Archive for the economics Category

A Sympathizer Critiquing Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics, politics with tags , , on October 26, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

Out of character, I’d like to keep this concise.  Since clarity is one of my main problems with the aim of the protests taking place from Zuccotti Park, best to practice what I preach, no?

One of the main problems with the protesters is their only unifier is feeling deeply disenfranchised.  Vague, yes.  But with 120 opinions from 100 people, building consensus is contrived and impossible.  You need to look for actionable demands, even if they’re really not plausible.

Plausibility is a pipe dream.  If you don’t know, a large segment of the protesters actively work within the general assembly and work towards building consensus.  This video does more to explain than 1,000 poorly written paragraphs.

Coincidentally, it sums up much of the procedure and, for lack of better word, sheeple aspect of Occupy Wall Street.  Or #occupywallstreet.  However you find it.  I can say it a thousand different ways.  Building consensus around myriad pet causes and interests inevitably grinds to a halt.  Or ostracizes too many people.

So what’s the solution for now?  It’s not playing bongo drums, aggravating the neighbors.  It isn’t trashing the machine and starting from scratch.  What would we do with the torn up roads, anyway?

It’s just one modest opinion, but I’ve got short, medium and long term ideas which at least have a chance to work.

Short Term

This is two steps.  More for comic timing than efficiency.

Step 1: Audit Fort Knox.  Of course, Ron Paul is the only man anywhere stating this most obvious demand.  The Federal Reserve is private; some wrangling will be needed to open their books.  But Fort Knox?  That should be simple.

Step 2: Audit The Federal Reserve System.  Know what I was saying about comic timing?  After sifting through trillions of dollars worth of IOU’s to the Fed in Fort Knox, where better to turn than the Head Honchos?

In a nutshell, there needs to be an open, independent public audit of the organs of public fiscal health.  The Fed and Fort Knox.  Impossible, yes, but not TOO much to ask, right?

Which brings me to a more philosophical qualm I’ve got with the occupiers.  Zuccotti Park is a glorified free speech zone, like you would find at a presidential convention.  Rather than using the park as a base camp, it is their ONLY camp.  An occupying force needs to employ tactics.  Forming consensus and implementing action via working groups blunts spontaneous action.  Disavowing another protester is easy if they’re not speaking on behalf of the general assembly.

Here’s two bits of free advice.  The New York branch of the Federal Reserve is LITERALLY down the street from the park.  Cycle through there daily.  Then there’s Bowling Green Park…….a park feet away from the Bronze Bull standing guard on Wall Street.

Symbolism. Kids these days don't get 'words'

Bowling Green is a park which is literally empty during the day.  Blocks away from the rhetorical protest.  This lack of action awareness of ones surroundings is amazing.  So protesters, march on the NY Fed, and Occupy Bowling Green Park.  At least make the authorities react if you want to be perceived as a legitimate force.

Smoothly segueing into my second, medium term plank for the occupiers.  Bright enough people to run for public office, gasp, run for public office!  Jesse LaGreca is the best example that comes to mind.  He’s got face recognition, articulates himself very well, and is as grassroots as anyone is getting at this point in the movement.

Even if people from various occupations around the nation lose, presenting candidates is how this social movement will rise above the status of, “I’ve got some new Facebook friends, cool!” to “The 99 percenters actually stand for something.”  Germany can elect members of the Pirate Party into government and Americans cannot even muster a third party?  Embarrassing.

And that’s the long term best case scenario.  If the 99% really speak for most people, this is a slam dunk.  When Alec Baldwin is morphing into the face man for your movement, well, Russell Simmons isn’t getting the credit he deserves.  Do you want a rude, thoughtless little pig being the voice of Occupy Wall Street?

Without leadership and action, nothing will get done.  And the cynic in me pins the second snow between Thanksgiving and Christmas as the back breaker.  Sorry, guys.  The bums will scurry for hot sewer grates.  The young academic types will remember how much their families will miss them over the holidays.

Put it this way.  The FDNY and NYPD are working on contingency plans for the winter.  Protesters are not.  Trashing the system and starting on new, trillion dollar green communes are unrealistic.  So is demanding an auditing of Fort Knox and the Federal Reserve.  The difference being, a real conversation about the bigger banking and wealth infrastructure in the United States is needed.  Competent candidates for public office are hoped for.  And a legitimate 99% political party (doubtful) is a best case.

Auditing the greater bodies of U.S. wealth, grooming candidates and creating (emphasis on creating) a free standing third party are not unrealistic demands.  They’re also not an articulated opinion of the #occupywallstreet movement.  Without some forward progress, this spirit that’s been dubbed ‘aimless’ will crumple on its internal contradictions.  Below is my favorite tragic image from the site.

Bottles of water, y'see, are, uhhhhh, what's the world I'm looking for???

Collective disenfranchisement can only go so far before a demand is needed.  Audit Fort Knox, then the Federal Reserve.  Even if it just moves the conversation forward, that’s movement.  I’ll be back soon enough with more on the protests, but I’m still forming an opinion of it myself.

Forming your own opinion.  That’s your best bet.  You may be surprised how many people have smart, different opinions than yours.  If you can’t at least see the other side, you’re just not listening.

Bobbing And Weaving Around The Impact of Globalization on Income and Employment

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics with tags on August 23, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

It has always been a dream of mine to own a cash only business.  For a person of my ilk caliber, that would mean a laundromat or a hair salon.  IF I were to own a hair salon, it would be called Bob and Weave.  It would be boxing themed (in case you missed it there in the title).  Like a homeless man told me, a play on words is worth two in the bush.  Too right, sir.

Ok, enough juvenile foolishness.  We’ve got another Foreign Affairs article today.  “The Impact of Globalization on Income and Employment,” by Michael Spence is the most recent farcical article from the esteemed publication.  So let’s get into this piece, see if we can pull any interesting bits from this dry white paper.

Please check your coat and enjoy deception, baby

I sincerely encourage everyone reading to click the link above to the actual article.  Remember, most of cryptojournalism is taking things out of context and ferreting out bullshit.  Do not take this as an honest interpretation.  It’s cryptojournalism, so get your salt shakers ready.

Please note, this was published before the most recent tanking of the stock exchange.  But since at least 5 of my 6 readers are too poor to own stock, that’s a moot point.  Jumping right in:

By relocating some parts of international supply chains, globalization has been affecting the price of goods, job patterns, and wages almost everywhere. It is changing the structure of individual economies in ways that affect different groups within those countries differently. In the advanced economies, it is redistributing employment opportunities and incomes.

C’mere son, sit on grandpa’s lap as he tells a tale about the haves and the have nots.  If you’re a little fuzzy with the paragraph above, it’s smoothly describing globalization as a vehicle for class warfare.  Those ‘different’ groups of people are (spoiler alert) rich and poor.  This is not very promising.

On the bright side, at least Spence is spot on concerning redistribution.  He’d only be better off declaring it’s time for plebes to take up driving a gypsy cab, or webcamming for the ladies.  I know, I know, the women reading this are shaking their heads.  Webcamming?  Yes, webcamming.  Hey, when the economy consists of pushing paper at a financial institute, working in the vast service sector or being unemployed, why not venture into a liquid market, safe (for now) from the IRS.  Setting up a web cam, PayPal account and mortgaging your dignity probably sounds pretty good to some people these days.  Especially if you can’t get into the paper pushing racket.

Moving right along….

the structural evolution of the global economy today and its effects on the U.S. economy mean that, for the first time, growth and employment in the United States are starting to diverge.

Ahem, this is the FIRST time for a divergence of growth and employment?  After a decade of flat growth for wages?  The Economics Policy Institute has a nifty article FROM 2007?!!? touting how growth (strictly in wages) has been flat for 95% of Americans since the turn of the century.  Take a look for yourself.  It’s astounding that now, today, in the year 2011, we’re actually starting to see a divergence.  I’m just going to call bullshit and trudge ahead.

Spence continues on:

major emerging economies are becoming more competitive in areas in which the U.S. economy has historically been
dominant, such as the design and manufacture of semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and information technology services.

We’ve still got Mariah Carey, and nobody can take her away from us.

Mariah Carey?

Yes, Mariah Carey.  Put it this way: if you’re traveling abroad around the holiday season, you’re probably going to hear “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at some point on your journey.

In other words, we’ve still got entertainment.  It’s our most reliable export: culture.  That’s not going to change anytime soon.

Entertainment and culture are not real brick and mortar industries, though.  Lucrative, yes.  But not lucrative in a meaningful way.  If that makes sense.

Hey, I’m grasping for something we export.  Basketball, movies, Beyoncé…..uh, financial disarray and porno spoofs.  All entertaining, yes.  Not always necessary.

An appropriate metaphor for contemporary America

We’ve become so complacent our pornographers aren’t even trying.  Choosing the above graphic was tough, since there are so many shitty spoofs to choose.  Enough of that smut, we have important issues to discuss.

Before I get into this next blurb, allow a short rant.  Writers and journalists of all stripes do an admirable job of pointing out the myriad problems surrounding whatever topic/issue they’re covering, but rarely have answers.  Case in point:

…job opportunities in the United States are shifting away from the sectors that are experiencing the most growth and to those that are experiencing less.The result is growing disparities in income and employment across the U.S. economy, with highly educated workers enjoying more opportunities and workers with less education facing declining employment prospects and stagnant incomes.The U.S. government must urgently develop a long-term policy to address these distributional effects and their structural underpinnings and restore competitiveness and growth to the U.S. economy.

Radical.  There’s a problem.  “Distributional effects and their structural underpinnings” is the problem, but what’s the solution?

There are two possible solutions, neither of which is elaborated upon: a tax hike on that segment of the populace on the winning end of that income disparity OR a wholesale devaluing of the dollar.  One could contend through quantitative easing we’re seeing that devaluing (gold bugs would tend to agree), but this is not addressed.

What good is an article on income and employment issues without solutions?  Not bloody much.

Don’t fret.  That will just make you think about things.  And who likes thinking?

At least Mr. Spence gives some real information on the U.S. economy, specifically how it has grown over the last two decades:

Between 1990 and 2008, the number of employed workers in the United States grew from about 122 million to about 149 million. Of the roughly 27 million jobs created during that period, 98 percent were in the so-called nontradable sector of the economy, the sector that produces goods and services that must be consumed domestically.

Wow, what a buzzkill.  98 percent of the jobs created since ’90 are (no offense to workers nationwide) useless outside the United States.  Now, watch this nifty trick of the tongue:

The retail, construction, and hotel and restaurant industries also contributed significantly to job growth.

He forgot to mention the reality television industry.

I’m going to go out on a limb and call that the service industry.  Why the author is compelled to parse the service biz into specific components is beyond me, unless it sounds better to perceive these things as different.  They’re not.  They’re people serving other people.

Don’t worry, folks.  The service sector is not the only part of the economy that’s grown:

Employment is growing, however, in other parts of the tradable sector-most prominently, finance, computer design and engineering, and top management at multinational enterprises.

All you’ve got to do is ditch that shitty job at Zumiez and become a top manager at a multinational enterprise.  No big whoop.  Ok, maybe it’s a medium whoop.

Ready for a truth bomb dropped on your head?  If you’ve got a bomb shelter, I’d advise taking your laptop down there before reading this next passage:

the range of employment opportunities available in the tradable sector is declining, which is limiting choices for U.S. workers in the middle-income bracket.

And there it is, laid bare for all to see.  Like Lenin’s body.  You’re a worker in the middle-income bracket in America?  Well, soon you’ll be a copper thief.  Or a gypsy cab.  Or doing the aforementioned webcamming.  Because your choices are limited.  I’m only speaking slightly with the slightest twinge of hyperbole.

As a random (and generally unread) blog, I’ve got to go fishing for page views.  Honestly, who WANTS to read something from a cryptojournalist?  So I try to link to articles featured on The Drudge Report.  And boy, Matt Drudge loves articles about copper theft.  It’s like a trend or something.  For criminals.

I’m beginning to see a trend emerging in this article.  Most everyone is getting crunched.  Except the highly skilled or morally bankrupt financial wizards.  I imagine Mr. Spence chuckling as he actually states things clearly:

The overall picture is clear: employment opportunities and incomes are high, and rising, for the highly educated people at the upper end of the tradable sector of the U.S. economy, but they are diminishing at the lower end. And there is every reason to believe that these trends will continue.

Sorry to burst the bubble of everyone reading this with a Masters Degree, but he’s not talking about you.  Highly educated people get their MBA, not a teaching degree.  They study at MIT and Harvard, not University of Phoenix or Hamburger University.

Sorry, thought I had a zippy graphic for Hamburger University.

Oh. There it is

This wouldn’t be cryptojournalism if I did not take umbrage with some of what Spence lays out in this article.  Look again at that last quote above.  It’s misleading, but it’s so soft and subtle that it’s very easy to gloss over.  Specifically, his use of ‘at the lower end’ needs to read ‘everyone else.’  I’m at a loss for a zinger, so let me hand this one off to Maude Lebowski.

Don't be fatuous, Jeffrey

With our SAT word of the day out of the way, we can get back to the cruel joke education plays in the American economy:

The highly educated, and only them, are enjoying more job opportunities and higher incomes.

Well, the highly educated, and the Kardashian Klan.  Mr. Spence keeps forgetting the reality stars who’ve made it big.  I cannot overstate that a Masters Degree DOES NOT QUALIFY one as ‘highly educated.’  Post graduate is the game here, which in stunning turn of events, costs money to acquire.  Yup, you’ve just been zung.

Now let’s touch on one of my favorite aspects of cryptojournalism, which is calling out misleading qualifiers:

[the global economy’s structural evolution]…is creating a distributional problem in the advanced economies.  Not everyone is gaining in those countries, and some may be losing.

Some, not most.  May be, not are.  Sleight of hand, not lying.  I think you see my point.  It gets better:

Declining employment opportunities feel real and immediate; the rise in real incomes brought by lower prices does not.

Lower prices?  Where?  In Venezuela?  I guess that the 15% rise in food costs the World Bank reports took place between October 2010 and January 2011 is poppycock.  Fuck, even the United Nations admits a 39% bump in food costs from June 2010 to June of this year.  In which fantasy realm does the author of this article reside?  Asgard?  Big Titty Heaven from South Park?  Where can I buy a slice of pizza for $1.25?

If you’re going to deceive, try a lie that’s not so easily refuted.

This passage is what I like to consider cute, in a ruthlessly cutthroat sort of way.  It’s a bit of truth with some deception, baby:

according to recent surveys, a substantial number of Americans believe that their children will have fewer opportunities than they have had.  The slow recovery from the recent economic crisis may be affecting these perceptions, which means that they might dissipate as the situation improves and growth returns. But the longterm structural evolution of the U.S. and global economies suggests that distributional issues will remain.

We’ve already shown that growth, well, didn’t grow for the overwhelming majority of Americans.  But don’t fret.  As soon as these stupid perceptions dissipate, it’ll be back.  And better than ever!

Don’t be fatuous, Michael.

At least he has the nerve to couple that with the factual statement that people believe their children are being shafted.

So, uh, what exactly is crippling the economy in slow motion?  It’s not technology or multinationals, that’s for fucking sure:

If giving technology as the preferred explanation for the U.S. economy’s distributional problems is a way to ignore the structural changes of the global economy, invoking multinational companies (mncs) as the preferred explanation is a way to overstate their impact. Mncs are said to underpay and otherwise exploit poor people in developing countries, exporting jobs that should have stayed in the United States.

I hope this paragraph is dripping with sarcasm, and it’s jut lost in translation from statement to print.  For one, shrinking multinational companies into an acronym is simply adorable.  I’m also fairly certain there should be air quotation marks around “said to underpay and otherwise exploit poor people in developing countries,” but that’s just a hunch.

MNCs are 'said' to 'underpay' and 'exploit' people living in a van down by the river

Now here’s something which is so painfully obvious, it almost hurts to type:

In short, companies’ private interest (profit) and the public’s interest (employment) do not align perfectly.

Oh, that’s it.  The alignment is off.  I’m not even going to throw an axle joke out there.  That’s too easy.  Once again, I’m fairly certain there are ironic quotation marks that should be around “align perfectly,” but I never can tell what’s irony and what’s mere farce.

Know what I was saying about misleading qualifiers?  Here’s a doozy.  Warning: this is a half a quote taken completely out of context.  Still, it’s too funny to pass up:

…the risk of a second economic downturn…

Silly me.  Here I thought it was one long, slow decline.  Nope, we had a rebound there, and now there is a RISK of a second economic downturn.  I don’t need to rub the Dow Jones in the author’s face.  He probably realizes how dumb that sounds now.  Especially when that risk is biting the stock market on the ass.

*cough* Corporate Fascism *cough*

With considerable uncertainty about the efficacy of various policy options, a multistakeholder, multipronged approach to addressing these distributional problems is best. The relevant knowledge about promising new technologies and market opportunities is dispersed among business, the government, labor, and universities, and it needs to be assembled and turned into initiatives.  President Barack Obama has already appointed a commission, led by Jeffrey Immelt, the ceo of General Electric, to focus on competitiveness and employment issues in the U.S. economy. This is an important step forward. But it will be hugely difficult to invest in human capital, technology, and infrastructure as much as is necessary at a time of fiscal distress and declining government employment. And yet restoring opportunities for future generations requires making sacrifices in the present.

We’ve got business, the government, labor and universities with seats at the table.  How about, oh, I dunno, regular taxpayers?  Some shmuck off the street?  Feh, what do they know?

Here’s a zinger, plain and simple.  Nothing more, nothing less:

Improving the performance of the educational system has been a priority for some years, yet the results are in doubt.

‘Bout that highly educated workforce.  Where is it?  Seemingly not coming from most educational institutions domestically, according to Mr. Spence.  He doesn’t just throw wild statements out there.  He backs them up with vague almost statistics, but, well, without the numbers:

…the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administers a set of standardized tests, the Program for
International Student Assessment, across more than 60 countries, advanced and developing, to measure the cognitive skills of teenage students. The United States ranks close to the average in reading and science and well behind most countries in math.

Close to average….is that above or below?  Vague and generally useless.  It’s like I hit the cryptojournalism lottery!  Once again, we’re confronted with problems, but no solutions.  Oh, there are suggestions.  Hilarious suggestions.

And when I say hilarious, well, see for yourself:

To break this pattern, it will be necessary to shift communities’-and the country’s-values about education through moral leadership, at both the community and the national levels.

Moral leadership.  Good thing this is an article and not a speech, since I doubt anyone could say that with a straight face without bursting into hysterics.  All along, all we’ve needed is moral leadership (from the national level!), and our students would magically be better performers at reading, math and science.

So I have this bridge in Brooklyn for sale, I sez.

One last tidbit, then we should have this wrapped up tightly:

Mncs with earnings outside the United States currently have a strong incentive to keep their earnings abroad
and reinvest them abroad because earnings are taxed both where they are earned and also in the United States if they are repatriated. Lower tax rates would mean a loss in revenue for the U.S. government, but that could be replaced by taxes on consumption, which would have the added benefit of helping shift the composition of demand from domestic to foreign.

I may be mistaken, but wouldn’t consumption taxes, I don’t know, fall on consumers?  Sounds like just another way ‘the lower end’ would get fucked over.  Yes, the author claims that the burden would be shifted to some foreign entity.  He also claims we’ve got low prices.

Like I try to do with many of these articles, I want you to think about what you’re reading.  If you’re reading.  Often, you’ll find the most egregious lies are balancing on a qualifier, or a quip.  Keep your eyes open and your brains sharp.  Even if you can’t afford to be highly educated.

Cake Having, Cake Eating

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics with tags , , on July 24, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

I would like to once more touch on the story of the whitebark pine tree.  Mentioned previously, it is recognized as capable of being classified endangered, but monetary semantics and a backlog of other, higher priority listing actions, have precluded the listing.  Why bring this up?  Have I gone eco-hippie, back to Mother Gaia and such?

No.  It proves an illuminating backdrop for this article from The Economist (which apes a lot of ideas from this New York Times opinion piece), proving once again that words sound great, but words unattached to reality are fantasy.  Both articles are arguing that the REAL bubble we’re experiencing is a deflation of the consumption bubble.

The last quarter century of GDP was really smoke and mirrors (my words, not theirs), and now that people cannot charge and accumulate debt to the hilt (my words, not theirs), there is nothing propping up the economy.

Upbeat stuff.  I guess I agree, but when the financial system is predicated on fractional reserve banking (literally making a dollar outta fifteen cents), what do you expect?  People are getting wise to this, and [spoiler alert] not spending their money in a tight economy.

I know, right?

The American economy is built on consumption.  People are not consuming.  So…..the government should intervene.  And spend.  That is the sentiment from both The Times and The Economist.  It has been noted on this blog how the Bank for International Settlements is calling for governments to de-leverage (shed debt).  Which means either economics writers for prestigious publications glossed over the BIS annual report, don’t want to recognize the, dare I say, prophetic words of the BIS, or live in La-La Land.

That isn’t a Los Angeles joke, either.

Which brings us back to the whitebark pine.  It’s not listed as endangered because it costs money to do the leg work.  A $5.38 billion budget is big bucks.  That’s the U.S. Forest Service budget for 2011.  As much as that is, that includes a $10.7 million budget cut for so-called “Forest and Rangeland Research,” which sounds just like where the whitebark is being pinched.

And this is actually almost strictly a problem of the Federal Government.  In a stunning twist, 96% of the whitebark pines in the United States are on federal lands.  You will also note a similar request made in 1991 was ignored.

So this is a problem for the feds.

And guess what?  Capital Hill can’t afford to foot the bill.

Which, if you’re keeping notes, is the call to arms from economics writers.  Although, if you take the time to read an economics writer, you’ll probably find they’re full of shit.  From The Times article (emphasis added):

The biggest flaw with the past stimulus was that it imagined that the old consumer economy might return. Households received large tax rebates, usually with little incentive to spend the money (the cash-for-clunkers program being the exception that proves the rule). People did spend some of these across-the-board rebates, and kept economic growth and unemployment from being even worse, but also saved a sizable portion.

If it pleases the peanut gallery, I would like to point out the notion of paying down debt.  Shitheads spend money given to them when they have debts to pay down. 

The Times seems to believe we needed more shitheads during the golden era of for-clunkers programs.  Or unemployment and economic growth would have been even worse.

Imagine that?

The day Cash For Clunkers ended, panic ensued. Thankfully, Max was there

Consider it imagined.

Let me get this straight.  Pundits are calling for more federal expenditures when the feds are not able to pony money up for anything?  Sounds like a plan.  Having your cake, and doing something with said baked good.

What gets me most is that nobody has thought of what may be the simplest solution to the whitebark pine: crowdsource the problem of designating a critical habitat.  If finding a suitable tract of land to serve as protected environment is the problem, use technology.  This is simple stuff, folks.

How much would it cost to make a GPS based app, one where hikers in parks and forests could ping whitebark information to build a database.  THAT database could be used to find a suitable critical habitat to actually protect, on the cheap.  Call it, “If a tree falls in the forest….Say something.”

Inform park visitors of the problem in the tree’s region.  If they were willing to use smart phones to help build this map, would that not be a good, cheap use of technology?

Seems obvious.  If the feds can’t afford it, pawn it off on citizens.  For good measure, I’ll even throw a “Duh” in there, for good measure.  And poor form.

Not a forest enthusiast, more an ice cream, Juggalo and Faygo enthusiast

While I’m discussing the ridiculous nature of economics writing, I’ve got another dandy piece from The Economist I’d like to cryptojournalize.

That’s one of the perks of being a cryptojournalist.  Getting to make up new words on the fly.

This article is a rubbernecker’s dream.  It’s that much of a train wreck.

Some juicy tidbits, clearly dis-ambiguous and without context:

If we’re worried about the very real possibility that the long-term unemployed will drop out of the labour market altogether, we need quick-acting policy.

The plight of the discouraged worker is one that has been conveniently overlooked.  I’m fairly surprised it is even mentioned here, as it is SO overlooked.  Who wants real unemployment numbers?  Then people would panic.  Still, I am glad to see this overlooked aspect of the labor market at least referenced.

I have become increasingly averse to the idea of once again becoming a permanent salaried or wage-earning employee. I suspect I’m not alone.

Um.  Sure.  That is not from the mouth of CM Punk, to be clear.  Not everyone hates working, that’s just the impression from 95% of workers.  And the vagabond community.  And hobos, derelicts, the homeless, vagrants or whatever else you might call bums.

OK, so some South Park residents have embraced this lifestyle

Now I could be taking that quote out of context.  Or the writer has a Neo-Randian viewpoint.  Me-centric, where ‘I’ trumps all.

…the sort of self-rental involved in the employment relation is regularly experienced as a lamentable loss of autonomy, if not humiliating subjection.

If you feel “a lamentable loss of autonomy, if not humiliating subjection,” at your job, it may involve something dubbed “The Lollipop Ride.”  For those who don’t know what that is, well, it involves a man lying on the floor, a Blow Pop and a lamentable loss of autonomy, if not humiliating subjection.

I read this next quip, and wanted to tell him, “Buck up, sport.  Welcome to the real world.”  But I don’t think he wanted to listen.

It just sucks to have a boss.

From the mouth of a teenager, working his first summer job.  Or a freelance writer for The Economist.  The level of rhetorical sophistication sometimes leaves me confused.  Does it suck, or just blow, to have a boss?  This is major stuff, people!

Head fake.  It’s not important stuff.  Merely the equivalent of the Sunday funnies for a cryptojournalist.

Regrettably, many intelligent people take economics writing seriously.  It’s better with a grain of salt and dose of cynicism.  Taken seriously, we all may be gypsy cabs, banking on the next dose of government largesse.

I’m not an economist, but I know if revenue is down and budgets shrinking (like the Forest Service), we should expect more whitebark pines than Cash for Clunkers.  If you know what I mean.

And I think you do.

More Zany Bank For International Settlements Mad Libs

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics, politics with tags , , , on July 1, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

Where were we?

When we last left Basel, we were ducking truth bombs and parsing language.  The first three parts of this comical stagecoach can be found here, here and here.  Since you’re jumping in at the end, take the time to catch up.

For those caught up, here’s another comical stagecoach.

If there were an open vote taken of the global Jewry for King of the Jews, Mel Brooks is my slam dunk choice.  He’d wear the crown with honor.

Sometimes words speak louder than actions

Before I start making Spaceballs references, let’s get back to the 2010/11 Annual Report from the Bank for International Settlements.  Buckle up for some reading you’ll never get around to.

Inflation is the arch nemesis of central bankers.  They’d rather amputate toes than experience rising inflation.  I keed, I keed.  Nobody prefers an amputation.  Still, central banks in general dislike inflation:

…central banks must remain highly alert to a buildup of inflationary pressures. They should do so even if the evidence may seem at odds with conventional estimates of domestic economic slack and domestic wage developments.

Credit where credit’s due: this is a warning.  It is not some bit of advice.

Don’t see how this will play in the U.S.  We’ve got plenty of domestic slack.  This much is true.  Just today, the Commerce Department reported a 0.6 percent drop in construction.  On the heels of the ‘human capital’ truth bomb lobbed by the BIS, I’d anticipate that number getting worse.  So-called conventional estimates will be downwardly revised as time proceeds.  As for domestic wages, well, aren’t wages flat for the bulk of the last decade?  How does a central bank grapple with inflation in an economy experiencing prices rising across commodities?  Prices are rising as wages stay flat.  Meaning?

There’s a hitch in trying to stifle inflation:

How much tighter does monetary policy need to be to keep inflation in check?  Estimated Taylor rules, which link the level of policy rates to inflation and the output gap, indicate that policy rates are too low.

I know, I know…..isn’t the output gap a fictional figure?  Yes.  Not to economists, who employ it for things such as the Taylor Rule.  Maybe Michael Bay thinks his explosions are real.  I’d think he’s brighter than that, but who knows.  The man did cut his teeth in the advertising business.  What exactly is the Taylor rule, then?

Glad you asked.  See that, how I presumed you asked about the Taylor rule?  Quite presumptuous.  The Taylor rule, it turns out, is one more fancy semantic rhetorical trick.  It’s the compartmentalizing of language.  You see this most vividly in, of all places, baseball.

BABIP.  VORP.  SKRIZZLE.  That would be batting average of balls in play, value over replacement player and a neologism for scrilla.  Droves of baseball fans speak like this now.  “Well, Troy Tulowitzki has a 17.8 VORP.  He’s worth all the skrizzle the Rockies paid.”

As time chugs along, people delve deeper into topics, creating new and more contrived phrases and anagrams along the way.  I mean, isn’t that the basic premise of cryptojournalism?  Cryptojournalism?  Only in a world of Taylor rules and VORP.

What is the Taylor rule, then?  Bless you, the Federal Reserve, for providing this awesome explanation of Taylor rules.  The Federal Reserve explains it a couple of ways, initially stating:

Taylor rules are simple monetary policy rules that prescribe how a central bank should adjust its interest rate policy instrument in a systematic manner in response to developments in inflation and macroeconomic activity. They provide a useful framework for the analysis of historical policy and for the econometric evaluation of specifc alternative strategies that a central bank can use as the basis for its interest rate decisions.

The Fed reiterates in closing, “Taylor rules offer a simple and transparent framework with which to organize the discussion of systematic monetary policy.”  Simple and transparent, sounds great.

Ever so gracious, they provide a simple and transparent explanation of the classic Taylor rule.  This is discovered on the heels of the decision to adjust interest rates based on inflation and economic activity.  Take a look for yourself.

Clear as the fog over San Francisco Bay

In time, a generalized Taylor rule was crafted.  Bring your A game for this one, suckers.

Can't make this stuff up

When someone with an MBA in economics stumbles on this page, I hope they can put all that in layman’s terms in the comments.

Here’s the beauty of the Taylor rule.  It proves to be essentially useless.  Seems that internationalist bankers have an especially wry sense of humor.

“Taylor rules have proven valuable for historical policy analysis.”

“However, interpretations of historical policy based on information that was unavailable to policymakers when policy decisions were made is of questionable value.”

“Policy prescriptions from a fixed rule are distorted as the inputs to the rule are revised from those originally available to policymakers, and therefore counterfactual comparisons of alternative policy rules can be misleading when they are based on revised data.”

“Shit!  If only we’d known!”

Sounds like the plight of America’s greatest hero: Captain Hindsight.  The hero for the modern age could do no wrong.  Until he second guessed himself one time too many.

Journalism has seen better days

Indecision clouded his vision.  Exactly like Faith No More.

Jack Brolin always had a knack for hindsight.  When his gift became a curse, the bottom fell fast and hard.

The Huffington Post/AOL merger devastated Captain Hindsight

Counterfactual comparisons can be misleading?  So are you telling me the X-Men didn’t defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Spoiler alerts aside, if you were so inclined (I am) to, you could say the Taylor rule, in some instances, do nothing more than distort the market with shoulda, woulda, coulda’s?

Captain Hindsight parties with bank regulators. Who knew?

Feeble analogies aside, this compartmentalizing of speech we see developing is, to use an industry term, trickeration.  Case in point:

In the near term, the recovery of risk-taking and innovation across various dimensions will pose an important challenge for authorities as they consider whether and how to deploy the tools at their disposal to address potential threats to financial stability.

Dimensions, eh?  Didn’t realize I’d have to tap MC Escher and Stephen Hawking for assistance in the money market.  Much as I hate it, I sort of love it.  Hinging on that one word, dimensions, are countless ways to spin an argument or make a point.  Flexible language as a cornerstone of an industry which relies heavily on the theory of hedging makes perfect sense.

Another truth bomb.  Really, more a truth BB.

…risk can be transmitted through unexpected channels…

Let’s put a misconception to rest right now.  You’re not going to catch crotch turkeys off a toilet seat.  That’s a myth.

Financial disarray is more likely to occur on the can.  Mmmmmm, hyperbole, you are manna from the Gods.  The game has been cat and mouse since humans verbalized words for ‘cat’ and ‘mouse’ and figured how to analogize.

Read this.  Then tell me if you think a cross-border bank resolution regime sounds like a fancy word for toll booth:

Outstanding issues include dealing with systemically important institutions, designing more effective cross-border bank resolution regimes, and addressing the risks relating to shadow banking activities. Meeting these challenges will be the focus of the next phase of global regulatory reform.

Also on the menu: a delectably smooth camembert, a wild duck foie gras and sumptuous organic strawberries and fresh rhubarb.

In case you missed the memo on planetary integration:

….many of the analytical questions that concern policymakers can be answered with institution-level data collected on a globally consolidated basis.

“Yes, let me try the rhubarb and strawberries, and could you please bring me a glass of cucumber water?”

Institution-level data collection on a global basis sounds like it would be a lot of bureaucratic legwork.  What exactly are policymakers and their data mining teams supposed to be looking for?  How much access are we talking about?

ability to monitor leverage ratios…consistently across different parts of the financial system would represent a big step forward in tracking systemic risk. It would require, at a minimum, internationally comparable measures of total assets and equity for individual financial institutions. Importantly, the measure of total assets would have to include all off-balance sheet positions that could affect a bank’s capital.

That’s quite a bit of access.  Were regulators to begin peering off-balance sheet, there is little good they’ll find.  You do not keep good assets off-balance sheets, do you?  Then again, counter-intuitive  semantics, the simple and transparent Taylor rule and the like, are par for the course.

In ‘a’ perfect world central banks, there would be this degree of access.  I love punchlines:

In practice, any such attempt would be ruled out by the amount of data required, the cost of collection, and the confidentiality issues it would raise.

Great, glad we got that cleared up.  It is tricky to discern why there is such talk of opening the books followed by the blunt declaration it’s not possible.  Chalk it up to thinking idealistically while being realistic.

It turns out that is not pragmatism.  Dexterously ambivalent is more like it:

The task is to find a data mix that will give policy analysts a detailed enough picture of key institutions and their activities.

Can’t get a detailed picture?  Well, you’re going to settle for detailed enough.  When the next crisis happens to have evaded diligent, well-meaning regulators and policymakers, that’s when the dreams of fuller access pushes to the fore.  Disguise the limit!  Err, that should say the skies the limit!  Classic treacherous tactic: always shoot for the moon in hard negotiations.  You may get it, but when you don’t it leaves a wide berth around which to work.

While I wanted to leave this alone, things do not take place in a void:

Given the confidentiality issues, much of this detailed information will have to remain in the hands of supervisory teams charged with systemic risk analysis.

Hacker’s f’n dream, right there.  That’s the whole spiel.  Everyone should be very wary of so much information being collected into so few hands.  If the IMF is prone to hackers, who’s secure?


You’ve been a wonderful audience, thanks again for coming.  And if you’re celebrating Independence Day this weekend, remember the Founding Fathers.  They wanted people to independ on themselves.  Independ on yourself, and you’ll be aces.

Digging Into The Mother Of All Grande Enchiladas

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics, politics with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

And God said he should send his one begotten son to lead the wild into the ways of the man – Tupac Shakur

All along, I should have known it could inevitably come to this.

2pac saw this coming years ago

Before we get to Hobo With A Shotgun or the Bank For International Settlements Annual Report, it’s time for a trip down memory lane.  To Boston, at the beginning of 1999.  It was the second semester of my freshman year, and I was about to take a class that would blow the port holes out of the submarine deep within my id.

Topics in Myth was the class and it was the stuff of legends.  One of the luxuries of studying communications was a lot of semantic get out of jail free cards.  Rather than taking a drab English class, Topics in Myth would suffice as an English requirement.  Score!  I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into.  Let’s start with Scorpio.

Whoops, wrong Scorpio

One of the grand perks of Topics in Myth was the class was taught once a week in a three hour block.  First day of class, we watch Dirty Harry.  Kids, if you were born after 1987, it’s Clint Eastwood at his best.  His evil foe is a no-goodnik by the name of Scorpio.  One scene in particular was forever seared into my mind from that film.

God bless YouTube, cause here it is.

As you watch it, seems pretty straightforward.  Scorpio hired this guy to beat him up (to frame Harry, but that’s not important now).  Only after the film, when Professor Ruck (Boston University students, take his class.  Mind blowing doesn’t begin to describe the experience) begins explaining thematic qualities, did I realize what I really saw.  Or, what I should have seen.

I can remember his explanation clear as day.  “Note the glove.  Highly eroticized, akin to fist fucking.”

This will only hurt for a minute

Flabbergasted downplays how far that came out of left field.  There were about ten people I knew all sitting in one row together.  The bewilderment that struck everyone was a sight to see.

Without venturing too deep into my college studies, the class was captivating.  For a while, it ruined my movie watching experience (and anyone unfortunate enough to be watching alongside) thanks to constantly picking out Ruckian themes.  Most of which were actually Jungian themes, from Carl Jung.  Ruck had his own unique twists, but it was a lot of Jung from Man and His Symbols.

Anyhoooo, that brings us to Hobo With A Shotgun.  All I can say is thank you Nova Scotia.  Trailer Park Boys, and now this?  Amazing.  For those who put any stock in the notion Americans are the funniest people in the world, give me a second here.  I’m getting a little choked up and emotional having to say this.  *Deep breaths*

OK, I’m here.  Canadians are really the funniest people in the world.  There, I said it.  But people just lump us all together.  Y’know, like how white people generalize anyone from Latin America as Mexican.  People see a funny white guy who speaks understandable English (Lookin’ at you, Great Britain) and they assume he’s American.  Bigots.

Putting on my Ruckian cap to analyze Hobo With A Shotgun, it turns into a hysterical warning.  This is the police state, sans government.  Or so the legend goes.  There is a hospital in Hope Town, but the staff is summarily executed by mercenaries in Thunderdome gear.  One could joke, if they were a cryptojournalist, it’s the equivalent of Mad Max getting an MBA, then getting a job at the World Bank.    A skewed lampoon of what people think is the worst case scenario of the future, that’s Hobo With A Shotgun.  And hysterical.  Quite hysterical.

Which brings us to the BIS Annual Report.  We’re finally there.  If you have not read the recaps of the General Manager’s speech or the Per Jacobsson speech, shame on you!  Go read ’em.  Don’t worry, I’ll be here.

[Smoking a cigarette]

You’re back?  Good.  Before I get into cryptojournalizing (is that a word?  It is now) the annual report, I want to sum up important points.  The BIS in a nutshell.

Take it as you will

Am I saying our money has become nothing more than a vending machine trinket?  Are we all trapped in a virtual plastic vending machine egg?  Will we ever get hoverboards, like promised in Back To The Future II?

There are a few major points the BIS tries hammering home.  Implementing Basel III (which aims to boost capital requirements globally, coupled with stronger regulation), improving macroprudential global financial regulatory infrastructure, taming interest rates and warnings for central banks and sovereign governments to reduce the debt they’re holding is the acorn-sized nutshell.

Some of the macroprudential infrastructure is beginning to take form.  The Financial Stability Oversight Council is America’s player in this game.  We’re locked in and ready to go.

Here I need to note the Bank for International Settlements Terms and Conditions from their website.  There is a 400 word limit on how much can be taken for reproduction, and I respect that.  I’m going to work through as much of the report as I can in 400 words.  We’ll get to the rest in due time.

This is taken sequentially.  If you have the patience and a pot of coffee brewed, here is the entire report.  I should also mention I am not an economist, I’m a cryptojournalist.  If I misrepresent any salient concepts or do not properly frame some policy, please point out in the comments section where I am wrong.  My grasp of mark to market and other technicalities of the financial system are shoddy.  Hopefully I don’t fuck this up royally.

Do you want to know what people in the biz are forecasting for the global economy?  I know you really don’t, but humor me:

…global economy has continued to improve…emerging markets, growth has been strong, and advanced economies have been moving towards a self-sustaining recovery…would be a mistake for policymakers to relax. From our vantage point, numerous legacies and lessons of the financial crisis require attention. In many advanced economies, high debt levels…burden households as well as financial and non-financial institutions, and the consolidation of fiscal accounts has barely started.

I’m not sold.  On any of this, save the fact the fiscal accounts consolidation hasn’t begun.  The most recent unemployment numbers betray a self-sustaining recovery in the United States.  Three straight months of the American economy losing 400k jobs a week is not an economy moving towards self-sustained recovery.  The first steps towards this consolidation is taking place in slow motion.  Remember how I quipped central bankers would be encouraged concerning the news of Public Employee Federation layoffs in New York State?  That’s the prescription when the prognosis calls for consolidation.  Fat trimming.  Loose end tying.  Bud nipping.  You see my point.

Even stranger is the next action point, which runs counter to everything I assume to be true about banking:

sooner…advanced economies abandon…leverage-led growth…sooner they will shed…destabilising debt accumulated…return to sustainable growth…time for public and private consolidation is now.

Abandoning leverage-led growth?  While we’re at it, how about fish stop swimming in water?  Grass can begin to eat cows.  The whole of all banking worldwide is based on fractional reserve banking, which is in essence the leveraging of money.  Were advanced economies (most notably Britan and the United States) to end the practice of leverage-led growth, there would be nothing left.  That’s my rampant hyperbole peeking out.  There would be very little left.

I cannot even think of an equivalent aside from Galileo.  Galileo.  We are not prepared for heliocentric banking.

Shedding that debt is another interesting theoretical proposition.  Sounds great on paper.  But where’s the buyer?  I’m not even asking that rhetorically.  If governments and central banks looked to sell these assets, who would, err, could emerge as a buyer?

At times, the report hits the nail on the head:

…current monetary policy settings are inconsistent with price stability…

They know the U.S. and China are in a long, slow, deliberate showdown over the currency peg.  The renminbi should appreciate, the dollar depreciate, but either making a move jeopardizes both economies.  Instead, they dance.  There’s an illuminating video documenting the nuanced back and forth between the two powers.

If you’re confused, Fat Joe depicts China; Young Weezy, the United States.  Scott Storch is the IMF.  He lays down the beat.

Don’t think the financial realm has been static:

resurgence of financial innovation, with strong growth in new instruments and vehicles such as synthetic exchange-traded funds, commodity linked notes and commodity-based hedge funds.

Wait a tic.  You’re telling me after a savings and loan internet housing bubble, investors are inflating commodities?  Fuckin’ A.  Bubbles: the rhythm of our time.

Julian is not amused at the news out of Basel

Oooooh, sorry.  Jumped the gun on my punchline:

For several commodities, low inventories exacerbated upward price pressures, while increased investor interest in commodities as an asset class may also have played a role.

From the horses mouth.

Where’s Wonder Woman and the Lasso of Truth when you need it?

Mr. Bernanke, are you into S&M?

Can you spot the contradiction in this statement?

Central bank accountability for monetary policy actions is now heavily based on transparency…transparency will also be needed for financial stability functions. Disclosure of financial stability decision-making and reasoning is therefore essential, though delay in disclosing some elements of the decisions may be necessary if immediate disclosure risks triggering destabilising behaviour.

Of course not.  No contradiction there at all.  Until bad news arises.

Ready for another truth bomb?  Duck and cover!

the financial system will continue to evolve, not least because of business requirements, innovation and efforts by financial institutions to circumvent costly regulations.

In case you’re curious how exactly financial institutions circumvent regulations, Dylan Ratigan provides a great explanation, with Panama as the example,  in this interview with Lori Wallach.  Large institutions search for the most lax locales with the most secrecy.  Which is part of the game.  Leverage and hiding debts and assets is the game.

Ready for another truth bomb?  Make sure you’ve got the children in the bomb shelter:

Some of the (physical and human) capital put in place during the boom years is less useful than originally thought.

Ouch.  Hurts just to type that.  I was chatting with a friend the other day, while still reading this annual tome.  I brought up this point, and he mentioned how he’d never heard the phrase human capital.  Who thinks of humans as capital?  Aside from slave owners in the antebellum South. Aside from being a devastating indictment on the general track of the last decade, it once again highlights the borderline daft language of economics.

Which I adore, but has got to be intentionally confusing, crafted to obscure meaning.  Why use the word invariant rather than constant?  What value comes from subtle word games?

This is one of those cuts deep moments.  Like asking a girl who gives the duckface in every photo why she gives a duckface:

The principal need in deficit countries is an economic recovery strong enough to allow for tighter macroeconomic policies.

Hmmmm….what’s the most grotesque analogy I can come up with for that?  How about……..going through in vitro fertilization to eventually get an abortion.  Is that terrible enough?  Definitely grotesque, but I don’t know if that’s correct.  Although pumping money into a uterus to rip the fetus out down the road does sound apropos.

Hopefully that analogy fosters outrage.  Building an economic recovery in the hopes of squashing the gains is just as outrageous.  And that is the hope.  Destroy and rebuild?  More like rebuild and destroy.

Don’t fret, there’s always brighter news:

…a more positive note, the traditional monetarist concern that the expansion of central bank balance sheets might cause inflation receives little empirical support…..correlation between central bank asset expansion and broad money growth has been even weaker…

Awww, dammit!  I was expecting a positive note.  That is supposed to be good news?  It’s not even close.  Here’s where I hope my economic ignorance does not flare up.

Investopedia explains broad money this way: Broad money is used colloquially to refer to a broad definition of the money supply. Obvious.  Now here’s the problem.  If central banks have huge balance sheets, where’s the parlay?  Ahem, fractional reserve banking.  Am I misguided by believing asset expansion should spur broad money growth?  Or do I have it backwards, and they’ve taken these assets ‘out’ of the market, in a manner of speaking.

Either way, that does not sound like a positive note.  There is either a glut of assets waiting to flood the market (great for buyers, but buyers are scarce) or money is on ice, not finding its way out of bank vaults off the computer monitor.

This recap (or analysis, or farce for that matter) is not meant to merely be a fatalist whistle, weakly piercing the silence.  It’s mostly for the laughs.  Trust the BIS to provide gems, if you’re willing to go mining:

…geopolitical concerns and supply disruptions in North Africa and the Middle East are putting additional upward pressure on energy prices. Although these adverse supply side effects should subside when weather conditions normalise and the political landscape in energy-producing countries becomes more stable, conditions in particular markets may continue to have an effect.

Stable political landscapes in energy-producing countries…..classic!  Try as I might, pearls like that aren’t coming from the keyboard of a cryptojournalist.  I’m not even going to make a Libya joke.

[One Second]

[Two Seconds]

Ba-dum-chee!  Thank you, thank you.  I’ll be here all week.

Besides the gut busters like stable energy-producers, I’m a sucker for broad vagaries.

More research is needed to better understand the impact of financial investments on commodity prices

That speaks for itself.  Sooner the better, but we know that’s pie in the eye.  NOT pie in the sky.  Pie in the eye.  In other words, embarrassing.  My guess?  Regulators get around to this in, oh, 2014.  Earliest.

Think you felt like ish being boiled down to human capital?  Hope you don’t work construction:

large investments that took place prior to the crisis, eg in the construction sector, may prove to be much less productive than was originally expected

Again with the oblique language.  What exactly does productive mean in this instance?  Buildings don’t build themselves.  It’s a hard truth for a lot of people.  You’re taking a bath on investment properties, renovations, speculation….in fact, the only sector of the construction industry that’s booming is the relative niche of soup kitchen fabricators.

Joking.  People don’t care that much.

Time to draw that last bit of blood from this fine hunk of Swiss quartz.

…statistical measures may overestimate the speed of closure of the output gap, structural models may underestimate it.

The output gap is a fictional metric.  Perfect.  It’s a measure of actual vs. potential.  Theoretical money left on the table.  And guess what?  Even that fictional metric is so malleable and ambivalent to reality there is no consensus on how it is to be gauged.  Sounds like a sports book.  Angling national economies towards a hypothetical number where estimates and models generally apply, but are not gospel. Angling betters towards a line where estimates and systems generally apply, but are not gospel.

That was a rambling mess.  Hopefully, it’s been a help in making you more aware of the strange, semantic, rhetorical world of central banking and global finance.  But we’re not quite through yet.  We’ll be back shortly to wrap this baby up.  Till then…

The Basel Bi-Polar Roller Coaster

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics, politics with tags , on June 28, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

This is the second part of a crytpojournalism breakdown of the Bank For International Settlements Annual Report.  You can read part one here.

The General Manager’s speech was vaguely amusing, vaguely informative.  Just what I’d expect.  Onto our second speech related to the annual report.  Titled “What financial system for the 21st century,” it’s definitely a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to read tea leaves or peer into the crystal ball’s abyss.

If you experience motion sickness, take medicine now.  Reading through so much contradiction brings about the feelings one would expect from a bi-polar roller coaster.

Once again, I’m compelled to remind you this is cryptojournalism.  If you want a fuller understanding of the Bank for International Settlements or any of the white papers we’re discussing, you have to do your own studying and investigation.  Don’t trust a hack, and cryptojournalism is built on hackery.

One of the major calls to action from this speech, by Andrew Crockett, can be summed up below:

High-quality information is the raw material for directing resources to their most efficient use, facilitating intertemporal contracts, and thus strengthening growth potential. Financial sector reform, to be of greatest service to users of financial services, should protect and enhance the capacity of the system to generate such information.

In a perfect world…….

I’ll wait to comment.  That, my friends, was the setup.  Punchline time:

…market mechanisms failed because of perverse incentives, asymmetric information and conflicts of interest. This perspective can be instructive in designing a structural framework for a post-crisis world.

Deep breath.  And exhale.  Yeah, that’s good.  High-quality information versus asymmetrical information.  Gee, I’m relieved.  Trusting the financial system that has run semantic games at every corner will now provide high-quality information.  Someone call Captain Save A Hoe!

The one man who can save global finance: Captain Save A Hoe

In layman’s terms, it is a wild leap of faith to believe global banks and international firms will turn over a new leaf on the request from the Bank for International Settlements.  The BIS is looking for someone to step in as Captain Save A Hoe.  News flash: people lie.  Even bankers.

File this one under ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’:

Robust reforms will be those that deal with the sources of market failure, while unintended consequences are likely to flow from solutions that simply aim to thwart market outcomes perceived to be problematic.

Unintended consequences?  Never heard of ’em.  I mean, one time with my girlfriend, the condom broke.  She got her period, only after a few days of serious trepidation.  It’s also bordering on preposterous how much a banker will hedge, even within a single sentence.  We’ll deal with these market failures, until a new hole is found in the system.  But that’s not the intent.

Banking and regulation, like crime and law, are games of cat and mouse.  Regulators are always a step behind.  Couple that with the axiom ‘nature abhors a void’ and you can bet money will find a way to be spent, unregulated, maybe even fostering that next bubble.  Which ushers in another crash.  Feeding on its own shit.  That’s the underlying metaphor of The Human Centipede.  Or was that I Am Sam?  So tough to distinguish between the two.

Sean Penn: Either the most vile, self deluded performance in history, or founder of a new echelon of comedy

I’m serious about Sean Penn, too.  His acting as Sam Dawson may be the most reprehensible, ignorant gesture of egotism of the 21st century.  Who’s self deluded enough to believe acting like a handicapped person by repeating phrases and fidgety fingers is anything more than condescending in the lowest sense of the word.  That, or he has attained the platinum echelon of humor.  With  joke he kept to himself.

The premise of high-quality information sounds great.  Most people would agree with regulatory bodies having better information.  That’s not how players within the economy work.  “Garbage in, garbage out,” a former boss used to say.  True words.  Statements of hopeful aspiration towards are great.  Facts on the ground?

Your honor, I’d like to enter this into the record as evidence:

It seems to be the case that, in good times, users of financial information become inclined to employ “short-cuts”, using easily available data such as credit ratings, or recent historical experience, as a substitute for the more in-depth credit analysis that is needed for the careful management of a portfolio.

Not to rain all over a wet blanket, but come on boys!  You’re making my point for me.  ALL PEOPLE prefer short cuts.  Ever heard someone say, “I took a long cut on my way to work today, and gee willikers, did it change my life for the better!”  I’ll let Balki speak on my behalf.

Don't be ridiculous!

Don’t.  Be.  Ridiculous.  People are constantly looking for short cuts.  Look at LeBron James.

Short Cut

And gee willickers?  Who says that?  Mere hyperbole.  Point is, everyone is on the lookout for short cuts.  To expect anything less is daft.

Speaking out of both sides of ones’ mouth is not an inherent skill.  It takes time and patience.  Like they say, practice makes permanent.  Practice speaking out of both sides of your mouth and you come to be quite adept at it.  For central bankers, it’s second nature:

Enlightened financial firms realise that measures to protect users of financial services and to enhance transparency are ultimately helpful in strengthening confidence in financial intermediation and promoting greater use of financial services.

Enlightened financial firms.  Sure.  I’m going to file that right next to virgin prostitutes.  How about functioning crack heads?  I could go on with the contradictions for a while.

You do have to admire such succinctly vague language.  A phrase like ‘enhance transparency’ make me laugh.  Today’s transparency is tomorrow’s old file clerk.  Transparency entails thoroughly vetted, clean and trustworthy information.

Until a new financial innovation takes hold and fast cash runs towards this new hinter land.  I’ve got a half clue what ‘strengthening confidence in financial intermediation,’ means.  It’s either getting people on board for special drawing rights and standardization of rules across borders, or I’m way off.  Probably way off.  Cryptojournalism is not infallible.  Quite fallible, actually.

The speech was not simply one long, winding flow of contradictory phrase after contradictory phrase,  It did endeavor to begin to chart a path towards the next step in global finance.  That’s a sentence to make any technocrat proud.  Endeavor to begin?  Can I be any more full of shit?  Rhetorically and literally, yes:

A 21st century financial system will need to seek ways in which regulatory oversight complements (and does not simply substitute for) the interest of the private sector in generating high-quality information.

Talk about full of shit.  Bankers and regulators, working hand in hand to make the world a better place!  I can see the PR push now.  If possible, the rhetoric actually veers into Sam Dawson territory:

In this endeavour, transparency is generally likely to be more effective than rules that provide for how particular services can be provided and charged for.

Rules?  Tsk, those are, like, part of a 20th century financial system.  Today, transparency should do the trick.  Although this is the same class of people earlier described as short cut takers seeking out perverse incentives?  When did I enter Bizarro World?

Bizarro promise he take care of your money and help the world

I wish I was making this shit up.  Those last two bits are the same paragraph.  Read it yourself.  Maybe I missed something, but it sounds like, “Now boys, we need your full assistance on this.  But we’re going to do nothing to ensure your help.  Honor system, gentleman.  Have fun at the lake house, and try not to empty grandpa’s liquor cabinet.”

In a stunning turn of events, grandpa’s liquor cabinet was empty by Sunday afternoon.

There’s an old saying in Moncton.  A shit leopard can’t change its spots.

The speaker, Mr. Crockett, does not spin rhetorical gold the whole time.  His observation on procyclicality (I admire how some economic language is so convoluted):

The tendency toward herd behaviour can provoke cycles of “greed and fear”. More objectively, in periods of economic expansion, net worth and collateral values increase, creating both the room and the incentive to leverage new wealth with additional credit creation. The process goes into reverse during downturns, often with disastrous consequences. There is increasing recognition that financial policy should try to limit, or at least avoid intensifying, procyclicality.

Sounds great.  The premise is solid.  Now for the other shoe.

To be effective and non-distorting, however, care would have to be taken that such charges were general enough not to simply shift intermediation to other channels or overseas.

Overseas.  The scourge of tax bases worldwide.  Wherever it is.  Damn you to hell, exotic tax havens!

One more rhetorical handspring, promise.  This bit of mental gymnastics made me laugh out loud.  Yup.  BIS white papers are comic fodder:

It is not clear from the historical experience, however, that universal banks are in fact more likely to fail, or that investment banking activities are inherently more risky than lending to retail customers…..The perception of greater risk (and lower social value) is fostered by the use of pejorative terms such as “casino banking”.

Pejorative terms.  Bankers, financiers, hedge fund managers, even private equity firm managers…..they too feel the sting of bigotry.  Preach peace.  Practice tolerance.  And for heaven’s sake, mind your tongue.  Internationalists in the top 1% economically have feelings too.  And words hurt.

That’s Right…We’re Covering The 2010/11 Bank For International Settlements Annual Report

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics, politics with tags , , on June 28, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

Economics literature is dry.  Tedious for most to read.  This does not mean it is immune to the discipline of cryptojournalism.  In fact, with so many concocted words and triple speak, it’s a fertile meadow to sow.  Let’s start at the beginning.

On Sunday, the Bank For International Settlements released its’ 81st Annual Report.  Doesn’t spell a pretty picture.  Or paint a pretty sentence.  Whatever turn of phrase (or malapropism) you may choose, the information is out for general (niche) consumption.   So this is sort of chemotherapy for that gnawing desire you’ve had to understand global central banking, but have been unable to receive.  Your insurance won’t cover the cost, as a pre-existing condition.

I’m your Canadian groom, and our paper marriage will provide you with the needed treatment.

Before digging into the annual report, there are some choice bits to sift out of the General Manager’s speech.  Dubbed “Building a foundation for sustainable growth,” it’s the broad, vague rhetoric one would expect from a $8,000 suit.  We’re still able to find there are pearls of information, even in a boilerplate speech.  That’s the focus of this post.

From there, we’ll sift through the trash Per Jacobsen lecture, another fancy piece of word craft.  That’s coming up, but first, we’ve got the speech from Jamie Caruana, General Manager for the BIS (pronounced biz, in the biz).

After the garnish and accent, we’ll discuss the 81st annual report.  That will be fun.

Before we’re even lulled into a confused trance by the fun language of macroprudential de-leveraging (I’m not shitting you, that’s a totally feasible pairing of words.  Honest), the first truth bomb of the day’s dropped in the middle of town.

Read the whole speech yourself.  It isn’t that long.  Plus, I believe it is always better to see things for yourself.  Better to understand something within context, rather than taking the looney perspective of some two bit blogger as meaning anything more than folly.  So, anything worthwhile in this speech?  Well…..

Economies and financial systems are still vulnerable to even modest shocks, and the likelihood of severely adverse developments has not decreased.

Eep.  Alright, egotistical Americans.  It’s not your time yet.  Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain are queued up for the dunk tank.  We’ve got a sliver of time.  Until the whole planet is conducting transactions with special drawing rights.  Till then, we may as well enjoy the carnival.  Willful ignorance, right people?

Hey Greece, you're up

It’s actually disturbing to see the BIS so bluntly state severely adverse events are still as likely as they’ve been.  That’s worse than residing your home, to find the foundation is shot and coincidentally sitting on a fault line.  That’s a waste of money.  Do you need new siding when the house creaks and sways in the wind?  Since regulators and authorities are inevitably playing catch-up, irregardless of realm, I’m skeptical we’re past the worst, especially if mild shocks can cripple.

On another note.  Above you see the non-word irregardless.  What can I say?  Been a Homer fan for years.  I only point this out since spell check does not pick that up as being spelled wrong.  Macroprudential?  That’s ‘wrong’ according to spell check.  Financiers are either that far ahead of the pack or just making shit up as they go along.  As a cryptojournalist, I believe they’re way ahead of the curve.

Unregardless, it's time to move ahead

According to the GM, we’re careening towards a fiscal reckoning.  Alright, he didn’t say careening.  The phrase fiscal reckoning, sounding most sinister, was definitely a marquee point in the speech.  A fiscal reckoning?  The hell is that even supposed to mean?

People of the world, let it be know, the fiscal reckoning is upon us!  No longer will folding chairs have cushioning, that’s the way she goes.  Fuckin’ way she goes.  Amenities like trees in your parks?  Gone.  We’ve got a fiscal reckoning to handle.  The sky will turn green with envy money, and INFLATION will rain down on your sorry souls!

Who the fuck knows.  Fiscal consolidation is the call of arms.  Consolidate?  Didn’t we just recently enter the ‘too big to fail’ era of finance?  Consolidation?  Psshhhhh, much as I read and try to understand what central bankers mean, sometimes it’s even beyond cryptojournalism.  Unless the future means Coca-Cola Presents Bank Of America ATM/Nail Salon/Vending Machines.  I think people would be all for that sort of consolidation.

I kid, of course.  Nobody in their right mind would wait behind someone getting a manicure to go to the ATM.

There’s always the Brawndo model.  It’s got what plants crave.  They bought the FDA, and look how that worked out!

Brawndo has electrolytes

The consolidation from the fiscal reckoning is coming.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So what exactly is ushering in the fiscal reckoning?  Glad I asked myself you asked.  Here’s one of my favorite little gems, in reference to the unsustainable track of some advance economies:

Rising dependency ratios, expensive publicly funded programmes for retirement and health care and the like put future commitments well in excess of future revenues.

….and the like….Now that’s what I’m talking about!  Broad, vague and cryptic.  Mr. Caruana went on to point out how “this, that and the other thing, et cetera, so on and so forth,” were putting a squeeze on liquidity.  Always be careful of this, that and the other thing.  Safely first, ’cause who likes doing things unsafely?

Don’t worry.  All is not doom and gloom.

To sum up, early action is needed. The question is not whether to consolidate fiscal policy. It is not whether to normalise monetary policy. And it is not whether to accelerate structural adjustment. It is when and how each of these will happen.”

Ooooohh, sorry.  That’s real gloomy.  Consolidate fiscal policy…it means governments (national and local) need to shrink their balance books.  That’s why news like this, where New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is pressing to lay off upwards of 4,700 state workers in the Public Employees Federation, is good news in Basel.  In reality, the cutting loose of “mostly white-collar and technical job titles” is aces in the eyes of the BIS.  But that’s a tangent for another time.  Terrible news for public workers throughout the state, but that’s the prescription.  Swallow that pill, boys.  Doubt it’s the last.

All those semicolons.  A freshman year English professor would be furious:

A lasting foundation for monetary and financial stability requires regulation and supervision with a strong macroprudential orientation; monetary policy that plays an active role in supporting financial stability; and fiscal policy that amasses the buffers required for effective crisis management.

See?  Told you macroprudential is a word.  Before you wet yourself, that’s not why I’ve plucked this passage from the speech.  Nor is it the astounding use of the semicolon.  “…fiscal policy that amasses the buffers required for effective crisis management.”  Chew on that for a second.  Swish it around in your mouth.  Try and get a taste of buffer amassing.

While the prudent decision for struggling economies is fiscal consolidation via layoffs and shrinking extemporaneous debts (I’m looking at you D.C., with your myriad slapdash bailouts and stimuli), the global banking system needs another layer of infrastructure.  Bones, to protect the organs.  Those ‘buffers’ are more global financial technocrats in new and exciting positions, mandating and implementing standardizing controls.  So you know.

This has been a general dark bit of cryptojournalism, so I saved my favorite laugh for last:

Where possible, we should build strength now. Instead of taking the maximum time to reach the minimum standards, there is a good case for going faster and going further. Perhaps this time we will see a virtuous race to the top.

Regrettably, there is no video of the speech, but a fly on the wall tells me that punchline shook the roof.  Virtuous race to the top, priceless!  The Swiss: neutral they may be, they’ve got an uncanny sense of humor.

FYI, build strength now isn’t my italics.  They’re serious about that.  I won’t even address the premise of how backhandedly insulting a virtuous race to the top on the heels of taking max time for minimum standards sounds.  Whoops.

On that note, we can bid adieu to the General Manager’s speech.  It was fun.  That’s a word for it, yeah.  Fun.

What The Hell Is A BigBelly Solar Compactor?

Posted in economics, politics with tags , , , on June 7, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

WARNING: This may veer away from cryptojournalism into the realm of pseudo-journalism.  For all the cryptojournalism enthusiasts out there, my most sincere apologies.  But when I smell something fishy, I’m likely to chirp, like Birdman aka Baby the #1 Stunna from Cash Money.


The title is not a rhetorical question.  We’ll get to that in due time.

Over the last half year, the City of Albany has been rolling out a fleet of newfangled trash bins.  That’s right, garbage cans.  Big whoop, no big deal, right?  C’mon folks, the six of y’alls keeping tabs on this page know that’s just hyperbole.  A setup, as they say in the biz.  BigBelly Solar, maker of The BigBelly Solar Compactor, who has signed an exclusive distribution deal with Waste Management, has been maximizing it’s profile amongst the nation’s mood to go green.  They boast of the fiscal utility of these machines, while still hedging bets:

Increased capacity reduces collection trips and can cut operating costs, fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%. Reduced collections yield deep cost efficiencies by freeing up valuable worker time, allowing managers to re-deploy staff to other important tasks, and reduce the costs and pollution of unnecessary vehicle trips.

One word particularly jumps out at me.  Do you see it?  Right there in the first sentence, it practically leaps out, cackling all the way to the bank.  “Can” is a mighty big qualifier.  That 80% number comes from the company, so you can bet that it is sterling.  Sound as a pound.  Pip pip, cheerio.

It appears to my eyes to be nothing more than Public Relations bluster.  And as a friend once told me about politically correct people, “Man, it really cranks my knob when people are P.R. and everything.”  In other words, hilarious.  Honestly, though, when the company website and a supposed local blog share the same copy, neither can be taken seriously.  This actually proves to be a problem.  Shocker.

The Lark Street PR push talks about ‘dramatic cost savings’ as well as ‘reduce overflowing’ while pointing out the use of Federal funding from the Department of Energy, through an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. highlights how the compactors encourage recycling in public spaces.  Everything is peaches and gravy.  There can be no downside to a federally funded program that helps people save the Earth, right?

Colleges, such as Boston University, are embracing the new technology.  From pretentious Vail, Colorado to one of Downstate New York’s tertiary North Shore hot spots, Port Jefferson to meaty Chicago to, um, Duluth BigBelly compactors are beginning to become widespread.  How much do they really cost?  And do they really work?

First, the cost.  Depends.  Port Jeff was charged $5,500 per unit.  Vail got theirs for between $3,000-3,900.  Vague.  Philadelphia, the vanguard of the solar trash can movement, claims they paid $3,700 apiece.  And since these are the first generations of solar powered garbage collection, the verdict for cost savings and quality of life benefits is still out.

Do they work?  To begin answering that question, we need to consider the first major American city to utilize BigBelly’s marquee product: Philadelphia.  I could practically cut and paste the entire report from the Office of the Comptroller on the purchase and deployment of the trash bins.  In a nutshell, no competitive pricing, hidden costs, lack of technical training for city staff and plenty of other detriments to this program.  Do yourself a favor and read the report yourself.  Illuminating to say the least.

But forget about that for now.  I’m concerned with the state capital of New York, hub of the Capital District, Albany.  Right in my neighborhood, there are a bakers dozen (11 trash compactors and 2 recycling units) very poorly dispersed in a two block radius.  Obvious redundancy is something I would not expect built into a cutting edge system.  Take a look at the photos below, you’ll see how poorly the layout of the BigBelly’s was conceived.

"Environmentally conscious" for the "extremely lazy" Yes, that is three units

Three units within view of each other is a) rather dumb b) not an uncommon occurrence on this stretch of Madison Ave and c) wholly unnecessary for the pedestrian population in a city of under 100,000 residents (probably lower, considering student population).  And guess what?  It’s not even the worst of it.

That's efficiency!

Remember that PR rhetoric about cost efficiencies?  You may want to get rid of the conventional trash bins.  Now you just have two garbage cans, one really expensive piece of technology with à la carte pickup, the other just a regular old bin, on regular old pickup.  I fail to see the savings if you drive by one receptacle to empty another, and vice versa.  Note how much more effective that last sentence would be if there were a universally recognized sarcasm font.  Computer programmers of the world, we need a sarcasm font!  And a convenient backwards R on keypads, for the schmucks.

Since I have not found specific costs per unit for the 93 the city has, I’ve got to resort to rudimentary math.  Based on the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website’s figure of $425,000, there would be $4,569.89 per unit.  Using the $3,700 figure for Philadelphia as a per unit floor and the $5,500 amount for wee Port Jefferson a ceiling, that is not a terrible price.  In theory.  In practice, well, I can see with my own two eyes the whole venture is a boondoggle.  Fast cash.  However you want to construe it, at the end of the day it amounts to a leverage move by a global company.

Due to the glut of units clustered in some neighborhoods, it leaves large swaths of the city uncovered.  They’re invisible north of Central Ave, so, uh, well I can’t reiterate this enough, where is the efficiency in that?  I would like to note, there is a good chance not every compactor has been installed yet.  But that would belie the fact these pricey garbage squashers may be of some benefit.

That is a crock of shit.  I’ll give you BigBelly’s boast first:

As trash collects inside a BigBelly solar compactor, an internal “eye” senses when the bin is filling and automatically triggers a compaction cycle. As the compacted trash reaches the level where pick up is desirable after multiple compactions, a message is sent through the CLEAN notification system, essentially “calling home” to say “I’m full – time to empty me”. Without wasting trips down a street or to a curb for units that do not yet require pick up, crews have the ability to know exactly when BigBelly solar compactors are ready for pick up – or still have much more capacity.

Consider this a blast of facts on the ground.  This is a picture taken last Thursday of a recycling unit

Mmmmm, can you smell that recycling?

Guess the CLEAN system got a busy signal?  This could be due to one of three things.  The system does not work as advertised.  Or the city workers were not trained in how to handle the equipment.  Those two, or the city is just neglecting it’s new investment.  Looking like a quorum of illiterate rubes in the process.  In case you missed it.

Federal Dollars Well Spent


Considering how strong the PR push feels for these things (namely in most of the information on BigBelly seems vetted through the company), I’m highly skeptical.  The Philadelphia Comptroller report in particular raises plenty of concern.  On the point of savings over time, the company offered a number for the city of 5 pickups per week.  The city itself observed 10 pickups per week over a two-week period, greatly diminishing the perceived value.

A private company’s word proves to be false under the scrutiny of time and observation?  Buh?!??  Not in my America.  So what is a BigBelly Solar Compactor?  A green solution to trash?  A boondoggle?  More trash?  A hoax?  I would say they are a shell game being played on people in the short term.  Compressed garbage is still garbage, and my women’s intuition tells me it does not decompose nearly as quickly or easily as regular trash.  Maintenance, machines breaking down and needing upgrades and replacements, that’s a new cost to trash pickup.  Do I believe the City of Albany will realize a savings with the BigBelly Solar Compactors filtering across the city?  Only time will tell, but I’m seriously doubtful.



Economics Reporting Is The Stuff Of Fables

Posted in Cryptojournalism, economics with tags , , , , on April 28, 2011 by The Cryptojournalist

Many information outlets today are reporting supposedly/hypothetically bad economic news this morning.  Oh, woe is me!  In particular, I would like to take a quick glimpse at an article from the Los Angeles Times.  It so succinctly exhibits the subtly obvious lies that makes economics reporting the stuff of fables.

They’re reporting the same numbers as the Times, Post, Penthouse and Glamour: GDP of 1.8% for the first and a spike in unemployment applications.  Big whoop, these things happen.  Dig into the piece, though, and a couple of very deceptive tidbits quickly emerge.

Referring to the (apparently) unsurprising GDP news, the L.A. Times had the audacity to print this blurb:

…much of it was due to temporary factors such as higher fuel costs…

Phew, I thought it was a real problem.  Fortunately I just have to wait until those temporary higher fuel costs drop.

Now, hold on there, Freckles

What?  Fuel prices never drop?  Poppycock!  Marketwatch reminds us that as recently as 2008, crude oil prices were as high as $147 a barrel.  So in theory, gas prices could drop.  Take note, when crude oil was $147, the price for a gallon of gas was $4.11.  At a higher cost, gas prices were the same as they were now.  What I’m trying to say is, if gas prices aren’t in line with crude prices (as the 2008 costs indicate), we could be in for a shit storm.  Those temporary fuel costs might be here temporarily after their temporary nature.  They’re here to stay, folks.

But fret not!  That’s good news.  High fuel prices are temporary.  One day, soon, things will be like they were in the Golden Days aka 1986.  The L.A. Times once again swoops in as Captain Save-A-Ho, showing how we’re rebounding.  From the same article:

Even with the slower pace of growth, the nation’s output in the first quarter, annualized, exceeded $15 trillion for the first time, as measured in current dollars. By this measure, the U.S. recovered from the recent deep recession in the spring of last year.

By this measure?  Fables.  Myths.  Tall tales.  All are fiction.  As is the passage above.  Putting it simply, if $15 trillion can’t buy you a loaf of bread, what’s it really worth?  The general premise is, if a dollar in 2011 is worth $0.45 in 1986, we’re moving backwards.

Take a minute and watch some old episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Really, it can be any show dating back fifty years.  Penny arcade machines and filling up your gas tank for $2 seems almost surreal, but when Federal Reserve Notes had more valuable, you didn’t need $15 trillion floating through markets to cast the illusion of commerce and business.  Well, unless you’re in downtown Harare.

Fifteen of these beauties & you're at $15 trillion

I’m not all that sure why I’m specifically picking on this one Los Angeles Times article.  You could pick almost any article off any reputable website and poke holes in the veracity of the information.  This piece in particular just got my goat, lobbing shrewdly worded lies as news.

Higher fuel costs are not temporary.  The U.S. economy moving $15 trillion around is not a positive thing.  If anything, that sort of monetary movement is slowly whittling away the value of your savings account.  Good thing you’ve got no cash in the bank, right?