Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
In 7 years, it could very well be that a Krugerrand buys a decent house!
... says an anonymous commentator on Nourishing Obscurity, after listing multiple dire threats to our wealth and security. Any other expert care to give a view - and put his/her name to it?
In my amateur way, I have suggested that we give up on fractional reserve banking for home lending and simply lend (create) money without any base at all (but with, perhaps, some State budget for how fast they can inflate the money supply). We're nearly there, but the current system is complicated by the expensive mechanics of taking in and returning deposits, and the threat of runs on the banks.
Perhaps deposit takers could be like the old Swiss banks and charge you for holding your cash, while the lending banks rot its value. Any votes for a separation of functions?
And the whole thing is supported by ninnies who think they're clever: "For intellectuals, multiculturalism is a lot of different restaurants."
It's in yesterday's Daily Express, but I'm finding it hard to create a link as you are led straight on to some viewing program; so since everyone who was going to buy that edition has now done so, here's the text:
MODERN Britain is a land of contrasts, not to say of paradoxes. Its children are simultaneously overindulged and neglected, mollycoddled and subjected to violence. Adults either work long hours or while away the time in complete idleness.
It imports labour from overseas but supports large numbers of people to do nothing. As the health of the population improves so the number of invalids grows inexorably. No war has ever produced as many people unable to work as the British welfare state.
Despite official statistics – misleading, of course – about the low rate of unemployment, one in seven British households does not have a working adult. Millions of children are growing up with no personal example of earning a living before them. No wonder later in life they call the day on which they receive their social security “pay day”.
They even use the word “wages” in this connection. (Habitual burglars, by the way, talk about “going to work”). It is not their fault. We have made – or perhaps I should say our government has made – them as they are.
We should not imagine, just because we ourselves would like a little more leisure time, that the condition of state-supported idleness is a happy one. Living happily in idleness is an art which most people do not possess. On the contrary, state-created and subsidised idleness is purgatory on earth, or a limbo in which you are denied the two great motives of effort: hope and fear.
IF THOSE paid to be idle go out to work the chances are that, because they are mostly unskilled, they will receive little more money than if they do not. Who, other than a saint, wants to get up at 6am every morning to earn £15 a week more than if he stays in bed? The idle do not believe they can improve their lives by honest labour and they are not entirely wrong.
On the other hand they cannot deprive themselves of an income either. Whatever they do, however they behave, the money – such as it is – will come in. No hope, then, and no fear. This also means no meaning. What rushes in to fill the void? The answer is self-destruction and social pathology of every conceivable kind. Better to live a life of perpetual crisis – a kind of personal soap opera – than one of quiet limbo. A bit of crime and violence helps to break the monotony.
The whole system is very expensive. It means the rest of the population has to spend between an eighth and a quarter of its working life paying for it. Moreover, there is no end in sight: for the system is reproducing the very kind of people who will necessitate its continuance. No one strapped to a treadmill ever had a more futile occupation than the employed British population working to reduce child poverty under the present arrangements.
A large number of the households with no working adult are those of single parents. Contrary to received opinion, the answer is not to force them all out to work, tiring them out so that they can devote even less time and attention to their child or children.
The answer is to provide firm and very strong incentives for people to form stable couples. As anyone who has ever witnessed an unhappy marriage will know, not every stable couple is a happy one but from the point of view of public policy it is better on the whole. From the point of view of children and public finances, too, couples (even unhappy ones) should be stable. Successive governments have followed exactly the opposite course, encouraging the break-up of parents as much as possible. The consequences are disproportionately severe for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
Paying large numbers of people to do nothing, we find ourselves short of labour so we import it. This has unfortunate consequences, whatever political correctness might say. (For intellectuals, multiculturalism is a lot of different restaurants).
ONE of the reasons people give for wanting to leave Britain – and more want to leave than the natives of any other comparable country – is that it has entirely lost its distinctive character. Oddly enough, even older immigrants say the same, lamenting the country they came to is no longer the one they live in.
As if this were not enough, much of the demand for labour produced by the prosperity of the past years, now coming to an end, has been bogus in the sense of not being economically viable in the long run. Half of the employment created in the past decade has been in the public service without there having been a corresponding improvement in public services.
These extra public servants – many of them in effect drones of the State, whose main activity is obstructing others from doing anything useful – have to be paid for by taxes. They are an extra burden to those in the real economy and are the natural political allies of the permanently idle. After all, those with social pathology require an army of saviours from the consequences of their behaviour.
The whole pyramid scheme – for that is what it is – works wonders for a time, based as it is on a mountain of personal and public indebtedness. But once confidence in it is lost the edifice comes tumbling down.
As Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour said, aware of where all the excesses of the aristocracy were ultimately leading: “Apres nous, le deluge” (After us, the deluge). The Government has turned a cynical witticism into its economic and social policy.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Advisers and analysts who haven't been in the game long enough to yellow their teeth, may be emotionally unprepared for severe and enduring reversals of fortune.
Is this happenstance like those photos in Stalin's era, re-edited as certain persons became unpersons? Or in this case, as an unperson became a Person?
You can, though, find other images of the same thing elsewhere. So maybe it's to do with the vanishing of the LA Times Dishrag blog? And when and why did it vanish?
"Pantsuit", or jumpsuit? You decide; I fear it may be prophetic.
But I think Paris Hilton carries it off better.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Once the economy stabilizes, it will take many years to fully recover, he said, because no strong growth engines are evident. "That's why people are so gloomy! They see no upside!" He personally is investing client money in agricultural plays because, he says, the long-term price of food is trending up. He likes bio-companies whose products are geared to an aging population. And he likes Asia as an investment destination...and he doesn't like much else.
I conducted in-depth interviews with a dozen of the participants. They all perceive the economy in the early stages of a multiyear recession that will be the most painful downturn since the 1970s. The housing market, which experts once predicted would recover in 2008, may not recover even in 2009. Credit woes on Wall Street will begin to inflict real pain on Main Street.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Answerability to the voters is so last millennium, pace idealistic dreamers like Karl Denninger; but money talks.
If voting made a difference, it'd be Paris Hilton for Prez, and do you know, she could be a surprisingly good choice. Much more can be achieved laying on a sun lounger than crashing around the world. A film quote from Lawrence of Arabia:
Colonel Brighton: Look, sir, we can't just do nothing.
And what a pleasant change it would be, to have a politician who only pretends to be dumb. I can just imagine her sweetly commanding some tough dudes to go and give the financiers the drubbing they deserve, then turning her attention back to her fashion magazine.
Yes, it's money that talks and the people are dumb. In 1930 Ludwell Denny wrote, "Too wise to try to govern the world, we shall merely own it. Nothing can stop us." America forgot that lesson; rising foreign powers now pay the piper, and will call the tune.
If you can't beat 'em... every dollar and pound you save in your bank account, is a vote in this new electoral system. With luck, one of your descendants will be accepted into the Superclass, while the rest vainly try voting for improved social security and healthcare; when the well is dry, the vote won't fill it. The freedom for which America thinks it stands, isn't founded on supplication. As here in Britain, it would be a hard road back.
Perhaps Chesterton's observation on Christianity may apply equally to the US Constitution: "[it] has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I hold no brief for American foreign policy (perhaps nations and religions should be evaluated according to how they treat "the others"), but I wish we in the UK had something that guaranteed our international independence and defined and limited the powers of our government. My comment on Jim's piece is as follows:
Would we have to be talking like this if the banks hadn't exploded the money supply?
After much heart-searching (and encouragement from me), my brother recently became an American citizen. He sent me the crib book ("The Citizen's Almanac"). Page 5 ("Responsibilities Of A Citizen"), item one: "Support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The explanatory paragraph ends, "When the Constitution and its ideals are challenged, citizens must defend these principles against all adversaries."
Please don't bridle if I quote the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 10: "No State shall [...] emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts..."
It's not just about money, but allowing the bankers and politicians to corrupt the money system threatens liberty. We in the UK had a constitution based on civilised understandings that have been thrown out by mad revolutionaries, but you have a clearly expressed founding document more precious than any wretched paper dollars you may have. Lincoln said that the American nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality; "... Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
Then as now, you may be the last major nation to hold up that flame. It is not gold and silver that made America admirable, but the principles that bind her citizens. Perhaps excessive material wealth has proved a distraction and a subversion.
After the crash, there will still be Americans, and the American nation. May I humbly suggest that Denninger is right, and the miscreants who have threatened the community with their greed and irresponsibility, should be held to account?
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
"... almost all of society's social ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life."
"I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children, but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family. "
He's not wrong. I'm the last to hug a hoodie, but you have to know why they're like that. Knowing the causes doesn't make them any better; the point is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In years of teaching children in social services care, and children excluded from mainstream education, I don't recall knowing even one case where the child came from a hard-working, addiction-free, two-parent family.
By the way: to what extent is the government fanning the flames, with its tax-greedy promotion of alcohol, its popularity-seeking liberality on drugs law enforcement, and its negligent attitude to employment (especially, I hesitantly suggest - expecting to get it in the neck for saying so - full-time employment for men)?
But it's not just about keeping the parents together. There needs to be a commitment to nurturing the child emotionally: squabbling parents who want the child to take sides make a deep and enduring split in the child's psyche. No law, judge or social worker is going to remedy that; putting the child first should be a screamingly obvious moral point. But who is allowed to make it? "Musn't be judgmental."
Oh yes, we must. Watch the American Judge Judy on Freeview when the subject of children, marriage and responsibility comes up. She did many years in family court, and she doesn't have any time for the mealy-mouthed approach.
Friday, August 15, 2008
There is a "supercritical" point where all asset values will get hit at once, unless the process runs to exhaustion first, and I don't think there is a snowball's chance in Hell that it will.
Meanwhile, keep your money safe.
Brad Setser (htp: Jesse's Cafe Americain)
Setser reported to Congress a year ago on the USa's vulnerability to foreign creditors and investors. See my blog here and here.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Panama Canal as a natural biological invasion experiment
Invasive species may cause severe economic losses. Thus the hot debate regarding the ecological mechanisms determining the outcome of biological invasions is of equal interest to scientific and business communities. Do invaders bump residents out by competing with them for scarce resources, or do they merely move in without causing harm to their neighbors?
In one of the first environmental impact studies ever, the Smithsonian Institution’s 1910 Panama Biological Survey provided baseline data for Panama Canal construction, a project creating the largest man-made lake in existence at the time. The Canal, completed in 1914, rerouted the Chagres River on Panama’s Atlantic slope into the Pacific Ocean--connecting watersheds across the continental divide. Since then, fish from the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Panama have intermingled, but the mix has not resulted in extinction of fish in tributaries on either slope according to new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (online) by Scott Smith and Graham Bell of Canada’s McGill University and Eldredge Bermingham, Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, concern about human-induced environmental change was already on the agenda. Faced with the immanent flooding of 500 square kilometers of lowland tropical forest in Panama, the Panamanian government authorized the Smithsonian Institution to conduct the Panama Biological Survey (1910-1912), an extensive biological census of the region to be covered by Lake Gatun, the Panama Canal waterway.
The U.S. Bureau of Fisheries assigned Seth E. Meek from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History and Samuel F. Hildebrand, his assistant, to census the fish fauna of the Canal area. They made lists of fish in the Chagres River on the Atlantic slope and in the Rio Grande, on the Pacific slope, rivers that would become part of the Canal waterway, a new freshwater corridor between two oceans.
It did not take long for fish to move from Atlantic to Pacific slopes and vice versa. When Hildebrand returned to Panama in the 1930’s many species had already moved into streams on the opposite slope.
In 2002, the authors of the new report returned to the Chagres and the Rio Grande to collect fish. In total, they found that three fish species had colonized the Chagres River and five had colonized the Rio Grande. Both sides of the Isthmus became more species rich as a result of the Canal connection. All of the original species found in each stream in Meek and Hildebrand’s initial, 1916 survey, are still there.
This is a significant contribution to our understanding of biological invasion because it shows that dispersal played a more significant role than local ecological interactions in the structure of the fish communities in these two rivers, even after many generations in this great natural experiment.
Or the Golden Circle:
Isn't this the rational, liberal-economic thing to do? Or is mankind something more than a calculation in money terms? Is there any one measure for Man?
Are liberal economists rational? Do they describe the world as it is, or as they think it should be? Would it be dangerous for us to follow their prescriptions, if others elsewhere took a different view?
An after-thought: would it not be more rational to head for Scotland? Free tertiary education, more money spent on care for the elderly, etc?
I didn't expect much response, even though Americans owe one of their most famous symbols and (in part) their very Revolutionary victory to the French. But I had a glance at the comment thread this morning and there was indeed a riposte:
"Jonah Golberg wrote a really good editorial on this about four years back. Good stuff and good Economics & History lesson, too!"
Can the realtor (estate agent) who posted this, and the salaried economics professor who hosted it, be right? Are the working American poor really so feather-bedded by their £3-something per hour earnings? Does anyone have a different Economics & History lesson?
Does even the slightest concern for the poor make me (the son of a refugee from the murderous ravages of the Red Army in East Prussia) a no-good pinko Commie son-of-a-gun?
I shall read my newly-acquired Sloman's "Essentials of Economics" and then I'll know the answer.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Here's the Blogger site for Civil.ge
Monday, August 11, 2008
Recently I've put on a few pics of women, the lovely creatures, and get concerned comments from Nick Drew and Pej. This is entirely a natural response, but it is also an example of what I call the homeostatic principle. You know: try to lose weight and people say you're not fat, just pleasantly plump; forswear alcohol or tobacco, and they advise you to cut down a little instead, but just for now go on, have one etc.
We worry (rightly, of course) about the tyranny of big government, but there is also the long, slow, grinding tyranny of the small (and small-minded) community, and the dysfunctional family. And we, too, are so often, unconsciously and instinctively, the oppressors.
Simone de Beauvoir (who was led a dance right royally by her liberated lover Sartre) said that every book is a cry for help. Mostly, that cry will go unanswered, and few will rally to your home-made flag. We enjoy our blogging, but delude ourselves if we think the world will change much as a result, or perhaps should change much.
If you want a major, exhilarating change, go for action direct: change your own life. And if you are a libertarian, watch for how even you try to hold others back.
As my wife points out, it's not their sexuality they're exploiting, it's men's. It's just not fair on me.
By the way, Tarantino is sizing up Britney for a big part. Maybe this stunt (from 2003) gave him the idea.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
"Before I went to university, I imagined it as an extraordinary place where you'd get a chance to escape from commercial pressures and examine the great questions of life in beautiful surroundings with fascinating people, and so become a better, wiser, more interesting person."
So did I, and mostly what I learned was how naïf I'd been.
Good luck with the new venture.
... In a deflationary environment the banker gets as much of your money as he can, and then he also gets the house! [...] The banker makes money in terms of real value in a deflationary environment. You, on the other hand, being debt, get rammed."
In short, cui bono?
And in the Marc Faber interview cited in the previous post, Dr Doom maintains that the drop in the price of oil shows that we're already in recession; the drying-up - the sucking back out - of excess liquidity is what will make the dollar more valuable.
I once read a short story by Brian Aldiss, in which invisible vampire aliens ravage a farmer's livestock - all one can see is the double puncture. The skin is pierced, the innards liquefy and are drained. Sturdily, the farmer accepts that he has a new class of customer.
Is this not like banking and government? Without mortgages and inheritance tax, how otherwise would almost everybody in each generation be forced to buy their living quarters anew?
Mish relays an interview with Marc Faber, who is a bull on the US dollar (not US stocks) and Japan.
"Europe will have to cut interest rates as well, and their economies are most likely much weaker than perceived...
... We are in a seven year bull market for commodities, so commodities can easily drop 50%. Some have already done that like nickel, lead, and zinc. Others will follow. But after that, I think that the bull market in commodities will reassert itself. But my view was that for the second half of 2008 commodities would go down."
Saturday, August 09, 2008
The road back from economic folly will be long, hard, narrow and possibly untrodden, warns London Banker in a masterly essay on the need to re-establish a savings culture.
(htp: Jesse's Cafe Americain)
The Grumbler today whines about schoolgirls aping whores to get attention - a survival strategy in today's feckless-male world, I'd have thought - and a Dr Ringrose of London's Institute of Education (they never ask actual schoolteachers, do they) opines that teaching about the history of feminism is "needed to overcome the negative influences of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera".
Paris Hilton is a world-famous millionaire socialite am-porn star and now part-time political commentatrix. Britney Spears is a world-famous millionaire entertainer, and her disastrous private life is a moneymaker for her and a raft of reporters and photographers; besides, her misdeeds and misfortunes are no worse than those of the underclass whose offspring I teach, nor much different from the self-indulgence of many rich and aristocratic women in the first half of the twentieth century. Christina Aguilera ditto - and currently a Google search for her yields nearly 29 million pages.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a rich businessman's daughter, married a barrister, joined the Independent Labour Party, toured North America lecturing on VD and joined the Conservative Party when she returned. Her daughter Adela went to Australia, joined the Communists and then the Fascists. Another daughter, Sylvia, got knocked-up out of wedlock and she and her mother fell out and never met again. The third, Christabel, enthusiastically promoted the First World War and internment of enemy aliens, visited Russia after the Revolution to urge its continuation in the conflict with Germany, became a Christian evangelist in the USA, returned to Britain, was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1936, and fled the country when war broke out again.
Yep, I can just see all that on the syllabus.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Professor James Duane explains in shocking detail why, in the USA, everybody should remember to exercise their right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent. (htp: Obnoxio The Clown, referring to Philip Thomas' post)
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense."
How about here in Britain?
"Free legal advice is worth what you pay for it." Having said that, here is a site purporting to give advice to activists being questioned by police in the UK.
How many laws are on the Statute Books in the United Kingdom? Is there anybody in the country of legal age who could not be accused of having broken one of them? Do we not have too much law?
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
While I'm in the mood for mad ideas, how about sparing some fraction of that (oh, a billion?) to go back to Bill's crazy source code and finally straighten out all the problems with Microsoft's core products, then send out a one-use-only disk to all previous purchasers, to reload everybody's programs with reliable updated versions?
Or should I stick with dreaming up more realistic schemes, like the deposit-free banking idea?
A question: why bother with any kind of reserve?
Once you've determined that banks can lend a high multiple of deposits, you may as well make deposits entirely irrelevant. In fact, it would save quite a bit on operating costs if you could have banks that specifically didn't take deposits from anybody - no cash in or out, so no tellers, no branches. Let the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England give a handful of providers a total lending limit, and then stand back and watch them pump away.
Insolvency? Loan-to-value not good enough? Raise the limits again, pump harder. Get a punter to overpay for one house and you increase the value of all the others in the street, so making their mortgages safer. And if the bank doesn't have to pay interest to depositors, it can charge as little as it likes for its loans.
I can't see the flaw here, any more than I can see the difference between a banker and a swindler.
I don't know why I didn't think of it before.
"Real estate could become a very good investment and inflation hedge once the government starts seriously printing money," commented Jim from San Marcos (who still has a realtor's licence) after his July 27th post.
I also have an ASUS laptop that has a nervous breakdown when I ask it to connect to the Internet and my printer at the same time. In fact, it's now objecting to my mouse as well. I half-suspect the power management system is compromised by some ASUS virus that informs Peking of my every keystroke; put that down to paranoia if you like, but we'll see what the history books say one day.
But is the Mac really as simple and reliable as the middle picture suggests? And is Linux really so powerful and jazzy? Before I throw this computer from some carefully-selected high place, I'd appreciate guidance on its replacement.
By the way, here's Daniel Bozet's original cartoon; I thought the one above looked unbalanced.
And here's some techno comment on BoingBoing, that obviously I don't quite understand.
If telephones were like this, I'd be using liveried runners.
What have I learned?
- Meme alterations tend to add spite - compare the original with its viral successor
- I should include Snopes and Larry Miller in my blogroll
In the piece concerned, I particularly liked the imagined reversal of position between Jews and Arabs. I'm always grateful for a mental flip that lends me a new perspective.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Further comment from Mish.
The taxpayer pays all - and presumably we're looking to do something similar here, to keep the banking show on the road.
This may be the time when those predictions about the Dow hitting 9,000 and gold breaking through $1,200 start to come true.
Monday, August 04, 2008
This morning, on the paper run while the kettle was boiling, I caught sight of its trailer on the front page: "How the wealthy lost touch with the rest of us/Polly Toynbee" (actually, it's also by David Walker, though it doesn't say so there).
I thought, I'll grit my teeth and have a go. There must be some reason why teachers like me read this stuff. Here (in the G2 section) it is.
Fisk it yourself. Note the sly references to (ugh!) the Daily Mail and (ahhh!) how hard teachers work. Then note what isn't said, for example about Toynbee's own high income and wealth, foreign property etc.
And look at the unexamined implicit assumptions in statements like "...others deserve a share of that, too." Unless you are religious (and I include in that category anyone who talks about Man with a capital M), why should anyone care about anybody who's not a blood relation (and the ever-logical Mao didn't even do that)?
So I guess my gripe is that here we have a coldly commercial product pretending to morality; which perhaps I should admire for the artist's control of her line, more than for its social comment.
Friday, August 01, 2008
In this week's Spectator, Charles Moore publishes an SMS text from a businesswoman friend, giving her immediate impressions of meeting David Cameron, and although she is clearly struck by the man's looks and personality, one little sentence jumped out at me: "Doesn't really listen." I think I know what she means, because it gels with how I read his body language every time I see him on the news: he is tightly focused on maintaining his grip on the Protean figure of Success, and will not be distracted. That has its dangers.