January 31, 2013, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Apparently it’s shocking if a US politician doesn’t think changing the weather is something the government can do. The prevailing religion of course being: changing the weather is, indeed, something the government can (and should) do. We are all required to believe this now; disbelief disqualifies you from public office. So sayeth we all.

These thoughts from a ex-financial firm compliance officer are worth reading. Almost makes it sound interesting.

Data is not objective: “Don’t be fooled by the mathematical imprimatur: behind every model and every data set is a political process that chose that data and built that model and defined success for that model.” I couldn’t agree more! (All large calculations are wrong.)

Does elite behavior prevent society from moving away from work? “Because the elites now see work as desirable and self-actualizing rather than a burden, and it’s the elites who control the direction of society, they are not going move society in the direction of moving away from the idea of work.” I would say the cause is different: it’s because elites humans are competitive (i.e. with each other). Yes, you could take it easier as an elite, and (therefore) stop contributing to the social pressure to work more, but then how will you get your child into Super-Special Private School, buy that $50k SUV, the kitchen overhaul with the granite countertops, etc.? But arguing that other people should take it easy – why, that’s a no-brainer; on the off chance they actually do, that makes your climb to the top all the easier.

A Craiglist poster explains what Obamacare did for him. Presumably whoever wrote that is just racist. Again I marvel at the fact that so few people realized (or realize, even today) that ‘it’s some kind of a National Health Care Thing! Being proposed by (D)s!’ wasn’t an accurate metric on which to base their support for Obamacare or accurately gauge the effect, positive or negative, it would have on their lives. It was some sort of a National Health Care Thing, and (D)s proposed it – for the Reality-Based Community™, that’s all they needed to know.

A question Rotten Chestnuts would like to see asked.

I’d spend some time explaining why this story about how JP Morgan had ‘bet against itself’ was silly, but I don’t have to because that’s why there’s Matt Levine. I will highlight, as something new, this: “…the two CIO employees complained about the investment bank’s actions in the spring of 2012, accusing its traders of deliberately trying to move the market against the CIO by leaking information on its position to hedge funds.” When that story broke last year, my first reaction was not ‘ohmygosh how can they have done those trades’, it was ohmygosh how could someone have leaked those trades (and in particular the rival trader commentary – itself, a bit too revealing – that got quoted a lot at the time) to the press in such a transparent effort to squeeze them. I still find it somewhat distasteful. If indeed it was their own dealer desk contributing to it, geez.

The left gets in on the ‘financial innovation’ game
January 30, 2013, 7:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Via @InfiniteGuest on Twitter, I’m told Matthew Yglesias says the US government should issue perps. As this really is just the logical, distilled extension of my super-coupon bond idea which solved the Debt Crisis a while ago (remember that?), I can only really say Let’s go for it.

Try to poke holes in it and it’s harder than you might think. You would actually rather see (at least, I’d rather see) the USG issue a bunch of perps than to rely more on TIPS, or issue floaters (as they’ve been pushing for). The risk is much more right-way round. You could say – for that reason – ‘who would buy these things right now at anything resembling a low yield?’ but that’s an empirical question, not a reason not to try it at all.

Or you can try a thought experiment as follows: suppose N years have gone by and USG has been relying significantly on perps for its funding. Now there are a huge face amount of outstanding perps and the USG is paying $X billion/year just to service them. Does this start to become a political problem? How will perps look ‘optically’ at that time? Will populist politicians start griping ‘why should we pay these fat cat perp holders forever, for doing nothing? It’s not like we owe them any money because they didn’t loan any!’ Does this lead to pressure to repudiate or ‘restructure’ them? (And therefore, for this reason, do people shy away from them now?) But again, this is a sort of double-hypothetical as a reason for not doing something. This danger could be lessened if the Treasury does their issuance ‘intelligently’, and has an active and intelligently-managed buyback program. (Hmm, can we assume that?)

At the very least, there would always be a background incentive to inflate away their value. Then you remember that part of the reason for issuing TIPS is supposed to be to give USG ‘credibility in fighting inflation’, since inflation hurts a USG that has issued a lot of TIPS. But of course inflation would really, really help a USG that has issued perps. Oops. But that just means the USG will have been doing things at cross purposes. What else is new. And did we really buy that ‘credibility’ in the first place, given that TIPS are just a small part of the debt mix?

There is also the juicy question of whether it would count as ‘debt’ for the purpose of the debt ceiling, since perpetuities/annuities ‘feel’ debt-like but need never be called and are actually treated as equity-like for some purposes. My ignorant knowledge of the debt-ceiling laws (which is open to correction), based on reading blogs, suggests: perhaps not debt at all!, in which case this really would be the loophole to end all loopholes, as Treasury could issue these without limit. So the possibilities are endless and delicious.

Makes you wonder why ‘financial innovation’ got such a bad name!

Always fighting the last election
January 29, 2013, 7:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

After the traumatizing 2000 election, lefties started floating the idea of having states allocate their electors proportionally instead of winner-take-all. There was even a whole movement to get states to sign pledges – which many have, all still in effect to my knowledge – to achieve a similar outcome, to give their votes to the popular-vote winner in certain cases.

This movement was aligned broadly, albeit not completely, with the left. You see, at that time they apparently believed all future elections would have dynamics exactly like 2000. Thus, proportional-electors was a pro-left measure!, they figured.

Flash forward to 2012 and the proposal is considered to be “rigging the electoral system” by that same left. The fact that Rethugs would even propose such a thing just proves how bereft of ideas they are!

I’ll collect my 2 Consistency Points at this time by pointing out that I was opposed to proportional electors in 2000 and still am today. The (R)s proposing this are being just as silly and short-sighted as those who floated this twelve years ago. I look forward to redeeming those Consistency Points, once I’ve saved up 10, at my local Chuck E. Cheese in exchange for a plastic ring with a plastic spider on top that is too small for my pinky. In the meantime though, let us just marvel at the whiplash some on the left are capable of: the filibuster is crucial to the Republic! No wait, it’s an anti democratic abomination! Winner-take-all states are anti-populist! No, wait, they are necessary for black enfranchisement!

It’s as if they think we don’t remember things from more than a year and a half ago. Either that or they’re all, like, eleven years old, so they don’t remember. Maybe the latter in this case.

The seen, the unseen, and the oblivious
January 28, 2013, 10:37 pm
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Alan Blinder wonders why people hate TARP and ‘stimulus’. The whole interview is full of WTF, but this breathtaking sequence (bold emphases mine) takes the cake:

The second example of that is the stimulus bill, which has been vilified by Republicans. It’s said it didn’t create any jobs, which if you think about it for 30 seconds, it’d be impossible to spend that much money without creating any jobs.

DM: How much of this do you think has to do with people’s difficulty with reasoning counterfactually? So you see the economy, which isn’t that great, and conclude “Well TARP and the stimulus must not have worked.”

AB: I think that’s a very major part of it. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, my colleague Daniel Kahneman has this concept he called WYSIATI – “what you see is all there is.” If you believe the only thing there is is what you see, what you see is …

…that ‘it’d be impossible to spend that much money without creating any jobs’, perhaps?

For crying out loud. Stuff like this is self-ridiculing. How many economists out there don’t give economics a bad name? Sometimes the percentage seems vanishingly small.

Dark Knight Rises
January 28, 2013, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I finally got around to seeing this and have some scattered thoughts in place of a review.

  • The Hans Zimmer score is obnoxious (making me realize I got the same feeling from Inception). No scene is free of the drumming tension-building strings. You are given no time/freedom to think.
  • Overall it was my favorite of the three. I did not like the other two that much, nor was I all that bowled over by Heath Ledger’s Joker like everyone else was.
  • In fact, I really liked the “Bane” villain. So strange and specific. I guess it helped that I watched the DVD with subtitles on.
  • The absence of the Katie Holmes/Donnie Darko’s sister (can never remember her name) girlfriend character was a huge, huge plus. Each of the two female leads was far more charismatic than those two put together.
  • Taken as a whole, the story is almost like a wacked-out and surreal Die Hard storyline. Seen in this light it’s fine. The maker of Memento made a Die Hard movie – makes total sense.
  • None of these three films gave me any sort of ‘Batman’ vibe though. The back of my mind did not believe any of this was ‘Batman’, or a comic-book or superhero of any kind. I know, I guess that was the idea. Which I wasn’t crazy about. What is the purpose of this endeavor anyway?
  • Most reviewers saw the parallels to ‘Occupy Wall Street’. More interesting were the French Revolution parallels. Either way, Hollywood so rarely portrays such things (in a negative light…) that one is grateful for it where one finds it.

So, overall I liked it. I still feel like sitting through these Nolan Batmans was almost some kind of chore however, and I deserve some sort of reward for doing so. Donations, presumably.

January 28, 2013, 11:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Matthew Yglesias says firms scaling down their in-house recruitment, in favor of internal referrals, is a sign of ‘hysteresis’ in the employment market, since it will make it harder for unemployed people without connections to get jobs. Could be. Or, couldn’t it just be that they’re starting to figure out that in-house recruiters are a waste as they don’t actually add very much value as most successfully filled roles ultimately trace to internal referrals anyway and so cutting out the pointless middleman is a relatively painless cost-saving measure?

Bryan Caplan scoffs at the idea that given the safety-net, at some margin there are people who might prefer to be unemployed than to be employed. In other words he (oddly, since I can confirm it from personal experience) rejects the idea that people have a reserve wage and/or that people might actually respond rationally to the utility curve which, given our current tax & benefits rulse, is notoriously-flat and even in some cases sloping downward for people making salaries up to $50-60k or so. How does he reject this possibility of rationality on the part of others, you ask? “Introspection.” Something about how he would hypothetically feel, if he weren’t a tenured university professor, at getting a wage cut vs. being laid off. Ok then. He also adds, by way of support, that the employment market ‘doesn’t clear’. Not that it clears more slowly or less efficiently, it just ‘doesn’t clear’. I see now why I could never be an economist, since I have this natural aversion to treating ‘how much’ questions as ‘yes/no’ questions, and from what I can tell it seems to be a requirement of the genre.

You guys read James Bowman right? If not why not?

But there is another explanation. It is that “austerity” is not really a strategy but the name we give to reality in order to avoid calling it — or thinking about it as — reality. When reality appears to us a long way off in the form of mere “austerity,” it still looks like a strategy, still looks optional. Uh oh! This strategy doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s try another! And so we turn to intellectuals like Professors Krugman and Tilford who are the perpetual motion men of our era, people who have a system figured out to turn reality into an infinite number of strategies, or maybe just one killer strategy guaranteed to turn the hard reality easy again. Count on them if you need someone to persuade you, or re-persuade you, that reality is optional.


Why does every museum need to have propaganda?
January 27, 2013, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If it’s a natural history museum, it will have a section on how we’re destroying the earth. If it’s an aquarium, it will have a section on how we’re destroying the oceans. If it’s a historical museum, it will have a section devoted to the atrocities we’ve committed against whatever peoples. Etc.

You sort of learn to ignore these things, as obligatory tics of whatever sect it is that runs museums. But really, why are they necessary? Have we forgotten how to make museums that are just museums?

Also, the museumers seem not to realize that these things are just too ‘topical’ for what they’re supposed to be doing. Suppose (for example) that 1000 years elapse and the oceans still don’t get destroyed. Surely future aquariums in the year 3113 won’t still at that time include the whiny lectures on plastic bags, the exhibit of the soda bottle covered with seaweed, etc. There is a tension between the (supposedly) timeless nature of a museum and getting them all caught up in the cause du jour that I don’t think is being fully priced in here.

As it stands, it renders the experience somewhat akin to passing around the offering plate at Sunday service: something obligatory, part of the ritual, that you don’t particularly enjoy but you know is coming and is part of the price you pay.


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