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"The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said."
May 2, 2012 9:05 AM   Subscribe

"“It saves a fraction of a penny on every can,” he said. “There are a lot of soda cans in the world. That means the economy can produce more cans with the same amount of resources. It makes every American who buys a soda can a little bit richer because their paycheck buys more.”" The New York Times interviews Edward Conard (of Bain Capital fame) about his new book, "Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy is Wrong".
posted by spitefulcrow (102 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just a bit short of coming off like a Yes Men prank. Trickle-down douching will save us all!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:09 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


You'd think all that money could buy nicer glasses or something.
posted by The Whelk at 9:10 AM on May 2, 2012


There were so many pull quotes I wanted to go with. The bit about his mate-selection (the term Conard himself uses) process just killed me. These people are goddamn sociopaths.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:11 AM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Now, that is an appropriate name.
posted by Skeptic at 9:12 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is the same guy who believes so strongly in the power of money that he funneled a million dollars to Romney's Super PAC and got caught trying to hide it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:12 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't hate me because I'm beautifulfabulously wealthy...
posted by modernserf at 9:13 AM on May 2, 2012


He said the only way to persuade these “art-history majors” to join the fiercely competitive economic mechanism is to tempt them with extraordinary payoffs.

Please sir, I would also like a magical flying pony, and then I will forget all about those terrible Romans and Italian coffee at 2:30 PM!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:13 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


He advocates, in utter seriousness, using demographic data to calculate the number of potential mates in your geographic area. Then, he says, you should set aside a bit of time for “calibration” — dating as many people as you can so that you have a sense of what the marriage marketplace is like. Then you enter the selection phase, this time with the goal of picking a permanent mate. The first woman you date who is a better match than the best woman you met during the calibration phase is, therefore, the person you should marry. By statistical probability, she is as good a match as you’re going to get. (Conard used this system himself.)

Just marry the goddamned Excel program already.
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 AM on May 2, 2012 [40 favorites]


What if I don't buy a soda can? What if I lost my job so you could make cheaper soda cans?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just marry the goddamned Excel program already.

Why marry it when you can masturbate in front of it for free?
posted by escabeche at 9:16 AM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Clive Palmer puts an impassioned case that criticising rich people is morally equivalent to hating on foreigners.
posted by flabdablet at 9:19 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Conard concedes that the banks made some mistakes, but the important thing now, he says, is to provide them even stronger government support. He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks if they ever face another run.

It's because they created so many jobs and so much value to society through individual excellence. Or something.

If a Wall Street trader or a corporate chief executive is filthy rich, Conard says that the merciless process of economic selection has assured that they have somehow benefited society.

But not because they've stacked the Board of Director and Compensation Committee with thier three friends from Exeter and Princeton, senile Aunt Hilda and the CEOs of 9 other Fortune 500 Companies.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:20 AM on May 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Picking your wife with an Excel macro is lazy.

That's why I wrote the program to pick mine in assembly language. Which I ran on a CPU I built myself. Out of mechanical relays and toggle switches.
posted by localroger at 9:20 AM on May 2, 2012 [22 favorites]


Then, he says, you should set aside a bit of time for “calibration” — dating as many people as you can so that you have a sense of what the marriage marketplace is like. Then you enter the selection phase, this time with the goal of picking a permanent mate. The first woman you date who is a better match than the best woman you met during the calibration phase is, therefore, the person you should marry.

I think most people do this, they just call the phases their "twenties" and "thirties", respectively.

Which is consistent with the Bain brand -- telling you shit you already knew in clever ways while screwing you through the wallet. Glad to see that Bain Capital is at least maintaining that particular high standard of Bain & Co.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I want to hear how he proposed to his "mate."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:22 AM on May 2, 2012


We should thank him for letting everyone know just how special he is so that the pitchfork wielding mob can start at his house first when the revolution starts.
posted by photoslob at 9:22 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Merger?"
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Close, "Acquisition."
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Seriously though, this mainly made me quite sad. He describes his marriage in terms of statistics. He apparently finds no value or pleasure in art, though I'm curious to know what the walls of his mansion(s) are decorated with, if he scorns art history. He is angry somehow that other people are paying money to purchase coffee at 2:30 in the afternoon, as if that is an insult to being American, that you can be young and happy and caffeinated. He views investments as actually a twisted form of charity, and makes a virtue of leaving your wife and baby at home while you work into the night.

Fuck that noise. I'll take my art history and my coffee and my loving relationship, which was totally not at all vetted by statistics.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:26 AM on May 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


Another way to tell when a political article is garbage: The title is "Everything you know about [x] is wrong".
posted by KGMoney at 9:27 AM on May 2, 2012 [20 favorites]


Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life.

This man has no idea how extremely cut-throat and competitive the world of art history is. Or any academic profession, but especially the humanities.
posted by jb at 9:28 AM on May 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


He might well be right, in which case, I have to ask: why do the very wealthy bank offshore if they are spending their money in our economy?
posted by Postroad at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously though, this mainly made me quite sad. He describes his marriage in terms of statistics. He apparently finds no value or pleasure in art, though I'm curious to know what the walls of his mansion(s) are decorated with, if he scorns art history. He is angry somehow that other people are paying money to purchase coffee at 2:30 in the afternoon, as if that is an insult to being American, that you can be young and happy and caffeinated. He views investments as actually a twisted form of charity, and makes a virtue of leaving your wife and baby at home while you work into the night.

Fuck that noise. I'll take my art history and my coffee and my loving relationship, which was totally not at all vetted by statistics.


Not at all vetted by statistics, but vetted by just about every other measure of what people who aren't self-centered pricks think of as a fulfilling life.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:31 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was going to say something about rent seeking but then I saw Conrad brought it up himself and dismissed it with hand waving. However, that is in fact what he is propounding.

It's only class warfare when poor people do it.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


“God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

I am so much wealthier than this poor sad man. All of that wealth and he really has *nothing* because he lost the whole wonderful beautiful world. It is sad to see a life thrown away for something as worthless and trite as wealth-for-wealth's-sake.
posted by fuq at 9:34 AM on May 2, 2012 [20 favorites]


“Most citizens are consumers, not investors,” he told me during one of our long, occasionally contentious conversations. “They don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.”

Seems like a bit of a straw man. Most would agree that investment brings about innovation. But he seems to assume that only the rich invests and that if the wealth concentration of the rich would get distributed amongst more people, that investment would go down. I see nothing backing up that claim.
posted by Bort at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks if they ever face another run.

So do I. It's called the FDIC and the bankruptcy process and progressive taxation of wealthy people like this guy so that the next time the banks do screw the national pooch, the government is sitting on a big pile of tax dollars and doesn't have to go into debt to fix it.
posted by gauche at 9:36 AM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Where's the part when he talks about the Occupy movement? Oh, there wasn't one? "If anybody was going to be shy with a reporter, I figured, it was him." What, because he just wrote a book about how awesome it is to be super wealthy? He's totally shunning the spotlight there.

"It also became clear that he had exhaustively thought through the role of the superrich in our economy, and he wasn’t afraid to share those opinions." Yeah, we guessed that, too. He wrote a book about it, remember? That's why you're interviewing him.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:36 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, this bit made me mad:

Conard understands that many believe that the U.S. economy currently serves the rich at the expense of everyone else. He contends that this is largely because most Americans don’t know how the economy really works...

Basing your economic policies on how a rich person thinks the economy works is like ... I dunno, ESPN selling ad time based on what products Michael Jordan is likely to purchase.
posted by gauche at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've got a new sort of mantra that I end up repeating to myself a few times a day when considering people, their choices, their approaches to things, etc. It's "What is true for me is not necessarily true for other people." I think keeping that in mind makes me a better person.

I don't get the sense that that's the sort of thing that Mr. Conard considers.
posted by ghharr at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


fuq: I am so much wealthier than this poor sad man. All of that wealth and he really has *nothing* because he lost the whole wonderful beautiful world. It is sad to see a life thrown away for something as worthless and trite as wealth-for-wealth's-sake.

But his death-bed will have silky sheets. That's what really matters, right? How comfortable you are when you're about to die?

Europeans, he says, made all the wrong decisions. Concern about promoting equality and protecting favored industries have led to onerous work rules, higher taxes and all sorts of social programs that keep them poorer than Americans.

Are you still considered poor when you don't have to worry about going bankrupt paying medical bills? And what good is wealth when you don't have time to enjoy it? I'm looking at you, you sad 13 days of paid vacation in the US.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


Here's what I don't get. With the concentrations of wealth at the top and the income disparity spread we've currently got going in the US, the top 500 wealthiest individuals, were they to coordinate their actions, could wreck the US economy all by themselves if they withdrew all their investment capital and took all their money out of the banking system. That puts 500 people in the position to hold the entire US economy hostage.

How is that sound economic policy? It leaves far too much power in the hands of far too few to be called a "free market."
posted by saulgoodman at 9:47 AM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's disappointing to see the Time publishing this nakedly self-serving propaganda as though it merited serious consideration as something other than that.

When unemployment is high, when real wages have lain stagnant for decades, when education costs increase by hundreds of percentage points over a few years, when college grads enter the workforce tens of thousands in debt, when people in the wealthiest nation on earth are bankrupted by healthcare costs, it doesn't matter how cleverly contrarian or technically diverting the arguments in favor of inequality and injustice are. People are hurting, dying, and living unnecessarily painful and limited lives simply because sociopaths like this are setting the fucking agenda. All his words add up to nothing, because real Americans are in serious fucking trouble because our government has colluded with big business to royally fuck us twelve ways from Sunday. That is the central fact of our time, and his pathetic, insulting, condescending, and utterly irrelevant opinions are galling distractions from the difficult work we must do in reclaiming our patrimony as citizens.

So let wealth concentration double, Mr. Conard. When we come for your head, I'll be pleased to listen to erudite arguments in favor of your continued and gratuitous self-enrichment at the expense of our lives as the hungry and cheated sharpen the knives.
posted by clockzero at 9:48 AM on May 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


The bit where he's hating on people for being at a coffee shop instead of at the office at 2:30pm is a bit rich. They could have the day off. They could be on their coffee break. They could, in fact, be in the middle of a business meeting at that very moment. But, you know, they're not wearing suits and are not sweating away in a cubicle so they're clearly lazy shits who deserve his complete and utter scorn.
posted by asnider at 9:50 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


He advocates, in utter seriousness, using demographic data to calculate the number of potential mates in your geographic area. Then, he says, you should set aside a bit of time for “calibration” — dating as many people as you can so that you have a sense of what the marriage marketplace is like.

This explains so much about Garrus.
posted by rewil at 9:50 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


That puts 500 people in the position to hold the entire US economy hostage.

History suggests that any situation where that even might happen would result in legal limits on amounts and types of asset sales so fast it would make their head spin.
posted by jaduncan at 9:50 AM on May 2, 2012


What he saying is actually nothing particularly new, in a way. An early form of socialism, Saint–Simonianism inspired people to form investment companies during the early to mid 1800s, with the purpose of aiding the industrial revolution. The goal was that the conditions of the mass of people would be improved the swifter that the economy grew and was modernized. Some of them were wildly successful. I suppose one difference is that Saint–Simonians coincidentally became rich while trying to improve the world, whereas Conard coincidentally helps the world while seeking to become rich.
posted by Jehan at 9:51 AM on May 2, 2012


The bit where he's hating on people for being at a coffee shop instead of at the office at 2:30pm is a bit rich. They could have the day off. They could be on their coffee break. They could, in fact, be in the middle of a business meeting at that very moment. But, you know, they're not wearing suits and are not sweating away in a cubicle so they're clearly lazy shits who deserve his complete and utter scorn.

What is this welfare system he imagines where unemployed people have the money to get coffee at a coffee shop? I know people who would appreciate the secret forms.
posted by jaduncan at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's disappointing to see the Time publishing this nakedly self-serving propaganda as though it merited serious consideration as something other than that.

I believe that’s called "giving them enough rope". Are you sure you read it?
posted by bongo_x at 9:53 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Conard understands that many believe that the U.S. economy currently serves the rich at the expense of everyone else. He contends that this is largely because most Americans don’t know how the economy really works...

I contend that he is a) delusional, b) weirdly ignorant, or c) lying.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:53 AM on May 2, 2012


What with the appropriate French pun name and wife-picking spreadsheets, I'm pretty sure this guy escaped from a Dickens novel to wreak havoc on our world.
posted by theodolite at 9:54 AM on May 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


What is this welfare system he imagines where unemployed people have the money to get coffee at a coffee shop? I know people who would appreciate the secret forms.

I would favor this system. It would also likely help us with our ongoing bohemian gap in relation to the rest of the industrialized world. Our Open Mic production rate has dropped perilously low!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


“God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

It's funny, because I think the super-rich are usually stereotyped as subscribing to a particularly toxic brand of nihilism, but the universe in this guy's head does have meaning and that meaning is eternal, inexhaustible tedium. These articles usually depress me, but in this case I am going to be giggling about this for the rest of the day. He's a White Rabbit scurrying around in the thrall of a hallucinated Queen of Hearts.
posted by invitapriore at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


I contend that he is a) delusional, b) weirdly ignorant, or c) lying.

He is a classic crank, in that opposing evidence is ignored or hand waved but tenuous arguments and essentially counterfactual statements in his favour are relied upon. I don't personally agree with his viewpoint, but aside from that it's terribly argued.

In another life he'd be telling me about what really happened on 9/11.
posted by jaduncan at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


EVERYTHING? Even the spelling of the word? (*looks it up*). Huh, apparently it is now spelled "Bizniss". Good to know. Thanks duck dude!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:59 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought we weren't supposed to make fun of the mentally-challenged...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:00 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


“It saves a fraction of a penny on every can,” he said. “There are a lot of soda cans in the world. That means the economy can produce more cans with the same amount of resources. It makes every American who buys a soda can a little bit richer because their paycheck buys more.”

Isn't there some jump in logic between "less aluminum per can" to "the buyer pays less"? I can see this as promotion of "free market resource management," but "making the purchasers of pop richer"? Aren't productions savings just ways that execs can rationalize significant bonuses for themselves, costing the company less while charging the end-product consumer the same amount as before?

OK, I'll find other horses in need of kicking, this one isn't getting up any time soon.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought we weren't supposed to make fun of the mentally-challenged...

Then don't compare them to him. Not understanding any value but money and power doesn't happen because you're stupid, it happens because you're a cunt.
posted by howfar at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


What with the appropriate French pun name and wife-picking spreadsheets...

Satin spreadsheets with $1000,000,000 thread count, no doubt.
posted by y2karl at 10:14 AM on May 2, 2012


Isn't there some jump in logic between "less aluminum per can" to "the buyer pays less"? I can see this as promotion of "free market resource management," but "making the purchasers of pop richer"? Aren't productions savings just ways that execs can rationalize significant bonuses for themselves, costing the company less while charging the end-product consumer the same amount as before?

No, no, no. Once you rich maximum richness, in which you have so much money that earning even more is essentially pointless, you'll be happy to reduce your operating costs and pass those savings on to the consumer instead of simply using those reduced costs as a way of increasing your profits.1 Really. Super rich people never take more than they need and are always very generous. That is how the free market works. Honest!

1. Note: Maximum richness may not actually be a thing that people believe in and some people may, in fact, believe that generating wealth is an end in and of itself. Conard may, in fact, be such a person.
posted by asnider at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


He advocates, in utter seriousness, using demographic data to calculate the number of potential mates in your geographic area. Then, he says, you should set aside a bit of time for “calibration” — dating as many people as you can so that you have a sense of what the marriage marketplace is like. Then you enter the selection phase, this time with the goal of picking a permanent mate. The first woman you date who is a better match than the best woman you met during the calibration phase is, therefore, the person you should marry. By statistical probability, she is as good a match as you’re going to get. (Conard used this system himself.)


Somebody should ask his wife--the writer Jill A. Davis--how it feels to know she was as good a match as you're going to get.
posted by Chrischris at 10:20 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes - this man is sad. But he's also just wrong.

For example: our recent economic collapse was causedby a run on the banks. No, the banks collapsed because of a complex series of factors that included a real estate bubble that was fueled by private equity firms.

Another: private investment creates innovation. I actually kind of like his example - that of improving the pop can lid. This is the type of innovation that is often "created" through private investment. Teeny tiny improvements in efficiency resulting in greater profit. Blue sky innovation is more likely created through public investment (especially university research). There are a lot of exceptions to this, especially in the tech industry, I admit. But the general trend holds.

Another: wealthy people are more likely to invest than middle class people. This one is not borne out by his own words. The pension funds that drive a lot of private equity investments are funded by the middle class.

But assuming he's somewhat right about this one - that the middle class does not invest as much as it should (probably right) - there are better ways to tackle this problem than to simply give more money to the very rich. The incentives for investment are wrong. The very rich have gotten that way through, essentially, gambling. Investment needs to be about supporting innovation and creating societal wealth, not gambling. But this scenario hardly exists, except in some very small cases like KickStart. More things need to look like KickStart.

Another: increasing the reward will increase the number of investors. This one is silly. If someone does not go into investment banking for already-obscene current salaries and benefits, they're unlikely to do it for double that amount. He does not understand personal motivation beyond his own.

Another (related to that): increasing the reward will increase the very rich. No, it will mean that more people gamble and lose, and fewer people get a whole lot more money. That's what concentration of wealth is. He's very confused on this point. He wants more concentration of wealth, and he also wants all those art history majors to become investors? He has a very strange notion that the very wealthy bracket can accommodate a lot more people, and possibly all of the very brightest.

I'll stop there. It's 2:30 here in Newfoundland and I need my coffee.
posted by blueberry sushi at 10:22 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


He advocates, in utter seriousness, using demographic data to calculate the number of potential mates in your geographic area. Then, he says, you should set aside a bit of time for “calibration” — dating as many people as you can so that you have a sense of what the marriage marketplace is like.
MERCHANT BANKER (John): (Thumbing through a dictionary) 'Inner life'. . . 'inner life'. . .
posted by Herodios at 10:34 AM on May 2, 2012


I have to say that since the beginning of Planet Money, I've gotten this ugly sense about the author if the piece, Adam Davidson. I'd describe it as a mean-spirited strain of entrepreneurialism. I mean, this is the guy that tried to make money off of fellow journalists when he was in Iraq for NPR. There are other instances of pretty one-sided shilling, like when he was trying convince Elizabeth Warren that the 2008 crisis was exclusively a bank liquidity problem and that she needs to check herself.

He really seems to be in the tank when it comes to finance. On the other hand, younger, regular folks need to accept that the labor market has become a lottery-based economy and make numerous gambles (not the least of which includes "betting" on becoming a highly-paid nanny).
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:39 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


were they to coordinate their actions, could wreck the US economy all by themselves if they withdrew all their investment capital and took all their money out of the banking system

That sounds A LOT like the plot of a book I threw against a wall one time.
posted by kingbenny at 10:40 AM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:50 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Economics is the best veil yet used to obscure sociopaths and their greed and their lust from the eyes of decent people.

The only economic theory used should be about doing what you can to benefit the greatest number of people at any given time. Full stop. Civilization isn't a competition this century, its a cooperative game of survival. How long can you keep the clock running on crony capitalism and only crony capitalism?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:53 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's only class warfare when poor people do it.
Otherwise, it's class genocide.
posted by LiteOpera at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most peoples' objections to this dude are cultural - his denigration of art history, the long-haired hipsters in the coffee shop, etc. But his basic point - that we need more investment - is basically beyond reproach.
posted by downing street memo at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2012


“It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

The tragedy of this thought is he seems to think only the super-rich are working this hard. I'm sure we all know people working 12+ hour days and barely making it, if we are not those people ourselves.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:01 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


But his basic point - that we need more investment - is basically beyond reproach.

That isn't his basic point. That's like saying Stalin's basic point was that the USSR needed to modernise.
posted by howfar at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


“God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said.

No, but you retired at 51. Interesting that.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:20 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The last few sentences sum up what is wrong with this guy.

"...having a small elite with vast wealth is good for the poor and middle class."

Good so that you can basically enslave them.
posted by freakazoid at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2012


After reading this, I am almost wistful that Charlie will likely never get out. . .
posted by Danf at 11:23 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good so that you can basically enslave them.

But if we're slaves, we won't have to think for ourselves. Ignorance is bliss! War is peace! Thoughtcrime can't happen if no one is thinking!
posted by asnider at 11:25 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's like an Ayn Rand hero come to life. That's...something that the English language hasn't come up with a word awful enough to describe.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:37 AM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Most peoples' objections to this dude are cultural - his denigration of art history, the long-haired hipsters in the coffee shop, etc. But his basic point - that we need more investment - is basically beyond reproach.

But his basic point is too basic. Most everyone would agree that in general it is good for funds to be invested in productive enterprise rather than stashed under a mattress. It is good that smart, able, and motivated people can get great rewards from their work. Maybe fewer, but still many people would agree that the financial markets server a valuable function in enabling the flow of money to new and profitable uses.

But saying that stuff is worthless because what matters is the details. For example, is there evidence that a small minority of extremely wealthy investors produce more economic growth than a large number of reasonably well off small-time investors? He probably makes more in a day than I do in a year but like him I also have the majority of my net worth invested. He might spend a much smaller percentage of his income on consumption than I do, but consumption is good for the economy.

People who work hard and are clever and build good, useful things shouldn't be envied their success. But we also shouldn't neglect the societal and structural forces that influence which clever and hard-working people become successful. The success of the giants of various industries is often not a case of being the smartest, or most innovative (or maybe at the start, but not forever), but just being the first to get big enough to stifle competition or absorb promising rivals. And just the fact of being rich isn't proof that you're the smartest, hardest-working, most deserving guy around.

And sure, the financial industry performs a necessary service in pushing money around. But from the average person's perspective all that pushing gets done in a black box. As a reward for their pushing prowess we let the finance types skim some off the top for themselves. But how are we to know that we're getting a good deal, or that they're doing an optimal job of money moving? Felix Salmon recently posted a list from 2007 of the top 50 highest paid non-corporate employees of Lehman Brothers. That doesn't include the CEO/CFO/COO/etc. Those 50 people earned a combined $674,733,293 in total compensation in 2007 alone. Going by what Wikipedia says was the median Amercian worker's pre-tax income in 2007 those 50 people are equal to over 13,000 median workers. Am I really supposed to believe that they are that exceptional. Do I need to remind anyone what happened to Lehman Brothers?
posted by ghharr at 11:43 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


He advocates, in utter seriousness, using demographic data to calculate the number of potential mates in your geographic area

for all the bashing that this has received, it is just a riff on what is quite common advice (e.g., quite a few of these.
posted by rr at 11:52 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This stance, which largely absolves the banks, is not shared by many analysts.

Now there's a beautiful use of meiosis.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:01 PM on May 2, 2012


Not understanding any value but money and power doesn't happen because you're stupid, it happens because you're a cunt.

Which I consider being mentally challenged. I didn't say he was stupid.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:05 PM on May 2, 2012


“Most citizens are consumers, not investors,” he told me during one of our long, occasionally contentious conversations. “They don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.”

What he doesn't seem to understand is that you need a BALANCE. Investment is important - but so is consumption. If you don't pay people well enough so that they can consume, you have a demand crisis, and your economy tanks.

Kind of like right now.
posted by jb at 12:09 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The bit where he's hating on people for being at a coffee shop instead of at the office at 2:30pm is a bit rich.

Yes... isn't he in a coffee shop at 2:30pm? Maybe they were being interviewed by reporters.

Or - the most obvious answer - they don't work at that time, but at some other time like night shift or early mornings or weekends? I have been in lots of coffee shops at 2:30, after having worked from 6am to 2pm.
posted by jb at 12:13 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


But his basic point - that we need more investment - is basically beyond reproach.

Up to a point, Lord Cropper.

We really don't need the kind of investment this guy understands, which is basically shunting more money to the rentier classes he's part off. What we do need is to get the money out of these classes -- and American businesses are sitting on huge piles of cash not doing anything worthwhile -- to invest in a series of very basic things America (and the world) needs and will make it richer:

1) proper healthcare system
2) better social welfare system
3) schools, schools, schools
4) Coal to renewable energy switchover

Undsoweiter.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:20 PM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


for all the bashing that this has received, it is just a riff on what is quite common advice

I think it's the way that he (appears) to have approached it. He doesn't say: "date a lot of people to figure out what you're looking for, and then start looking for a long-term relationship once you know what you want in a partner." He says: "use cold, emotionless statistics to find a life partner."

He may be riffing on common advice, but the way he presents it makes it seems like something completely different.
posted by asnider at 12:22 PM on May 2, 2012


Most peoples' objections to this dude are cultural

Not mine! I think he's a dangerous sociopath who would only be happy if he could recreate the social system of the Roman Empire, complete with slaves, and could then sit around complaining about how much those useless, unproductive slaves ate as he crucified one or two of them pour encourager les autres.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:37 PM on May 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


"It" on the soda can referenced in the post is the taper at the top of the can. I'd love to see a cite on why that taper is there as I can think of a couple much more compelling reasons mostly relating to how the can feeds in a vending machine and strength of materials. Especially considering non carbonated beverage cans often lack the taper and also considering the industry hasn't universally gone to creased cans (which allow for thinner cans).
posted by Mitheral at 12:47 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The financial crisis, he writes, was not the result of corrupt bankers selling dodgy financial products. It was a simple, old-fashioned run on the banks, whom, he says, were just doing their job.

This is the part where I started yelling at my computer screen.

I really, really hope that he is just cynically saying whatever he thinks will be most profitable for him and his pals. Because I am absolutely terrified by the thought that people who control and allocate billions of dollars of wealth might actually believe that the problem behind the largest financial crisis in decades was that all the little people panicked.
posted by jcreigh at 1:04 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know the phrase idiot savant has fallen out of favor, but this is a fascinating case study.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:47 PM on May 2, 2012


the top 500 wealthiest individuals, were they to coordinate their actions, could wreck the US economy all by themselves if they withdrew all their investment capital and took all their money out of the banking system.

This makes a pretty good plot device, but I don't think there's any way it would be workable in reality. You can't have a transaction without some sort of counterparty. If I want to buy a stock, someone has to be willing to sell it to me in exchange for dollars. If I want to sell a stock, somebody has to be willing to buy it from me and give me dollars (or whatever).

So if all the rich people called up their brokers one morning and said "SELL! SELL EVERYTHING!", within a few moments the market would be flooded. Even if you ignore all the triggers that you'd set off that would stop trading in particular exchanges as the prices crashed, you'd very quickly reach a point where you wouldn't be able to sell any more shares, because what idiot is going to grab a falling blade like that? They'd run out of liquidity long before they were able to actually exit all of their positions and transform it into a Scrooge McDuckian bullion horde or giant cash pyre* whatever their desired end-state was.

It's sort of an interesting thought experiment, but I think the net result would be that those individuals would risk ruining themselves and probably find it very hard to affect the market for very long -- maybe they'd end up halting trading for the day or something, or perhaps pull some sort of Soros-like maneuver but that's about it, I think.

Also, although the 500 wealthiest individuals are very rich relative to other individuals, I doubt that they are that wealthy when compared to large institutional investors. In other words, I suspect the top 500 individual market players are dwarfed by the 500 top institutions, and any coordinated play by the individuals would probably just get them carried out by the institutions.

Beyond that, it's a bit farfetched to imagine that the top 500 individuals have any goals widely in common except for the maintenance of the status quo and its occasional 'enhancement' to make it more favorable. They strike me as rather unlikely revolutionaries.

* Actually, buying up a lot of cash and burning it is especially funny, because the government could just issue more money to compensate, preventing deflation and ensuring that nothing happens except a net wealth transfer from the formerly-rich bill-burner to the state. Oops.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:48 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most peoples' objections to this dude are cultural - his denigration of art history, the long-haired hipsters in the coffee shop, etc. But his basic point - that we need more investment - is basically beyond reproach.

He states that monetary incentives drives people to do valuable work, but that isn't borne out by the research.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:01 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"[I]t takes a remarkably materialistic and delusional mind to believe that a person not enticed by the prospect of earning tens of millions of dollars, would somehow be more enticed by the prospect of hundreds of millions."
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:02 PM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've always viewed it as evidence of the complete shuddering failure of our press to hold responsible parties accountable when you can have a reporter sit down face to face with a person like this and listen to their spiel of complete sociopathic world-ruining garbage without pausing, thoughtfully picking up their pen, and then stabbing that person in the throat with it.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:03 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So if all the rich people called up their brokers one morning and said "SELL! SELL EVERYTHING!",

It wouldn't require that much effort for them to do serious harm, though. They wouldn't have to sell off all their investment holdings to cause a serious economic jolt. Just withdrawing all their deposit funds from banks of deposit and investment banks simultaneously would have a devastating effect on the financial sector.

The top 400 richest Americans collectively command $1.37 trillion in wealth. According to this research [warning:PDF], the upper quintile of earners tend to save at a rate of about 25% of their income. So, presumably, about 25% of their net worth would be in savings. By my back of the envelope, rushing to leave for home math that means the top 400 have roughly $34,250,000,000,000 in savings.

I think if $34 trillion were withdrawn from US deposit banks overnight, we'd feel it. We felt it in the 20s, when ordinary, poor people crashed the banking system by running on the banks. What makes it any less likely that a mere 400 people might get caught up in a panicked rush for the door or otherwise all end up cashing out at once at the expense of the rest of us?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:16 PM on May 2, 2012


oops. off by a couple of decimal places. not 137 trillion but 1.37 trillion. So that's only roughly $342,500,000,000 (or $342 billion) the top 400 could take out of deposit all at once if they chose to. That's still not peanuts. It could trigger a run among smaller investors.

(Sorry about the bad math. Over-hasty. Bye.)
posted by saulgoodman at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2012


(smaller depositors... sigh.)
posted by saulgoodman at 2:20 PM on May 2, 2012


What I also don't get is why he seems to think that extreme inequality is better than moderate inequality— where is the evidence that extreme inequality motivates people more? Look at places like India where there are people who literally live on garbage heaps and eat rats— is the problem that such people aren't motivated not to be poor? How can you possibly ask that with a serious face?

What's obvious is that such poverty stunts growth: physically, emotionally, educationally and every other possible way. The problem isn't lack of motivation, it's lack of options and nutrition and jobs. Whose lives are being improved by investment at the top when there is 25% youth unemployment (shown to lead to less income over the course of life if there's a recession at start of career)— how can you even make such stupid claims?

Moreover, there's tons of data suggesting that higher trust is associated with lower inequality and higher trust is also associated with greater happiness and health, including longer lifespan— and that's longer lifespan among everyone, not just the poor.

So, where's the data showing that high inequality countries are healthier than low inequality countries? It simply doesn't exist and it's perfectly plain that while people happily tolerate (and indeed have had in all societies) some degree of status differences and hierarchy, having a world where there are 3 rich people with guns protecting them from a million poor people living on a garbage heap isn't a recipe for productivity and growth.
posted by Maias at 3:28 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Moreover, there's tons of data suggesting that higher trust is associated with lower inequality

Some of it at: http://www.metafilter.com/79997/The-Great-Divide

Greater inequality does greatly reduce the option of the landless (or their modern equivalent) not to work, or work at a comfortable subsistence level. So in that way, much as old-school slavery did, it does increase productivity. Whether it does so in a productive (of needful things) way, rather than just creating more credit for the rentiers is an entirely other kettle of rutabaga. In some ways it probably has, but less so than better, more egalitarian, systems would have.
posted by titus-g at 3:44 PM on May 2, 2012


He and Romney are just modern bank robbers. In a number of the Bain transactions, they bought companies with a relatively small amount of their capital highly leveraged with money lent to them by banks or funds (often run by friends or business acquaintances) in return for fees to the banks, secured by the assets of the company. Then, the valuable bits are sold off and bonuses are paid to the owners (Bain, Romney, etc.) allowing them to more than recover their investment. In the end, the company fails, overburdened with debt.

The net result - transfer of the bank's money to Bain, etc. while the bank and it's investors, stockholders, and owners take the loss (along with the employees of the now bankrupt company).

That's how the system operates.
posted by sudogeek at 4:02 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The top 400 richest Americans collectively command $1.37 trillion in wealth. According to this research [warning:PDF], the upper quintile of earners tend to save at a rate of about 25% of their income. So, presumably, about 25% of their net worth would be in savings. By my back of the envelope, rushing to leave for home math that means the top 400 have roughly $34,250,000,000,000 in savings.

I think if $34 trillion were withdrawn from US deposit banks overnight, we'd feel it. We felt it in the 20s, when ordinary, poor people crashed the banking system by running on the banks. What makes it any less likely that a mere 400 people might get caught up in a panicked rush for the door or otherwise all end up cashing out at once at the expense of the rest of us?


Wealth is not income. Wealth is stuff you own. If they were to cash out, someone else would have to buy all that stuff.
posted by gjc at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2012


Actually, if you want to talk about soda cans, the latest round of materials reduction has actually made me poorer. Used to be you could leave a can of coke in a car and except on the very hottest days it would be fine. These days they blow up like freakin' balloons and often leak everywhere if they're even just handled a bit roughly.

Someone clearly should have chosen a different example. Getting rid of the black plastic "foot" on the bottom of soda bottles was probably an even bigger deal, if you want to keep the discussion focused on fizzy drinks.

But seriously, if we lived in a perfect world where transparency and honesty could be strictly ensured, this guy's world view would make a lot of sense. We do not, however, live in that world (and if we did I can think of far better ways to structure it, since it's a fantasy), so it all ends up being a bunch of bullshit. Nearly every market is manipulated to within an inch of its life.

So yeah, fix corporate governance and perhaps he would be right about executive compensation. Fix the tax system such that our collective needs are paid for and offshoring profits is impossible and he'd be right that rich people making more money was good for all of us. I like working for rich guys. There's a bunch of really neat stuff that wouldn't exist were it not for the rich person market. (supercars, ridiculous luxury yachts, that sort of thing)

I'm perfectly happy for those things to exist, they are fun toys that even some of us common folk get to enjoy on occasion if we play our cards just right, but it seems that some believe that we can run the whole economy on making toys for rich people. That is clearly insane.
posted by wierdo at 4:53 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a cite on why that taper is there

This seems plausible to me: http://brainteaserbible.com/interview-brainteaser-puzzle-coke-can-tapered-bottom.

Which is a great argument for why we need geeks (and people who will obsess over finding elegant solutions). And a great argument for how lucky we are to have solved all the major problems facing us as a species/planet, leaving us free to fine tune the minutia, such as how so save a fraction of a penny on the cost of sugar water cans.

BRB! My frelling unicorn has stolen the keys to my flying car again, have to go catch it before it breaks yet another suns roof.
posted by titus-g at 5:09 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wealth is not income. Wealth is stuff you own. If they were to cash out, someone else would have to buy all that stuff.

I know wealth is not income. That's why I posted a link to a study showing that the wealthy tend to keep a greater percentage of their wealth--roughly 25%, in fact--in savings than lower income earners.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:38 PM on May 2, 2012


And those numbers on the 400 richest are estimates of net worth--i.e., wealth--not income. So what's yr point?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:40 PM on May 2, 2012


I am so much wealthier than this poor sad man. All of that wealth and he really has *nothing* because he lost the whole wonderful beautiful world. It is sad to see a life thrown away for something as worthless and trite as wealth-for-wealth's-sake.

Reminds me of those little stories about a man talking to his friend, talking about what riches a wealthy man who works all the time has. And the friend says something like: "yeah, but I have something he'll never have.... enough."
posted by marble at 6:16 PM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It’s not easy being a Wall Street gazillionaire these days.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:18 PM on May 2, 2012


Mr. Canard, you are a cliché and a tool. Too bad he wields so much power.
posted by nikoniko at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2012


It's funny that by following his logic, Warren Buffett is about 240 times smarter and more capable than he is. Oops.
posted by rainy at 7:46 PM on May 2, 2012


Warren Buffett is about 240 times smarter and more capable than he is

Well, this is probably true.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:57 PM on May 2, 2012


Scientific American had a fantastic article on the aluminum beverage can in 1994. Someone has put up a PDF of it here.
posted by neuron at 10:00 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boy he's really done his friend Mitt a favor, coming out with this book, right now in the middle of election season, to explain how the world really works, to all of us little consumers?
posted by newdaddy at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2012


Another response to the article. I do have to say though, I almost feel sorry for Conard. What a sad, narrow, joyless life he leads.
posted by mkim at 6:15 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


neuron writes "Scientific American had a fantastic article on the aluminum beverage can in 1994."

The PDF says that because a can (especially beer cans which can see as much as 90 psi internally) is a pressure vessel the taper is to minimize the flat surface of the can. Minimizing the surface area reduces the mass but that is mostly a desirable side effect of not having the can explode rather than a design constraint.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 PM on May 3, 2012


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