(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘economics

“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”*…

 

 

Instead of looking at only the most common job in each state, I found the top five for a slightly wider view. You still see the nationally popular occupations — drivers, cashiers, and retail workers — but after the first row, you see more regional and state-specific jobs.

The sore thumb in this picture is Washington, D.C., whose top five ordered by rank was lawyers, management analysts, administrative assistants, janitors, and, wait for it, chief executives…

From Flowing Data: “Most Common Jobs, By State.”

* John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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As we struggle to add the gainful to employment, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J.  Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier. Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.

DeSmedt’s crews at work in D.C. in 1876

source

 

 

Written by LW

July 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”*…

 

moving-mountains

 

In America, average income has been basically flat for five decades as economic gains increasingly go to a tiny minority at the top of the income bracket. But American wage stagnation is only a small part of a larger global story — one that is summarized in a fascinating new graph. Swedish statistics professor Michael Höhle put together a fascinating visualization of the distribution of incomes, adjusted for inflation, in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe between 1950 and 2015.

It’s rare to find a data visualization with so much information in it. You could watch this over and over and over again and notice a new thing every time. Two big trends, for instance, are the increase in population in Asia over time, and the huge improvements in real income for Asians since 1950. Another less obvious trend is that European incomes more or less stopped gaining ground in the 1990s. Then there’s the disturbing thickening of African incomes on the left side of the graph starting around 2000, representing so many people who’ve been left behind by global economic growth…

Höhle is visualizing date from Factfulness, the last book from the late (and dearly missed) Hans Rosling (see here, here, and here).  Read more at “A Fascinating Visualization Of How Income Has Changed Around The World Since 1950” and learn more of Höhle’s method here.

* Confucius

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As we deliberate on distribution, we might send inclusive birthday greetings to Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai; he was born on this date in 1940.  An Indian-born U.K. economist and Labour politician, he is the first non-UK born candidate to stand for the position of Lord Speaker in the British House of Lords.

220px-Official_portrait_of_Lord_Desai_crop_2 source

 

Written by LW

July 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Organizing is a process; an organization is the result of that process”*…

 

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19th century railroad stock offers were the cryptocurrencies of their time: confusing, risky… but with the promise of converting “old” wealth (mostly land riches) into the wealth of the future

 

Many crypto enthusiasts are looking at blockchains as a way to correct the sins of the past (government over-reach, lack of sound money, expensive middlemen, centralized businesses, etc.)

The truly important question should be way bigger than this: How can crypto-powered businesses create new types of abundance? How will blockchains drive our standard of living forward exponentially? How will we see the creation of tens of trillions in new value like we did with the stock market in the last 150 years?

The answer lies in how crypto can transform the tragedy of the commons into the wealth of the commons…

“Midas List” V.C. Mike Maples traces the provenance of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain from the railroad IPOs of the 1870s (which helped launch an explosion of global economic growth) through the work of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrum to argue for crypto’s promise as a remedy to the Tragedy of the Commons: “Crypto Commons.”

[Readers looking for an on-ramp to understanding crypto-tech and the blockchain may want to start with Steven Johnson’s blissfully-clear “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble.”]

* Elinor Ostrum

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As we address asset allocation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Henry F. Phillips received several U.S. patents for the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver– a system in which a matching driver with a tapering tip conveniently self-centers in the screw head.  Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents, and persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the fasteners.  General Motors was convinced to use the screws on its 1937 Cadillac; by 1940, virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.

 source

 

Written by LW

July 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers”*…

 

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It’s been 10 years since the beginning of the Great Recession…

Some of the more pessimistic commentators at the time of the credit crunch, myself included, said that the aftermath of the crash would dominate our economic and political lives for at least ten years. What I wasn’t expecting – what I don’t think anyone was expecting – was that ten years would go by quite so fast. At the start of 2008, Gordon Brown was prime minister of the United Kingdom, George W. Bush was president of the United States, and only politics wonks had ever heard of the junior senator from Illinois; Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France, Hu Jintao was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, MySpace was the biggest social network, and the central bank interest rate in the UK was 5.5 per cent.

It is sometimes said that the odds you could get on Leicester winning the Premiership in 2016 was the single most mispriced bet in the history of bookmaking: 5000 to 1. To put that in perspective, the odds on the Loch Ness monster being found are a bizarrely low 500 to 1. (Another 5000 to 1 bet offered by William Hill is that Barack Obama will play cricket for England. I’d advise against that punt.) Nonetheless, 5000 to 1 pales in comparison with the odds you would have got in 2008 on a future world in which Donald Trump was president, Theresa May was prime minister, Britain had voted to leave the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party – which to many close observers of Labour politics is actually the least likely thing on that list. The common factor explaining all these phenomena is, I would argue, the credit crunch and, especially, the Great Recession that followed…

The always-illuminating John Lanchester ponders what happened, why, and what we have– and haven’t– learned: “After the Fall.”

[image above: source]

* “However, optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers. One of the lessons of the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession is that there are periods in which competition, among experts and among organizations, creates powerful forces that favor a collective blindness to risk and uncertainty.”   – Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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As we do our best to learn from our mistakes, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.

A sharp observer of the human condition, Barnum wrote and spoke frequently of characteristics that made “promotions” of the sort in which he specialized both possible and profitable:

Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

In what business is there not humbug?

Barnum came by his wisdom the round-about way: he founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

“I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

source: Library of Congress

 

Written by LW

July 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence”*…

 

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We use data from the Global Peace Index 2018 report, which tries to put a figure on the expenditures and economic effects related to “containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence”.

According to the report, the economic impact of violence to the global economy was $14.76 trillion in 2017 in constant purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This is roughly 12.4% of world gross domestic product (GDP), or $1,988 per person.

While those figures themselves are quite staggering, how it all breaks down is even more interesting…

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More chilling data at “The Economic Impact of Violence.”

* Bayard Rustin

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As we pine for ploughshares, we might recall that it was in this date n 1914 that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo… which precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia… which triggered a series of interlocking alliances (that’s to say, which led the Central Powers, including Germany and Austria-Hungary, and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other)…  starting World War I.

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Franz Ferdinand, ca. 1914

source

 

“A firm’s income statement may be likened to a bikini- what it reveals is interesting but what it conceals is vital”*…

 

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A recent (Roughly) Daily noted (by way of a quote from James Surowiecki) that “the challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud.”  A painful recent example was, the failure of credit ratings agencies honestly to assess the risk of derivatives being traded against home mortgages, which contributed mightily to the crash that occasioned The Great Recession.

But, as Richard Brooks argues, there’s a bigger and more pervasive problem still lurking:  accountancy used to be boring – and safe.  Today it’s neither.  Have the ‘big four’ firms become too cosy with the system they’re supposed to be keeping in check?  Are we in for Enron all over again, only this time on the financial system-wide basis?

The demise of sound accounting became a critical cause of the early 21st-century financial crisis. Auditing limited companies, made mandatory in Britain around a hundred years earlier, was intended as a check on the so-called “principal/agent problem” inherent in the corporate form of business. As Adam Smith once pointed out, “managers of other people’s money” could not be trusted to be as prudent with it as they were with their own. When late-20th-century bankers began gambling with eye-watering amounts of other people’s money, good accounting became more important than ever. But the bean counters now had more commercial priorities and – with limited liability of their own – less fear for the consequences of failure. “Negligence and profusion,” as Smith foretold, duly ensued.

After the fall of Lehman Brothers brought economies to their knees in 2008, it was apparent that Ernst & Young’s audits of that bank had been all but worthless. Similar failures on the other side of the Atlantic proved that balance sheets everywhere were full of dross signed off as gold. The chairman of HBOS, arguably Britain’s most dubious lender of the boom years, explained to a subsequent parliamentary enquiry: “I met alone with the auditors – the two main partners – at least once a year, and, in our meeting, they could air anything that they found difficult. Although we had interesting discussions – they were very helpful about the business – there were never any issues raised.”

This insouciance typified the state auditing had reached. Subsequent investigations showed that rank-and-file auditors at KPMG had indeed questioned how much the bank was setting aside for losses. But such unhelpful matters were not something for the senior partners to bother about when their firm was pocketing handsome consulting income – £45m on top of its £56m audit fees over about seven years – and the junior bean counters’ concerns were not followed up by their superiors.

Half a century earlier, economist JK Galbraith had ended his landmark history of the 1929 Great Crash by warning of the reluctance of “men of business” to speak up “if it means disturbance of orderly business and convenience in the present”. (In this, he thought, “at least equally with communism, lies the threat to capitalism”.) Galbraith could have been prophesying accountancy a few decades later, now led by men of business rather than watchdogs of business…

A chilling, but important report: “The financial scandal no one is talking about.”

* Burton G. Malkiel

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As we count beans, we might recall that it was on this date in 1873 that Samuel Clemens (the author known as Mark Twain) received a U.S. patent, his second, for a self-pasting scrapbook (No. 140,245).  His creation used a dried adhesive on its pages so that users need only moisten a page in order to attach pictures.

In 1871, Clemens had scored his first patent, for “an Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments”–an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist that was later used on women’s corsets, and is considered by many to be the precursor of the adjustable bra strap.  He earned his third patent in 1875 for a history trivia game,“Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder Game.”

 source

 

Written by LW

June 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart”*…

 

The U.S. national debt is once again raising alarm bells. Federal borrowing from outside investors expanded rapidly over the past decade, totaling more than $15 trillion in 2018, and it is projected to grow even faster over the next ten years under current law. Major budget legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump, along with continued growth in entitlements and higher interest rates, will see the debt nearly double by 2028 [PDF], coming close to the size of the entire U.S. economy.

If the debt continues to grow at an unsustainable level, it could expose the country to a number of dangers, economists say. In the extreme, the risk rises that Washington’s lenders, many of whom are foreign, could suddenly lose confidence, demand higher interest rates, and potentially trigger a fiscal crisis. Short of that, the rising debt could gradually squeeze discretionary spending and deny the country tools it needs for security and economic stability. Bringing the debt into check, experts say, will likely require politically difficult decisions to either curb entitlement spending, significantly raise taxes, or both…

A backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations: “The National Debt Dilemma.”

It should be noted that there are those who disagree with CFR (and the many others) who see the need to bring the deficit into balance via reduced spending and/or higher taxes: “The Radical Theory That the Government Has Unlimited Money.”

* e e cummings

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As we parse “prudence,” we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Franco Modigliani; he was born on this date in 1918.  An economist, he originated the life-cycle hypothesis, which attempts to explain the level of saving in the economy, suggesting that consumers aim for a stable level of consumption throughout their  lifetime (for example by saving during their working years and then spending during their retirement)– for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1985.

Among his other accomplishments, he initiated the Monetary/Fiscal Debate when he (and co-author Albert Ando) wrote a scathing critique of an early 1960s paper by Milton Friedman and David Meiselman.  Freidman and Meiselman had argued (in effect) that monetary policy was the only effective tool in managing an economy; Modigliani and Ando pointed out flaws in their analysis and made the case for fiscal measures (effectively, government spending) as equally-effective tools.  The debate– known by the antagonists’ initials as the AM/FM Debate– rages to this day.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

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