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  • Archive for the 'Economics & Finance' Category

    Civil Wars everywhere in politics.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th July 2015 (All posts by )

    Tia Oso

    At the “Netroots Nation Conference, while an illegal alien was interviewing Martin O’Malley, a Democrat candidate for president, the stage was invaded by a black convicted felon (embezzlement) named Tia Oso who protested when O’Malley said “All lives matter.”

    Chanting, “What side are you on, my people, what side are you on?” and “Black lives matter,” the demonstrators moved to the front of the ballroom about 20 minutes into the event as Mr. O’Malley discussed proposed changes to Social Security. They remained there, heckling the candidates and posing questions, until organizers shut down the event, one of the centerpieces of the annual Netroots Nation conference.

    The Democrats are going to have serious problems with the black activist movement.

    The black radicals even plan to dig up the remains of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife, law or no law. This sort of lunatic behavior is going to discredit this stuff pretty soon.

    Of course the Connecticut Democrat State Central Committee voted to remove the names Jefferson and Jackson from their annual celebration, so the black radicals not that much more crazy.

    Connecticut state Democrats voted Wednesday to remove the names of former presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from their annual fundraising dinner, reportedly because of their ties to slavery.

    According to the Hartford Courant, it only took two minutes for the Connecticut Democrat State Central Committee to unanimously pass a resolution stripping both names from the title of the Jefferson-Jackson-Bailey Dinner.

    Party Chairman Nick Balletto proposed the change. He told the Daily Caller the decision, which apparently came under pressure from the NAACP, was about party identity.

    Yup, the lunacy continues.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Elections, Politics | 16 Comments »

    Quote of the Day from Jeff Carter

    Posted by Lexington Green on 21st July 2015 (All posts by )

    Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 9.42.17 AM

    Quote of the day, from Jeff Carter’s Points and Figures blog, a post entitled “Disrupting Government”:

    Tech initially toppled major corporations. Motorola and Kodak are shells of themselves. Now, technology has the opportunity to eliminate wide swaths of government and all the cronies, cartels, employees and economic imbalances that come with them. As a society, we shouldn’t fight that. We should embrace it. Automation of government will make things cheaper for taxpayers. Elimination of old fashioned out of step government will make things better for society.

    RTWT.

    Jeff wrote very favorably about America 3.0.

    And the “Disrupting Government” post is a very “America 3.0″ view of the future, which I heartily share and endorse.

    But that is not the only reason I like his stuff. Jeff is a former floor trader, angel investor involved in the start-up scene in Chicago, and all around astute, sensible and articulate observer of politics, business and the economy.

    A few other good recent posts from Jeff include:

    Dodd Frank; Total Fail,

    Hillary Skewers the Gig Economy,

    Greece and Traditional Hierarchy,

    The Third Wave, and

    History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, But Echoes, which said, among other insightful things, “I encourage you to read a book, America 3.0. It charts a realistic way forward given the kind of government we have, and the history our country has had.”

    Be sure to drop by Points and Figures frequently.

    And don’t just take it from me.

    Instapundit frequently links to Jeff’s blog, because it is just that good.

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    Oregon Road Trip Part I

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 20th July 2015 (All posts by )

    Recently I went to Oregon for the first time. In my past work as a consultant and during vacations I’d been to 48 states – but not Oregon or Hawaii. We started out in Portland and traveled around most of the state and it was a good time, with a lot of odd insights.

    The architecture in Portland was spectacular. I am a fan of the “Dwell” type house; a modern look with lots of glass. Portland had many older houses (Victorians) along with a lot of great new construction, especially in the downtown area.

    Oregon in general had many older cars, often in pristine condition. I saw a lot of older pickup trucks off the main roads, still working hard for their owners. Not sure why but generally it must be that they don’t salt their roads.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Personal Narrative | 8 Comments »

    Sic Transit Gloria China

    Posted by Grurray on 8th July 2015 (All posts by )

  • Shoeshine boy trading club, China chapter

  • There’s an old Wall Street legend about Joseph Kennedy, bootlegger and head of America’s original soap opera political family. At the height of the stock market mania in the ’20s, he received a stock tip from a shoeshine boy. It goes something like this:

    But the boy was not of the timid kind. “Oh yeah,” he yelled back at Kennedy, “well, I got a tip for you too: buy Hindenburg!” Intrigued, Kennedy turned around and walked back. “What did you say?” – “Buy Hindenburg, they are a fine company,” said the boy. “How do you know that?” –- “A guy before you said he was gonna buy a bunch of their stocks, that’s how.” – “I see,” said Kennedy. “That’s a fine tip. I suppose, I was a little harsh on you earlier,” he said, pulling off a glove and reaching in his side pocket for some change. “Here, you’ve earned it.”
     
    Little did the boy know that Kennedy, a cunning investor, thought to himself: “You know it’s time to sell when shoeshine boys give you stock tips. This bull market is over.”

    This is supposedly how Joe avoided the financial ruin of the crash. He was probably too busy stockpiling whiskey to really care very much, but it does make for a good story.

    We’re reminded of this old saw today with some distant rumblings in the markets. Last week I was wondering what might cause our stock market to break out of its summer doldrums. Over the past few days we may have gotten the answer. While everyone was looking at the Greek crisis, China’s stock market has been crashing.

    The Shanghai Composite Index more than doubled in the last year up until a few weeks ago. All that time it was rising, economic reports indicated the Chinese economy was slowing. Since the peak in mid June, it has dropped over 30%. Last night it was down another 6%, and it would have been more if not for the Chinese government halting trading in most of the stocks. Bloomberg is reporting that Chinese regulators have banned major shareholders, corporate executives and directors from selling stakes in listed companies for six months.

    Investors with stakes exceeding 5 percent must maintain their positions, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a statement. The rule is intended to guard capital-market stability amid an “unreasonable plunge” in share prices, the CSRC said.

    This rule sounds like it’s meant to ban bigwigs and fatcats from bailing out on the economy. However, like Kennedy in the ’20s, all the big money already exited and left regular citizens holding the bag. The Chinese always had a high rate of savings, but recently they have been putting more of it into their stock market using margin to to double down on already precarious positions.

    Chinese brokers have extended 2.1 trillion yuan ($339 billion) of margin finance to investors, double the amount at the start of the year. But this often-cited figure is only part of the mountain of debt taken out to finance share purchases. Another 1.7 trillion yuan may have flowed into stock market investment from wealth management products, online lending sites and other sources, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

    This was a good old fashioned bubble, and now it looks like it’s bursting. This will have repercussions all over the world. As of this morning, US stock markets are down over 1%. With the reliance of our industrial and financial industries on the hyper-interconnected global markets, this one probably won’t go down quietly.

    Posted in China, Economics & Finance, Markets and Trading | 21 Comments »

    The “Amazon-ification” of Retail

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd July 2015 (All posts by )

    A while back I was talking to a friend of mine and he said

    A package from Amazon shows up at my doorstep every day of the week

    At the time I thought my friend was exaggerating, or perhaps a little bit crazy. But now it has moved to the point where I usually receive 1-2 packages each week from Amazon and now the yellow “minion” boxes abound in my condo.

    What happened? I started to realize that with free shipping and the fact that my iPhone is usually nearby, whenever I am “out” of something around the house or need something that is unavailable, I just pick up my phone, type in a description in the App, and buy it immediately. Then I typically forget about whatever it is that I bought until I open up one of the regularly arriving Amazon boxes and go

    Oh, that’s what I needed

    You can buy pretty much everything that isn’t immediately perishable on Amazon, except for a few things like liquor. Thankfully I live near an enormous liquor store (but unfortunately not a high end grocery store, River North lacks a Whole Foods or Mariano’s) so that’s covered.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 17 Comments »

    Midsummer Reflections on the Stock Market

    Posted by Grurray on 2nd July 2015 (All posts by )

    As we’re all getting ready for the Independence Day weekend, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how the first half of the year has been going. Many developments have arrived and passed in the news which have caused various actions and reactions. One day it seems nagging, complex issues are about to be resolved just when other more vexing problems take their place. The only constant, as the cliché goes, is the constant of change.

    That is except in the stock market. It’s less than 1% above where it opened the year and has been moving basically sideways in that time. From speculation about the Fed raising rates to languidly growing economy to Greek debt dramas, the market seems to be carelessly bobbing along, flotsam-like, awaiting some direction.

    Asking, ‘how did we get here’, is easy. When you shoot for mediocrity as a country and society, sometimes that’s what you get (or worse). Now might be a good time to ask, where do we go from here?

    Today’s jobs report doesn’t give us much of a clue. The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3%, close to a level which in the past used to be described as full employment. On the other hand, labor force participation is the lowest it’s been since the 1970s, a time before women were fully entering the workforce and life expectancy for men was below 70 years of age.

    Those that dropped out of the labor force aren’t counted in the unemployment rate, and they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. However, they haven’t just disappeared off the face of the earth. Many have passed from a temporary welfare program to the more permanent one of social security disability. Well, more permanent until the program runs out of funds as soon as next year.

    But that’s old news. The complacent collective market sees what it wants to see and has chosen to see the government’s version of economic reality.

    We can look at ways of fundamentally gauging the valuation of the stock market such as price to earnings ratio or the so-called Warren Buffet Indicator of total market cap to GDP ratio. I like to look at the Q ratio which is a simple comparison of the total price of the stock market to the replacement costs of all companies listed. This is the favored metric of billionaire black swan investor Mark Spitznagel, who by the way wrote a most excellent book, The Dao of Capital, about Boydian investment strategies.

  • Q ratio – Pricey but is it dicey?

  • By this measure, the market looks to be at a pricey level compared to other points in time. 1907, 1929, 1937, and 1968 were all years when the stock market peaked and saw a significant decline. The problem is it’s also at the same level as 1997, which had a small pause before marking the half way point in a multi-year rally. We generally have seen regression to the mean in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest it has to ever happen again. We could be waiting a long time for a sanity check to take hold, especially if the definition of sanity has changed.

    A shorter term answer possibly comes from the world’s best econometrics blog Political Calculations. They believe, convincingly in my opinion, that expectations for future dividends drive stock prices in the near future, absent any surprising shocks to upset the apple cart. Those of us who used to watch Larry Kudlow on CNBC (since his show was cancelled there hasn’t been any reason to watch that silly network anymore) remember he used to say ‘earnings are the mother’s milk of stocks’. Well if that’s true than dividends are your father’s pemmican.

    What they do is take values of dividend futures traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and apply a multiple (and some other math) to convert them to expected stock prices. Their calculations show a possible slide in prices for the next few weeks to few months. It has worked reasonably well in the past with a few caveats.

    There are different instruments traded for different times in the future. Prices can and do take leaps from one trajectory to the other. It usually happens when someone from the FED talks about raising rates, and then the financial press speculates what specific month or quarter it can happen. In this way, stock prices behave similar to quantum particles bouncing from one energy level to another. It’s not a good way to pin down exactly where stocks are going but just gives a range.

    The other caveat is this measurement only works when the market is in a state of relative order, and not buoyed or rattled by some overly cheery or dreary news. While at a smaller level the market seems to obey quantum mechanics, at the macro level it acts like a natural system, following mathematical probabilities such as those observed in predators hunting or even groups of people foraging. The market moves from more easily observable and predictable periods until the forageables (earnings and dividends) run out, in which case it moves into chaos and unpredictability until new expectations are established.

    What will trigger rapid moves in either direction and out of the current financial horse latitudes is anybody’s guess. There’s a big vote in Greece this weekend, but how many times has that situation reached a cliffhanger? Perhaps too many to matter anymore. As unsatisfactory as it sounds, what usually occurs is something we weren’t expecting, not an event that seems to replay itself over and over again. The best we can really predict is that we won’t be drifting forever, and the time will come when the stock market will move far away from this level. The key is to stay ready for it when it finally does.

    [Jonathan adds: If the right side of the included graphic is hidden on your screen — the date scale should go to 2020 — try right-clicking on the graphic and opening it in a new tab.]

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Markets and Trading | 13 Comments »

    Service Sector Productivity

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Recently I went on a diet and began ordering specific drinks ordered a specific way – generally gin with a “splash” of tonic (because tonic has carbs and I want to minimize carbs, but need something to cut against the alcohol). This order, however, has become a running joke among my friends because no matter what I order I usually get the same drink every time – which is a “standard” gin and tonic (see below, the wrong order per usual).

    Unlike most people who would shrug it off or get angry, to me this is really an economics issue and not just a “bad order”. When you work with bars and restaurants and other similar industries, if you do anything “outside the norm” your odds of getting it “right” are often less than 50/50. Which leads us to the title of this post…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Management | 20 Comments »

    Obamacare Lives !

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th June 2015 (All posts by )

    obamacare

    UPDATE: The decision is analyzed at Powerline today with quotes from the decision.

    The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting. (To cite just one, the Act creates three separate Section 1563s. See 124 Stat. 270, 911, 912.) Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through “the traditional legislative process.” Cannan, A Legislative History of the Affordable Care Act: How Legislative Procedure Shapes Legislative History, 105 L. Lib. J. 131, 163 (2013). And Congress passed much of the Act using a complicated budgetary procedure known as “reconciliation,” which limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement. Id., at 159–167.

    Therefore, Roberts rewrote it. Nice !

    Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Obamacare state exchange subsidies.

    The Supreme Court has justified the contempt held for the American people by Jonathan Gruber. He was widely quoted as saying that the “stupidity of the American people “ was a feature of the Obamacare debate. This does not bother the left one whit.

    Like my counterparts, I have relied heavily on Gruber’s expertise over the years and have come to know him very well. He’s served as an explainer of basic economic concepts, he’s delivered data at my request, and he’s even published articles here at the New Republic. My feelings about Gruber, in other words, are not that of a distant observer. They are, for better or worse, the views of somebody who holds him and his work in high esteem.

    The New Republic is fine with him and his concepts.

    It’s possible that Gruber offered informal advice along the way, particularly when it came to positions he held strongly—like his well-known and sometimes controversial preference for a strong individual mandate. Paul Starr, the Princeton sociologist and highly regarded policy expert, once called the mandate Gruber’s “baby.” He didn’t mean it charitably.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Health Care, Leftism, Medicine, Obama, Politics | 30 Comments »

    The Extraordinary Thing About WWII Is What Happened After

    Posted by T. Greer on 22nd June 2015 (All posts by )



    This video is a bit less than 20 minutes long. It has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social network sites, so it is possible you have seen it already. If you have not, you should. It is incredible.

    Numbers surrounding the Second World War are always ripe for debate, of course, and if you view the comment thread on Vimeo you will see that the debates have already  started. The only revision I would make to the video does not concern the Second World War at all, but the An-Lushan Rebellion (755-753) fought a thousand years before it. This rebellion is often included in lists of the world’s deadliest wars and it shows up when Mr. Halloran compares the Second World War’s death toll to that of earlier conflicts of equal consequence.  

    While it was surely a destructive event, I do not think there is proper evidence to prove that it was that destructive. The 36 million casualties number comes from Tang Dynasty censuses that showed the population of China just before and just after the rebellion, with 36 million being the difference. Many of those 36 million people surely died in the rebellion, but many more fled and moved to safer, more remote locales. The number should be properly understood not as the number of civilians killed, but as a measure for how badly the Tang government’s ability to monitor and control the Chinese population it governed had been damaged. It was a war from which the Tang would never recover. 

    In this sense, it was a very different kind of conflict than the Second World War, a war whose legacy is now seen mostly in the realm of memory. The An-Lushan Rebellion was (from a Chinese perspective) a war that ravaged the known world and involved almost all of the important military powers of its day. While bright emperors like Xianzong (r. 805-820) would try to pull the Tang back together in the decades after the rebellion, the dynasty’s decline was terminal. The forces unleashed by the war eventually led to the complete disintegration of Tang power. This kind of collapse was not seen after the Second World War. The power that suffered the most was to emerge from the conflict as the world’s second strongest. But it was not just the Soviet Union that showed remarkable resilience–humanity as a whole weathered the destruction of two continents and the death of 70 million people barely worse for wear. This is a truly remarkable feat–perhaps one only possible in today’s Exponential Age. The Tang never recovered from the An-Lushan rebellion; Central Asia never blossomed like it did before the Mongol conquests; no new Roman empire rose from the ashes of the old. But the Second World War was not a precursor to a new dark age. Under the old rules of static civilization–where wealth was not created, but taken–catastrophes of this scale required centuries of recovery before old heights could be reclaimed. The history of the post-war world dramatically illustrates that this is no longer the case.



    This post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 6 June 2015.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, History, War and Peace | 12 Comments »

    A Car for $89 / month

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 12th June 2015 (All posts by )

    For years I was proud to be the owner of a 1998 Altima which ran forever, never broke, and required no upkeep. I passed on the Altima (it is still going strong in our family) and eventually ended up with a 2011 Jetta that I purchased new.

    I knew I had made the right purchase decision when I saw this article in Bloomberg titled

    Jetta Leases as Cheap as Mobile Phones shows VW’s US Travails

    From the article:

    The $89 a month it takes to lease a Jetta at some U.S. dealerships is about as low as the price of using an iPhone on some mobile-phone plans. It’s also a sign of how Volkswagen AG is grasping to turn around its fortunes in the U.S.
    The bargain deal — available after a down payment of about $2,500 on the $17,325 Jetta — runs over a three-year term.

    I paid about $17,000 for my Jetta and it has been a great purchase. It is a roomy 4 door car with solid handling – one time I had to lock up the breaks at 65 mph when a lunatic decided to get off the highway from the left lane and exit – the car saved my bacon and stopped on a dime, straight and clear.

    When I drive people around in the car they are astonished at how nice it is for the money; in most instances a car is a terrible investment and minimizing your initial purchase not only saves you direct costs it also saves you on taxes, service costs, and insurance. Recently I had a tire issue (Chicago has terrible potholes) and I just went and bought all four tires and had them installed for $550 including taxes. I have friends where it costs almost $1000 for EACH tire… much less all four.

    There are many good reasons why you may have to invest a lot in a car; if you have to cart around a lot of kids, or need to transport a lot of equipment or materials in the bed of your truck. Most of the time, however, a car is a status symbol, and people pour money into their car because it seems cool or attracts attention. That logic is fiscally irresponsible and it is interesting to see how much cheaper this Jetta is against the competition when for almost all normal, functional commuting purposes, it functions identically to cars that cost 2-4x.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior | 6 Comments »

    The End of the European Welfare State As a Comparison Point for the USA

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 31st May 2015 (All posts by )

    For years articles about everything from family leave to medical benefits started with the premise that

    The United States is the only modern Western economy that doesn’t do or provide “X” for their workers

    Thus the premise was the our economies were roughly equivalent and the USA was “mean” or “backwards” because we didn’t provide all those benefits and worker protections that the other countries were (apparently) able to absorb.

    In the Sunday Business of the NY Times we can see where this has finally led, however – in an article about retraining European workers titled “Fake Jobs with Real Benefits” this is the end statistic:

    But in a reflection of the shifting nature of the European workplace, most are low-paying and last for short stints, sometimes just three to six months. Today, more than half of all new jobs in the European Union are temporary contracts, according to Eurostat.

    These jobs don’t have the famous protections for working mothers and stay-at-home dads and for medical benefits and pensions and everything else; they just set you up for a few months at a time and can just not renew your contract for any reason, including if you are legitimately hurt or ill. These are the ruthless “McJobs” that have been decried for years in the USA.

    In parallel, Spain is now lurching into a political crisis similar to what is happening in Greece. Here are some statistics on Spain per this Foreign Policy article:

    The Eurozone as a whole is a disaster. Whereas the United States’ economy is nearly 10 percent larger than it was seven years ago, the Eurozone’s is 1.5% smaller. And Spain is faring even worse; it’s economy is still 5 percent smaller. Nearly one in four Spaniards, and one in two young people, are unemployed. In the European Union, only Greece’s unemployment rate is higher. Many people have dropped out of the labor force (or immigrated to countries where there are jobs to be found). A lost generation is in the making.

    And the governmental statistics are sobering:

    Spain still has the largest fiscal deficit, as a share of the economy; in the entire EU: 5.8% of GDP last year. Public debt as a share of GDP rose by more last year than anywhere else in the eurozone and is set to top 100 percent this year.

    The few remaining permanent full-time jobs are often in the governmental sector; this is closely linked to corruption. In Spain the corruption of the ruling parties contributed to their drubbing in local elections.

    The net of all this is that comparing the USA to Europe is now mostly a fools’ errand. Not only has growth and productivity stalled across most of the EU, the cherished benefits that are held up as the “gold standard” are accruing to fewer and fewer workers as the young frankly have no work at all and many of the adults that do work are on these short term contracts where those protections rarely apply.

    Whether or not the USA should enact various protections to our workers is a good question, with pros and cons on both sides of the ledger. However, the blanket statements that we are the last modern economy to not do “X” should be tossed in the dustbin of history, because it doesn’t apply anymore.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Europe | 8 Comments »

    Trains are Indefensible

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th May 2015 (All posts by )

    I remember as a kid watching “Lawrence of Arabia” where he led Arab raiding parties against the Turkish train lines in WW1.  Per this PBS article about Lawrence:

    With the Ottoman army spread thinly across the empty vastness of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hejaz Arabs found it relatively easy to strike and sabotage Turkish lines of communication and supply. With the Red Sea firmly in British hands, the Turks had no option but to use the Hejaz railway to move their men, supplies and munitions.  

    Lawrence and the Arabs spent much of their two years on the road to Damascus destroying sections of the railway. Small units of men laid charges on the track. Then as the Turks defended the track, Lawrence’s men formed large moving columns capable of rapid hit-and-run operations. 

    In the recent train crash in the East Coast there are discussions of a “projectile” hitting the train and distracting the conductor.  While this hasn’t been confirmed, it is relevant to consider how difficult it would be to secure train lines from attack or sabotage.

    This discussion is much more relevant in the context of “high speed trains”.  There is a broad theme among many that the US is behind because we have not invested large sums of public money in high speed trains, that we are “falling behind”.  Per wikipedia the Japanese high speed trains (similar to the Chinese high speed trains) typically have more than 1000 passengers on each of their trains.

    The USA has far larger distances than the Japanese trains.  If you built a train from Chicago to New York, for example, it would be almost 800 miles long.  This is for a single rail line.  Obviously to connect the major cities of the USA you’d have thousands of miles of train lines.

    How would these train lines be defended?  It would be easy for a terrorist to just cut through the fence somewhere and park a cement truck on the tracks, for instance.  The ensuing carnage would easily accomplish what 5-10 hijackings could accomplish.

    If you think that the Homeland Security plans are over-reaching, just wait to see what it would take to defend hundreds or thousands of miles of track.  Instead of having a bottleneck at the airport, the entire line would be a potential point of attack.  Even if defenses were erected, they would only have to overwhelm them at a single weak link in order to assault the train.

    No one is incorporating this into their cost estimates for high speed trains; they likely have fences and barriers but are not contemplating stopping a determined, armed attack by terrorists.  They should, because after one such attack a giant post-haste effort would emerge kind of like our early days of the TSA.  They should contemplate and include a giant, armed, unionized Federal bureaucracy in their midst and add this into their cost estimates and see how it compares against highways and aircraft.  The numbers, already dubious, would then be far, far in the red.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance, Terrorism, Transportation | 25 Comments »

    Airline Competition Has Been Crushed

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th May 2015 (All posts by )

    If you’ve flown much in the last few years, you’ve probably seen what I’ve experienced, as well – completely full planes, high prices, and aggravating extra charges for baggage, wi-fi, etc… This is really a symptom of what has actually occurred, which is that airlines have finally moved past an era of competition into an era of oligopoly.

    The real indication of their new status isn’t the high prices and full planes – it is in the stock price.

    Here you can see the major carriers which have survived and consolidated the US market – Southwest, American Airlines, Delta, and United / Continental. For years and years the stock prices of major airlines have languished – per Warren Buffet

    He said that a durable competitive advantage in the airline industry “has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright Brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down,” he joked. “The airline industry’s demand for capital ever since that first flight has been insatiable. Investors have poured money into a bottomless pit.”

    Each of the major airlines has predominantly broken their strong unions and taken medicine from bankruptcy to mergers in order to restore their finances. Instead of a focus on expansion, they are operationally focused in terms of filling every seat on every plane at the highest price possible, in terms of ticket costs and extra fees. Today they charge you for every sort of upgrade; “economy plus” which is a seat that you can sit in and get work done, costs extra, as well as for checking bags.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a company doing all they can to maximize profits, especially after savaging investors for many years with poor stock prices and a lack of dividends (and the high risk of total financial collapse). The airlines have finally figured out technology as well – if you want to upgrade any element of your flight experience, from business to first class to economy plus to a daily club pass – it is all right there as long as you are willing to give them your credit card number.

    The airlines have also figured out that their frequent flyer programs provide benefits but also can be a millstone. Rather than rewarding miles, they are looking at the prices of the tickets paid by each traveler which rewards those that actually provide the greatest benefits to the airlines. If you’ve tried to actually use your benefits (except for Southwest), you’ll find that seats are very limited and you need to plan far in advance to receive benefits from these perks.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Middle East | 12 Comments »

    “McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was”

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th May 2015 (All posts by )

    This is a nice story that illustrates some important features of free markets:

    -Buyers of last resort, in this case buyers of labor, perform an important role that is not always appreciated by moralists who themselves have better options. To put it differently, McDonald’s is a vulture capitalist that lowballs labor markets and exploits vulnerable low-wage workers who lack better alternatives, and that’s a good thing. Those workers are better off employed at modest wages than unemployed at higher wages, as many of them will soon find out if McDonald’s is forced to raise its entry-level wages to accommodate proposed increases in legal minimums. The author of this piece deserves credit for his insight.

    -There is always a big market for inexpensive products of adequate quality that are made to high standards of consistency. If you are on the road or in a hurry or in an airport, a standardized McDonald’s burger for a buck or two can look pretty good as compared to no food or to an overpriced bagel or sandwich of unknown quality and freshness.

    -Tastes differ. The people who criticize McDonald’s for the quality of its food may not consider that many people actually like McDonald’s food.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    Recent Stock Moves

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by )

    Over at Trust Funds for Kids I commented on some recent stock moves and the rally in China…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in China, Economics & Finance | 3 Comments »

    flation, de or in?

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 5th April 2015 (All posts by )

    Conversable Economist Timothy Taylor discusses the effects of various types of deflation on economic growth. Deflations were frequent until the Great Depression. Since then we have fought deflation through continual monetary expansion thinking that would ensure growth at the acceptable cost of inflation. Evidence is mounting that this assumption is not grounded in fact and that there can be real economic growth during a period of price deflation as was true during the end of the 19th century.

    There is a moral dimension in addition to the economic. Policy choices invariably create winners and losers. Choosing an inflationary monetary policy rewards debtors and penalizes savers. By pursuing a constantly inflationary monetary policy we have become a nation of debtors and a debtor nation. Is this really the appropriate choice for the richest nation in the world? What are the implications of pushing individuals toward borrowing instead of saving? Does a debtor look forward to the future with the same confidence as a saver? Or is the debtor’s attention focused on current consumption, with the future being another day?

    We need a return to hard money not more easy money.

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 16 Comments »

    “The unbundling of commercial banks”

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd April 2015 (All posts by )

    Via Lex, an interesting post about financial disintermediation:

    In a post on the state of consumer fintech, I took a look at how retail banks are beginning to “unbundle” as tech tries to reinvent finance. I now look at how the same is beginning to happen for commercial banks.
     
    Like it did for retail banking, I think technology is impacting commercial banking in three main ways:
     
    1. Increasing access to information thereby allowing businesses (businesses here refers broadly to small, medium and large businesses which would be the clients of commercial banks) to make better decisions
     
    2. Reducing the friction/offering better experiences for businesses in conducting common activities
     
    3. Lowering the fees on transactions for businesses by serving as a cheaper middle man

    None of this is a surprise. Banks tend to be inefficient and generally mediocre. The incentive structure for bank employees encourages the most productive people to look elsewhere (for example, the best traders and programmers tend not to work for banks). Incessant Obama-era financial regulation makes the situation worse by killing off smaller banks that would have increased competition. There is thus a lot of low-hanging fruit for creative non-bank providers of services that banks have typically provided.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 3 Comments »

    “Drugs, Inc.” – the Most Important Show on Television

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 21st March 2015 (All posts by )

    “Drugs, Inc.” is a television show on the National Geographic Channel that focuses on the business of drugs, from producers to traffickers to users to police. I can’t recommend this show enough and I watch every episode that comes up on my DVR.

    Welcome to the $300 billion industry of Drugs, Inc., where traffickers pocket huge profits, addicts become chained in a vicious cycle and law enforces wage war across diverse battlefields – farmers’ fields, shady labs, urban street corners and suburban schools. How does this business work? Can it be stopped or should it be regulated? What impact does it have on those it touches?

    Drugs Inc somehow gets interviews with drug dealers and drug traffickers. They are always wearing a mask of some sort and often their voices are garbled electronically. It isn’t clear to me why they agree to be on TV or why the authorities don’t follow up on the leads from the program or subpoena their records. I can’t comment on the authenticity but it certainly seems real, especially the interviews with the users or “fiends” as they are described by the dealers on the series.

    The first thing that the show will do for you is change how you look at homeless people. All of the users on the show are either 1) drug dealers themselves likely far down the chain in order to support their habit 2) panhandlers or some sort of schemer / prostitute. There occasionally are recreational users or those with jobs but since they typically interview hard-core drug users many of those individuals can’t do a regular 9 to 5 job.

    The panhandlers are a relentless lot. They wake up in various places, sometimes in their cars, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in an abandoned building, or elsewhere. When they get up, it is time to make some money in order to buy some drugs. They always know exactly what they are doing and have a target amount of money to “earn” in order to score what they need to stave off dope sickness.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Film, The Press | 19 Comments »

    The Liquidation of Markets

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 22nd February 2015 (All posts by )

    Every weekend I read Barry Ritholtz’s recommended reading and there are a lot of gems in there. Recently he posted this Credit Suisse graphic about markets at the turn of the 20th Century by market share and compared it with 2014 on the topic of global equity investing.

    US_stocks

    In his article he mentioned the fallacy one might fall into as a UK equity investor in 1899… why bother investing in the USA when the UK market is so much larger? And then this line of thought ends up missing the huge growth in US market share over the next century.

    However, the real issue here isn’t the relative change in market share by the different countries; it is the fact that almost all of these markets were entirely extinguished at one time or another by political, economic or military events that wiped out the investors.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Investment Journal | 11 Comments »

    The End of An Industry

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 14th February 2015 (All posts by )

    When Best Buy first moved into town maybe 15-20 years ago I was excited. I could spend hours in there looking at gadgets, components, routers, TV’s, and had thoughts and dreams of tying them all together. Later, Fry’s opened up, and you could walk through the aisles and buy all the pieces to build your own PC out of parts and make it the hottest gaming platform in town.

    Recently I saw this article in Business Insider (I really like that app / site / etc…) about how to upgrade your MacBook pro (the machine I am writing this blog post on). If you have an earlier model (2011-2), you could spend less than $200 to upgrade your RAM and install an SSD drive (one without moving parts, essentially a big memory chip) and pull out your old (mechanical) hard drive and your machine will then give you many more years of excellent Apple service. Apple’s integrated operating system / hardware plan means that my older machine takes advantage of all the new features in every software upgrade of the operating system (now my Mac “rings” when I get an iphone call and that is a bit annoying but who’s complaining) as long as it has the horsepower to keep up.

    So I took the (minor) plunge and went on Amazon and bought an SSD drive and upgraded RAM and it arrive in a couple of days for less than $200. I am going to take this over to my friend Brian’s house since he’s better at this than me and we are going to take apart the machine and put in the new drive and memory.

    The real point of this story, however, is that the implicit industry of “taking apart devices and rebuilding them” that existed on the consumer side for the last 30 or so years (that I have been part of, at least) is dying. You can’t take apart newer Apple machines and upgrade them. While you can theoretically “jailbreak” your iPhone, fewer and fewer people I know even think of that and instead they are part of the world that views them as integrated devices that you can either use, take to a tech, or replace.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 11 Comments »

    The Rise of the Dollar

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 10th February 2015 (All posts by )

    When I was growing up as a kid I remember they had TV commercials against Jimmy Carter explaining how the dollar declined vs. other currencies over the decades. In the late 1980s the Japanese Yen soared in value until their market crashed in 1989. The Euro was originally near parity with the dollar, then fell to 70 cents on the dollar (I happened to be in Europe at the time, it was great), then rose to over $1.30 against the dollar.

    In general if you keep your portfolio all in US assets you are essentially “100% long” against the dollar. A few years ago the dollar effectively fell almost 40% vs. many of the world’s major currencies – this is the time when the Canadian and Australian dollar almost reached parity with the US dollar. For US citizens who traveled frequently across the border into Canada, it seemed strange to think of the Loonie as being just the same as a US dollar, since for years it was worth substantially less. Thus if your portfolio was all in US dollar denominated assets, your value fell 40% that year vs. the worlds’s currencies, even though you couldn’t “feel” it unless you traveled abroad or tried to buy imported goods.

    Recently, however, this has all turned around. The dollar is soaring vs. most of the world’s currencies, which is good news for travelers and makes imports cheaper. However, those who own foreign stocks are looking at losses regardless of how the underlying stock performs (often many of the underlying foreign businesses IMPROVE when the US dollar rises; for instance Indian outsourcing firms who are paid in US dollars find that this money stretches further when paying their Indian based staff in rupees), just because of the rising dollar.

    Rise_of_dollar

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 16 Comments »

    Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th February 2015 (All posts by )

    UChicago law school

    Huge thanks to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on Tuesday, who invited me to speak to their group on February 3, 2015. I previously spoke at the Booth School of Business, which was also a thrill. I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak at the University of Chicago, my undergraduate alma mater.

    The event was well-attended. I attribute this in part to the drawing power of the free buffet of Indian food, and not exclusively to the appeal of the speaker. The students were attentive and asked good questions. I understand that audio of the talk will be available at some point. I will post a link when it is available.

    My topic was “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”.

    First I spoke about some of the themes from America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century, Why America’s Greatest Days are Yet to Come, which I coauthored with James C. Bennett. I discussed the cultural foundations of American prosperity and freedom, the role of our legal profession in American history, in particular in adapting to technological changes, I then discussed some of the major technological changes which are now sweeping our nation and the world. I said that some of them will be general purpose technologies which will cause changes on the scale of the steam engine, railroads or computing itself.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Book Notes, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Law, Personal Narrative, Politics, Quotations, Society, Tech, USA | Comments Off on Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    Unemployment and Jobs.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 28th January 2015 (All posts by )

    The Pelosi Congress extended unemployment benefits in 2009 to a maximum of 53 weeks. This has been renewed until the new Republican Congress after 2010, unable to get Obama to negotiate, allowed the extra benefits to lapse.

    Federal unemployment benefits that continue for 26 weeks after a person uses up the 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits ended Saturday, so now some 1.3 million people won’t be getting their $1,166 (on average) monthly check. By June, another 1.9 million will be cut off.

    Many in the federal government are talking about the need to extend benefits. President Obama labelled it an “urgent economic priority” and called a couple of senators to pressure them to bring the matter up when the Senate reconvenes next week, and is urging Congress to extend the benefits for another three months. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote no later than January 7 for the three month extension. Gene Sperling, the head of Obama’s National Economic Council, lamented the end of the federal aid…

    Disaster was predicted.

    Amazingly, the disaster did not happen. In fact, job growth went up.

    Just looking at the economy’s overall size, you wouldn’t think that the last year was much different from any of the others since the recession. The U.S. economy grew at about the same rate in 2014 as it did in the previous four years — less than 2.4 percent, according to the Federal Reserve’s most recent projection. Yet last year was different. People started going back to work. The percentage of Americans working, more or less stuck in a ditch since 2009, increased from 58.6 percent in December 2013 to 59.2 percent last month. Employers added an average of 246,000 positions a month, about 3 million jobs overall.

    What happened ?

    Economists will debate what happened, but one of the more controversial theories is that Congress’s decision not to extend federal unemployment benefits at the end of 2013 encouraged those out of work to settle for more poorly paid jobs, giving firms a better reason to expand and hire new workers. That’s the conclusion of a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors, Marcus Hagedorn of the University of Oslo, Iourii Manovskii of the University of Pennsylvania and Stockholm University’s Kurt Mitman concluded that the reduction in benefits created 1.8 million jobs last year — more than half of the total.

    That article is from the Washington Post so, of course, they provide rebuttals.

    This is an interesting result which contradicts much prior research indicating that shortening benefit duration had little impact on employment growth (e.g. here, here, here, and here). It is worth testing this result with an alternative data series. HMM use the Current Population Survey for the state level data and the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) for the county level data. These series are both problematic for this sort of analysis.

    Oh yes, other interpretations can be found. The leader of this new (1999) Democrat think tank is a leftist economist with a reliable view for the Washington Post to cite. His credits include: “He writes a weekly column for the Guardian Unlimited (UK), the Huffington Post, TruthOut, and his blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting. His analyses have appeared in many major publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, the London Financial Times, and the New York Daily News. He received his Ph.D in economics from the University of Michigan.”

    The Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the report.

    Assuming that the pre-2014 trends would have continued among the two groups, the authors find that “the cut in unemployment benefit duration led to a 2% increase in aggregate employment, accounting for nearly all of the remarkable employment growth in the U.S. in 2014.” They then confirm these results with a second experiment that compares adjacent counties in different states whose economies are otherwise equal except for their unemployment benefits.

    Notably, job growth improved most in states and counties that offered the most generous benefits before Congress took away the punch bowl. This suggests that the extra jobless benefits reduced the incentives for businesses to create jobs and for jobless workers to fill the vacancies.

    Of course, Obama is now bragging about the new job growth.

    Mr. Obama is now taking credit for 2014’s job gains that his policies inhibited, much as he is for the boom in oil and gas drilling that his Administration resisted. Thus comes the opportunity for a late-term “Seinfeld” economic epiphany. Imagine the possibilities if the President realized that everything he thought about economics is wrong.

    Unlikely.

    Posted in Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Elections, Leftism, Obama, Politics | 7 Comments »

    How To Fix the State of Illinois

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    In a previous post I discussed the high probability of there being some sort of major fiscal calamity in Illinois in the next two years. Here I propose how to solve the issues in the state. I realize that the chance of any or all of these solutions to be put into place is near zero without unthinkable changes, but in fact they are all obvious and will likely be part of the ultimate solution.

    Consolidate Governmental Entities – Illinois has over 8400 governmental entities, the highest in the USA. These entities need to be drastically curtailed and likely should number in the hundreds, and each should have professional management, strict caps on borrowing capabilities, and an inability to sign up for long term unfunded obligations (pensions, retiree health, etc…) without stringent oversight.

    Eliminate Pensions and Defined Benefit Plans and Move to Defined Contribution Plans – Illinois’s pension and benefits woes are myriad and well documented and extend through every city and county due to firefighters and policemen and governmental workers. Regardless of the one time pain, strikes, protests, and society-shaking impacts of these moves, these unfunded obligations are an impossible burden on the state and it must move to a 401k-like plan (similar to what Nebraska did)

    Reduce State and Local Employee Compensation Pay by 25% or More – The government faces a simple choice between paying its employees what they think they deserve (ever more) and the government’s obligation to provide services to its citizens at a price that does not drive excessive taxation. This deal is broken and a large part of the burden will have to rest on governmental employees. If they do not like this solution they will be free to find employment in the private sector where it is unlikely that they will be able to match the same package of benefits and compensation. We will know that the model is in balance when the turnover rate of government is equal to that of the private sector.

    Outsource 33% or More of Governmental Jobs – There are large opportunities for efficiencies in the governmental sector, through use of the Internet, changes in processes, and injection of competition into areas traditionally done by the government. Even within areas that are generally governmental functions (like the police), a significant portion of the functions such as administration could be done by third-party or online vendors.

    Reform Purchasing By Use of Modern Techniques and Focus on Outcomes Not Political Concerns – Our procurement systems in Illinois are riddled with favoritism, opaque decision methods, and a focus on aiding politically connected firms. In addition, payment of vendors is very slow which rules out many smaller and less capitalized vendors. We need to focus on market based outcomes (quality of service, cost reduction, speed to market), and reward vendors with consistent and timely payments rather than focusing on political connections and long term relationships which favor a few incumbents.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 15 Comments »

    Is American Entrepreneurship in Decline?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.

    LINK

    And furthermore:

    The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

    Read the whole thing.

    These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as “Shark Tank”, and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic.

    I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don’t have a lot of formal education–many of them immigrants–and who in former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don’t get counted in the formal statistics.

    Among those who do have college degrees–and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms–student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, USA | 5 Comments »