Archive for the 'Economics & Finance' Category
Amazing treehouses from around the world
Failure Porn. Is there now too much celebration of failure?
Best programming languages for beginners to learn.
Some signs of recovery in the rustbelt
Richard Epstein, The flawed 75% tax solution from Hollande and Piketty:
The basic question is why would anyone assume that major shifts in tax rates should have only relatively modest effects on the production of wealth. No one would say that about a cut in market wages of over 50 percent. So why assume otherwise in a tax context?
As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value. One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs. At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.
The posts in this second “theme” roundup focus on issues affecting productivity and economic growth.
Energy, Productivity, and the Middle Class. The primary driver of middle class affluence has been the availability of plentiful and low-cost energy…especially in the form of electricity…coupled with a whole array of productivity-increasing tools and methods, ranging from the horse-drawn harvester to the assembly line to the automated check sorting machine.
Demographics and productivity growth. Slowing population growth is of concern in just about every developed county because of the effects on worker/non-worker population mix. Economist Michael Mandel presents a country-by-country analysis of the productivity growth rates required, in light of these demographics, to achieve a doubling of individual income by 2050. (from 2005)
The Innovator’s Solution. My review of the now-classic book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor. Far more valuable than most books on business strategy.
Closing time? Citigroup (this is from 2010) listed “ten themes that spell the end of Western dominance,” while Joel Kotkin challenged what he called “declinism.”
Entrepreneurship in decline? Michael Malone, who has been writing about technology and Silicon Valley for a couple of decades, worries (in 2009) that the basic mechanism by which new technologies are commercialized–the formation and growth of new enterprises–is badly broken. (Malone’s original article has disappeared, but I excerpted part of it.)
Decline is not inevitable. Many Americans have come to believe that our best years are behind us. I assert that American decline is by no means inevitable…and if we do wind up in long-term decline, it will be driven not by any sort of automatic economic process, but rather by our own choices–especially our own political choices.
The suppression of entrepreneurship. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has some words for Obama. (2010)
The politics of economic destruction. What Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd tried to do to angel and venture capital funding of new enterprises.
The idea that bigness automatically wins in business still seems to have a remarkable number of adherents, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Startups and jobs…some data. (the original post was just a link)
Bigotry against businessspeople. Media and political hostility toward businesspeople, and its consequences.
Leaving trillions on the table. The transistor as a case study in central planning versus entrepreneurial diversity.
Misvaluing manufacturing. The once-common assertion that “services” are inherently of higher value than manufacturing was not very well thought out. (2003)
“Protocols” and wealth creation. With help from Andrew Carnegie, I challenge some assertions in a David Brooks column.
Musings on Tyler’s technological thoughts. Comments on Tyler Cowen’s book Average is Over. While it’s worth reading and occasionally thought-provoking, I think much of what he has to say is wrong-headed.
For many years I’ve studied the Russian front during WW2, where the Germans and their allies battled the Russians (and their empire) in some of the largest and deadliest battles on earth. The war went far beyond the battlefield, with the Russians taking over the ancient German capital of Prussia, evicting / killing all the (remaining) citizens, and turning it into today’s Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This is fair desserts; the Germans planned to turn Moscow into a reservoir. That war was about annihilation, a complete extermination and permanent subjugation of their foes.
In recent years I’ve tried to turn away from this focus, since I didn’t think that this conflict, ancient by modern standards, had much to teach us anymore, and just following along a well-worn narrative was teaching me nothing. And I did move on, reading about more modern conflicts, and today’s volunteer and high-tech military as opposed to the “old world” of conscripts, artillery, heavy armor, utter destruction of cities and the civilians trapped inside them, and political control superseding military objectives.
The Russian armed forces also seemed to be gliding towards irrelevance, other than their ubiquitous nuclear weapons. Their performance in Chechnya was poor until they basically razed (their own) cities into ruin with heavy artillery fire; to this day I don’t understand why this wasn’t called out as a giant atrocity. In Georgia they were able to beat a tiny, poorly armed adversary, but their motorized divisions seemed to be driving by compass and they did not cover themselves in military glory. Their military transitions from conscript forces with older weapons and tactics also seemed to be foundering in the face of objections from old-line military-industrial complexes.
When Ukraine slipped out of Russia’s orbit and the vast presidential compound of the ex-president was paraded on TV worldwide, Putin obviously viewed this as a direct threat to his authority. The Russians historically had been at odds with the Ukrainians over natural gas prices and on other topics, but it wasn’t obvious that this was going to move into a warlike situation. Ukraine is rich with agricultural resources but these resources aren’t prized by the Kremlin; they need easily extractable resources like oil, natural gas and various iron ores that they can pull out of the ground and sell for hard cash overseas. John McCain’s recurring joke that Russia isn’t much more than a gas station with nuclear weapons in fact has a lot of merit. Other than around Moscow, parts of St Petersburg, and in “showplace” locations like Sochi and Vladivostok Russia in fact was falling into ruin and shambles.
But something was happening; the Russian forces that invaded the Crimea (even though they were never formally identified as Russians) appeared to be well organized and well armed. It was not the “Keystone Cops” group that I might have expected. They handled themselves with relative distinction, fulfilling their objectives with limited civilian casualties and using discretion against the Ukrainian military forces they encountered. This was the complete opposite of the blundering incursions into Chechnya.
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Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by Grurray)
“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”
-George E.P. Box
Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.
The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.
Their research revealed that
“future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”
These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.
The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.
”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”
Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.
Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.
In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.
“Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”
With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.
These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.
There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.
“In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”
In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.
“In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”
This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.
Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.
“the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.
The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.
“strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”
Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.
Two posts that sort of go together:
GE Capital cites some data from the National Center for the Middle Market on the importance of the “unsung heroes of the US economy”–the 200,000 businesses with annual revenues ranging from $10 million to $1 billion.
Amy Cortese writes about the potential re-emergence of local/regional stock markets, which could provide an avenue for companies in the middle market category to obtain financing and hence accelerate their growth.
The stock market began to recover from its recent selloff as initial ebola fears abated. Meanwhile bond markets remained strong.
fed-fueled bubble bull market in stocks isn’t over. Ebola won’t kill us all. Future Ebola outbreaks will have to be much more severe to generate market reactions of similar magnitude. (Corollary: The next Ebola-inspired market selloff will be a buying opportunity, and thus may not happen.)
Caveats. Watch for a govt bond selloff, perhaps as a result of unexpected events. The entire financial world has been watching for this for the past several years. It could happen in two weeks or two years, but it will happen eventually.
Disclaimer: This is not investment advice. You would be crazy to listen to me and probably shouldn’t even be reading this, as I have predicted twenty of the last 2 bear markets in bonds.
Posted by Kevin Villani on 17th October 2014 (All posts by Kevin Villani)
This year marks a century since the outbreak of WW I and coincidently the initiation of US Federal Reserve System operations. Prior to these events, politics were democratizing, economic growth was booming, economies were liberalizing and global trade and finance were growing, all at a pace not seen again for almost another century. Recognizing that achieving these mutual benefits required an externally imposed political discipline, all of the countries participating in this happy situation voluntarily followed a set of rules governing domestic and international trade and finance for automatic and continuous adjustment to changing economic reality, then provided by the gold standard.
It was during this enlightened period that philosopher George Santayana wrote: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Hedge fund manager and Brookings Director Liaquat Ahamed set out to remind us why countries failed to recapture this economic dynamism after the Great War with the publication of the Pulitzer Prize winning Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World in 2009. This book took on greater significance when in 2010 Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke recommended only this historical account in response to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s request for a book reference explaining the 2008 financial crisis. What history had this most recent financial crisis already repeated and what was Chairman Bernanke determined to avoid repeating in the aftermath?
Posted by Grurray on 15th October 2014 (All posts by Grurray)
This year has seen many historical anniversaries, and one that has gotten some recent notoriety is the 90 year anniversary of the planned obsolescence of the light bulb by an industry cartel.
How exactly did the cartel pull off this engineering feat? It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years. The household lightbulb in 1924 was already technologically sophisticated: The light yield was considerable; the burning time was easily 2,500 hours or more. By striving for something less, the cartel would systematically reverse decades of progress.
It’s even more notable because last week three pioneers in LED technology just won the Nobel Prize.
We all know about the efficiency standards for light bulbs that are effectively banning incandescent bulbs in slow motion. I’ve noticed during my usual stops at the home improvement stores that the choices for the vintage bulbs are fewer and farther between, and the prices for what’s left are creeping up.
The promise of the new standards is that the new LED lighting is far superior. While it’s much more expensive, the steady drumbeat of the diffusion of technology is supposed to reduce the costs, eventually putting them within reach of the common household.
The costs have indeed dropped exponentially, but that’s undoubtedly been helped by government aid and deliberate shortages of the old technology. Besides the federal standards, every state has some sort of efficient lighting rebate program that artificially decreases the price. Tax breaks and other incentives have encouraged manufacturers like GE to expand production in the US and create a few hundred jobs, which, although nice, don’t quite make up for the thousands they shipped to China during the Great Light Bulb Leap Forward. How much of the price gains can be attributed to Moore’s Law type improvements and how much to government supports is a legitimate concern.
Now there’s some question about how long prices are going to keep falling going forward.
In stark contrast to the promised dynamics that the technology is supposed to follow, LED prices actually rose considerably last month.
In contrast, 40W equiv. LED bulb prices were up 14.3% in the U.S. market. Manufacturers including Cree, Philips, GE and other renowned brands have raised prices for certain products in the U.S. market.
Because of industry consolidation, the top ten LED manufacturers now control 61% of the market. That much control brings pricing power over the market, and they are apparently now using it.
With green energy executive orders on Obama’s agenda and the unelected EPA issuing mandates, the oligopoly is sure to get worse with permanently higher cost per lumens the possible result.
The LED industry, taking a page from the incandescent bulb industry so many years ago, is discovering the key to the rent seekers’ success – competition is for losers, and unfortunately sometimes so is progress.
Posted by Lexington Green on 3rd October 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
You must read this excellent piece by Megan McArdle, It’s Normal for Regulators to Get Captured. “regulatory capture is not some horrid aberration; it is closer to the natural state of a regulatory body.”
This is true. That is why the entire modern administrative state has to be re-thought, re-configured and replaced. It does not work, it never worked, it cannot work.
The regulatory state is the defining feature of the Industrial Era, America 2.0 state. It needs to be shut down, wrapped up and replaced.
This does not mean return to the law of the jungle. It means making laws that actually align incentives with desired ends, as imperfect as that always is.
Posted by Lexington Green on 29th September 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
There is enormous inertia—a tyranny of the status quo—in private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
This could easily have been the quote at the front of America 3.0.
A crisis, or series of crises, are likely to be coming in the years ahead as the economy and government based on industrial era (America 2.0) models fails more and more completely and obviously. The inertia, the tyranny of the status quo, embedded in our existing institutions is going to resist meaningful reform. It will not be an inert resistance, either, it will be attacks on agents of change. To use Clausewitz’s phrase, the defense of the status quo will be “a shield of blows.” Some people will be hurt by the blows.
But it won’t work. It cannot work.
Our task in the book was and is precisely to offer alternatives to existing policies, and explain why our proposed alternatives suit America’s inherited underlying culture, and the technology which will shape our future. Many of the things we suggest in the book have been dismissed as “impossible” even by friendly critics. But as Milton Friedman correctly noted, the politically impossible can become the politically inevitable, if it is an idea whose time has come.
Back in the woeful years of the dot.com boom and bust I worked for a company with a dubious distinction. The value of that company in the stock market was less than the value of the cash we had on our books. What the market was essentially saying is that the sum total of all our efforts as employees was NEGATIVE – we would be worth more if we just shut down immediately and gave back the cash to investors. The fate of that company, of course, was to go bankrupt.
Today there are some other major signs of froth in the market. Yahoo is a classic web / advertising / technology stock with a solid market capitalization of $40 billion. Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, was a Google alumna and has been receiving a lot of press for her intelligence and drive to change the company, as well as her good looks.
However, all is not as it seems. The primary value for Yahoo isn’t its online advertising, email, or users – it is the stakes that they amassed in the hot Chinese e commerce company Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and also Yahoo Japan. In fact, the value of Yahoo is less than the value of these stakes, which are approximately $45B, partially due to the reason listed in this Bloomberg article:
While the market value is large for Yahoo’s Asian assets, that doesn’t necessarily reflect the value available to investors and the company because of taxes, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Securities USA Inc. Yahoo, which would have made $8.3 billion by selling Alibaba shares at the IPO, only reaped around $5.1 billion after taxes.
Taxes are ‘‘one of the big issues,” Schachter said.
While it is true that $45B in investment value isn’t worth $45B because of the after-tax implications, it certainly implies that the market isn’t valuing Yahoo at very much at all. It is also possible that the market thinks that Alibaba is over-valued at its current price of near $100 (after a huge run-up from its IPO price of $68, another huge sign of froth in the market) but the two stocks will generally track closely together now. Yahoo is sort of a broken “tracking stock” for this value.
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This article describes a situation that is similar to what happens in a neighborhood controlled by the Mafia. Monopolies and cartels raise the prices of the products they sell by restricting supply. This is usually a bad outcome. However, when the product is crime or violence there are benefits to restricting supply.
Recently I wrote about the impact to the cable industry that is coming in the form of Microwave Fixed Wireless here.
While on vacation in Door County I noticed a small store front office in Bailey’s Harbor for Door County Broadband. The first thing I thought of is how would a company like this operate out of a small storefront with just one truck (parked outside)? Then I realized that this firm is the local upstart providing Microwave Fixed Wireless against the incumbent phone / cable company in that region, Frontier. Unlike the local phone / cable company (who really are one and the same nowadays), you can run a microwave fixed wireless broadband company with few employees because you don’t have to pay for all the same physical infrastructure (telecom poles, physical connections) when you are doing a wireless model; you just need to 1) get the physical infrastructure (towers) in place and then 2) hook up the dish in the homes and point it at the tower. This model needs far fewer “boots on the ground” than the traditional model.
While researching this further, I came across this document called
America’s Broadband Heroes:
Fixed Wireless Broadband Providers
Delivering Broadband to Unserved and Underserved Americans
This document is clearly biased in favor of the upstart fixed wireless providers, but has many interesting and sourced facts about the industry and is highly recommended reading.
While wireline and mobile wireless carriers focus on regulatory gaming and manipulation of the Universal Service Fund to benefit their bottom lines, many Americans are left without access to broadband services because they reside in places that are deemed to be unprofitable by traditional carriers. Even more Americans have substandard or overpriced broadband access and no alternatives for obtaining better service because of the lack of competition in the broadband market. It is clear that the current system is broken, and the absence of competition, abuse of USF and the lack of access to critical network facilities for competitive entrants puts our nation into a position of disadvantage compared to other OECD countries.
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The popular (untrue) image of the ostrich as a bird that puts its head in the sand came to mind as a I read a recent NY Times article titled “Large Dams Just Aren’t Worth the Cost“. This article describes the usual culprits that plague dam construction:
1. Cost overruns
2. Dams take much longer to construct than originally planned
3. Dams displace local residents (many in impoverished third world countries) who rarely thrive in their new locations
4. Dams that are paid for with foreign loans (for many years the World Bank provided funding) often do poorly because the dam revenues come back in local currency and the loans are denominated in dollars; thus even if they hit their “nominal” returns, they don’t reach their “planned” returns when adjusted for currency depreciation
These are all true objections to dam construction. However, these same criteria can be applied to virtually any energy construction project, from coal plants to nuclear plants to major LNG efforts.
One key point that the article completely misses is that dams don’t require spending for “fuel” once they are up and running, and often it is fuel and distribution of fuel that bankrupt energy companies in the third world. The dam requires rain / water to generate power, and if this changes significantly, it can change the amount of power provided, but this is still generally better than “nothing”.
There simply would not be electricity in many areas of the third world without hydropower, and the choice really isn’t between other alternatives and dams, it is a choice between power and no power. Once a dam is built they often can be run with a few individuals and if there are major problems you can bring someone in to fix them. You don’t need to find coal or fuel oil (which moves in price and is denominated in dollars that the country often doesn’t have). On the other hand, complex machinery and distribution systems can’t be left in the hands of areas with revolutionary governments and broken economies because in short order they are often taken apart and destroyed.
Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute: The Ethical and Rhetorical Foundations of Modern Freedom and Prosperity
Posted by Lexington Green on 21st August 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
She was promoting her book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World which is the second in a trilogy with The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. She announced last night that she just finished the third volume.
This essay, entitled The Great Enrichment Came and Comes from Ethics and Rhetoric gives some insight into her ideas.
Funny how this kind of thing sneaks up on you.
Prepare to be overwhelmed with the most comprehensive bus tour of the nearly 60 new condo towers proposed for Greater Downtown Miami.
Miami condo expert Peter Zalewski – who has been cited more than 1,000 times by local, state, national and international news outlets – is scheduled to narrate the 10 AM morning tour of the Greater Downtown Miami preconstruction condo market where more than 17,300 new units are proposed. The 2 PM afternoon tour of Greater Downtown Miami is narrated in Spanish by licensed Florida real estate broker Jenny Huertas. Zalewski will ride on the afternoon tour to answer any questions.
17,000 new units. Of course it’s unlikely that all of them will be built, but still. And this time around the developers aren’t borrowing so much, and many of the buyers are paying cash, but still. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in the midst of an endless economic stagnation? Or maybe it was a bubble. It’s easy to lose track.
It looks like there’s a lot more US dollars in Latin America than anyone thought. Or could it be inflation? Nah. If there were inflation we’d see crazy stuff like the Dow at 17k and $12 hamburgers. . .
I’m sure it will all end well.
From Thomas Sowell’s latest column:
Some have said that we are living in a post-industrial era, while others have said that we are living in a post-racial era. But growing evidence suggests that we are living in a post-thinking era.
Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel’s military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.
Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler’s forces?
Talk-show host Geraldo Rivera says that there is no way Israel is winning the battle for world opinion. But Israel is trying to win the battle for survival, while surrounded by enemies. Might that not be more important?
Worth reading as is everything that Sowell writes.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
“It’s a total contradiction in terms to spend your public time castigating Medicaid as something that never should have been expanded for poor people and as a broken, problem-riddled system, and then turn around and complain about the length of time to enroll people,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a member of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress.
Most of the new enrollees are Medicaid members and those enrolled in “private insurance” learn that they have severely restricted choice of doctor or hospital.
Now we have a new development.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 26th July 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
It looks to me that the Supreme Court will have little justification for continuing the Obamacare program as it exists. The Halbig decision should kill it off. It is clear that the IRS subsidies to federal exchange subscribers are illegal.
The only statement anyone has found in the legislative history that addresses this point comes from the Act’s lead author, who affirmed that Congress did intend to withhold tax credits in federal Exchanges. During a September 23, 2009, mark-up of his bill, which ultimately became the PPACA, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) refused to consider a Republican amendment regarding medical malpractice on the grounds it fell outside the Committee’s jurisdiction. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) protested, asking how Baucus’ bill could do other things that lie outside the Committee’s jurisdiction, like direct states to create Exchanges. Baucus responded the bill creates tax credits, which are within its jurisdiction, and makes eligibility for those tax credits conditional on states creating Exchanges. Conditional necessarily means that Baucus intended to withhold tax credits in states that did not create their own Exchanges.
I just don’t see how the Court can ignore that history. The political left has been on a rant about Congressional intent since the decision was announced.
WSJ has a good article about three people who have put themselves on good career trajectories without benefit of 4-year college degrees. One is a welder, one is a nurse, and one is an owner of franchised fast-food restaurants. Unfortunately, however, the article uncritically uses the term “middle-skilled jobs,” which is seen increasingly in articles about the job market. These jobs are said to be those which require more than high school and less than four years of college, and typically involve some sort of technical or practical training.
“Middle-skilled”….really? Is the job of a toolmaker in a factory really less-skilled than the entry-level job likely to be obtained by someone with an undergraduate Sociology degree? Is a nurse’s job less-skilled than the work likely to be assigned to someone hired on the basis of his English degree? Does owning and operating a food truck really require less skill than the kind of tasks typically assigned to an undergraduate Business major? Is the work of an air traffic controller less-skilled than the kind of a job likely to result from a major in Victim Studies?
It is good that there is increasing recognition of good career paths not requiring college degrees; however, the term “Middle-Skilled Jobs” is misleading and contributes to the continuation of credential-worship.
…as in, “Universal Entities controls 73% of the Gerbilator market.”
Uh, no, actually they probably don’t. IBM once had something like 70% of the market for computer hardware, software, and services. The big integrated steel companies, Bethlehem Steel and US Steel, once had a very high share of the American steel market. Sears once had a high share of the retail market. These examples could be multiplied easily and almost endlessly.
A seller into a market does not control that market, or its position in that market, absent direct violence (the Mafia and various drug cartels, for example) or heavy government intervention–and even the latter is unlikely to be reliable in the long term, as the owners of TV station licenses facing first cable competition, and later Internet competition as well, found out, and as the owners of taxicab franchises facing Uber and similar competition are now discovering.
The phrase “controls X percent,” when applied to a market, is almost always intellectually lazy, and is used far too often by writers who should know better.
A few years ago I went to Norway and had a great time. In this post I described how expensive everything was in Norway due to their highly valued currency (tied to oil riches) combined with the relentless decline of the US dollar (tied to ZIRP and other dubious economic moves). In the simplest terms, a fast food meal or a beer in Norway cost over $20 USD which is complete madness.
Business Insider discussed the Scandinavian economic experiment, where high taxes are applied to goods and services in order to fund a vast social safety net. From the article:
In Norway, a burger and fries at a fast food joint will set you back $23. A six-pack of warm grocery-store beer is nearly $30.
These hefty price tags are due, in part, to high wages for low-skilled service jobs. But high taxes play a role too.
Most products have a 25 percent value-added tax, which means that $5.50 of the cost of that burger goes to fund Norway’s generous social programs.
As a visitor, you get little for the added price. But, as a resident, your daily spending helps to fund an expansive package of benefits, including health care, child care, high-quality education, pensions, and unemployment insurance.
Some are now proposing this high-cost method, with large taxes embedded in everyday prices, as a solution to the inequity in incomes and wealth that is discussed widely in politics and economics today.
From the perspective of someone who is highly interested in economics and tax policy, my two rules of thumb are:
1) that the tax policy raise the money that it intends to raise
2) that the tax policy not significantly distort economic activity
Any society that implements high taxes such as Norway needs a comprehensive surveillance model in order to collect these taxes. It is difficult to avoid taxes that are broadly assessed on fast food, for instance, because each corporate location will set up cash registers and controls to remit these taxes onto the state. The same types of processes can be installed in liquor stores, formal bars and nightclubs, grocery stores, and restaurants.
In a less-homogeneous society such as the USA, we already have major problems with tax evasion on cigarettes and likely liquor, and these are in responses to our sales taxes. The problems would be compounded if we placed value added taxes on all goods at a higher level and on services such as restaurants, hair care, etc… Smuggling would become rampant and informal or barter methodologies would increase in size and scope. These sorts of costs would have to be applied across the USA or some areas would become uncompetitive and see an out-migration of economic activity, starting with incremental additions (no one has opened a new manufacturing plant in Illinois in years, for instance) and eventually leading to the lock, stock and barrel out migration of existing industries (such as the exodus of car manufacturing out of the Midwest and California to the American South).