Plutocracy At Risk

Opinion is increasingly pointing to much more than mere regulation. Many are calling for the dismantling of centuries of banking chicanery.

In The Quiet Coup, Simon Johnson points out that the United States is no better than a banana republic:

The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States.

If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.

And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.

Johnson is a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

Though not scholarly, this 2007 post, American Plutonomy, is one of the most popular on this site with readers popping in worldwide, most often from schools or colleges.

Running to Think

AS school districts across the nation revamped curricula to meet requirements of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day diminished significantly.

YET physical activity may strengthen children’s ability to pay attention. ScienceBlog

Bee Abuse?

“I can feed you a diet of Hershey bars, keep you up all night, truck you around, and spray Raid in your face, and I guarantee you’ll get sick,” says Jerry Hayes, Florida’s assistant chief of apiary inspection. “That’s kind of what’s happening to bees.”

Commercial honeybees are tough. They get trucked cross-country to pollinate vast crops, often while fed unnatural diets such as sugar water and soy flour. Their hives are treated with chemicals to deter parasites, and they’re exposed to pesticides and fungicides in the fields where they work and feed. Scientific American

“For almost two years we’ve been documenting and sampling colonies that are dying and examining healthy colonies in the same area, trying to determine what factors are involved,” Pettis says. “I think there are interactions going on, like low-level pesticide exposure and poor nutrition weakening the host honeybees and then pathogens doing the killing. It’s similar to a human who might not be eating, or is frail and traveling too much, and as a result is more susceptible to pathogens. If you go into a hospital in excellent health, you don’t contract pneumonia, but if you go in weakened, pneumonia kills you.”

To bet the store

Eric Dinallo, New York Superintendent of Insurance, guest post at NakedCapitalism:

Credit default swaps must be regulated and sellers must be required to hold sufficient capital. That will make them more expensive, but it will mean the guarantee has real value.

Does requiring adequate capital mean the end of financial innovation? Of course not, it just means that most institutions will operate with less leverage.

Risk and reward are integral to capitalism. But innovators should risk their own capital, not the entire financial fabric. Setting that balance is where effective regulation comes in.

In sum, if you offer a guarantee – no matter whether you call it a banking deposit, an insurance policy, or a bet – regulation should ensure you have the capital to deliver. If you offer investments, be transparent, but buyer beware.

No one should ever again get to bet the store called the Entire American Economy.

Goo-Power

A sure sign that folks are troubled by spikes, shortages and slumps:

slug power generatorsI had a dream last night that we solved the energy crisis by forcing the animal kingdom to create energy for us, but the trick was picking an animal ugly and unlikeable enough that the least number of people opposed the enslavement. So in the end, we had these enormous generators pushed by massive armies of slugs on land and eels in the water that created the entire world’s energy needs.

There were of course, slug and eel appreciation societies that picketed the energy companies but most people didn’t mind because they hated the selected animals so much.

CONservative pension strategy

The Bush McCain-Palin Pension Plan:

Just months before the start of last year’s stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds.

The agency refused to say how much of the new investment strategy has been implemented or how the fund has fared during the downturn. The agency would only say that its fund was down 6.5 percent – and all of its stock-related investments were down 23 percent – as of last Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year. But that was before most of the recent stock market decline and just before the investment switch was scheduled to begin in earnest.

No statistics on the fund’s subsequent performance were released. [link]

We’re lucky the Wall Street ‘free market’ busted just prior to moving our entire government to New York.

The last suckers:
“…the main takeaway here is the roughly $500 billion in underfunded private pension plans… in this financial Armageddon, there isn’t a model that hasn’t been laid to waste.”

A vast number, maybe even a majority of U.S. private equity firms, owe their existence to CalPERS. Exxon Mobil filed a lawsuit against Northern Trust alleging a breach of fiduciary responsibility, investing funds “recklessly and imprudently, by acting disloyally and causing massive losses.” This type of lawsuit may be a seachange in terms of corporate pension funds, who are on the hook for massive losses, turning their anger toward Wall Street.

Who killed the U.S. Public Pension System?

Getting on

Economic upswing needed here perhaps?

Nearly 1/3 of women over 65 will fall every year, and the rate goes up with age.

The risk for men is somewhat less but still substantial.

Although hip fractures are the classic disastrous consequence of falls, head injuries and back injuries can also occur.

These incidents can set people on the path to long-term decline and disability.

What’s needed to help revive the economy? Thoughtfulness about people’s physical environment…

Pirates in our clinics

Remarkable. The pool of customers shrinks but the price doubles.

Health care costs doubled from 1996 to 2006, but more are being left out of the health care system than ever before.

An estimated 87 million people — one in every three Americans under the age of 65 — were uninsured.

And blacklists are everywhere, pumping margins.

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You’ll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take Metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

First, do no harm to the health care provider’s income.

Pirates in our corporations

Our culture of raiders truly needs strong challenge. Our corporations are resources to be well managed rather than prizes to be pillaged.

Simon Caulkin: It’s time to explode the myth of the shareholder | Observer

“the entire notion of the shareholder has to be rethought.

“In an age when a listed company’s share register suffers 90% churn each year, the very concept of “the shareholder” dissolves, corporate governance expert Professor Bob Garratt told a recent meeting of the Human Capital Forum. Calling for a ‘cultural and behavioral transformation’, Garratt declared that the first duty of directors was not to shareholders, but to the company itself.

“…to move from agency theory to stewardship theory…”

Our Puny Whether

In contrast to our nervous daze:

India stands on the cusp of a revolution.

There is optimism all-round and in certain quarters, even fear of the growing prowess of India. This is a good start, but only the first step in what is a long journey. This is an opportunity for change and growth that we in India can simply not afford to lose.

There are a billion dreams at stake.

So, these are my suggestions to you. The goal is not to find fault with what is happening. Rather, it is to provide specific inputs so that you and your government can continue to catalyse the positive forces that have been unleashed in the marketplace.

And what of our 300,000,000 dreams?

Who dies under dollars?

From seekingAlpha, “We still have not seen any of the real villains of this crisis be brought to justice.”

If a person murders another they can get the death penalty. But if a banker is responsible for fraud causing trillions of dollars of losses, affecting millions of people, the bankers claim ignorance.

And they not only get to keep their bonuses that were collected illegally, but they aren’t charged with any criminal activity.

Only in America will you see this. This isn’t allowed in Japan, Canada, or Europe. And it certainly isn’t allowed in China.

Perhaps many of you have forgotten the dotcom charade. I certainly haven’t. Thousands of people should be in prison, from Wall Street analysts and bankers involved in irresponsible IPOs, to executives and others involved in insider trading. But only a few were indicted.

Most likely, this current crisis will share a similar fate because the media will continue to distract attention away from the real criminals and focus on Madoff and Stanford. But remember, neither had anything to do with the banking crisis.

Nothing complicated really

This is a character line of Sherlock Holmes:

“Sometimes in this life you meet people who you see as ‘large soul’ which are a privilege to know.”

These are not a criminal mind nor would they seek your loss or want your prize.

What after thievery?

The NYTimes says the fate of New Orleans has yet to be determined. Imagine the error.

The essay continues by pointing out “Los Angeles has the most talented cluster of architects practicing anywhere in the United States, and at one point or another most of them have invested significant brain power in figuring out how to remake Wilshire Boulevard.” One street, no action.

The Bronx? Decades slip by while arguing. The Rust Belt? Homeland Security is active.

A concrete proposal is to create a National Infrastructure Bank with no other purpose than to do something concrete.

A half-century ago American engineering was the envy of the rest of the world. Cities like New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans were considered models for a brilliant new future. Europe, with its suffocating traditions and historical baggage, was dismissed as a decadent, aging culture.

It is no small paradox that many people in the world now see us in similar terms.

Is there an enlightened version of this country?

Recently?

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. – Robert A. Heinlein, via TumTumblr

Scorn of Our Echo

Will knowledge ultimately tear us apart?

When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about….Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. has called this emerging news product The Daily Me. And if that’s the trend, God save us from ourselves…

That’s because there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices.

We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

One of last year’s more fascinating books was Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” He argues that Americans increasingly are segregating themselves into communities, clubs and churches where they are surrounded by people who think the way they do…

The nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups…

The result is polarization and intolerance.

more at MindBlog

Are we stupid?

Look. This is a good example of politicians pulling your chain.

Take the phrase “universal health care”. We’ve been using the term for many years. It means a national health plan. Pro or con, for or against, when we say “universal” we argue about a regulated national plan.

To manipulate sound bites, Republicans are now trumpeting “universal”. The proposal just announced uses “universal” no fewer than seven times in one press release!

That’s rude. That’s wrong. That’s con.

They’re promoting universal access to purchase an insurance policy from lobbyist friends on The Street. That’s the hitch.

Republicans argue for the mystical free market while the Miami Herald uncovered insurance brokers are trained to cherry pick patients. Oh, profits! As if paying billions in commissions is better for us than paying public employees.

You decide. It’s a margin call.

All Nerves Vary

Jonah Lehrer reports on men vs. women: “Let’s begin with that perdurable cliche about female intuition. My own hunch is that women got associated with intuition, emotionality and all those other “irrational” aspects of cognition simply because that was a way of demeaning the female brain.

Nerve connections differ“Is there a difference between the male and female brain when it comes to decision-making?

“My own guess is that future work on gender differences will find plenty of additional ways to distinguish the male and female brain. But these differences won’t be reducible to trite, general truisms, such as “women are more intuitive” or “men are better at abstract thought”.

“When it comes to the brain, cliches are never true.”

Dereck Bownds reports
: “Even for one of the smallest muscles in a mouse, the wiring diagram differs between two individuals, and even between the left and right sides of the same mouse.”

We each are various.

And perdurable.

Hulks of Gutenberg

So worried about bankrupt newspapers? The average American adult spends eight hours a day in front of screens. Ink never gained as much.

Some are paying attention.

There’s nothing new in any of this. It merely affirms what many of us already know.

The fact is that people in management right across the media simply don’t read.

Ironic isn’t it? And if they did, then they would have seen this coming a long time ago and moved to a safe haven. And yet it has nothing to do with the recession. The recession is merely going to hurry it along.

Tomorrow is repair

Discovering treachery where we were expecting good faith is provoking millions of us to anger. Wall Street and others try to calm us as they feign ignorance or blame complexity or turn to scapegoats.

We’ll be stronger if we face disappointment and demand better policies. We’re vulnerable if we rage into a mob. Populism is for Losers. “Populism is against. It can’t exist without an enemy, and is seldom able to create much beyond anger, misery and grief.”

We should be sure opinions are truly our own. We should warn ourselves if we blame groups or types or cadre. These are always abstract, ghosts in our mind only.

Our tomorrow is repair and not revenge, a better snarl.

Naughty Reality

Comments as folks are facing a national guile are what comments should always be.

  1. The reality is no one could have imagined this much greed and this amount of thievery from people who had been taught in our highest educational institutions with the best of teachers and more. But, we failed to teach them the highest of codes, morals and ethical value, and now we are reaping what we’ve sown!
  2. It’s very simple. The way to do away with moral hazard is to do away with moral hazard.
  3. Our financial system is over-reliant on bright young men with good educations and no practical experience who find it easier to look up someone’s credit score or consult the ratings agency oracle (staffed by their friends from the same schools) and make those investments in non-productive sectors (or extend credit to those sectors, if you prefer that terminology) in a process which can be automated rather than analyze the prospects of a business proposal. Therefore productive investment is not made and innovation not funded. These people have the wrong backgrounds, the wrong training, and the wrong analytical ability and it needs to go away in substantial measure.
  4. At the beginning of this year, we were still hearing journalists, and I use the term very loosely, say that nobody saw this coming. We now know that _many_ saw this coming and they were utterly utterly ignored.
  5. Imagine if we applied the principles of “enlightened self-interest” and “free market capitalism” to nuclear power generation. Let everyone be free to build mini nuclear power plants in their backyards. No regulation is necessary because the market would simply regulate itself.
  6. Am I going to be the only paranoid conspiracy theorist to point out how likely it is that the same speculators who bet mortgage derivatives would default could easily have driven up gasoline prices to ensure millions of us couldn’t possibly make mortgage payments?
  7. What saddens me the most is how we fumble around hoping for the best in people and giving them free reign to destroy, when we should be accounting for rampant greed in all of our decisions and regulatory structures. I believe in capitalism, but also in a structure that supports “clean capitalism”. Why can’t we create this? Why does it take disaster to get things moving in the right direction. And why don’t we look at this situation like we look at genocide – a crime against humanity?
  8. ??