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  • Archive for the 'Economics & Finance' Category

    Larry the Liquidator is on the Line

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2020 (All posts by )

    The current behavior of the Democratic Party and its allies in media and academia reminds me of the 1991 movie Other People’s Money.  The main character, known as Larry the Liquidator, specializes in acquiring companies for the purpose of selling off their assets.  When the film opens, his new target is a struggling company called New England Wire & Cable Company.  Larry calls on the CEO (Jorgy) and says that by his calculations, the company would be better off from a shareholder standpoint (and hence from the CEO’s standpoint) being broken up and sold off in pieces.  Jorgy,emotionally connected to his family-founded company and  conscious of his position as the town’s leading employer, is appalled at the very idea and refuses to give in.

    Nevertheless, Larry prevails in the resulting proxy fight, and the company falls into his hands.  But there is a deus ex machina…Kate, the beautiful lawyer who has been hired to defend the company, identifies a major new market for the company’s products: the stainless steel wire cloth required for automotive airbags.  (And, of course, Larry (Danny DeVito) has fallen head-over-heels in love with Kate (Penelope Ann Miller)

    The Dems and their allies appear to care about the long-term existence of the US and the welfare of its people as little as Larry the Liquidator cares about the continued existence of New England Wire and Cable and its employees and customers.  They will happily sell it off to miscellaneous parties…various ethnic and gender groups and pressure groups…promising those groups an appreciation in their ‘stock’, in the form of government goodies or at least self-esteem and the pleasures of righteous anger. And regardless of whether those promises are actually fulfilled, the Dems and their allies will, like Larry, collect their substantial fee.

    And, in fairness to Larry, there are indeed cases whether spinoffs, breakup, or outright liquidation is the best thing for a company, sometimes the only thing.  (That would likely have eventually turned out to have been the case with New England Wire & Cable absent Kate’s highly-improbably ‘invention’…it seems clear that Jorgy was not managing the company well in the existing circumstances…if he had been, he would have uncovered the wire-cloth opportunity himself..and was unlikely to change his ways.)  But breaking up a company is a very different thing from fragmenting a company and a society.  And, while Larry has had no prior involvement with NEWC, the Dems and their allies have mostly lived here all their lives and benefitted greatly from doing so.

     

     

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Leftism, USA | 40 Comments »

    Contracts Breeched: Freedom Cancelled

    Posted by Ginny on 10th September 2020 (All posts by )

    A previous post mentioned trust and the responsibilities of government to keep up their share of their contract to provide safety and the kind of order property rights demand. Such trust comes easily when our respect is internalized. Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards both spoke of teaching the young “virtuous habits”. In the America in which I grew up that kind of respect was internalized – and not just in towns of 500 in the Great Plains – Thomas Sowell talks of his boyhood in Harlem with such affection. This too, is critical of the broken contract of so many politicians with their citizens surrounded by the rubble of riots.

    In Property and Freedom, Richard Pipes examines “property” in terms of land, but also money and goods; what is “proper to man” – including his inalienable rights. I’ve found his journey to follow the historical development of different societies’ definitions of property and man’s relation to it interesting.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy | 10 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th September 2020 (All posts by )

    From an interview with Stanley Druckenmiller:

    This massive market rally is due in large part to the measures taken up by the Fed since the pandemic began, Druckenmiller said. He noted that, while the central bank did a “great job” in March by cutting rates and launching unprecedented stimulus programs to sustain the economy, the follow-up market rally “has been excessive.” He also said that for the first time in a while, he is worried about inflation shooting higher.
     
    “The merging of the Fed and the Treasury, which is effectively what’s happening during Covid, sets a precedent that we’ve never seen since the Fed got its independence,” Druckenmiller said. “It’s obviously creating a massive, massive mania in financial assets.”

    You don’t say.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Quotations | 19 Comments »

    New Frontiers in Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 6th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Babysitting…of kids in Japan, via Zoom, by women in Rwanda.

    Relates to my posts telemigration and Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring.

     

    Posted in COVID-19, Economics & Finance, Internet, Japan, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 13th August 2020 (All posts by )

    The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years.  In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company.  And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies

    But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too.  And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.  The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.

    I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases.  In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.

    Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site.  The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.

    If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world.  In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing.  A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.

    It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19, Customer Service, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Tech | 42 Comments »

    Is the Biden Economic Plan on the Right Track?

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 31st July 2020 (All posts by )

    It promises to improve economic well-being relative to current economic policy for average and particularly less well-off citizens now and in the future, and to do the same for citizens of other countries including all immigrants. Can it deliver?

    The Mock Democratic Platform was released in February, the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force a few weeks ago, and the draft 2020 Platform a few days ago. The economic plan is the most ambitious progressive anti-capitalist agenda at least since FDR’s New Deal and arguably in American history. It consistently proposes numerous government carrots and sticks to achieve its economic objectives, doubling down on the New Deal and Great Society methods.

    Causes and Consequences of Reducing Capital and Labor Productivity

    Potential national wealth is limited only by the amount of capital (national savings) and the incentive to maximize the productivity of capital (e.g., with new technology) and labor (through appropriate education and training). Politics often distorts individual incentives for the worse.

    Politically Re-directed Investment

    The US national savings rate hovered around 3% after turning negative in 2007-2009 and again now. The Biden economic plan for politically re-directing resources to, e.g., conservation, clean energy, transportation, manufacturing, infrastructure, affordable housing, etc. by subsidizing public and taxing private investment more has some merit. However, it may have problematic economic returns and the total cost is many multiples of total national savings.

    Education and School Choice

    Biden would limit the competition with public schools by restricting higher performing charter schools. Higher education would be made either affordable or free with reduced entrance requirements to compensate for a poor primary education, but higher education only contributes to individual and national wealth to the extent it improves productivity, e.g., with more STEM graduates.

    Labor Market Intervention

    By traditional measures, the country was fully employed prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, but the Biden plan calls for the “creation” of multiple millions of new high paying jobs, both in the nominally still private sector and the public sector. Pay would be raised by eliminating the right to work without being forced to join a union, something private sector unions have demanded since the passage of the Taft Hartley Act of 1947. But Biden plans to go beyond that, forcing all states to unionize public employees as well. For those that fall out of this broad union net, the federal minimum wage would start at $15/hour, superseding state laws. These are the tools that progressives historically used to keep blacks, other minorities and recent immigrants out of the labor force, and is is difficult to see how they would do otherwise this time around.

    Trade Protection

    As these politically inflated domestic labor costs will again be uncompetitive internationally the Biden plan opposes any trade deals, calling for manufactured goods to be sourced and stamped “made in America.” Consumer prices would have to rise commensurate with labor costs.

    Immigration

    Borders would be relatively open and immigrants incentivized to come both by the decline in export-related jobs and the benefits of the U.S. social welfare state. But they would be excluded from the formal job market by the union and minimum wage requirements once inside the U.S. border.

    Taxation, Debt and Money Printing: The Limits of Expropriation

    All senior mob leaders know two things well: 1. There is only so much extortion money to go around (gangster killings are usually over excessive greed), and 2, There are limits to how much you can extort without killing a business. At their peak in the 1980s the New York Mafia “owned” the labor unions that extorted from business, enabled by a symbiotic relationship of both with the Democratic Party. Sooner or later taxpayers and consumers always pay.

    Debt and Taxes

    State and local governments are in dire straits and blue states are technically insolvent, demanding a bailout. Federal funding has morphed the states into Soviet era oblasts with the federal government the funding source of first resort.

    Current federal debt is $27 trillion, exceeding that of WW II as a percent of the economy, with over $200 trillion in additional contingent liabilities.. The current federal deficit for this fiscal year is over $3 trillion, to which the Democrat-proposed Heroes Act would add an additional $3 trillion. Candidate Biden has offered tiny constituent groups, e.g., caregivers, almost $1 trillion, large constituent groups such as the environmentalists’ Green New Deal could cost upwards of $100 trillion, with lots of constituent promises falling in between.

    The Biden plan calls for reversing the Trump corporate tax cut that stimulated investment and exports. Taxing the “rich” will raise some revenue in the short run but reduce investment and growth in the longer run. Middle class taxes will follow, although he is committed to restoring the (blue) state and local income tax deduction for the relatively wealthy.

    The Federal Reserve and Modern Monetary Theory

    Having gone past the limit, a gangster may turn to counterfeiting as a last resort. The Federal Reserve is already “printing” enough money to be the primary buyer of Treasury debt and at the current pace would own it all in two years. Under the Modern Monetary Theory espoused by the Sanders campaign and now implicitly incorporated into the Biden economic plan, debts and deficits don’t matter so long as the Fed can print money to purchase them. The Biden plan adds “racial equity” to the Fed’s full employment and price stability goals to reduce differences in wages and unemployment.

    Biden’s Plan is an Extortion Racket on the Left-Behind Track

    Across time and space the evidence supports competitive market capitalism as the source of virtually all human economic progress. The Biden economic plan is essentially an extortion racket that fails to recognize its inherent limits, doubling down on the bad policies of the current Administration while eliminating the good, apparently because the Party’s octogenarian leaders either never learned the limits or have lost control to the young radical left. This plan so far exceeds the limits that even partial success could easily lead to hyper-inflation.

    There is a sense that America can always turns things around if it gets derailed but the progressive perspective dominates America’s intellectual elite and media. Argentina was once on the capitalist fast track parallel to the U.S., but progressive President Juan Peron switched tracks in 1946, and Argentina has been left behind ever since.

    Kevin Villani

    —-

    Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Elections, Politics | 34 Comments »

    Reshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd May 2020 (All posts by )

    The consulting firm Kearney updates their numbers on the foreign sourcing and US manufacturing of products.  Lots of interesting data.

    Posted in Business, China, Economics & Finance, Latin America, Management, USA, Vietnam | 32 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2020 (All posts by )

    Waiting for Good Dough.  Excerpts of some thoughts on central banking and monetary policy, from a newsletter issued by Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management.  Best post/article title I’ve seen in a long time.

    Remote work in industry during the pandemic and maybe afterwards…some thoughts from the CEO of GE Digital.

    Skills development in industry.  Career progression doesn’t always have to involve college education.

    Grim excerpts and critiques an Atlantic article which is a rather hysterical attack on a class of people who are very different from the author.

    Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (he was coauthor of the first widely-used web browser and cofounder of Netscape) writes about the need for America to focus on building things. Surely most of us here will agree with that spirit, but a lot of his specifics seem dubious to say the least. Stuart Schneiderman offers some thoughts; worthwhile comment thread.

    A cat and a dog offer differing views about the merits of the work from home approach.

    Posted in Big Government, COVID-19, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Education, Leftism, Tech, USA | 11 Comments »

    Rethinking the Value of Cities in an Era of Plague

    Posted by Stephen Karlson on 6th April 2020 (All posts by )

    It’s the tension between “contagions for good,” the possibilities for sharing ideas and exchanging goods in thicker markets, and “contagions for evil,” when it’s your viruses and bacteria that are being shared with others.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, COVID-19, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tradeoffs, Urban Issues | 18 Comments »

    In Medias Res

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 4th April 2020 (All posts by )

    What I’ve got so far:

    1. Everything’s on the table. The likelihood that your preexisting ideology or priorities are an entirely adequate match to what this situation truly requires of us is close to nil. “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” ― Eric Hoffer
    2. That said, your life experience will give you insights. Privilege your experience over your ideology and nominal priorities.
    3. All disasters are local. Concentrate on your meaningfully immediate environment, which in this case will be the local market for medical resources. For most of the US, that will be our MSA. For those outside an MSA (metropolitan or micropolitan) that will be their county; and for some it will be the group of counties that feed into the one hospital in the region.
    4. Deprioritize pandemic news from outside your local area. There are people in the massive NY/NJ/MA outbreak that I worry about, but what happens there will only modestly resemble what happens in the KC MSA, not least because of the difference in population density, which can approach 20x.
    5. Mitigate or avoid your own risk (including the risk you pose to others) by both following the hygiene advice we’ve all heard and minimizing your physical interaction with anyone outside your immediate household. Internalize R₀ = b × k × d, where R₀ is the reproduction number of the virus, b is the probability of infection given contact with an infectious person, k is the contact rate, and d is the infectious duration. While the nominal R₀ of COVID-19 is ~3, your personal R₀ can be driven to < 1 by your own behavior.
    6. The general form of the challenge confronting us is abrupt wide variation in formerly relatively constant phenomena. In Talebian terms, we have migrated from “mediocristan” to “extremistan.” The multiplicative nature of a novel viral pandemic, especially by comparison to the relatively predictable seasonality of influenza viruses, has a thick-tailed (power law) probability structure and complex payoffs (notoriously ranging from large numbers of nearly asymptomatic cases to abruptly life-threatening “cytokine storm” reactions). For detail, see The Fourth Quadrant: A Map of the Limits of Statistics.
    7. So we find ourselves at serious risk of running out of ventilators, ICU beds, and even hospital beds generally, to say nothing of supplies (but see “all disasters are local,” above), raising the prospect of significant second-order mortality among those unable to obtain adequate care for entirely unrelated illnesses and injuries.
    8. In this connection, many prior customs, techniques, tools, and materials are being revealed as highly dysfunctional and, if all goes sufficiently well, will be swept into the dustbin of history. The bad news for me is that my earlier fears about easily-bottlenecked processes have been realized. But we may look forward to significant adaptation, including deregulation of medical services.
    9. Similarly, a large number of purported fixes and remedies will fail. Folk remedies, in particular, seem likely to be disastrous, and this blog’s audience needs no persuasion that attempts at central planning will fail thanks to the Hayekian local knowledge problem. In that connection, and to quote something I wrote a few years back: “John Gilmore famously said that ‘the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.’ The future adaptation of representative democracies will depend on our capability, as individuals, to interpret endemic institutional dysfunctionality as damage and route around it.”
    10. The relatively vulnerable are closer to the center of the network: affluent, living in high-density major cities, well-traveled, extroverted, socially active, with large numbers of regular contacts (even if mostly in a “bubble” as per Murray’s notorious quiz). But some are the alienated and defiant who reject risk avoidance or even risk mitigation tactics (or attempt folk remedies instead), ordinarily associated with …
    11. The relatively invulnerable, who are at or near the edge of the network: impoverished, living in rural or low-density metro areas, untraveled, introverted, socially isolated, rarely in face-to-face contact with others. Many of these people have mental health issues and associated substance abuse problems. But the relatively invulnerable are also the intelligent and conscientious who promptly adopt appropriate risk management strategies.
    12. The post-pandemic preferences of the relatively invulnerable will have massive economic and cultural effects. I expect a reasonably quick partial recovery from the economic shutdown, but full recovery may take several years. Many of the “third places” which have done well over the last few decades will not regain their patronage, and as of early April 2020, we can only guess which ones. Fond hopes of some of my co-religionists aside for a sudden revival, I believe church attendance and involvement will be well down in the aftermath, and will not significantly grow until the next “Awakening,” which per Strauss and Howe should occur at mid-century. Until then, believers will be culturally marginalized and congregations will be smaller—but comprised of relatively fervent, active members.
    13. Geopolitical risks are heightened, especially US-China tensions, and if Xenakis’ “58-year hypothesis” holds, this very year will see an echo of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    14. The most important output of this process—and it is a process, with inputs, providers, outputs, recipients, etc—will be a collective lessons-learned database, comprised of both tacit and explicit knowledge, and somehow transmitted to future generations.

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Business, China, Christianity, Civil Society, COVID-19, Culture, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Libertarianism, Military Affairs, Organizational Analysis, Predictions, Religion, Society, Systems Analysis, USA | 34 Comments »

    From the Cosmos to Strings: Parallels of Economics to Physics

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 24th March 2020 (All posts by )

    The first macroeconomic model of the U.S. economy consisted of 20 boxes of punched cards at 2000 cards per box that I would wheel on a dolly stacked five feet high to the main frame computer center where it took about three days to get results back.

    Mathematics is the language of physics. Graduating with a BS in mathematics in the 1960’s, I faced a choice between my two minors, physics or economics. Some famous physicists had already declared that the quest for a unified mathematical explanation of the cosmos and its smallest building blocks was at hand. In economics, the attempt to build a mathematical macro model of the U.S. economy and fully integrate it with the micro economic mathematical models of human behavior represented a new frontier. I chose economics.

    In retrospect, physicists are still searching for a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) of the universe. In economics, mathematics and statistics have widened the disagreement about how the economy works and the proper role of government in economic management.

    God and Physics: from Aristotle to Hawking

    Aristotle (382-324 BC) described the cosmos of round bodies in motion circling around the earth. It took almost two millennia until the sun-centric Copernican model was popularized by Galileo, who was imprisoned by the Pope, the political enforcer of orthodoxy at the time, in 1633 for heresy, forcing him to recant. But only a half century later, Newton described the mechanics of the universe and sun-centric solar system in Principia Mathematica (1687), which remains the cornerstone of basic physics.

    In Newtonian physics, motion and speed are calculated relative to what you are moving away from. Maxwell’s discovery in the mid-1800’s that the speed of light was “absolute” required an explanation that stumped many physicists until the young patent office clerk Albert Einstein, unaware of these efforts, provided the novel Special Theory of Relativity (1905) that if light speed was constant space and time must be relative.

    His mathematical model proved over time to provide a more precise description of the movement of heavenly bodies, but the implication of his equations that the universe was expanding violated his belief in a master plan of a “creator,” so he inserted a mathematical cosmological constant (what economic model builders would subsequently call a “dummy variable”) to stagnate it. But other physicists confirmed his original model, which in reverse required a mathematical ”singularity” – a beginning of time with a “big bang” from an infinitely small spec. The Catholic Church approved this model in 1952 as consistent with its orthodox views of a creator.

    In 1970 Stephen Hawking proved that the big bang theory was the only one consistent with the existing models of the universe, but he later challenged those models. First, the violent path of destruction and creation over billions of years subsequent to the big bang that ultimately produced the building blocks of life was a “million to one shot”- is ours just one of millions of universes? Second, macro models of the universe broke down at the mathematical singularity, which remains inconsistent with micro models of the very small – in my youth molecules then atoms made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, now subatomic “quarks” and more recently sub-quark vibrating strings.

    The scientific method is a slog: to understand the universe, the models must not only be tested empirically but compared to all the potential alternative explanations. Pre-conceived orthodox ideology has at times set the investigation back centuries.

    The Progressive Orthodoxy of Mathematical Models in Economics

    Macro economics, the desire to understand and control the workings of the economy at large, developed in response to the Great Depression. The roots of the mathematical approach to economic management trace to the founding of the Econometrics Society in 1930. John Maynard Keynes published his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1935, the title invoking the universality and finality of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity published two decades prior.

    Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947) provided a mathematical model of micro economic consumer and business behavior. I was a regular reader of Samuelson’s Newsweek columns in high school and used his undergraduate economics text at UMass, where I worked on the first macro economic model of the U.S. economy developed at the University of Pennsylvania by Samuelson’s first PhD student Lawrence Klein.

    As a student of former Federal Reserve Board economist Pat Hendershott, I worked on the first Flow of Funds model of the U.S. financial sector. The main frame computer at Purdue University would run the punch cards of a professor’s research overnight, a big improvement. Such macro economic models are “Keynesian” central government centric by design: fiscal and monetary policies are modeled to control the economy, mitigating recessions and unemployment.

    But other models haven’t been ruled out. In The Forgotten Depression (2014) James Grant argues that the Depression of 1921 – there was no official designating body at the time – following the end of the Great War cured itself in 18 months due to official benign neglect. In Grant’s view (and many others, including economists living through it) what made the subsequent Depression “Great” was massive political intervention that prevented the required adjustments.

    While the merits and long term effectiveness of “small scale” and “counter-cyclical” measures remain debatable, the merits of the socialist centrally planned economies are not: hundreds of millions died and the remainder suffered economic stagnation while the capitalist world prospered. Only self described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders openly touts the performance of the centrally planned economies, but there isn’t much difference in the government centric policy approach of progressive politicians.

    This macro narrative is generally consistent with anti-capitalist progressive ideology of business, workers and consumers dating back to Marx that is accepted by the majority of more recent college graduates. Economic statistical research across a wide spectrum from discrimination and labor exploitation to income inequality and market failure is offered in support, albeit inconsistent with a competitive market system. The competitiveness of the U.S. economy implies that correlation is too often assumed to imply causation without rigorously considering alternative explanations.

    Creative Destruction Produces Economic Expansion

    Humans owe their very existence to the massive creative destruction of the Cosmos (whether or not by the grace of God) for we are all made from the dust of exploding stars. In the economic sphere, virtually all human economic progress is attributable to capitalist competition and creative destruction, favoring the adaptive over the sluggish. Mathematical models haven’t adequately described entrepreneurial innovation. Progressive intervention to mitigate downside risk of creative destruction, broadly or to specific political constituencies, is highly correlated with stagnation.

    Historically, even natural disasters including pandemics such as the corona virus (I assume it was “natural”) have provided opportunities for creative destruction. Consider, for example, the requirement that university students study online during the pandemic. While traditional colleges aren’t yet offering rebates, we know from experience that without the room, board and administrative costs and with increased productivity of fewer professors, online degrees can be provided for as little as one tenth the cost of the traditional approach.

    Progressive proposals for taxpayers to foot the entire bill for the high cost model may be called democratic socialism but are indistinguishable from democratic crony capitalism for the political elite.

    Kevin Villani

    —-
    Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.

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

    Ruin and Recovery

    Posted by David Foster on 21st March 2020 (All posts by )

    A brokerage note I received recently included the following quote:

    What has so often excited wonder, is the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation, the disappearance in a short time, of all traces of mischief done by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the ravages of war. An enemy lays waste a country by fire and sword, and destroys or carries away nearly all the moveable wealth existing in it: all the inhabitants are ruined, and yet in a few years after, everything is much as it was before.

    John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

    Questions for discussion:

    –How well has Mill’s assertion held up over the 170 years since he wrote the above?

    –Will American recovery from the Coronavirus follow Mill’s pattern, or is there reason to think that it will be different this time, and not in a good way?

    Posted in COVID-19, Current Events, Economics & Finance, History, Human Behavior | 7 Comments »

    How to fix US empty store shelves in 48 hours

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th March 2020 (All posts by )

    It’s never a pleasant thing to stand up, alone, in the face of a national mania and provide an unpleasant solution. I’ve been putting it off for some time.

    Finally, I’ve had it. Nobody who does this for a living seems to be willing to step up to the plate so I guess I’m stuck doing the job. The free-market solution to excess demand over supply is to raise prices. We are not raising prices to end the empty shelves because the government in various jurisdictions has made it illegal to raise prices in the face of an emergency.

    Nobody has had the courage to say this. Everyone who has taken a basic economics course in the US knows this. This lack of even discussion on how to fix the empty shelf problem is deeply weird and nobody is talking about the odd silence either.

    Update: Kudos to John Stossel who did address this issue (from a different perspective) a few hours prior to my publishing this. His article is here.

    Posted in COVID-19, Economics & Finance, Politics | 30 Comments »

    SARS-CoV2/COVID-10 Update 3-5-2020 — “As long as you remember to keep breathing and don’t fall asleep, it’s basically just like the flu.”

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 5th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Issues covered will be on COVID-19 spread, World Headlines, the 3-4-2020 Seattle Public Health Press conference, World Headlind Summary, Corruption at the WHO, Bad and good news COVID-19 medical developments. the Political/Demographic Implications of COVID-19 for the Gov’t Elites, and the social media and videos COVID-19 tracking source section.

    Top line, There are currently 97,138 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, including 3,351 fatalities as of the March 5, 2020, at he 4:48pm ET time hack on the BNO News corona virus tracking site (https://bnonews.com/index.php/2020/02/the-latest-coronavirus-cases/) There are 80(+) and growing umber of nations including China plus three “Chinese special administrative regions” (Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan) that have reported COVID-19 infections. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Iran, Germany, R.O.K. and the USA all appear to have local, or endemic, spread of the disease. Russia, Egypt, and Columbia appear to have joined the endemic spread list as well due to airports in the UAE and elsewhere picking up air travelers originating from those nations as sick with COVID-19.

    WORLD HEADLINE SUMMARY (3/5/2020)

    o New Jersey confirms first presumptive case
    o NY state cases double to 22
    o Seattle closes 26 schools
    o Pentagon tracking 12 possible COVID-19 cases
    o Illinois reports 5 more cases
    o NYC reports 2 more cases, raising total to 4
    o Italy postpones referendum vote; death toll hits 148
    o WHO’s Tedros: “Now’s the time to pull out the stops”
    o Tennessee confirms case
    o Nevada confirms first case
    o New Delhi closes primary schools
    o EU officials weigh pushing retired health-care workers back into service to combat virus
    o Italy to ask EU for permission to raise budget deficit as lawmakers approve €7.5 billion euros
    o Beijing tells residents not to share food
    o 30-year-old Chinese man dies in Wuhan 5 days after hospital discharge
    o Cali authorities tell ‘Grand Princess’ cruise ship not to return to port until everyone is tested
    o Global case total passes 95k
    o Lebanon sees cases double to 31
    o France deaths climb to 7, cases up 138 to 423
    o EY sends 1,500 Madrid employees home after staffer catches virus
    o Trump says he has a “hunch” true virus mortality rate is closer to 1%
    o Switzerland reports 1st death
    o South Africa confirms 1st case
    o UK chief medical officer confirms ‘human-to-human’ infections are happening in UK
    o UK case total hits 115
    o Google, Apple, Netflix cancel events
    o HSBC sends research department and part of London trading floor home
    o Facebook contract infected in Seattle
    o Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix cancel events and/or ask employees to work from home
    o Netherlands cases double to 82
    o Spain cases climb 40, 1 new death
    o Belgium reports 27 new cases bringing total to 50
    o Germany adds 87 cases bringing total to 349

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, China, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, COVID-19, Culture, Current Events, Dogs, Ebola, Economics & Finance, Iran, Medicine, Middle East, Miscellaneous, USA | 125 Comments »

    SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 Evening Update 2-25-2020: The Pandemic Hide the Name & Blame Games

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 25th February 2020 (All posts by )

    The themes of this update will be on issues of COVID-19 spread, World Headlines, border closings, the CDC news conference, developments with fomite spread, how American Public Health institutions build a liablity law suit proof diagnostic test and how that limits tests for community spread and a new recommended COVID-19 sites, social media and videos section.
     
    Top line, There are currently 80,420 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, including 2,710 fatalities as of the 24 February 2020 at 5:24 p.m. ET time hack on the BNO News corona virus tracking site (https://bnonews.com/index.php/2020/02/the-latest-coronavirus-cases/) There are 39 nations including China plus three “Chinese special administrative regions” (Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan) that have reported COVID-19 infections. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Iran and R.O.K. all appear to have local, or endemic, spread of the disease. Italy has spawned further spread in Spain proper, it’s Canary Islands possession, Austria, Germany, and possibly Croatia. And now Brazil in South America and Algeria reporting a case signals North West Africa have added two new regions to the Pandemic spread list. The virus has spread from Asia to Europe, North America, Australia and Africa.
     
    All of the above meets the pre-COVID-19 WHO standard for a “Pandemic” that requiring endemic spread in multiple nations in multiple WHO regions. However, the WHO just decided that it was time to retire the term “Pandemic” because…something…[insert reasons here]. The WHO statement for doing so was a master piece of unintelligible double talk that boils down to “Lets not scare the “Normies” and set off more “Run, Hide & Hoard” panics like seized Italy, ROK and Singapore in the last few days. Meanwhile the WHO is cheering-on China’s “Hospice-Prison system for the infected” Quarantine as a “Model” in aiding China’s restarting the World economy.

    ITALY COVID-19 Confirmed Cases and Deaths 25 Feb 2020

    ITALY COVID-19 Confirmed Cases and Deaths 25 Feb 2020

     
    World Headline Summary
    o WHO warns the rest of the world “is not ready for the virus to spread…”
    o CDC warns Americans “should prepare for possible community spread” of virus.
    o San Francisco Mayor declares state of emergency
    o Later, CDC says pandemic not a question of it, but when
    o Brazil may have South America’s first coronavirus case
    o Germany confirms 2nd case on Tuesday, brings total to 17
    o Italy cases spike to 322; deaths hit 10
    o Japan’s Shiseido tells 8k employees to work from home
    o Trump Economic Advisor Kudlow tries to jawbone stock markets higher
    o HHS Sec. Azar warns US lacks stockpiles of masks
    o Italy Hotel in Lockdown After First Coronavirus Case in Liguria
    o Algeria confirms 1st case
    o First case in Switzerland
    o Kuwait halts all flights to Singapore and Japan
    o Iran confirms 95 cases, 15 deaths
    o First case in Austria
    o Spain reports 7 cases in under 24 hours, including in Madrid, Canary Islands, Barcelona
    o Iran Deputy Health Minister infected with Covid-19
    Pandemic Border Closures
    Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia, and UAE blocked border crossings by Iranians.
    Russia, North Korea and Vietnam are blocking border crossings from China
    Austria and Switzerlan are blocking border crossings from Italy.
    El Salvador on Tuesday announced it would prevent entry of people from Italy and South Korea.
     

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Bioethics, China, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, COVID-19, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Health Care, Iran, Medicine, Middle East, Miscellaneous, National Security, North America, Politics, USA | 28 Comments »

    Wages, Employment, and Productivity

    Posted by David Foster on 21st February 2020 (All posts by )

    I think President Trump is quite sincere about his oft-stated desire to drive up the wages of low-income workers…especially young and non-college workers…and he does seem to be having some success at this quest.  It has struck me for a while that while this is a very good thing from the standpoint of the overall society, it is also likely to pressure business profit margins, with possible consequences for the stock market as well as for Fed policy.

    Yesterday the WSJ noted that “wages for 20- to 24-year olds are increasing twice as fast as for other workers…Overall job satisfaction in 2018 was the highest since 1994.”  At the same time, “90% of blue-collar businesses report operating with unfilled positions, and 29% say this has made them reduce output or turn down business.  Rising wages together with sluggish productivity growth are crimping corporate profits.  Between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2019, profits for nonfinancial corporations  declined 17% and 46% for manufacturers.   The article quotes the Conference Board:  “The US will not be able to maintain its current standard of living unless the US government acts to significantly increase immigration, improve labor force participation, and, together with employees, raise labor productivity growth.”  To which the WSJ writer adds:  “Maybe the only short-term fix is to increase legal immigration–unless Americans want to see their living standards decline and more jobs exported.”

    Higher wages do of course drive productivity improvement…the US has been a pioneer in the mechanization of work in large part because it has been a high-wage country, and that mechanization has helped to enable further wage increases.  This doesn’t always require any new inventions:  there are always productivity tools available that will make sense to a business that is paying $25/hour for labor but would not make sense to one paying $15/hour.  The process isn’t instantaneous, though.

    Concerning immigration as a solution to labor shortages: commentators sometimes lose sight of the fact that GDP per capita matters for broad-based prosperity, not just absolute GDP.  And the only way to increase GDP per capita is through productivity improvements and higher labor force participation rates.  Increasing the raw number of workers doesn’t do this.

    The Conference Board statement appears to put a lot of emphasis on things that the government should do, and the WSJ emphasizes more (legal) immigration.  Some increases in legal immigration may well be a good idea…as would increases in American fertility rates…but the main issues, I think, are productivity and the labor force participation rate.  The actual productivity numbers don’t reflect all the talk about (and even the realities of) robotics and AI.  Maybe this is largely just a matter of implementation lags, maybe it reflects increasing bureaucratization and ‘compliance’ costs throughout our economy.

    My concern is that margin pressure may lead (in conjunction with other factors, like already-high valuations) to a sharp stock-market decline, which could have electoral implications.  Such decline might also lead to many deferrals of productivity-improving investments.  Alternatively, Fed concerns about rising wage rates as a possible signal of incipient inflation could lead the central bank to increase interest rates excessively as a preventative.

    And any electoral result which substantially increases Democratic party power could lead to massive upsurges in legal and illegal immigration, with consequent wage pressures, demoralizing many workers who are now on an positive track and deferring the need for productivity investments.  Any attempt to deal with such wage pressures by establishing high Federal-level minimum wages would add much rigidity to the systems, creating problems of many kinds.

    Discuss, if you feel so inclined.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Elections, Tech, Trump, USA | 21 Comments »

    Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate the Origins of the 2008 Financial Crisis and Systemic Failure

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 18th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Are greedy racist “Wall Street” bank lenders responsible, or progressive politicians?

    The housing finance systems of some developed countries have failed, but only the U.S. federally dominated system failed systemically twice in two decades, the second time in 2008 with global repercussions. Then Republican Mayor of New York now 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg blamed politicians for pushing lenders to make loans to “poor people” in low income neighborhoods that they couldn’t afford. 2020 progressive Democratic presidential candidate Warren, apparently reflecting the views of the Party, responded to Bloomberg: “That crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists.” 

    The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in 2010 creating Warren’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to Monitor and Mitigate Systemic Risk made up of the various financial regulators reflects the Warren/Democratic narrative. This narrative is the foundation of not just housing and financial sector policy proposals, but the entire progressive agenda.

    I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help you.

    That’s the punch line to the joke about the three biggest lies Pres Martin used to tell about a half century ago as past Chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) (hence Freddie Mac’s first Chairman) and Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve System.

    The first wave of “help” came after the repeated waves of bank failures with the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. The second wave came during the Great Depression with deposit insurance and associated regulation of the banking and savings and loan industries. This was followed by the creation of FHA mortgage insurance: to stimulate FHA demand, Fannie Mae was created make a market for which there were few buyers or sellers. By the late 60’s, rather than end a failed experiment Fannie Mae was “privatized” and the public monopoly was subsequently expanded to a tri-poly with the addition of Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, all funding fixed rate mortgages (FRMs) first introduced by FHA. As Milton Friedman famously said, “there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.”

    It didn’t help potential borrowers much. The resulting federally dominated U.S. Housing Finance System had been touted as the best in the world, a model to emulate for developed, developing and transitioning economies alike during the three decades prior to the 2004-2007 sub-prime mortgage lending debacle and globally systemic financial crisis of 2008. But the benefits are hard to identify: the U.S. homeownership rate is about the same as in the mid 1960’s under the prior savings and loan system in spite of a 50% increase in female labor force participation, a historically low real interest rate and a dramatic shift from detached single family to condo apartments.

    Civil rights legislation culminating in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racial discrimination in home sales a federal crime. The black homeownership rate which rose more than that for whites during the 2004-2007 sub-prime lending spree has returned to about where it was during the 1960’s.

    Market Discipline versus Public Regulation

    It didn’t help existing lenders much either. In the 1970’s federally sponsored agencies competed directly with federally chartered savings and loans whose investments were limited by regulators hamstrung by politicians to FRMs, forcing them to borrow short and lend long with callable insured deposits. Systemic failure was assured when interest rates rose as they did in the late 1970’s, with failures strung out over the 1980’s as regulators seized but often didn’t close zombie institutions, often run by academics.

    Systemic risk, the simultaneous failure of many or all firms (and households) in an industry or across industries, primarily afflicts mixed progressive financial systems, i.e., those with privately owned but publicly regulated financial institutions. Firms in an un-or-less regulated market economy may be fragile but “Wall Street” traders mitigate systemic risk by betting against weak firms and industries, either forcing corrective action or failure– hence the derogatory political reference to “speculators.” At the other extreme, state owned financial firms generally fail financially but face only a political bankruptcy constraint.

    Two types of progressive policies created systemic risk. First those intended to mitigate the failure of individual firms with public insurance and prudential regulation, making failure less frequent but more systemic. Regulators prevent commercial bank failures purportedly to protect public confidence in the payments mechanism. Second are those policies intended to universally favor borrowers and/or creditors – like requiring mortgages to have a fixed rate – making systemic failure more likely and more costly.

    Underwriting Mortgage Credit Risk: Discrimination and “Disparate Impact”

    With the exception of the Great Depression and 2008 financial crisis, home mortgage credit losses had been “Gaussian (normally distributed),” that is, they followed a predictable pattern that allowed them to be insured according to the law of large numbers, for all practical purposes eliminating uncertainty, hence risk.

    Loan data during the sub-prime lending debacle unambiguously supports Bloomberg as minority lending skyrocketed. Progressives imputed racist motives to excessive minority lending, arguing that “predatory” lenders “tricked” minorities into accepting loans they couldn’t afford so they could later foreclose. There is some truth to the first part, as banks solicited minority borrowers with loans they had to know were risky. But they had little incentive to foreclose, as that always resulted in a deep loss. What did motivate lenders?

    Homeownership was no more affordable for black households during the 2004-2007 sub-prime lending bubble than it was in the 1960’s for a variety of reasons. But current Democratic presidential candidate Deval Patrick argued in 1994 as Deputy Attorney General of the Department of Justice that any final lending distribution that contained racial disparities—disparate impact—relative to population was a violation of federal law unless the lender could prove otherwise. Such “proof” of non-discrimination would be difficult to produce at best, since the disparity itself was considered proof of racial prejudice, and the cost of a legal defense is generally crippling. This was called “confiscation by consent decree” at the time and later “extortion by consent decree” for which Gaussian credit risk models didn’t apply.

    Avoiding Black Swans

    Former trader –now internationally recognized risk expert – Nicholas Nassim Taleb describes in his 2007 book The Black Swan “how high impact but rare events dominate history, how we retrospectively give ourselves the illusion of understanding them thanks to narratives, how they are impossible to estimate scientifically, how this makes some areas – but not others – totally unpredictable and unforecastable, how confirmatory methods of knowledge don’t work, and how thanks to Black Swan-blind “faux experts” we are prone to building systems increasingly fragile to extreme events.”

    Was the 2008 systemic failure an unpredictable Black Swan event? Politicians and their regulators who push the “Wall Street greed” narrative argued that nobody could have foreseen it, but Taleb exempts only economist Nouriel Roubini Crisis Economics (2010) from that delusion, who (pg. 16) concludes “it was probable. It was even predictable…” based on the failure of prudential regulation. But how did that fail? Systemic failure had long been predicted (by me and others, including the Federal Reserve) based on the progressive policies that attributed illegal racial discrimination motives to traditional income and appraisal underwriting.

    No Skin in the Game

    The sub-prime lending bubble of 1995 through 1998 financed with opaque securities issued by independent finance companies that following SEC rules reported phantom profits burst with no systemic consequences. By 2000 many of these former sub-prime lenders and securitization practices had migrated to the federally insured commercial banks in part to finance Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) lending commitments. These increased 500 fold after the deregulation of interstate Banking in 1994 when discretionary regulatory permission for M&A activity was held hostage to a favorable public CRA Report. Pushed by regulators and pulled by the big potential M&A payoff, borrower down payment requirements were virtually eliminated and bank “regulatory arbitrage” minimized capital requirements, virtually eliminating any Skin in the Game (Taleb, 2018). This asymmetric “trade” was irresistible.

    The Perfect Storm

    The Big Short by Michael Lewis presents the progressive narrative of “greedy” speculators who were shorting the housing market but doesn’t explain why they failed to prevent the bubble from inflating to systemic proportions by bankrupting lenders. The reason is that the cheap Federal Reserve credit continued to be channeled to the housing bubble by Fannie and Freddie. Historically conservative, they were now led by politically anointed CEO’s who, facing no bankruptcy constraint, willingly followed the path to perdition. This path was paved by HUD’s “Mission Regulator” who not only ratcheted up the lending goals well beyond prudent limits but in 2005 imposed a new goal that they maintain a 50% market share with these private lenders. Propped up by the federal government, all the big players were going for broke simultaneously.

    This was guaranteed to fail. Financial institutions reported several trillion dollars (pgs. 157-158) of home mortgage credit losses after the bubble burst and 10 million homeowners lost their homes over the next six years in spite of massive government efforts to avoid or delay foreclosure. Like the lending bubble, the foreclosure bubble was much bigger for minorities. Yet The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Democrat Majority Report (2010) spun the narrative that the systemic “risk” was due mainly to traditional liquidity concerns.

    I’m from the federal government and I’m here to blame you.

    That’s no joke. During the Obama Administration Patrick, then Governor of Massachusetts led the multi-state suit against lenders alleging discrimination in foreclosures based on disparate impact. At the same time, current DNC Chairman Tom Perez was pursuing “disparate impact” cases against lenders under the Fair Housing Act as Attorney General Eric Holder’s Deputy.

    In a 2009 Financial Times editorial Taleb proposed ten principles to avoid a repeat of 2008:

    What is fragile should break early, while it’s still small.

    No socialization of losses and privatization of gains.

    People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus.

    Don’t let somebody making an incentive bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks.

    Compensate complexity with simplicity.

    Do not give children dynamite sticks, even if they come with a warning label.

    Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence.”

    Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains.

    Citizens should not depend on financial assets as a repository of value, and should not rely on fallible “expert” advice for their retirement.

    Make an omelet with the broken eggs.

    All good advice, all ignored by politicians and regulators who created the Rube Goldberg dystopia they rail against.

    —-

    Kevin Villani

    Kevin Villani was Chief Economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985 and HUD from 1979-1982. He has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Public Finance | 11 Comments »

    COVID-19 Update Morning 2-14-2020

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 14th February 2020 (All posts by )

    There are currently 65,213 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, including 1,486 fatalities. Of which 4,823 new cases and 116 new deaths were reported in Hubei province, China.
    .
    There are several trends in this update, as well as the headline summary. First Community spreading of COVID-19 is now established in Hong Kong (attached graphic), Japan and Singapore.

    COVID-19 in Hong Kong

    COVID-19 in Hong Kong

    .
    Second, the shut down of China as an economic power seems near complete. See the JP Morgan coal for electricity usage and the Goldman Sachs economic projection charts attached to this post. The JP Morgan chart shows that while traditionally daily coal consumption – the primary commodity used to keep China electrified – rebounds in the days following the Lunar New Year collapse when China hibernates for one week. This is not the case this now. There hasn’t been even a modest increase, indicating that so far there hasn’t been a return to work.
    .

    2020 Chinese Coal/Electrical Consumption

    2020 Chinese Coal/Electrical Consumption

    .
    Short Form — Lack of Chinese coal use/electric power generation indicates the scale of Chinese industries that are shut down…AKA near total.
    .
    And the “Just-In-Time/Sole-Source in China” world-wide, Multi-national corporation, economic shut down virus is gathering a huge economic momentum. Nissan has shut down auto production in addition to South Korea’s Hyundai for lack of Chinese parts. Rumor has it that Ford has the same issue — as their heater coils in their autos are sole sourced in China — and will soon shut down auto production.  Anything cheap or disposable in the world economy is sourced in China, and the Chinese economy is now off-line for the foreseeable future.

    Near Term Economic Projections for China

    Near Term Economic Projections for China

    .
    Third, China is again playing games with COVID-19 numbers and particularly the announced deaths to keep the death rate at 2.1%, saying deaths were “double counted”?!? (See JP Morgan graphic).
    .

    Dodgy Chinese COVID-19 Infection Numbers

    Dodgy Chinese COVID-19 Infection Numbers

    .
     This has been ‘officially noticed’ by the White House.
    .
    See:
    White House does not have ‘high confidence’ in China’s coronavirus information, official says
    .
    .
    Fourth, American COVID-19 are now officially 15 with a case in San Antonio, Texas from a Wuhan evacuation flight and no deaths. I say “officially” as there possible COVID-19 death in Boise, ID. See:
    .
    .
    The possible COVID-19 victim was a 71-year-old man found dead on Feb 9 in an advanced state of decomposition. He returned from China Feb 5. The initial testing came up negative, but additional tests are being run. The cause of death has not been released.
    .
    An idea of what “Community spreading” in Singapore means can be seen in the following report:
    .
    “Singapore Casino employee confirmed with COVID-19; symptomatic Feb 5, hospitalized Feb 9
    On February 13, 2020, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) pointed out that the confirmed case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Singapore announced on February 11 is an employee at the casino in Resorts World Sentosa Casino. The employee developed symptoms on February 5 and was hospitalized in isolation on February 9. Travelers who visited the casino during the communicable period (February 4-9) are advised to call 1922, put on a face mask and seek immediate medical attention as instructed if suspected symptoms develop within 2 weeks. Moreover, such travelers should inform the physician of any relevant travel history when seeking medical attention.”
    .

    .

    World Headline Summary:
    .
    o China says 1,716 medical workers have been infected
    o Singapore reports largest daily jump in cases amid increased human-to-human transmission
    o Hong Kong reports 3 new cases
    o Hubei’s new party boss orders quarantine tightened
    o President Xi touts new “biosecurity law”
    o Hong Kong Disney land offers space for quarantine
    o Chinese company says blood plasma of recovered patients useful in combating the virus
    o US mulling new travel restrictions

    -end-

    Posted in China, Civil Society, COVID-19, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Health Care, Medicine, Politics, Urban Issues, USA | 59 Comments »

    The Roaring Twenties, Revisited

    Posted by David Foster on 6th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Here’s a piece that mentions some of the technological, social, and economic trends that were important in the 1920s, and goes on to discuss seven tipping points that the author thinks will be key in the 2020s.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, History, Society, Tech, USA | 13 Comments »

    Are Professional Economists Idiots?

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 21st January 2020 (All posts by )

    That’s the view of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Wharton MBA, mathematical finance PhD and author of Skin in the Game and The Black Swan.

    Taleb, a libertarian, aims his critique of intellectuals yet idiots (IYI) broadly but particularly at the contemporary economics profession. His targets are those described by the Mises Institute:

    “The professional economist is the specialist who is instrumental in designing various measures of government interference with business.”

    The economics profession in the U.S. today is mostly involved in research and education that broadly investigates “market failures” or is directly engaged in public action – regulation, tax, expenditure and off budget guarantees – to manage industries and the macro-economy purportedly in the public interest. This is the opposite of laissez faire economics, political advice to a 17th century French minister to “let it be” later developed into an economic theory by the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith and popularized by 20TH century economist Milton Friedman, a libertarian and cofounder of FFE (and my advisor, twice removed). How and to what end did the economics profession evolve from a philosophy of leaving economic decisions to individuals in the marketplace with few exceptions to public economic management of the United States and global economy?

    From Individual to Collective Economic Decision-making

    Benjamin Franklin, considered the leading intellectual and inventor of the 18th century whose inventions are still in use today, admitted to Harvard at age 12, but instead indentured to his brother’s tannery, advised

    “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”

    That’s his rendering of a Confucian saying dating back thousands of years. Taleb, a Wall Street trader prior to his writing and academic career, echoes Franklin’s emphasis on direct experience, arguing that capitalism isn’t an ideology or system but a set of mutually agreeable arrangements worked out over the centuries through trial and error by market participants who bear the full consequences of their decisions.

    Exiting the Constitutional Convention, Franklin, a great political theorist, when asked whether the Constitution had created a monarchy or republic replied

    “a republic, if you can keep it.”

    Taleb argues that if given the choice Franklin would have more accurately described the Constitution as a federation with powers over economic activity limited to promoting free trade among states. But these limits were lost more than a century later when progressive President Woodrow Wilson first created the Federal Reserve System then used entry into the war to “make the world safe for democracy” as the means to create the “modern state” managed on scientific economic principles. A half century later, focusing on the “principal –agent” problem of the modern corporation run by managers who had no “skin in the game” John Kenneth Galbraith in The New Industrial State (1967) argued for public management by an intellectual elite, replacing business experience with academic success.

    From Competitive to Crony Market Capitalism and Rent-Seeking

    Franklin had warned the Convention delegates that

    “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

    The libertarian U.S. Constitution never mentioned democracy, and principal-agent conflicts are orders of magnitude worse in the public sector. As public choice theorists have since noted, we neither hang deep state managers nor otherwise hold them accountable. Democracy may depend on the deep state as political theorist Francis Fukuyama argued in a recent Wall Street Journal article (12/20/2019), but it can’t hold it accountable, as Michael Lind argued in a subsequent Journal article. Accountability erodes with each additional layer of government as decisions are elevated from “at risk” individuals in the marketplace to private, local, state, and federal governing bodies and is virtually eliminated at international entities (e.g., the IMF and World Bank). In no case is democracy a substitute for markets because the most intolerant minority with the most to gain or lose inevitably dominates.

    Market capitalism is the source of all human economic progress. Is there a sufficiently good reason for collective economic management? Adam Smith never argued in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) that the invisible hand was perfect: the actual full quote favored nationalism over globalism. In The Wealth of Nations (1776) he did say:

    “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”

    same paragraph
    but in the same paragraph admonished government from any attempt to do anything about it. Britain had long been what we now call a crony capitalist economy that heavily favored the political elite, which in Smith’s view further government intervention would only exacerbate.

    Taleb’s “idiots” are Galbraith’s inexperienced intellectual elite economic managers and advisors who have no skin in the game. Professional economists are generally smart, rational (many ideologically dedicated ”virtue merchants”) exploiting a one sided trade, in economic jargon crony “rent seekers” – redistributing income (rents) from the generally lower income non-politically connected. (I would argue there is a minority in resistance, primarily in business schools and conservative think tanks.) It’s their statistical analysis and reasoning to justify rent seeking opportunities he often finds idiotic, faux science or scientism.

    Public intervention to mitigate downside risk (as do e.g., public pension and retirement systems, housing, school and other entitlements, loan and deposit guarantees and other forms of insurance (e.g., flood) that can supposedly be financed without pain by taxing the idle rich or unlimited debt financed by money printing (Modern Monetary Theory) is a religion promising heaven without the threat of hell. Come Judgment Day when the system fails systemically, well insulated politicians and bureaucrats will subsequently label it “an extremely rare and random “Black Swan” event that nobody could have seen coming” and professional economists will join the chorus. The general public gets fleeced and market capitalism gets blamed.

    Name any of sixty economic issues and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan. The lyrics to the Beatles swan song album of a half century ago concludes “whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

    Kevin Villani

    —-

    Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Public Finance | 25 Comments »

    Shovel That Code

    Posted by David Foster on 11th January 2020 (All posts by )

    …into that server!

    Joe Biden gave coal miners facing possible unemployment some advice:  learn to code.

    In reality, of course, programming/coding is a skill that can exist on multiple levels.  Someone writing a simple spreadsheet model for some kind of repetitive tracking problem is working at a different level from someone writing a well-defined module within a large system for a bank, who is in turn working at a different level from someone writing interrupt-level hardware drivers for an operating system, or for someone creating the idea and user interface, as well as the code, for a new consumer-facing product.  Some of these tasks will usually pay less than what a skilled coal miner is paid, some of them will pay considerably more.

    And also, programming is not an infinite reservoir of job demand. Much work that previously required considerable high-skill programming has now been largely automated by software tools and/or by complete application systems, and considerable programming work is being offshored–see my post telemigration.

    Biden also asserted that:  “Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!”

    Ignoring the inherent ridiculousness of this claim as a factual assertion…does Biden actually think that manual stoking of coal furnaces is a thing in today’s economy?  Does the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a large count of people employed as stokers?

    In reality, the mechanical stoker was invented well over a century ago.  They were common in high-horsepower steam locomotives by 1900, and were and are used in coal-fired power plants.  I doubt if there was much manual stoking going on by 1940, except on steamships…and coal as a fuel for ships was rapidly on its way out by that point, as it was being displaced by oil

    Plus, Biden was talking about coal miners.  Does he think that there are coal-fired furnaces in coal mines?  If there were, you would likely get a massive explosion from igniting of any gas in the mine.

    Biden clearly understands as little about the software industry as he does about the energy industry.

    This is the man who says he was Obama’s point man on a “jobs of the future” initiative.

    Can you imagine what these people would do to the economy if they ever achieved the degree of power that they so avidly seek?

     

     

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Elections, Energy & Power Generation, Tech | 24 Comments »

    What Future for the Global Auto Industry? Discussion Post

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2020 (All posts by )

    In December, I announced an upcoming discussion of the future of the auto industry and, in particular, of the role and impact of electric cars.  In that post, I included a number of links to worthwhile reading on the subject.  Let’s do the discussion this week, in comments to this post.  I have a few thoughts to get things going:

    –It is true, as Vitaliy Katsenslson points out in his essay, that electric cars are much simpler than conventional cars…but I would qualify this statement as mechanically simpler than conventional  cars.  They are significantly more complex electrically and especially in terms of the electrochemistry of the battery…a hidden kind of complexity, but important nonetheless. From what I have read, there seems to be considerable uncertainty about the expected lifespan of new lithium-ion battery models..which lifespan, of course, has a major impact on the overall economics of electric cars.

    EVs are expected to have lower maintenance costs and requirements than conventional vehicles, based on their relative mechanical simplicity.  This is probably true, in general, although a lot of the problems with cars these days seem to be with systems other than the engine and drivetrain..airbag sensors, seat actuator motors, various sensors, etc.

    –Range limitations and “range anxiety” have been significant inhibitors to EV sales.  Vitaliy K makes the excellent point that it is much easier to set up an electric-vehicle charging station than a conventional gas station, with its underground tanks and consequent regulatory complexities, and he believes we will see tremendous growth in the number of such charging stations and consequent reductions in EV range anxiety.

    It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to fully charge an EV (using Tesla as a model and assuming a high-power charger such as Tesla’s “Supercharger’), which implies that people are going to need something else to do while their vehicles are charging, away from home or the office.  Restaurants and shopping centers become obvious venues for charging; however, this leads to another issue, that the driver may wind up being away from the car for a couple of hours or more, tying up the charger for that whole interval: this issue would need to be reflected in the pricing of the charging facility.

    Also, while it is true that setting up EV charging is simpler than opening a gas station, it is not necessarily trivial if one is setting up multiple high-capacity chargers.  A Tesla supercharger draws 150KW, so putting 30 of them in a parking lot would result in an incremental peak demand of up to 4.5 megawatts.  I doubt if the electrical systems feeding many restaurants, or even shopping centers, could accommodate 4.5MW of additional demand without some work by the utility supplying the power.

    –Efficiency:  It is true that the conversion of stored energy into motion is much more efficient in an EV than an internal-combustion-engine vehicle; this is mainly a matter of the engine thermodynamics.  BUT, if the charging electricity comes from a natural gas plant of a coal plant, you are looking at best at a 60% fuel-to-electricity conversion efficiency, and there will also be losses in power transmission and distribution.  If the electricity comes from solar or wind, then..depending on the time of day and weather conditions of the charging..you may be faced with a double battery storage situation, where energy is stored in a utility or home battery until needed for charging, and then stored again in the vehicle’s battery.  That double-storage situation carries both efficiency losses and, more significantly, additional capital costs.

    EVs do have the ability to capture much of the energy that would otherwise be lost in braking, and this is especially valuable in start-stop driving situations, as with local delivery operations, and probably extends the lifetime of the mechanical brakes.

    –Performance…EVs have excellent acceleration capability (when adequately powered) due to the torque characteristics of electric motors.  They may be able to achieve very good handling if battery installation provides for a very low center of gravity.

    –Climate…not speaking here about ‘climate change’, but about climate in its ordinary meaning.  In a conventional car, heating is basically free, using rejected heat from the engine (ignoring the energy used to power the fan, but that’s a small part of the picture), whereas in an electric car, heat must be generated using electricity from the battery, which of course has a negative impact on range.  Also, the battery itself will have lesser performance in cold weather.  (And the regenerative braking feature is also limited in very cold weather.)

    –Relative Costs…a high % of EVs today are either sold with subsidies by national/local governments, are built and sold in response to government edicts, or are bought in significant part for status purposes by individuals and organizations. Can EVs compete on cost head-to-head with IC vehicles on a nonsubsidized, free-choice basis?  This would seem to be largely a matter of how successfully battery costs are further driven down and how long battery lifespans turn out to be in actual service.

    It should be noted that electric vehicle sales in China have cooled rapidly…down 44%…since the government reduced most subsidies at the end of June.  What would be the ‘true’ demand in the US without consumer incentives and mix requirement on the manufacturers?

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    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Marketing, Transportation | 43 Comments »

    Business Stories

    Posted by David Foster on 8th December 2019 (All posts by )

    We’ve talked before here about the point that most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being portrayed simplistically or as stereotypically evil. Here are some that I like…please add your own favorites in the comments.  (I posted this at Ricochet, in slightly different form, about a week ago)

    The Current War, a recent movie about the late-1800s power struggle to determine which technology…AC or DC…will dominate America’s electrical distribution system. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are the key characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult respectively. My review is here.

    The Big Short, a 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on Michael Lewis’s book. A hedge fund manager concludes that the subprime-loan market is not sustainable, and makes a billion-dollar bet against the relevant mortgage-backed securities. Based on real events. I thought it was very well done.

    God is an Englishman, R F Delderfield. Following his return to England from the Crimean War, Adam Swann identifies a business opportunity: although railroads are being built throughout the country, there will always be sources and destinations of freight which are not on the tracks. Hence, the potential for a nationwide gap-filling road haulage business based on the systematic use of horse-drawn wagons. (This is the first book of a three-book series called the Swann Family Saga.)  Reviewed here.

    Oil for the Lamps of China, Alice Tisdale Hobart. This 1933 novel is about a young American working as a sales rep in China, focused on selling oil for his employer (unnamed, but clearly based on Standard Oil) and increasing volumes by promoting the kerosene lamp as a better alternative to traditional lighting methods. The book was the basis for a 1935 movie of the same name…the film has its moments, but overall is not worthy of the book.

    Father, Son, and Company, by Thomas Watson Jr. This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr (the long-time CEO of IBM), his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. I reviewed it here.

    A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. The central character of this 1988 novel is Charlie Croker, an Atlanta real-estate developer who has gotten himself into way too much debt. Other characters include Charlie’s current and former wives, the Black mayor of Atlanta, the bankers who must deal with the debt problem, and a warehouse worker at one of the Croker enterprises. The book also casts a not-very-complimentary light on the Atlanta society/arts scene.

    Trial by Fire, Stephen Buck. The adventures of a Honeywell field engineer in the early days of process-control computing. The book’s title reflects the point that the industrial processes being controlled frequently involved combustion, sometimes in scary circumstances. Much of the author’s work took place outside the US, in countries ranging from Poland to Brazil.

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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Aviation, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Robot Gets Hired, Tries Hard, But Can’t Do the Job

    Posted by David Foster on 16th November 2019 (All posts by )

    At Boeing.

    Those fearing imminent mass unemployment driven by robots and AI should be following stories like this.  They also should be looking at the actual productivity numbers.

    See also the details of work and the realities of automation.

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Economics & Finance, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Book Review: Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford

    Posted by David Foster on 27th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Red Plenty by Francis Spufford

    —-

    The idea of centralized economic planning is a very seductive one.  It just seems to make sense that such planning would lead to more efficiency…less waste…and certainly less unnecessary human suffering than an environment in which millions of decision-makers, many of them in competition with one another, are making their own separate and uncoordinated decisions, resulting in pointless product redundancy, economic cycles driving unemployment, and lots of other bad things.

    Red Plenty…part novel, part nonfiction…is about the Soviet Union’s economic planning efforts as seen from the inside.  The characters include factory managers, economic planners, mathematicians, computer scientists, and “fixers.”  Published in 2010, Red Plenty is now quite timely in view of the current vogue for socialism in American political discussion.

    Marx drew a nightmare picture of capitalism, when everything was produced only to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded.  The alternative? A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

    How might this actually be accomplished? Stalin mocked the idea that planning an economy required much in the way of intellectual depth or effort.  Get the chain of command right, Stalin seemed to be saying, build it on the right ideological principles, and all that was left was a few technical details, a little bit of drudgery to be carried out by the comrades at Gosplan with the adding machines.  But it turned out to be a little more complicated than that.

    Maksim Maksimovich Mokhov is one of the lords of the Gosplan file room, in which there are hundreds of folders, each tracking the balances and plans for a particular commodity. A good man, who takes his job seriously, Maksim has risen as high as you could go at Gosplan before the posts become purely political appointments..his was the level at which competence was known to reach its ceiling…Not just a mechanical planner, he realizes that the file folders  cast only the loosest and most imperfect net over the prodigious output of the economy as the whole, and has worked to understand the stress points, the secret path dependencies of the plan.  His specific responsibility is the chemical and rubber sector, and he is particularly concerned, at the time when he enters the story, about problems in the viscose subsector.

    Arkhipov, Kosoy, and Mitrenko run one of the most important plants in the viscose supply chain, and they are three worried men.  The plan goals aren’t being met, and they know that the path to career death is separated by only a few percentage points of plan fulfillment from the other one, the upward path, the road to glory and local fame. (A couple of decades earlier, it wouldn’t have been just career death on the table.) This plant makes two viscose-derived products, yarn and tire cord.  The yarn line works fine, the tire cord line, not so much…but no problems with the machine can be found.  There is no prospect of getting a replacement machine in any relevant timeframe.

    Arkhipov and his associates come up with a plan to solve their problem…read the book to see what it is and how it turns out.

    Nikita Khrushchev, in September 1959, told a crowd that “the dreams cherished for ages, dreams expressed in fairytales which seemed sheer fantasy, are being translated into reality by man’s own hands.”  Modern technology, combined with the benefits of a planned economy would make it possible.

    Because the whole system of production and distribution in the USSR was owned by the state, because all Russia was (in Lenin’s words) ‘one office, one factory’, it could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfillment, of human needs.  

    The American exhibition in Moscow in mid-1959 (site of the “kitchen debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon) was attended by 3 million Soviets (including some of the characters in this book), and although many of them thought that the American claims of broad-based prosperity were exaggerated or worse, the experience surely helped feed the longing for a better life for the Soviet Union’s ordinary people.

    Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich pioneered the application of mathematics to the optimization of economic activities…these methods surfaced as a possible toolkit for the planning organizations circa 1960. Could these methods help achieve Khrushchev’s stated goal of broad-based prosperity?

    For example, consider several factories, producing a common set of products but with different efficiency characteristics.  Which products should be made by which factories in order to optimize overall efficiency? A set of equations can be constructed representing the constraints that must be observed–labor, machine utlization, etc–and the relative weighting of the variables to be optimized.  Although these techniques have been used to a considerable degree in capitalist countries, they would seem tailor-made for a starring role in a planned economy.  Selling the new methods in the Soviet Union, though, could be tricky:  the linear-programming term “shadow prices”, for example, sounded like something that might have politically-dangerous overtones of capitalism!

    One of the first applications involved potatoes, the distribution of same. The BESM (computer) is using Leonid Vitalevich’s shadow prices to do what a market in potatoes would do in a capitalist country–only better. When a market is matching supply with demand, it is the actual movement of the potatoes themselves from place to place, the actual sale of the potatoes at ever-shifting prices, which negotiates a solution, by trial and error.  In the computer, the effect of a possible solution can be assessed without the wasteful real-world to-ing and fro-ing, and because the computer works at the speed of flying electrons rather than the speed of a trundling vegetable truck, it can explore the whole of the mathematical space of possible solutions, and be sure to find the very best solution there is, instead of settling for the good-enough sollution that would be all there was time for, in a working day with potatoes to deliver.

    And even in the planned Soviet economy, there is still a market in potatoes, right here in Moscow, the leftover scrap of capitalism represented by the capital’s collective-farm bazaars, where individual kolkhozniks sell the product from their private plots…The market’s clock speed is laughable.  It computes a the rate of a babushka in a headscare, laboriously breaking a two-rouble note for change and muttering the numbers under her breath…No wonder that Oscar Lange over in Warsaw gleefully calls the marketplace “a primitive pre-electronic calculator.”

    So put the BESM to work minimizing distance that the potatoes have to travel..a proxy for efficiency and freshness:  price is not a consideration, since the state selling price of potatoes has been fixed for many years.  But BESM can only work with abstract potatoes: Not, of course, potatoes as they are in themselves, the actual tubers, so often frost-damaged or green with age or warty with sprouting tublices–but potatoes abstracted, potatoes considered as information, travelling into Moscow from 348 delivering units to 215 consuming organizations…The economists recognize the difficulty of getting a computer model to mirror the world truly.  They distinguish between working at zadachi, ‘from the problem’, and of fotografii, ‘from the photograph’…This calculation, alas, is from the photograph.  It deals with potato delivery as it has been reported to Leonid Vitalevich and his colleagues.  There has been no time to visit the cold-stores, interview the managers, ride on the delivery trucks. But the program should still work.

    The author notes that “the idea that the computer had conclusively resolved the socialist calculation debate in socialism’s favour was very much a commonplace of the early sixties.”

    But despite all the planning paperwork, despite the attempts at computerization, people like Chekuskin remain essential to keep the Soviet economy functioning at all.  He is a fixer, he works the system to ensure that his customers–factories, for the most part–can get the parts and materials they need in order to keep operating.  Before the revolution, he was a salesman: now, the economic problem is not selling, but buying.  Chekuskin explains what a real salesman was, back in the day:

    You’re thinking of some fellow who works in a sales administration, sits by his phone all day long like a little king, licks his finger when he feels like it, and says, “You can have a litttle bit”…That’s not a salesman.  You see, the world used to be the other way up, and it used to be the buyers who sat around examining their fingernails, hard enough as that is to imagine.  A salesman was a poor hungry bastard with a suitcase, trying to shift something that people probably didn’t want, ’cause back in those days, people didn’t just get out the money and buy anything they could get their hands on.  They had to be talked into it.”

    But with Communism, the things changed.  Back then, people didn’t want to buy.  Now, they don’t want to sell.  There’s always that resistance to get past.  But the trick of it stays the same:  make a connection, build a relationship.

    Volodya, is a young propagandist recently assigned to the huge locomotive plant in Novocherkassk, a dismal town that also features a university.  Unfortunately, it was classified by the planners as a “college town”, in need of the calorific intake required to lift pencils and wipe blackboards, but there were forty thousand people living and working in the industrial zone out by the tracks now, and between the students and the loco workers, a locust would have been hard put to it to find a spare crumb. White bread was a distant memory, milk was dispensed only at the head of enormous queues.  Sausages were as rare a comets.  Pea soup and porridge powered the place, usually served on half-washed plates.

    Eventually, people can’t stand it anymore–and decisions by two separate planning organizations have the result that on the very same day, food prices are increased and so are the production quotas at the locomotive factory.   There is a raucous mass protest, featuring signs like MEAT, BUTTER, AND PAY and CUT UP KHRUSHCHEV FOR SAUSAGES.  The loco plant manager, Korochkin, does not handle the situation well, and the rage grows.

    The ensuing catastrophe is vividly described as it is observed by the horrified Volodya.  Troops open fire on the protestors:  26 people are killed an 87 wounded.  Death sentences and long prison terms are handed down.

    This was a real event:  it happened in 1962.  News about the events did not appear in the state-controlled press for thirty years.

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    Posted in Book Notes, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Management, Markets and Trading, Russia, Systems Analysis, Tech | 37 Comments »