded some of the rich to ignore their lawyers and play audit roulette by committing outright fraud.
On June 30, 1865, the U.S. Treasury's net borrowings outstanding were $2.7B. This was 41 times what they had been on June 30, 1860 when the net debt outstanding was $.07B. The peak was not reached until the last bills from the war came in; that came in the August 31, 1865 statement, whose closing balance showed a total debt less cash on hand of $2.8B. (As Grant notes, in the last page of his memoir, after Appomattox he set out to hurry back to Washington to cancel the outstanding war orders.) The June 30, 1865 statement showed these balances:
1. Irredeemable Currency (U.S. Notes aka Greenbacks) - $.46B - Unlike the Gold Notes that were exchangeable on demand for specie, the Greenbacks had no accrued interest costs.
2. Immediate Demand Notes (aka "Gold Notes") $.58B - Average Annual Interest Cost: 5.3%
3. Debt Due in 5 Years or Less (Avg. Maturity 3 Years) $.70B - Average Annual Interest Cost: 7.2%
4. Debt Due in More Than 5 Years (Average Maturity 21 Years) $.95B - Average Annual Interest Cost: 5.8%
Even as they looked at the massive accumulation of debt and wondered how it could be managed, the Republican majority in Congress discovered that they were being snookered. The Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery had been adopted by Congress in 1864; but it had yet to be ratified by the states. With 36 states in the country and only 22 states in "the Union", at least 5 of the secessionist states would have to be formally readmitted to the Union and vote to ratify the Amendment. In what would now be called "bi-partisanship", the Democrat President Johnson and the Senate leadership under Seward worked the cajole the former rebels into accepting the 13th Amendment. They succeeded; with the admissions and ratifications of Tennessee (April 7, 1865), Arkansas (April 14th), South Carolina (November 13th), Alabama (December 2nd), North Carolina (December 4th), and Georgia (December 6th), the vote of the required 3/4ths of the states was secured and the 13th Amendment became part of the United States Constitution.
The Republicans had not fully anticipated was how eager the Southern Democrats and President Johnson would be to adopt the the abolition of slavery. What they finally realized - as Florida negotiated for its readmission - was that the 13th Amendment was about votes in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, not about abolition at all. With the final ratification of the 13th Amendment, the Democrat Southern states had gained an increase in representation; they now had more seats in the House and votes in the Electoral College than they had possessed when they seceded from the Union. Apportionment of these states' rights under the 1860 Census had been on the count of ALL all adult white and 6/10ths of all mulattos and blacks. (White, Mulatto and Black were the 3 racial categories in the 1860 Census form.) Now the Southern states had the added House seats and Electoral College votes that came with the full enfranchisement of adult Black and Mulatto males. The coming elections offered the Southern Democrats and their Copperheads allies a very good chance of taking immediate control of the House in 1866 and regaining the Senate and the Presidency as well in 1868. After all, many in the North were as opposed to emancipation as the Southerners had been; New Jersey, for example, had not even ratified the 13th Amendment.
If the Democrats regained control, they would do one or the other of two things regarding Federal finance:
1. The Congress would repudiate ALL the debts incurred during the Civil War; OR
2. The Congress would do an Alexander Hamilton and assume ALL the debts incurred during the Civil War, including the $1.4B owed by Confederate States of America and their secessionist member states
For the Republicans and the Democrats, the Congressional election campaign of 1866 became a referendum on the question of the debt. The Republicans argued that the price paid for the war, in blood and in treasure, would all have been for nothing. They hammered away at the theme that, if the Democrats were elected, the Federal government would repudiate the loans issued during the Civil War as being Unconstitutional; and the bondholders would get nothing. The Democrats did their best to dress up default as part of a populist cause: the poor striking back at the rich. To an amazing extent modern historians like Foner and Richardson actually buy that argument. They think "the people" should have been for at least partial repudiation i.e. paying off the debt not in gold but in greenbacks - non-redeemable, non-interest-bearing paper.
The voting public did not. To understand why is to begin to understand how different the world of the 19th century really was. The holders of U.S. debt in 1866 were radically different people from those who currently hold Uncle Sam's IOUs. Instead of the Fed and foreign central banks and U.S. financial institutions who are the present buyers and sellers, the owners of U.S. Treasury debt after the Civil War were the country's individual citizens. Jay Cooke's 19th century biographer estimated that Cooke created 3 million bond customers; even Foner, who despises Cooke, concedes that he had 1 million subscribers. That meant that, at the very least, 1 out of every 12 adults living in the North in 1860 were bondholders. Treasury debt ownership was as widespread as ownership of U.S. savings bonds was after WW II; but in 1866 "the public" owned ALL of the debt, not just the small denominations.
As a result, the Republicans won - bigly; and they learned their lesson about bi-partisanship. Congress set to work adopting still more Amendments to the Constitution and adopted a new standard for a state's readmission to the Union. In order to have its representatives seated in Congress , a state would have to ratify the 14th Amendment and approve its specific debt and enforcement debt provisions, including Section 4: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void."
By 1868 the Democrats were resolved that repudiation and race war would be their party platform. In his final State of the Union message Johnson announced: "This vast debt, if permitted to become permanent and increasing, must eventually be gathered into the hands of a few, and enable them to exert a dangerous and controlling power in the affairs of the government. The borrowers would become servants to the lenders, the lenders the masters of the people. We now pride ourselves upon having given freedom to 4,000,000 of the colored race; it will then be our shame that 40,000,000 of people, by their own toleration of usurpation and profligacy, have suffered themselves to become enslaved, and merely exchanged slave owners for new taskmasters in the shape of bondholders and tax gatherers."
What the present period does share with the one after the Civil War is the insistence by the voters that the Federal debts be paid. And, then, as now, the smart money thinks that is impossible.
In the decades after the Civil War, both the voters and the smart money were both proved right. As the smart money had predicted, the debt was not, in fact, repaid; it was simply rolled over and gradually increased for the remainder of the 19th century. But, at the same time, the public was paid, and in full. The debts were not repudiated; and the dollar, instead of collapsing, actually gained in purchasing power. Even as the debt remained and slowly grew larger, the demand to own and hold U.S. Treasury obligations strengthened. Both "the people" and the smart money worldwide grew ever more bullish on the dollar and U.S. debt, as they discovered that dollars to paid out in the future were worth even more in goods and services than they were in the present.
This all happened because of one man - Ulysses Grant. By determination and sheer force of will, Grant forced the Congress - both Democrats and Republicans - to pass the legislation that did three seemingly contradictory things:
1. The money "supply" would be increased; contrary to the arguments of both Johnson's Treasury Secretary McCulloch and Republican Senator John Sherman, the greenbacks in circulation would not be "retired"; and the privately-owned banks in the country would be free to issue as many of their own Federal bank notes as they thought prudent.
2. All paper currency obligations - privately issued Federal bank notes and Treasury greenbacks - every piece of printing that the law recognized as legal tender for the payment of private and public debt - would be exchangeable for gold or (for small denominations only) silver coin. Redemption of their Federal bank notes from their reserves of coin would be the obligation of the private banks. Redemption of Treasury greenbacks, gold notes and bonds would be paid out of the Treasury's own specie (gold and silver bullion and coin) reserves.
3. The Federal government would keep straight books and would not spend more than it collected in taxes which would be tariffs only, no income taxes
Grant's reputation suffers to this day precisely because he won a victory in the debt and currency war that followed the Civil War that came with full and unconditional surrender:
1. By adopting the Scottish model of free banking, the United States acquired overnight a responsive and adaptable system of private lending and bond issuance that became the marvel of the world - one that stood in direct opposition to the central bank model that Europe was adopting. Within two decades American private banks and their depositors had become the healthiest in the world, strong enough to be able to bail out the Federal government in 1893.
2. By requiring all paper money to be as good as gold, the United States avoided the corruptions that the arbitrage of legal tender bimetallism inevitably creates. Thanks to the restricted authority given to the Federal government, the temptations for Congress and the President to muck about with the nation's currency and credit were successfully limited. As a result, credit panics were limited in scope and reach; even national crises were over within a matter of days, not years, because no institutions were too big to fail.
Grant's first legislative act as a new President was to sign the bill that Johnson had vetoed - the Public Credit Act : "(I)n order to remove any doubt as to the purpose of the Government to discharge all just obligations to the public creditors and to settle conflicting questions and interpretations of the laws by virtue of which such obligations have been contracted, it is hereby provided and declared that the faith of the United States is solemnly pledged to the payment in coin or its equivalent of all the obligations of the United States not bearing interest known as United States notes and of all the interest bearing obligations of the United States except in cases where the law authorizing the issue of any such obligation has expressly provided that the same may be paid in lawful money or other currency than gold and silver. But none of said interest bearing obligations not already due shall be redeemed or paid before maturity unless at such time United States notes shall be convertible into coin at the option of the holder or unless at such time bonds of the United States bearing a lower rate of interest than the bonds to be redeemed can be sold at par in coin. And the United States also solemnly pledges its faith to make provision at the earliest practical period for the redemption of the United States notes in coin."
By the time finished his second term, his financial system was so well-established and supported that no successor President - Republican or Democrat - dared to mess with the legislative structure he had created for the rest of the century. (The only comparable legislative success in terms of permanently reshaping American finance would be Roosevelt's New Deal.) The only small move made towards British ideal of a government monopoly over money was John Sherman's move to give the Bureau of Engraving sole authority to actually print the U.S. Notes for the individual banks; even this change towards sole Federal authority had to wait until 1877, after Grant had left office. (Grant had opposed Sherman's "reform" because he knew that this would create a supply bottleneck that would result in purely artificial "shortages" of bank notes. As the British had already demonstrated, allowing a single Note Department meant that all banks - both sound and unsound - could be prohibited from increasing lending in times of crisis.)
It was only after extravagance of the Spanish-American War and the foreign exchange crisis of 1907 that Congress once again decided that a new, modern "flexible" (sic) system of Federal government borrowing was needed. Teddy Roosevelt, the first Progressive Republican President, was all in favor because he wanted to raise the money for the Panama Canal. Woodrow Wilson, the first Progressive Democrat President, was desperate to establish an income tax that would extend the reach of the government and its central bank into everyone's private finances and give the Federal government the monopoly power to expand its own "money supply" at will.
Contrary to what is now taught, the U.S. did not "inflate" its way out of its debt crisis after the Civil War. Neither did it suffer the ruins of deflation that every college and graduate student who wants an A on his/her exams learns by rote. The purchasing power of "the dollar" grew as enterprise and invention made things and services better, cheaper and far more broadly available. The size of the U.S. debt remained comparatively enormous compared to what it had been in 1860 and before; but the growth of the country made it possible to carry that obligation with ease while maintaining the Constitutional standard for money that Washington and others had insisted on when they founded the country itself.
And now, after 3 World Wars and the bloodiest century in human history, all financed by fiat money and government debt-reserved banking, here we are once again - looking at Federal promises to pay of a size that, even a decade ago, was beyond imagining.
And yet when the Fed decreases its debt holdings, it is not somehow magically paying off the debt but only selling it to someone else. If that is the case, then won't the lovely future GD predicts depend on Secretary Mnuchin finding an extra $400B from somewhere other than Aunt Janet's piggy bank?
George Zachar writes:
That's right…when the Fed stops rolling over its debt holdings to shrink its balance sheet, the debt will need 'fresh money' buyers.
The bear story is more debt on the market pushing up yields. The bull story is the presence of "natural" buyers needing "risk free" assets…a category that conveniently includes US financial institutions forced to buy them due to increasingly rigorous regulations.
Faust thinks at least scientists at least acknowledge they have a huge incentive to tweak, or outright fake, statistical analyses to make results seem significant or to align with government priorities. Science marchers however treat research as something akin to religious awe rather than acknowledge its flaws. This tends to cause self-identified "science enthusiasts" to only accept science which supports their views.
"Another example is the vocal wing of environmentalists who got up one day and decided that genetically modified organisms were bad for you," Faust writes. "They had not one shred of evidence for this, but it just kind of felt true. As a result, responsible scientists will be fighting against these zealots for years to come."
Steve Ellison writes:
I often say that a benefit of doing research and statistics in our field is that there is no "publish or perish", but only "a cruel but not unusual form of 'capital punishment'", as Richard Band put it, if we get something wrong.
No one in the official world of literature really liked Timothy Snyder's book when it came out in 2010. The NY Times reviewer complained that Snyder had not given sufficient attention to the post WW-II persecution of Jews by Stalin. The New Republic thought he had failed to explain the differences between German military behavior in the West and in the East.
What Snyder did was go through the surviving archive records (mostly Nazi and Soviet) AND everything else written in English, German, Yiddish, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, and French. He wanted to find out what had happened to the people living between Berlin and Moscow in the years between 1933 and 1945. By his calculation 14 million people who were not soldiers died in those there during those years. In addition, half of all the soldiers killed in WW II died on what is now called the Eastern Front.
Today is the anniversary of what is, by the tally of those years, a relatively insignificant event: 1943: The massacre of Janowa Dolina
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— keep looking »
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