Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Attacks on the Banks

I have written about the banks and how important they are to the economy. I have written about the efforts of the U.S. government to control and destroy them. I am reminded of the progression of events in Atlas Shrugged in which the government consistently (unconsciously, i.e., not as a result of cognitive purpose) attacked business sectors as they became vital for the country’s survival. I would not give our government as much credit as Ayn Rand did in the novel. But it is the case that banking and finance is the one industry that every sector relies upon to make business and trade function. Banking is a necessity.

Two recent articles have underscored the rocky road that our economy faces. Earlier this month, Reuters published “Column: The crackdown on bank misbehavior masks a troubling reality” which summed up the actions against our major banks over the last few years:

… In the annual letter he writes to shareholders, Robert Wilmers, the chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, has started keeping track of the fines, sanctions and legal awards levied against the "Big Six" bank holding companies. In 2011, those penalties were $13.9 billion. In 2012, they more than doubled to $29.3 billion. Wilmers writes that the past two years represent the majority of the cumulative $52 billion in charges, from 236 separate actions in eight countries, over the past 11 years. Wilmers also cites a study done by M&T, according to which the top six banks have been cited 1,150 times by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times in articles about their improper activities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest bank, JPMorgan, accounts for a sizable chunk of all this. According to a report by Josh Rosner, a managing director at independent research consultancy Graham Fisher & Co, JPMorgan has paid $8.5 billion in fines between 2009 and 2012, or about 12 percent of its net income over that period.

Then today the U.S. Justice Department announced a forthcoming new set of suits, “Justice Department planning new action against financial firms.” We have national government, states, even cities, and aggrieved individuals attacking and attacking the banking industry. There is more than one reason that this is happening, including plain ignorance. But most important is that private banks are major tools of capitalism. They are obvious symbols of the accumulation of wealth and productiveness. They are being attacked not because of their recent errors and failures, but because of what they represent. Their mistakes and leaders who are actually government lackeys are only a justification for the frenzy of destruction and feeding.

I am not personally aware of anyone defending the banks, except for John Allison. Yet, banking is more vital for our economy than the energy industry, because all industries depend upon credit and capital for their operation. If banking becomes critically wounded, the credit for international movements of oil, for example, or even the movement of oil within our own country becomes difficult. It is not possible on a cash or barter basis. Of course, that comment is only referring to what most of us see as the oil business. The search for oil, the research on oil recovery methods, and all that makes up an oil company depend upon a flow of credit and capital, which at root comes from banking.

Banking has to be defended.

From what I can see, it may be hard for bankers to defend themselves. The indicators include John Allison’s comment in his book that if he were still a banker he couldn’t write his book. Then there are the regulations and laws that require banks to not to reveal various regulatory rulings. And, as there is in the recent Apple anti-trust case, the requirement that the victim of government regulation declare that he was guilty of impure thoughts (anyone for the inquisition?). A banker who stands up and declares that the regulators are immoral idiots won’t be a banker for long. No, as opposed to the conflict between the energy companies and the climate fanatics, defense of banking will have to at least begin on the outside.

So, one of the short-term issues we have to take on, if we want this economy to hold up long enough for us to have at least some success on culture change, is the freedom of finance and banking.

Other recent articles about the U.S. government’s comprehensive attack on finance and banking:

U.S. Bank Legal Bills Exceed $100 Billion

Banks shiver as UBS swallows $885 million U.S. fine

Under siege, JPMorgan to quit physical commodities

JPMorgan to pay $410 million in power market manipulation probe

JP Morgan under investigation in Monte Paschi probe: document

FERC seeks BP response to natgas market manipulation

Regulators willing to risk repo damage

JPMorgan hit by U.S. bribery probe into Chinese hiring: report

Bank of America fails to end U.S. govt's mortgage fraud lawsuit

What I think is profoundly unjust about this is that the government wanted the banks to take over the ruins of other banks and mortgage companies. Now they out to destroy the bank that took on the history and risk at the government’s behest. This is immoral.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reality Disconnect, Again

So many news headlines these days take my breath away because they are just so intent on pushing liberal/progressive views. Today offered one of the worst: “Last Bernanke Years Shows No Sign of Buyer’s Remorse” online at Bloomberg. The article is congratulating Bernanke for navigating the last six years without seeing high rates of consumer price increases. I know that many people disagree with the government’s claim that prices have not been climbing more rapidly, but for the issue in the article, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the underlying, widely accepted view of the article. That view holds that it is okay to focus very narrowly on an isolated, micro point, and assert that it means something. Using Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s DIM nomenclature, this is at best D1, possibly D2.

A knee-jerk, but nevertheless appropriate, response to this article would be to observe that there is less upward price pressure during a recession/depression. As Bernanke has responsibility for the recession, which he shares with some other esteemed governmental and legislative fools, it is morally outrageous to give him credit for the accidental consequence that consumer prices aren’t raising fast enough for people to be angry. Supposedly, Bernanke meant for prices to remain stable. But that is not true. Bernanke has been trying for a 2.5% rate of increase, and he hasn’t been able to get there, regardless of the amount of made-up money he has pushed toward the economy. Bernanke is being given credit for something he didn’t want and really thinks is bad.

Furthermore, focusing on the period of the last few years fails to observe that the consequences of his policies are going to be disasters for many more years into the future. This is another sign of the D mentality: the future isn’t real to them. What happens tomorrow is always a complete surprise. When you discard causality, the future has no relation to the present. This is especially true of government actions. They say that their new law or control will eliminate some perceived error in economic activity. They never check to see if the law or regulation had any effect on that problem, never. They do apparently assume that merely making the law is a sufficient “cause” for the problem to go away. But they do not actually realize that their action might cause some other, unwanted effect, in spite of the current wave of the hand at “unintended consequences.” The possibility is not part of their view of the world because they don’t understand cause and effect.

Bernanke is such an eloquent example. He was surprised by every turn of the economy from the day he took office until today. He has denied that his actions have had any negative consequence. He just won’t believe it (see my blog on his speech about the cause of the housing price boom). He has one response for any kind of economic situation: put more, lots more, money into the economy. More money is always good. And if wonderful things don’t happen, it is because really bad things were happening, which were staved off by the money he did put in. “Just think,” he might say, “how bad things would have been if I hadn’t acted.” Thus he proclaimed himself hero of the universe when he pushed a trillion of so into the economy during the beginning of the recession. Never mind that he has had to do the same thing repeatedly since. In his view that is because capitalism had let us down drastically in 2007.

This is another aspect of the D1 (he is a D1 because he does have a theory, an integration, which he thinks is founded in science). The theory is true, and thus must be applied, regardless of the actual results. He is not capable of reevaluating the theory.

All of this underscores the vital nature of philosophy in our battle to change the culture. We can’t argue or collaborate with a D. There is no common ground, actually no ground at all for him. We have to just replace him. In general, the same is true with the M. In the sense of using their theory, the M holds his ideas in much the same way as the D: the theory cannot be touched by reason or consequences.

We have to address ourselves to those people who aren’t contorted into either anti-reason methodology. That means the young and those individuals who somehow survived today’s schooling with some of their brains intact. It isn’t easy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Method Important in Cultural Change

It is slowly sinking into my mind that the first order of business in any activity is a consideration of method. Method is in fact a continuing consideration and the major factor in seeing growth and maturity.

I am reminded of this in listening to the recent OCON presentation given by Don Watkins, “Changing the Debate: How to Move from an Entitlement State to a Free Market,” which you should listen to. I have noticed that a few people have criticized attempts at influencing the culture as being in effective. The critics had nothing more to offer about how to do that, as if the other people were failing, perhaps the critics hadn’t figured it out either. We must keep in mind that this is something we have to figure out how to do. Again, just like everything else in human activity, learning how to communicate and influence is a matter for induction, possibly trial and error. You don’t improve your ability in anything sitting in a room thinking without evidence. You can come up with ideas, but you then have to try them out and evaluate the results, several times.

It is true that winning our battle will require many repetitions of good ideas, done from many different perspectives, by many people. It is also true that those people will have to be ones who are doing it for selfish reasons, not out of duty. I think that we have many good, selfish reasons to do it. Becoming motivated shouldn’t be hard.

What Don has to say is excellent and has several important ideas. It is a good place to start. Other inspirations include the very effective activities by The Center for Industrial Progress, created and guided by Alex Epstein. I am sure there are others. (Suggestions?) We each need to learn what we can, practice, do it, think, analyze, and add to our knowledge.

It is too soon for much to happen, but the insights in Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s book, The DIM Hypothesis will also affect how our message will be delivered (as I have suggested earlier in this blog).

So if you are engaged in this battle, keep your eyes open and listen to what your fellow fighters are doing. Think about your approach. And closely consider the feedback and any other indications of the response your actions produce. Use your rational facilities. Apply method.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What To Do: For Yourself and Family

I hope that as a result of AR’s writing, listening to Yaron Brook, and happening across my comments a question will cross your mind, “What should I do?” There are actually two levels to this question, the personal and the public. By “public” I mean what is normally considered activism. But you rarely see people talk about what to do personally.

Part of my answer to the question of what to do for yourself is: Live your life. Work for happiness. Enjoy yourself. While a rational man never ignores the fact that he lives a life across decades, he is only alive in the present. Don’t forget to enjoy the values you can today, especially those you have achieved.

Then there is the consideration of what to do regarding forthcoming crises. One thing to consider is what will happen to the assets that you have, e.g., your home, your investments, etc. Are any loans subject to being called? How stable are the interest rates? How safe is your income? How liquid are your assets? And so on. Don’t put your head in the sand!

For more extreme situations, in a way there is less you can do.

You hear of people buying guns and canned food. Any of that might be of use in a situation that is brief, but afterwards, even if you are set for a couple years, what do you do then. What you would need is a long-term solution, which ultimately means being in a safe community.

One then tends to think of Galt’s Gulch. I do. Remember that it was a private estate and people came by invitation only. It was defended. The rest of the country, by contrast, collapsed.

The idea of Galt’s Gulch was that people who understood Galt’s message wanted to be together to the extent possible for enjoyment and safety.

Today, a few Objectivists get together on occasion, briefly. Many say they want to, but don’t. Few do business with each other. In a way, there is no community. I am aware of no efforts to seriously consider a way for us to survive a crises (it should be relatively secret). On our current road, we will suffer to the same extent as the rest of the population, even though we understand what is happening and know that it will end in disaster!

That doesn’t seem like the rational thing to do.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Perspective and Time-Frames

When I have read other claims of coming doom in the past I have always rejected them. They seemed to me to regard the economy much like a mechanical clock, with certain elements of the economy as having overwhelming power. Those claims that our economy was going to collapse within a certain time-frame never came true. Some of these claims were made by rank amateurs, but some weren’t. A certain historian has recently argued again for a coming collapse, and I have the same regard for him. The great economist Henry Hazlitt wrote in 1983 (The Inflation Crisis, and How to Resolve it) that the U.S. economy would drive itself into hyperinflation, but again, didn’t happen.

It is obviously possible to foresee limited crises in the near future as Ludwig von Mises did in the 1920s and famously Peter Schiff did preceding the recent financial crisis. But here I am talking about even a larger failure than the mortgage-backed securities mess.

So, why am I willing to now put myself out on this limb after I have shown such good sense before? Two reasons: The first is our current situation.

Remember the tech-stock bust of 2002? Do you realize that the next bust was about five years later, beginning in 2007? Remember that 2004 through 2006 were decent years. If the bottom was in 2008, then we are now five years in and there is not actually a recovery. We have rehired very few of the people who lost their job in the crash, and most of them are not in jobs with the same level of productivity. Businesses are profitable still because of cost cutting, and are doing little new investment. We are stagnating.

We aren’t stagnating because of government spending but because of the continued, increasing attack on business and banking through rapidly expanding regulation. After about a century of increasing and improving regulation which limited our growth but didn’t seem to have a visible result, the government is finally beginning to make an obvious mark on our economy.

Reason two: the numbers regarding our future problems are too large. They are large enough to be killing. And, as I explained in my last post, large enough that our economy cannot possibly meet the requirement, with or without the entitlements, with or without a reduction in spending.

One additional reason, which I do not see mentioned anywhere, is that our economy is very dependent upon its technology. No country of our size or complexity has ever faced major problems. The most advanced economy that has faced extreme issues is Greece, and it was not particularly industrialized, and is not at all dependent upon technology. Today, it has massive unemployment and is now considered a “developing” country. It is a good thing that it has a relative small population. Greece still lives much closer to the land than most countries in Europe.

We don’t.

From today’s vantage point, I consider it possible that in a couple years all of Dodd-Frank and the other new regulations will finally be in place and business will find a way to survive. We could see a period of small, but moderately stable growth. There will be lots of possible threats to our economy, mostly from outside. Some examples include: Another terrorist attack. The Chinese personality split, i.e., communist/capitalist, could come apart. (That connection is so explicitly M1 in so many ways.) Japan’s attempt to “ease” their way out of stagnation, after a couple decades of various kinds of “easing” failed, could surely lead to a worse case. The economy in Europe will fracture again. Islam could completely take over much of the oil supply. The list is nearly endless.

But even if we are able to accommodate the regulations, at some point things will come apart from our increasing debt load and the growing demands of the entitlement programs and/or our aging population.

We could go through a couple more financial crisis as we saw in the last decade. I predict that each one will be more severe, and depending upon how vindictive the politicians are, move difficult from which to recover. And each time capitalism, businesses, and bankers will be blamed. That scenario would be more like a death spiral.

All of that that means that we have even more reason to work now to reverse the entire process. As Yaron Brook has said, not being involved, not being active is no longer a rational option. Don’t act now and you will necessarily live to see the big mess. Certainly your children will.

Will that collapse correspond with the rise of an M2 religious dictatorship I don’t know. We will certainly be ripe for it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Don't Count on Savings

The failing of the economy to allow for savings sufficient for taking care of oneself in later years is not clear to most people, including many economists. It is not clear to many financial advisors. That is because saving and investment is rarely set up with goals and definitions: Specifically what do I want the money to do? What period of time? What level of spending? What degree of loss of purchasing power to plan for? How will the asset be invested during the period it is used?

Instead people save what they feel they can and try to put it where they hope they can get the best return. Few study sufficiently for the task. Few use professionals properly. Few actually like doing the work investing and follow the news. This last is an important point. For example, as a financial advisor for twenty years, I realized that I was not a stock picker. I wasn’t interested. It was not an area that I wanted to spend my time. I found professionals who did find it interesting and were successful. I used the division of labor for my and my clients’ benefit. The whole “do it yourself” approach is wrong headed. Professionals often use the amateur investor as a counter-trend indicator: when the small investor begins buying it is time to sell.

What you can see in just the equity market is that since the end of the tech boom in something like 2002 the stock market has not kept pace with the loss of purchasing power. It is not that it has just not had good returns. What returns it has had in relation to what a dollar can buy, the equity market in the U.S. has lost value.

The market that has actually risen, is the bloated Federal bond market. Guess what happens when the Fed stops buying and attempts to get rid of some of its astonishing horde of bonds. It won’t be pretty. The stock market will tend to dive as well.

So those people who are suggesting that people aren’t being personally responsible and saving enough and that is why we can’t get rid of Social Security are not paying attention. Government actions are destroying assets and our ability to save. That is the box we are in.

But it does take a long-term view to realize the size of the box and that it is getting smaller. Current politicians can’t see it because of their self-imposed philosophic blinders. Banking, financial, and business leaders by and large aren’t looking either. We can’t get even a modest public comment about our future and the entitlement programs out of any of them.

We are heading for this blind. Surprise!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

“Need” for Social Security Indicates Coming Failure of Economy

Recently Don Watkins said that he was working on a book about Social Security. Without question, the book will be well informed and insightful. It will have information and arguments that will be very useful in the attempt to bring that program to its deserved end.Bureaucrats

One reason why Social Security is a prime candidate for the extensive treatment that Don will give it is the place the entitlement program has in the American attitude toward government’s role in our lives. It seems to embody the idea of government help for the poor and those no longer able to work. It also appeals to the idea that someone who has worked hard all of their lives deserves a little rest in their old age. All of those ideas have completely irrational elements, but I will leave their exposure to Don and other already written material.

However, focusing on Social Security should not leave out the much bigger threat of Medicare. Medicare alone will bankrupt us, while by itself, Social Security would probably just doom us to perpetual poverty. I would expect that Don will include Medicare in his book to some extent.

But I have a problem with focusing on government spending as a primary. While it is necessary to expose the evil of the underlying state-enforced altruism and that the spending will destroy us at some point in next decades, it is not the major reason for our economic problems. Even if we were to convince sufficient numbers of American somehow to ramp down the programs and kill them, we would still be in a very bad way, economically.

But the enormous numbers that Social Security and Medicare will rack up in required spending reveal much more than is normally considered. It isn’t just that the government can’t possibly tax or borrow the numbers required to support and care medically for the Baby Boomers. There is no other source for that care, even if medical costs were to stop growing. This economy cannot possibly support a generation that lives for decades without being productive. Our economy just does not have that capability. I am not sure that any economy could or should support a generation in that manner, but the U.S. economy, as it exists, will not.

Consider that by any measure the Baby Boomer generation, perhaps the wealthiest in the history of man, has a very small amount of savings compared to the cost of living without producing for a decade or more.

Consider that a great amount of our savings has been wiped out by the most recent financial crash, the constant, decades long reduction of purchasing power (2% a year for decades is a disaster for retirement savings), the failure of any but very aggressive, time- consuming investment strategies (which tend to ignore the underlying reality of the division of labor), the fact that savings in banks, cds, or money market funds do not grow at all after loss of purchasing power and taxes are figured in, etc.

Consider that there are no jobs for many who wants to work, and generally not for the retired. Indeed, the unemployment indicator that the government publishes monthly has gone down because it stops counting people who give up. Employment, from the perspective of a growing, high-tech, industrialized economy, has probably fallen since 2008.

It isn’t that the government can’t afford to support the Baby Boom generation in retirement, no one can, as the economy currently exists.

Further, even if you were able to convince sufficient Americans that Social Security and Medicare are wrong, they will resist ending them because they will realize that there is no replacement.

We have to have a replacement to be successful to overcome the problem of our aging population.

What is that replacement? Of course!

It is capitalism: freedom.

Which means the end of regulation. Capitalism means freeing up of the producer, the creator to be productive and profitable. Capitalism means productive work for anyone willing to do it. In capitalism, the primary shortage is people.

It means the recognition of individual rights: that man has to be able to act on his own judgment without requiring permission.

A free economy can solve our problem.

This is the economic side of the implication the DIM Hypothesis. Only the I mode supports an advanced, industrialized, high-tech economy. Any other mode will result in poverty and a much smaller population. There is a fundamental, reality-driven conflict between an economy with any freedom and a culture dominated by D or M. The result will be destructive, and the eventual crash will be very difficult. I don’t know if the crash we are facing will be soon or not, or will play out in a brief period or not. I suppose that the political situation will have some impact. But it will be nasty.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gold is Up, or Down - Who Cares?

I have been wanting to say something about the gold market. Many people I am sure are confused and concerned about the drop in the dollar price of gold that has occurred over the last year or so. To understand what is happening you need the right perspective. The gold market (and to some extent the silver market) is different from any other market, commodity or other wise. The demand for gold comes from many different desires and interests, as I tried to enumerate in this blog a couple years ago. Each different type of demand for the metal will have different reactions to price changes and the level of prices in comparison to the rest of the economy.

I said earlier that the raise of the dollar cost of gold went up as high as it did at least partially as a result of the interest of the hedge funds. Necessarily, their interest was short-term. That is their business: short-term speculation. The amount of money the hedge funds put into gold was large enough to have a significant impact on the price. I wonder if the hedge fund managers realized how much impact they would have. In fact, the international gold market is fairly thin. In any event, there had to come a time when the hedge funds would leave the gold market. We can readily see when that happened, can’t we.

The dramatic drop in the price of gold has been taken by many as an indication that people aren’t as concerned about the future as they were, that maybe the situation is better now than before, that gold is no longer seen as much of a hedge. I think all of those ideas are silly.

You also hear some people who are ostensibly interested in gold to preserve the value of their assets express unhappiness with the drop in the dollar price of gold.

If you are concerned about the price in the short-term (and I mean more than just wanting to get as much gold as you can when you are ready to buy), then you really aren’t looking for asset preservation, you are a speculator (a perfectly fine thing to be).

If you are sincerely interested in asset preservation, which is a long-term attitude, then don’t worry about the current price or what it will be and get on with your daily activities. Do not be confuse the impact of monetary expansion with raising prices or with how many dollars it takes to buy a troy oz. of gold. The threat to your assets is broader and more insidious than that and is not reflected in the short-term variation of the dollar-gold exchange rate.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Considering Investment Advice Today

Someone who I have gotten to know and respect on-line recently recommended a book of investment advice. Certainly, there are people who understand investments better than others and can clearly explain that understanding. I have no reason to doubt the usefulness of the book if my friend thought it was good.

I did have a problem, however. The advise offered in the book came from decades ago. What about today? Certainly the principles of economics haven’t changed, ever. But the economic and legal context for investment could have.

What isn’t in these books, not the one suggested by my friend (which I haven’t read but he did not mention the subject) nor any of the others I have looked at, is a discussion of their assumptions. I am not referring to their metaphysics or epistemology. I am assuming a basic I mode for these people, otherwise there would be no hope that the investment advise would or could work. Further, I am not referring to the economics fundamentals of how markets work or the ethics of investment. No, I am referring to what you might call the range of decision making within the economy.

One way to open up what I am trying to consider is to ask these questions: Where would the advise in the book work? We know it wouldn’t work in Cuba. How about Venazula? Egypt? Mexico? Sudan? Turkey? Saudi Arabia? Obama America?

I am not just looking at the legal system in these examples, or even the safety of the investment (against nationalization or another kind of thief). I am wondering about the legal ability of the business manager, the people who will ultimately determine if a business succeeds or fails, to understand the conditions and make the decisions and execute those decisions.

For example, in Europe and the U.S., there has been a drive since the last financial crisis to add additional layers of regulation and regulators to the financial services industry. Many of the areas that major banks were relying upon for profits and growth are being eliminated or curtailed. This process is ongoing. The major law expanding banking regulation in the U.S., Dodds-Frank, has something over 350 new areas of regulation. As of last week according to a recent news article, the government and the various agencies have missed 63% of the deadlines stipulated in the act. Many of those new regulations have yet to be finalized. Further, there are another 36% of the act which the government has yet to address. Five years after the crisis and three after the passage of Dodds-Frank, the industry is still uncertain as to what is going to happen. Whatever the results, the banks are all going to have to function in the same, regulatory approved method, about which no one has any real world experience. Expect stuff to go wrong in many different ways. Expect the banking system to function less efficiently, and investment decisions to be less reliable.

Then there is the larger size of the Federal Government in the economy. Its annual deficit and demand for funds has been soaking up the capital of the country. This astonishing level of spending is expected to continue, regardless of the activity or lack there of in the real economy.

There is the continuous effort by the Federal Reserve Board to manipulate the economy into growth by completely destroying any meaning to the pricing of capital. Interest rates mean almost nothing now for the business decision maker. He has no tool to determine if his capital project is going to be profitable or if the capital he needs is actually there.

A business decision maker might also be concerned with the changes in the level of new money being introduced into the market. He might be concerned about the lack of stability in what the Fed and the rest of the government is doing or can be expected to do. He has no idea or source to understand what is going to happen. But to him, the difference between 2.5% and 3% interest on loans is not as significant. You can readily see that since 2009, there has been no rush to borrow and invest as interest rates were lowered and have remained at historic lows.

I have seen commentators and business people point out that current profits are from cost cutting, not from new investments coming on line. They point out that there is only a limited amount of costs that can be cut and that point is being reached. There is a certain amount of growth through merger and acquisition, which isn’t economic growth, but still cost cutting. There may be some investment due to the need to replace plant and equipment. But there is little growth.

None of this is similar to the economic context in the U.S. since the end of WWII. Except for the inflation years ending in 1982, business has had sufficient confidence in the future to invest and grow. That isn’t the case today or for the last five years.

Could confidence return and get us going again? I don’t think we can know until the situation calms down and the government stops tinkering. It is possible that the government won’t stop. It is possible that the restrictions on action will overcome the American businessman. That will happen at some point. We just don’t know.

But we do know that the situation is sufficiently different today so as to make application of successful personal investment policies from the 80s and 90s uncertain. The context has changed. That is a major deal. If you are serious about your investments, you have to recognize the underlying premises about how the economy functions.

When I read some of the economic analysis offered by people with mainstream approaches, I see that they treat all non-communist economies the same, regardless of the level of government intrusion. In their mind an economy will continue going along somehow. They believe that the government’s impact is necessarily either minor or for the good of the economy. That is the same attitude of the standard works on investment: the economy is not going to change significantly when the government acts. But that is not true. You need to recognize that there is a point in which the government’s actions are making normal economic activity too difficult. That has been happening now. It might be temporary, I am not going to rationalistically say that we have reached the point of no return. Nor am I going to say that the current situation may calm down and people can work within the levels of controls we will have. But, it will happen. Don’t ignore it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

From Bernanke's Lips

While I do have one bone to pick with John Allison, I have found his book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, to be a source for many insights into our economy and how it works. One point he made just popped into my head as I was reading another silly article.

The article, “Loose Lips Sink Euro Bond Markets in Crisis: Cutting Research,” cites “research” about the effect of 25,000 news releases by eruo-zone governments on the sovereign bond markets. They did a statistical analysis on the words and content of all of those news releases. Real science, right? They found that positive announcements tended to have a positive affect and that negative, confusing, or conflicting announcements tended to have adverse affects on the market, i.e., interest rates went higher. Like I said, real science! There was no indication in the news article if the study considered the effect of lies or self-serving political announcements.

Mr. Allison’s point was that every time the Federal Reserve Board made an economic prediction, it was wrong, significantly wrong. That’s right, Mr. Allison points our that the Fed has a perfect record of understanding what was going to happen. Always, 100% wrong. They have no idea what is going to be the results of their policies.

Think of Bernanke’s pronouncements from 2005 to 2008. He was asked how things were. He said, “Fine.” When housing prices skyrocketed, Bernanke said everything was “Fine.” When it was noticed that subprime mortgages began to fail, he said that the economy was “Fine.” When Lehman Brothers failed, Bernanke said that everything was “Fine.” When the economy went into crisis, businesses failed, people lost their incomes, and asset values collapsed, Bernanke claimed that he saved the world.

So today, everyone is hanging on every word that Bernanke says and the market is going up and down like a yo-yo. People are ignoring that there is little to zero investment occurring that would expand production, that there is little growth in employment (of any kind, let alone highly productive ones) to put the millions who lost their jobs back to work, that government debt is swamping our ability to cover current expenses, or that expanded regulation is close to choking our economy.

Why are people paying so much attention to Bernanke? Well, he does have a lot of power. Speaks well of us U.S. voters, doesn’t it. It is also true that today the government, including the Fed, is a major force, if not the major force, in the economy. That’s not good either.

What are we going to do to change it?

But, also important to anyone living in the U.S. or in some way dependent upon the condition of the U.S. economy (nearly everyone alive, right?): you best remember Bernanke’s track record. If he says that were heading into a drought, you better be ready for a flood and our ships won’t float either

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our Own Third World District

The DC city government just passed a law putting the minimum wage at $12.50 an hour for “big-box” stores. The city already has a high youth unemployment level. It has many underemployed adults. The level of unemployment is going to get worse. The Voice of Reason blog noted that someone in the city government said that the businesses needed them more than they need the businesses. Fantasy Island. WalMart immediately announced that it will not build three new stores. It may close the three already doing business.

I don’t know who else would be included in the “big box” designation, but there are a lot of stores who would be similar. Nor do I know if there is a president for such a special category. Hmmmm, I also don’t know if other retailers realize how anti-business the government in DC is. I jokingly call it a third-world country. That is the level of its thinking. Its only attraction is the Federal Government, which should give you a clue about it. What is sort of funny is that even the Federal Government is seeing a steady slip of jobs out of the city as agencies move. At times, it has been a lovely city. At times it has burned. It probably will again considering how poorly its economy will do.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Einstein and DIM

In the context of the DIM Theory and understanding how a culture is influenced, I think that it is interesting to consider the example of Albert Einstein.

My making comments on this subject require some disclaimers. After all, I am not a physicist nor an historian. What I can list as credentials, besides having read original and secondary material on the subject, are the graduate level courses I took on the history and philosophy of science. Albeit, that was several years ago, decades. So, what I have to say cannot be considered anything more than a suggestion,

LP’s analysis of Einstein concludes that the originator of the Theory of Relativity is an M1, i.e., Einstein sees the world of ideas as being fundamental, and the physical world as real, but dependent upon, or at least secondary to ideas. I won’t duplicate LP’s reasoning here. It is clearly presented in the book, The Dim Hypothesis.

If you contrasted Einstein with Descartes, also an M1, you would see that the earlier philosopher leans very much toward his M side, while Einstein leans more toward the I, while both are M1.

A good friend commented to me recently that he was taught in graduate school that Einstein based his physics on the physical world, i.e., Einstein used induction and thus was an I. I think that there is some grounds for that view. But that seems to conflict with LP’s conclusion that Einstein is an M1.

Consider Einstein’s physics without the relativist observer stuff or what he has to say about science. As a description of the physical world, Einstein’s physics has been put to many tests. To my knowledge, every prediction has been proven to be accurate. His science has a significant degree of truth, of correspondence to physical reality.

In his excellent book on induction, The Logical Leap, David Harriman points out that the beginning of good science is for the thinker to be thoroughly familiar with what is known at that point, i.e., he has to know the facts discovered. For a human, of course, that means an integrated, conceptual knowledge, well grounded in its connection with the real world. Einstein, in order to so thoroughly account for the real world had to have a truly objective knowledge of it prior to his discoveries. I think that his wide understanding is well established in that when he got around to publishing his thoughts in 1905, he offered five papers on five different subject which were all ground breaking and influential for good, scientific, objective reasons. Einstein knew his facts and his concepts objectively.

You can’t have a true scientific theory without induction. You can’t dream it up. Einstein used rationality on the physical world to arrive at his theory. No matter how you try to rummage through his comments, interpret his writings, or analyze his mathematics, the incontrovertible fact that his physics has consistently truthfully predicted what we then observe is prime facie evidence that induction was used. Again, compare him to Descartes, who almost completely dreamed up his physics which was completely off the mark.

Still, Einstein is an M1. Why? Because he, Einstein, said he was. LP in analyzing what Einstein said, not what Einstein did to reach his theory. Einstein’s influence on the culture is what he said, what he wrote. Maybe some people noticed that what he said was not consistent with the process by which he discovered his theories. But culturally, that is a minor detail. Einstein’s influence is the result of his statements and writing. The cultural product is the completed, published work. That is true even for the realm of physics, a subject in which you would hope the scientists could tell the difference. But Einstein’s legacy has been his comments about the esthetics of a theory, its elegance, not correspondence with the physical world. That cultural influence is the result of what someone says and not what they do is consistent with what we see resulting from Kant, for example. Kant created a complete philosophical system, a vast integration, with a purpose. In his method, Kant was a Platonist. As an influence, Kant legacy is that systems, integration, and purpose are bad. He is the destroyer, not the integrator.

All of which leads me back to my recent blog post about in implication of the DIM Theory on our work to change the culture. Again, it is not what we do, but what we say and write that will have influence. We cannot expect our example or an implication to be understood or to be influential. We must include within our speeches and articles our I mode in some explicit, clear, and unambiguous form. We don’t want to preach. It isn’t necessary that we put in the philosophical support (it is available). But we do need to include at least part of the vital fact that we are looking at the physical world, thinking about it in a logical, objective manner, and that we are integrating as broadly as we are capable. That is the mode we absolutely need to communicate.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Unavoidable Consequences of Regulation

Among the many interesting points that John Allison made in his excellent book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, is that the regulators consistently favored the banks with risky behavior and failed approaches over the successful ones. The deposit “insurance,” the bailout, and the “cures” all reward the failures and punish the successes. This point is even clearer when Mr. Allison discusses the events after the crisis. BB&T was forced to lower, that’s right, lower its capital reserves by the regulators. It was forced by the regulators to change its decision making structure to conform to that in the failed banks and give up a process that had been a significant strength in the bank. The regulators were not interested in success. They were (are) interested in the politically required, currently popular priorities of the non-elected, politically appointed heads of their agency. The regulators were attuned to what the leaders in Congress wanted, not what the market demanded or what was good for the success of the bank or the service of the bank’s customers. This process of political fads is called having a social conscious.

But this is the way it has to be. For a regulator on site to see that a bank is functioning well and is controlling risk he would have to be able to think clearly, independently, and have a good knowledge of banking. None of those characteristics make good regulators. At the very least, the regulator is a bureaucrat who applies regulations. He knows those in detail and by name. His frame of reference is his superior and the head of the agency, not profits or efficiency of the business he regulates. He can’t care about what happens to the business and continue to be a regulator. He doesn’t consider cause and effect except in regard to his agency. He does not know if the regulations will work or not, or care. He doesn’t care about the success of the bank he regulates, only that it not fail worse than the other banks. He doesn’t want to stick out.

All of this is clear from Mr. Allison’s book. It is clear to me from my experiences in the securities business. Talk to your friends in regulated industries. Talk to anyone who has tried to start a new business, or put up a commercial structure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Fate of U.S. Banks Is Our Fate

One wonders what politicians and current government-oriented economists think banks are. Ask them to define the concept, banks, and what could come out? Ask them what function they perform in the economy, the private economy, and what would they say? Then, there could be a difference between what they said and what they thought to themselves.

I expect that politicians and the Fed sees them as big piles of money, you know, something like bank robbers view them. Piles of money to loot or to use as influence for their political gain. They don’t view banks as having a particular identity that is necessary for the economy because they believe that they can force the banks into any shape they want and nothing particularly important will happen. Banks are toys, to be played with. Or, banks are whipping boys and every stroke makes the politician look good to the electorate, you know, the mob. The mob hates banks, and has for centuries.

It is my understanding that for a while, primarily in the 19C, some bankers in the U.S. were respected by many people. The name that comes to mind is J.P. Morgan, and his family. Today there is only an echo of that respect left. A PBS program I saw recently ascribed to Morgan a through going desire for power (undefined). That is bad for a banker apparently (but good for Obama).

Before the residential real estate mortgage crisis, banks were very heavily regulated and influenced. Now, the level of government control has gone up dramatically in the Western World. The worst step is Dodds-Frank. Even there I think that few of us, including myself, have but a superficial understanding of how destructive that law will be. It is probably the equivalent of what ObamaCare is for medicine.

But banks are vital for our economy, for an advanced, industrial, integrated economy. Finance, credit, routing of capital, are vital functions in our economy and banks are the number one tool used in those markets. There are a few others, e.g., venture capital funds, hedge funds perhaps, but they are small potatoes compared to the size and range of activities that are banks. To cripple our banks is to cripple our economy.

For the purpose of saving our economy and avoiding disaster, healthy banking is far more important than the size of government spending.

Again, as we have learned from Ayn Rand, and as I have said before on this blog, our first priority for our survival as individuals is freedom, which is the removal of controls and regulations.

Overspending, i.e., the creation of government debt, can kill us, yes. But the only way we win out and survive as men is through freedom. Learn about what is happening. Attack regulation.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Economic Predictions in News Media

Have you noticed the headlines and articles about economic data, things like the unemployment figures and growth rates, that often include references to predictions by a group of economists? The headline will say, “New jobs exceed expectations!” “Growth rate falls below predictions.” What predictions? So what?

I have seen no complete explanation of where these predictions come from. In a couple articles I have read, the author has offered a one or two sentence note to give some credence to the prediction, but nowhere I have I seen any statement about why the expectation has any meaning or what that meaning could be.

From what I can tell, the set up is something like this: A news company has contracted or at least asked several economists, presumably people with the appropriate background, who will periodically provide their expectation as to what the figures in soon to be published reports will be. This practice is used in at least a few different countries.

Which economists are used isn’t mentioned or if they are academic, government, or private economists. Nor has any mention been made about what methods of prediction are being used by any individual predictors.

One reporter mentioned that the news company did drop extreme predictions, i.e., ones that were considerable different from the majority of responses from the predictors. Otherwise, the process seems to be that when the responses are in, the news company averages the numbers, and that becomes the standard for evaluating the real number when it is announced.

One wonders if the predictors are evaluated in any way. For example, if one economists consistently offers numbers that are way off or always in the wrong direction, would he be stricken from the list? Should there be any weight given to the predictor is usually closest to the real number? One wonders if there is any consistency between the methods used by the various economists offering predictions. If one, for example, uses the Mystery 8 Ball, another uses a computer model based upon the proportional orbits of the planets, and a third uses a model based upon Keynesian precepts, what could it mean to average the predictions? That is an extreme example (who in their right mind would use Keynes?), but if everyone’s methods were inconsistent, what would an average mean? What would any comparison of answers mean?

But the real thing is that the meaning of the prediction is the opposite from what the news organization suggests. What should be happening is an evaluation of the method and underlying reasoning for the prediction in comparison to the real numbers, i.e., reality (assuming that the “real numbers” are themselves generated by a rational method). If the predictions by a particular method and theoretical framework consistently provide a figure reasonably close to the reality then the validity and truthfulness of the theory is supported. Possibly, if the theory is consistently correct in its predictions, then that particular approach could be used in the future for predictions for some reason. But that still wouldn’t support the present news organization approach. You certainly wouldn’t take a poll.

But the relation of the real number to the prediction means nothing. The relation of the two provides no knowledge about the consequences or importance of the real number.

No one should care. (Well, except the economist who truly wants to understand the economy.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Implication of The DIM Theory for Activism

One important element of the philosophy of Objectivism is that it has a purpose: that of living as a human in this world. Each insight of Objectivism has implications about what a man should do to achieve happiness and prosperity.

The DIM Theory is an excellent application of philosophy, and, in the breath of its reach, it is fundamental in understanding how philosophy underlies a culture. I think that it has implications for us.

I want to expand the response I have seen to Dr. Peikoff’s book. From what I have seen, the idea is that LP has given us a prediction and we now sit and watch to see if it proves out. LP makes clear in the book’s closing pages that he isn’t suggesting giving up and that his prediction isn’t a mathematical certainty, but other than clarifying who our ultimate enemy is, people have acted as if there is nothing more to say.

I disagree. I think that the book, in its identifications of fundamental movers of cultural change, has given us a greater understanding of what we should be doing. Our actions to mold our culture should be amended by what we learned from LP. Our activism needs to include a specific purpose to be more effective.

By activism I mean action (meaning attempts to persuade) taken to change the culture, which I think should include actions taken to keep things together long enough for cultural change to occur.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s (LP) theory is that the fundamental fact of a culture is its attitude towards integration, i.e., concept formation and the structure of knowledge. Consequently, to change a culture, one has to change its mode of integration.

The approach to integration is in turn based upon the culture’s intellectual leaders position on two philosophic issues: the nature of reality and how man acquires knowledge. If one understands correctly these two issues, one will be lead to a rational, i.e., reality based, method of integration.

It follows then that the direct approach to changing a culture is to address these issues: integration, existence, and reason.

The proof for this conclusion is in The DIM Hypothesis and the writings of Ayn Rand and LP. I do not look at my reasoning as deductive despite appearances.

To apply the implication of LP’s insight requires much thought. I regard what I have to say as a small beginning.

In most cases, addressing the fundamental questions isn’t beneficial. In other words, don’t preach. It is often enough to push rational integration, LP’s I mode, by example, i.e., by referring to reality, facts, and at least implying that thought, a process is necessary to understand an issue. It won’t help to be too subtle. The implication has to be clear.

One way to do this that comes to my mind is to always concritize. Refer to facts connected with an abstraction, and point out that one without the other is meaningless.

My thought is that one should include some aspect of the fundamental issues in every written or spoken statement. You need not always refer to integration. Including the independence and absoluteness of physical reality or the requirement of a rational thought process would also be valuable.

I do not mean to say that addressing issues of rights, morality, government activities, and irrationality in general aren’t worthwhile. I am saying that the more the issues affecting cultural change are included in your arguments, the more impact our efforts will have.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Misallocation Leads to Training for the Wrong Jobs

I will be pointing at various excellent observation made by John Allison in his recent book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure. There are many. Several provide expanded insights into the effects of government intrusion into the economy. A favorite of mine is that one of the elements of the misallocation of investment in a welfare state is the training of people for the wrong jobs. The example in the crisis discussed in Allison’s book is the people trained in house construction. Way too many houses were constructed, meaning we had way too many people employed in that sector. They should have been employed and trained in some other occupation. Instead, we have lots of carpenters, bricklayer, etc., who then found themselves unemployed. When they looked for work, they tried to find a job doing what they were trained to do, but few if any employers needed those skills. To find a new job they need new skills, new training, somehow. Possibly many of these people are the ones who have given up in finding work and are no longer counted as part of the labor force.

The worker who choose to become a construction worker because of the plentiful work (at the time) choose to do so because government policy and manipulation of the economy gave him false information. You can’t expect someone in this country to see through all of the mess and realize that being in construction was a bad idea. Further, seeing that it was a bad idea and looking at things in the correct light does not provide the information necessary to decide what a good course of action would be. (This would be the context of someone who has not yet decided on a personal goal and career. Even then, the amount of earnings one’s goal could achieve is a rational consideration, and the welfare state economy does not provide good information.)

As Ayn Rand said, the government is the cause of unemployment, and one of the ways the result occurs is by the misallocation of investment.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The DIM Hypothesis is an Example of Philosophy as Science

Ayn Rand often called philosophy a science. We know that when she did not use allegory in her writing about fundamental ideas. When she said science she meant science, not “science,” or science like. She called physics and biology “special” sciences. They studies selected, well-defined aspects of reality. Philosophy studies reality and man in the broadest respect, but with the same cognitive framework, tools, and criteria of proof as any science. Philosophy is knowledge, and is acquired like all knowledge is: by a specific process called induction, i.e., using reason on the material provided by our senses.

Dr. Peikoff’s methodology is explicitly as rigorous as any, rational scientist. When one takes into account the context within which he is working, he is as exact as one could be.

His aim in the book is to demonstrate that there is evidence for his hypothesis and that his conclusion is warranted, i.e., is proven, as much as existing evidence allows.

He then states that his theory could be disproved if the results resulting from the theory do not occur. If a prediction fails to occur, the error is in the theory or the proof, not reality. (There are potential events in the real world that could prevent the prediction of an M2 dictatorship, but they would be consistent with the theory and its recognition of man’s free will.)

The DIM Hypothesis is a scientific book. To think about it any other way is to miss the point and not understand the power of its conclusions. Being scientific, being objective, using reason is a process of acquiring knowledge. Specific applications that use more precise tools applicable for the subject matter aren’t more scientific or have conclusions with any more significance or intellectual power than other branches of knowledge. They are merely a different context and allow greater precision.

Philosophy sets the standards for all branches of knowledge, including applied philosophy. There are few books or arguments recognizing or using philosophy as a science. It is a sign of man’s failure to grow and his willingness to accept nonsense.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Objectivity and Knowledge: So Vital

Nothing like stating the blindingly obvious, right? It is to me, and, hopefully, to my readers. Of course, it also depends if you understand objectivity as a connection to reality and knowledge as the integration of what is provided by that connection, which is known by very few today.

I am reminded of the importance of objectivity and knowledge in considering the relative virtues of three of my favorite books on the 2007 financial crisis. I recommend all three. Each has its own virtue and benefits to the reader. But, one book is in a different class because of the objectivity and knowledge of the author. He is an accomplished businessman and a serious student of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism.

The difference between the books written by economists and journalists and a banker can be huge. The difference is especially large when neither the economist or the journalist actually understands what it means to understand and know a subject, i.e., to know it objectively – tied to reality. This is the difference, in today’s culture, between a person whose method of thinking is objective, subjective, or intrinsic (the corresponding order would be a banker who understands their subject, the journalist who thinks anything goes and there is no actual truth, and the economist who thinks that laws themselves are part of reality and thus his ideas float). Obviously, only one of these three has a sound grasp of the morality of the individuals they write about.

The book by the journalists, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption led to Economic Armageddon by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, does offer a well-researched account of some parts of the crisis, which is to say that they are trying to be objective. But they have no clue about several issues: how banking functions, how regulators function, how a functioning economy works and why, and what is morality. Consequently, at times they make wildly impossible accusations, misrepresent events, and hold the innocent accountable (they do point at some truly guilty people, too, which is one reason the book is worth reading). If you don’t have a better understanding than they do, the book may lead to some poor conclusions. (You could recommend this book if it was read after the other two books.) In that the book offers a lot of information that wasn’t published before, you do learn important details.

Then there is Meltdown by Thomas Woods, who is an economist with a foundation in modern Austrian economics (post-Hayek, libertarian). He also makes many very good points. His understanding is better than that of the journalist, and although he has some obvious intrinsicist leanings, he makes no real bloopers. He is known to be religious and believes in self-sacrifice, which results in a rather flat support for the capitalist economy that he sees as better than the command economy. His justification is the benefit of the consumer. He tends to ignore the businessman. It is also worth reading because of the details he offers of the crisis and his decent understanding of the economics. But when compared with someone with an objective understanding of the crisis, it is obviously deficient.

So, the place to begin, and the one to read whether you have or have not read any other book on the crisis, is John A. Allison’s The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure. Mr. Allison has done the work to understand what objectivity means, i.e., connecting one’s ideas to physical reality. He also has years in the banking industry. Thus, he offers a fact based, conceptual analysis of what happened, why, what the consequences are, what the supposed cures are that Congress and the regulators imposed, and what we should actually do about it. This is what real explanation and analysis should look like.

Allison concretizes important points: the impact of regulation; the attitude and style of regulators; the destruction of independent action by the banker; the elevation of political pull over the blindingly obvious; etc. Ayn Rand and her followers have been asserting the destructive nature of government controls for decades. In this book are some specifics.

In future posts I will mention some of John Allison’s observations.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Suggested Perspective on the DIM book

I expect that most people read The DIM Hypothesis and come away focused upon LP’s conclusion, his prediction on the direction of U.S. culture. Certainly, LP does himself center the book on the goal of reaching a prediction. The force of his prediction is magnified by the fact that the book is closely reasoned and objective, i.e., it is based in the facts of the reality of human history and human nature. The book is itself an excellent example of the scientific method.

I, however, want to focus your attention on a different perspective, what I perceive as an implication. I want you to think about what LP has to say about how cultural, philosophic change occurs. I want to examine the implications and proscriptive insights we can gain. What does the book mean for our own actions? Can we do things, our attempts to achieve our own view of a proper culture, better, based upon what LP has to teach us about cultural change? What do we do differently? What are we doing that is effective?

I have one specific idea in mind, which I will present here in the next few days. But I want you to think about this perspective first.

A Return to Writing

This blog has been quiet for over six months. My economy updates were beginning to sound fairly repetitious. All I was doing was waiting for something to happen. I could not be like the people who expected massive price raises at every turn. And if you read anything that I had written you already knew that I didn’t think that the government was doing anything good.

Having read some very good books recently, I am ready to get back to writing. To do so I have decided to widen the blog’s focus. I am not going limit my comments to only economic issues. I will slightly expand my range of issues to include cultural change.

I will also change my tactics a little, no longer publishing huge articles, but will be often content with short pieces and breaking up longer pieces into parts. I hope by this to publish more often.

One of the books that I have read is Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West are Going Out. (“Reading” being a term that also includes intense study.) I cannot understate how highly I regard the book. It is a must read/study. I have some thoughts about the book which I will include in the blog.

I welcome any comments about DIM and my interpretations and derivations. I also would welcome and seriously consider other essays on the subject. If you want to write something to include in my blog project, send it or some ideas about it to me. My email address is