There's no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. A Chinese employee of Foxconn, entrusted with fourteen (maybe sixteen) prototype iPhones misplaced one before they could be shipped; what followed was his detainment and torture at the hands of company police, and his eventual suicide. Shanghaiist has confirmed the story. Fake Steve weighs in.
The author of a new book on how rising oil prices will change America makes the claims that higher gasoline prices will make the country healthier and safer. Christopher Steiner asserts that, for every $1 that gasoline prices rise, obesity rates drop by 10% (as people walk more and eat out less). As for "safer", that comes in when high gasoline prices force police out of their cruisers and onto bicycles and foot patrols, where they can interact more closely with their communities. [more inside]
The story of stuff and how it's currently being played out between the political economies of China and the US (G2 'Chimerica') in an illuminating Fallows vs. Ferguson cage match. [more inside]
Rebuilding Something Better by Barack Obama: "this week, I'll be talking about how we give our workers the skills they need to compete... Part of this goal will be met by helping Americans better afford a college education. But part of it will also be strengthening our network of community colleges..." [more inside]
Recently, John Michael Greer has been exploring a little known idea of the deceased economist E.F. Schumacher (a student of the oft-discussed Keynes). "Schumacher drew a hard distinction between primary goods and secondary goods. The latter of these includes everything dealt with by conventional economics: the goods and services produced by human labor and exchanged among human beings. The former includes all those things necessary for human life and economic activity that are produced not by human beings, but by nature. Schumacher pointed out that primary goods, as the phrase implies, need to come first in any economic analysis because they supply the preconditions for the production of secondary goods. Renewable resources, he proposed, form the equivalent of income in the primary economy, while nonrenewable resources are the equivalent of capital; to insist that an economic system is sound when it is burning through nonrenewable resources at a rate that will lead to rapid depletion is thus as silly as claiming that a business is breaking even if it’s covering up huge losses by drawing down its bank accounts." [more inside]
Paul Romer: A Theory of History, with an Application - "His economic theory of history explains phenomena such as the constant improvement of the human standard of living by looking primarily at just two forms of innovative ideas: technology and rules." (previously, via) [more inside]
Monarchy vs. Democracy: "Was the change from monarchy to democracy a step backwards? In practical terms, there is no question: democracy has had tremendously bad effects compared to monarchy." [more inside]
Economists Matthew Weinzierl (HBS) and Gregory Mankiw (Harvard) make a utilitarian case for a height tax. [more inside]
The Global Oneness Project is exploring how the radically simple notion of interconnectedness can be lived in our increasingly complex world. They travel the globe gathering stories from creative and courageous people who base their lives and work on the understanding that we bear great responsibility for each other and our shared world. [more inside]
With all the dust that's been* riled up by Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (previously), everyone is suddenly taking an interest in Puerto Rico. A basic question that may come up is why we're there in the first place. Understanding that, we can see how the complicated relationship has played out between Puerto Rico, the US, and, most recently, the United Nations. Although the UN has urged the US to take steps towards establishing Puerto Rico's sovereignty, referendums held on the island have overwhelmingly preferred the status quo and the US has been indifferent at best. But independence activists, after a twenty-year decline, may be on the rise. The island's current governor, Luis Fortuño, is pro-statehood. But the whole issue has taken a back seat since plans have been made to fire 30,000 government workers, privatize some public services, and sell some the the government's US$3.2 billion debt. [more inside]
Ecocomics: Where Graphic Art Meets Dismal Science. With such entries as "Superman, New Krypton, and Labor Unions" and "The Construction Industry in Comics."
It's Finished is a witty and erudite essay by MeFi lurker John Lanchester in The London Review of Books on how completely and utterly screwed the British economy is. In the process of laying out his case Lanchester touches on varied issues, such Scottish banknotes, why Alan Hollinghurst's phrase "tremendous, Basil Fawltyish lengths" is applicable to the reaction by the US and UK governments to the banking meltdown, the value destruction of corporate mergers, the invention of modern accounting, and why no one really knows how large a share of the failed banks is owned by governments.
Prelude to Federation - Like a neocolonial SEZ (or TAZ) Paul Romer, not to be confused with David, posits "less developed countries contract with capitalist nations to set up Hong Kong's for them... that we rethink sovereignty (respect borders, but maybe import administrative control); rethink citizenship (support residency, but maybe import voice in political affairs); and rethink scale (instead of focusing on nations, focus on cities—on city states like Hong Kong and Singapore)." cf. neocameralism [1, 2, 3] [more inside]
The Bulls vs. Bears? The incessant back and forth between equity market longs and shorts is well known to most retail investors via a variety of distribution channels; financial television, the print media, online news. But the really big market battle, one with the potential to impact the entire US economy, happens, as is usual in finance, just out of sight of retail eyes ... [more inside]
Theory versus Statistics, Financial Economics Edition. "You can almost here the lament of this quant that the real math theory has been dead since 1980, and that it has all been applied and statistics ever since. It’s like Fischer Black was Kool Herc and Myron Scholes was Afrika Bambaataa, and they’d all go plug in their computers into lamp posts and do martingale representations in the streets and at house parties. And, of course, it was all ruined in 1979 when it went commercial." A response to The Last Temptation of Risk by Barry Eichengreen.
Limited Purpose Banking -- for lending, investing, etc. -- Turn all financial firms into mutual funds: "All mutual funds would break the buck with one exception: cash mutual funds. These funds would strictly hold cash and be valued at $1 per share. Owners of these funds would write checks against their balances and never have to worry about a bank run. Fractional reserve banking and the FDIC would be history." [previously] [more inside]
The second most powerful United States Senator admits, "And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place." [more inside]
Keynes & Marx thought "that productivity would grow sufficiently to allow our needs to be met with very little labour," and that humankind's biggest preoccupation in the future would be leading lives of comfortable (or comparative) leisure. Obviously, that has not yet come to pass. But why?** Yochai Benkler (previously), for one, is working on it... [more inside]
The new monetary standard: Copper.
[MLYT] Peter Schiff gives a talk to the Western Regional Mortgage Bankers Association, describing exactly the ongoing economic meltdown. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The catch? The talk was given in 2006. Listening to his bullish counterpart in parts 6-8 is a real scream. [more inside]
The separation of the ownership of a business from its management is one of the defining characteristics of the modern capitalist system. But ongoing failures of corporate governance, particularly in banking, have called into question these structures. Is there a better way? Secretive UK private bank C. Hoare & Co. has a solution that works for those customers it chooses to accept. [more inside]
A philosophy professor takes on the financial system. Or perhaps that should read - a philosophy professor's take on the financial system. Daniel Cloud, teacher of philosophy at Princeton University and a founding partner in two hedge funds, makes the case in a recent opinion piece that "... complicated explanations about derivatives, regulatory failure, and so on are beside the point. ... The truth is that ... models are most useful when they are little known or not universally believed. They progressively lose their predictive value as we all accept and begin to bet on them."
The recession has hit the theatre world (and the arts scene in general) very hard - but some argue that theatre practitioners aren't doing themselves any favours when seeking funding. The main question insufficiently addressed is "who is the funding for?" - hint: it's not about you. Approaching theatre as a product isn't working, not when MFA acting programs don't often allow its graduates to earn enough to earn back their debt. So now the question is: how can the economics of theatre be changed?
The Fed's Public Private Partnership Program, promises to clear down as much as $1T worth of "legacy assets" from banks balance sheets. Globally, equity markets responded positively. But what about assets held off balance sheet? [more inside]
Matt Taibbifilter: Among other things, the GAO report noted that the entire OTS had only one insurance specialist on staff — and this despite the fact that it was the primary regulator for the world's largest insurer! This week's MeFi stories have generally failed to explain the reasoning that caused the recession, even though Jon Stewart was basically on the mark. Now, Rolling Stone's only reporter lays it all out The Big Takeover, a typical combination of zealous snark and the overlooked, damning facts needed to clear up a ridiculously complicated story.
British academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett believe they've discovered the underlying cause of all modern society's ills: inequality. In their book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, they explain how health and social problems follow a strikingly similar pattern, being closely correlated with income distribution (pdf). To spread the word, they've founded The Equality Trust
Quit Lying About Roosevelt! "Amity Shlaes, the GOP's Great Depression philosopher-queen, couldn't be more dangerously wrong." [Via]
Everybody knows the economy and thus the markets move in cycles. Economic expansion naturally leads to contraction, driven by credit and business cycles. But are economic booms followed by busts inevitable? [more inside]
The Axis of Upheaval: A special report on the coming age of instability.
With orders for new aircraft down, the private jet industry is launching a PR onslaught and a website to counter all the bad press surrounding greedy executives flying private jets. Lo and behold, two financial columnists expressed strikingly similar views on the subject. Members of Congress, who love to catch a ride home on a contributor's private plane, are helping out too.
Peter Wallison, an economist who arguably predicted the housing crash and bailout in 1999 explains his current views on the crash: "Other players...played a part" but "...government policy over many years--particularly the use of the Community Reinvestment Act and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to distort the housing credit system-- underlies the current crisis."
Just ahead of a re-election referendum in Venezuela (scheduled for February 15), The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators [PDF][Via]
Picture a three-guy trading floor. They would call a carrier,... [and] manually move trunks in and out of route by issuing SQL commands against the Veraz's Oracle database.... Let me write that out for you: One ass-hat residential customer with a 20yo telephone with four extra buttons did thirty million dollars in damages in less than one night. Anyways, that's how the company went bankrupt... and about 6000 or so people ... all got laid off.
The Bad Bank Assets Proposal: Even Worse Than You Imagined -- the administration appears intent on building another black swan. This is political capitalism. [via]
Playboy has hired Duff McKagan to write a weekly finance column. His mission? 1) To educate. 2) To bring down The Man. [via Fimoculous]
When welfare benefits the rich, and starves the poor: Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years. [more inside]
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank gave a bank, whose capital ratio equaled only 1.88% of assets at the bank, versus a desired level of about 6%, TARP money after heavy lobbying. Frank inserted into the bill a provision to give special consideration to banks that had less than $1 billion of assets, had been well-capitalized as of June 30, served low- and moderate-income areas, and had taken a capital hit in the federal seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (WSJ link) [more inside]
Economist Bryan Caplan is author of the best contemporary critique of democracy and democraticness (previously), and therefore the person I'd most like to visit Singapore and share his thoughts. He recently took a trip to this quasi-democracy lauded for both its pro-growth policies and its strong, competent government (and criticized for its repression and its draconian penal code). The trip to what is in some ways an economist's utopia allowed Caplan to think about the implications of his own writings, and the validity of Churchill's dictum on democracy. Here's what he had to say: [more inside]
Was market speculation behind this year's rise in crude oil prices? Earlier this year, prices topped $100/bbl, the highest seen since the oil crisis of the late 70s/early 80s. By July 2008, the price of crude oil reached a record high of $144/bbl, costing US consumers between $4-$5 per gallon at the pump. [more inside]
President Obama's plan for American Recovery and Reinvestment [pdf] might be thought of as TARP round two [1,2] -- instead of hiding the bodies, this one's preparing the ground for a big tent or the economic equivalent of war. There are critics and detractors (cramdown nation ;) left and right, natch, but also conservative supporters and progressive defenders to save or create
three four million jobs; hooray! [more inside]
In these difficult economic times, what's a museum to do? Is an art collection a financial asset or a trust to be held in perpetuity? These questions are being raised by The National Academy in New York's recent sale (or "deaccessioning" in museum lingo) of two important paintings for $15 million to shore up its finances, first reported by Lee Rosenbaum's ArtsJournal blog. The museum's director told The New York Times that it was the only way for the 183-year-old academy, which runs a chronic operating deficit, to survive. The Association of Art Museum Directors censured the Academy and called on its members to suspend any loans of art to the institution. New York lawyer Donn Zaretzky's ArtLaw Blog has become ground zero for a fascinating debate involving art critics, museum directors, financial bloggers and others.
Every year the Strategy Team at Saxo Bank, a Danish virtual bank, publishes a list of ten black swan class market events. Some of the more dramatic possibilities Saxo advance for 2009: crude trading down to $25 a barrel causing severe social unrest in Iran, the S&P 500 falling to 500, Chinese GDP approaching zero and several member states dropping the Euro. The complete 2009 list is here and for completeness their 2008 [ .pdf ] , 2007 [ .pdf ] and 2006 lists [ .pdf ] are also available. [more inside]
The cover of a major financial publication warns: If you're holding U.S. Treasuries, GET OUT NOW! [more inside]