Blog Review 816


It appears that Melanie Read in The Times has been recommending the return of slavery.

More evidence on where all the tax money goes.

One way of putting this is that the fallout from the Bernie Maddox pyramid will be a $17 billion fiscal boost in the US.

Answering two questions: which came first, the chicken or the egg and, which came first, trade and the division of labour or Homo sapiens?

A list of nice enough countries to live in and a list of not so nice countries to live in.

On why that bailout of Detroit may well not work....even though it's bound to be very expensive.

And finally, what they say and what they really mean.

In praise of a feminist bookshop


It will sound strange to some that a classical liberal like myself will praise a feminist bookshop's asking for donations so that it might stay open. Strange, however, only to those who don't quite understand what that classical liberalism is all about.

We know it sounds crazy that a small bookstore in Portland could raise this much money in such a short time, however our community of locals, out-of-town family and friends, as well as feminists nationwide have responded in full force to our plea. They are making online donations, swarming through our doors to support the store by doing their shopping and attending events, and by getting the word out to their own communities that we need help. And its working. We've made nearly $7,000 in the five days since we announced our financial crisis. Clearly, In Other Words is an institution that our community will not let go under.

I've no particular thoughts about feminist book shops, small bookstores or Portland come to that. But I do have thoughts on what is the point of our economic and political system, the most important of which is that if you wish to spend your money in feminist bookshops, small bookstores or even Portland then it is entirely your right to do so.

Just as if you decide that you don't actually want to purchase a book from such a store but would like to send them some money anyway, please, feel free.

For what we're aiming for is not maximal profit, maximal production or maximal anything else but utility. That general ragbag of desires that human beings want to fulfil. And if your utility is maximised (or perhaps increased is better) by your paying more for a book than you would elsewhere, but at the benefit to you of supporting some other goal, say, the social benefits to you of knowing that there is indeed still a feminist bookshop in Portland, then I say good luck to you. So with making a donation but not claiming a book.

As long as you extend the same freedoms to me, that I may spend my money where and as I wish then we'll all get along together fabulously.

That's what being a liberal, classical or otherwise, actually means.

The Media's Top 10 Economic Myths of 2008 (No.10)


10. Capitalism is dead or dying

Media myth: From Michael Moore to CNBC, people wondered about the end of free-market capitalism.

Originally published by the Business & Media Institute

Is free-market capitalism really at death's door? That's what the media have claimed, beginning with Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Steven Pearlstein's obituary for capitalism Aug. 1. Since then, the claim has been repeated in The Washington Post, on CNBC and CNN. Even controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, reacting to the Wall Street bailouts, claimed capitalism was dead on "Larry King Live."

A front-page analysis in the Oct. 10 Washington Post declared that "The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is claiming another casualty: American-style capitalism."

That story by staff writer Anthony Faiola accurately portrayed the potential government takeover of elements of the financial system as un-capitalistic, but incorrectly blamed capitalism for economic devastation.

"[T]he hands-off brand of capitalism in the United States is now being blamed for the easy credit that sickened the housing market and allowed a freewheeling Wall Street to create a pool of toxic investments that has infected the global financial system," Faiola wrote. His story had no rebuttal from free market economists who say this was not market failure after all. It also claimed that countries have lost respect for the American brand of capitalism in the wake of U.S. financial turmoil.

CNBC also worried Sept. 19 that capitalism "seems to be dead." That was what former Bloomberg South Europe bureau chief Rob Cox told CNBC's "The Call" viewers while talking about taxpayer funded bailouts "I don't know what it means. I don't know how we're going to regulate. I don't know how we're going to legislate going forward but its dead."

But not everyone took such a pessimistic tone. Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, and current senior fellow at the Hudson Institute said "reports of capitalism's death are greatly exaggerated," in an Oct. 16 column.

"Although Washington is using non-market solutions in an attempt to unfreeze the credit markets, they have not succeeded, and are unlikely to be permanent. The next administration, Republican or Democratic, might take over more of the economy," Furchtgott-Roth said. "But if one country in our global economy proceeds down an unsuccessful socialist road, others will demonstrate the effectiveness of capitalist measures—just as America led the way with tax cuts in the 1980s."

Film of the Year No. 10


10. Charlie Wilson's War

Set in the early 1980s, and based on a true story, Charlie Wilson's War stars Tom Hanks as the eponymous Texas congressman – a fun-loving, hard-drinking, womanizer (Cinesmith's kind of politician, in other words), who uses his membership of several key committees to covertly fund Afghan rebels fighting against the Soviets.

The film succeeds in being very amusing, and in making its political point – not surprising given that it was written by West Wing creator, Aaron Sorkin. But while Charlie Wilson's War manages to keep the sharp dialogue and tight plotting of Sorkin's TV work, it never falls prey to the preachiness that characterized The West Wing in its lesser moments. Credit for that is probably due to director Mike Nichols, the man behind classics like The Graduate, and top political satire Primary Colours.

Tom Hanks gets excellent support from Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a CIA analyst with 'anger management issues', while Julia Roberts supplies some additional star-power. If only working in politics was really so glamorous. Watch the trailer here.

Blog Review 815


"I Pencil" turns 50 years old this month. It remains, for the layman, the best explanation of how and why markets work. Worth spreading the word about it.

To a rather more complicated question. How much is climate change likely to cost us and how much should be willing to pay to make sure that it doesn't?

Benford's Law strikes again! Bernie Maddox's investment returns breached the law.

Which is more truthful? That the Maddox strategy was symptomatic of the private investment business or more so of the entire public sector?

A truly excellent idea. Paying banking bonuses in illiquid sub-prime mortgage securities.

Something that various greens (and Greens) could learn from an environmental economist. Yes, those green collar jobs are a cost of such schemes, not a benefit.

And finally, on how the experience of felling your own Christmas tree can be ruined by British public  information films.

The return of monetarism


In the early years of the Thatcher administration, monetarism ruled. Taking their cue from the economist Milton Friedman, the government took the view that inflation was caused by too much money being in circulation. The more of something there is, the less value it has, and money is no exception.

But this kind of monetarism fell victim to Goodhart's Law. Various things can be included in the definition of 'money' – notes, coins, instant-withdrawal bank accounts, but maybe short-notice bank accounts and lots of other things too. Whatever sort of money the government tries to control, those clever people in the City come up with some new kind, and things carry on regardless. So the government's anti- inflation policy changed. Instead of trying to limit the supply of money, it turned to trying to limit the demand for it. High interest rates would reduce the demand for loans, people would cut back their expenditures, and prices would be bid back down again.

That's pretty well where we have been for the last twenty years. Milton Friedman didn't like it. He said that trying to control prices by changing interest rates was like trying to control the output of cars from Detroit by changing the price of steel. It has some effect, right enough, but a very crude one, and one that messes up other things too. But now the Federal Reserve has set interest rates at 0%-0.25%. They can't go lower than 0% – that would mean people would actually be paying to have cash in the bank – at least, not for very long. So what's the answer? Well, the problem now is not inflation but deflation, so the Fed has let it be known that it's very happy to start printing money again. (It will do it electronically through something called quantitative easing, but it amounts to dropping dollar bills from helicopters across the US economy, in the hope that folk will rush out and spend, and prices will turn up again.)

So Milton Friedman, and monetarism, are back. It's a funny old world.

Protecting the Big Three


Amidst the current financial turmoil, at least one of the Big Three could be on the brink of extinction. Their cries for help have registered in Washington. Yesterday the Bush administration confirmed a deal to provide $17.4bn (£11.6bn) in loans to GM, Chrysler and Ford. This will exacerbate a problem that has deeper roots.

Time and again, the U.S government has sought to provide help to U.S. industries, but this has proven to be at their expense. In 1981, Reagan made it clear to Japanese officials that they should accept ‘voluntary’ import quotas or face having harsher restrictions imposed on them by the U.S. Senate. As the Heritage Foundation argued back in 1985, protectionism allowed the car makers to raise prices without losing business to foreign competitors. It is estimated that the excess cost to the U.S. consumer as a result of this protectionist policy was $3.2 billion in 1984.

The results of such policies can now be clearly seen. Protectionism has jeopardized the industry’s very survival. To overcome the trade barriers, Japanese carmakers began opening production plants in the U.S. and hiring highly skilled U.S. workers. Their focus continued to be on market forces, wages and benefits and innovation as they invested heavily in developing and sustaining the production of fuel-efficient vehicles. At the same time U.S. automakers put innovation on hold, as they required a constant flow of cash to meet their high operating costs. The cloak of protectionism essentially hindered these companies from making the difficult decisions that would have allowed them to remain competitive. The current financial situation has merely acted to bring their ineptitude to the forefront.

What governments have failed to realize is that the economic system exists to serve the needs of the consumer. By propping up failure through various policies, governments fail to understand that consumers are at the very heart of this economic system. Government actions are essentially seeking to limit the choices consumers can make.

Also showing...


The countdown of the top 10 films of the year starts tomorrow, but first, a few of 2008's also-rans:

Quantum of Solace: James Bond is back, and he wants revenge. This is the shortest and most stylized Bond film to date, and I loved it. True, Quantum lacks some of the things we've come to expect from James Bond  (no Q, no Moneypenny, no 'shaken, not stirred', etc), and it takes itself rather too seriously. Nonetheless, Quantum comes very close to capturing the spirit of Ian Fleming's original books, while also succeeding as a film in its own right.

Flashbacks of a Fool: Also starring Daniel Craig, this one's about a disreputable, embittered Hollywood movie star who is devastated to learn of the death of a childhood friend. Most of the film is a flashback to the actor's youth in rural England, and the terrible chain of events he inadvertently triggers. This won't be to everyone's taste, but it's beautifully shot and packs a real punch at the end. Great soundtrack too.

Mamma Mia
: Speaking of great soundtracks, I can't overlook Mamma Mia, the film adaptation of the Abba-inspired musical. Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth amongst others, this has become the UK's biggest box office hit of all time, and its fastest selling DVD to boot. I found the female characters highly annoying, and the men just can't sing. Somehow though, it doesn't matter – Mamma Mia is pure, escapist fun.

The Dark Knight: Everyone else seemed to like this sequel to 'Batman Begins' a lot more than me. Personally, I thought it was too long and too self-indulgent. Minus half an hour and a handful of sub-plots, it could have been fantastic. The film still succeeds thanks to a brilliant final performance from the late Heath Ledger – as Batman's psychotic nemesis, The Joker – but it should have been so much better.

Blog Review 814


What type of fiscal boost increases GDP the most? Correct! Tax cuts!

Why Bayou is going to make the Madoff untangling even worse than we thought. Plus, the person who made the most may have been the person we all think has lost the most. And Ms. Horlick does have a question or two to answer.

How to build a really customer centric company.

How BP became a cropper in Russia.

Rum goings on at ACPO. You'd rather like the police themselves to be a tad more truthful, wouldn't you?

Netsmith has been to trade shows that felt like this.

And finally, the next investment craze.

Also known as...


It's called fractional reserve banking. Banks assume that their depositors won't all want their money out at the same time, so don't keep enough cash in their vaults to pay them all. Most times that is just fine, but if savers think that the bank is in trouble, and they do all come in at once to close their accounts – Northern Rock style – it causes problems.

If you can be pretty confident that there won't be a run on the bank, then it makes sense for banks to lend out the money, where it can create businesses and jobs, rather than keep it locked impotently in their vaults. But a surprising number of people have put the case to me recently that this policy, though rational, is in fact another name for trading while insolvent.

Of course, if the banks can call in their loans as quickly as savers could demand their money back, there would be no problem (except to the borrowers - who would know from their lending agreement that the bank could foreclose on them suddenly, and who would therefore have to be prepared for it). Ideally, a bank should match the length of its loans to the notice period on its savings accounts, so that it can pay its 90-day depositors by calling in 90-day loans. But many banks give mortgages of twenty years and more, while their depositors don't want to be locked in for anything like that time. So the banks just have to pray that savers don't all want their cash at once.

Right now, the government is pulling the banks in different directions. They've lent too much, came a cropper, and now they are trying to build up their reserves. So they're keeping loans hard to get. But the government wants us all to borrow and spend more so that we stave off recession, and are pressuring the banks to lend a lot more. Well, that's what got us into this mess in the first place. Despite everything, I think that bankers are probably better at running banks than are politicians.