Posts Tagged ‘Felix Salmon’

Must-Reads of the Week: American Power, Inequality, 1 Billion Heartbeats, Hacking Life, Anthora Cups, Structural Deficit, Financial Doomsedays and Crises, China, the Tea Party’s Views on Immigration, and Lady Gaga

Friday, April 30th, 2010

There were a lot of good articles and posts I came across this week — so brace yourself…

1. The American Power Act. David Brooks makes the case for progressive reform — specifically the American Power Act regarding climate change:

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things…The energy revolution is a material project that arouses moral fervor — exactly the sort of enterprise at which Americans excel.

Matt Yglesias had earlier this week critiqued Brooks (among others) for taking the exact opposite stance of the one he was adopting here:

Oftentimes in the Obama Era the difference between “reasonable” conservatives (David Brooks and Greg Mankiw often leading the charge) and reasonable liberals has been that reasonable liberals look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and support it while “reasonable” conservatives look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and oppose it, while claiming to support alternative flawed proposals that they don’t actually lift a finger to organize support for within their own ideological faction.

2. Inequality, social mobility, and the American Dream. The Economist had a good piece that can serve as a starting point for a post I’ll be writing soon on inequality, social mobility, and the American dream:

The evidence is that America does offer opportunity; but not nearly as much as its citizens believe.

Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.

3. The Science of Life. Jonah Lehrer for Seed magazine has a brilliant piece on how cities are like living organisms. As a side matter, he notes this beautifully poignant data point:

[A]n animal’s lifespan can be roughly calculated by raising its mass to the 1/4 power. Heartbeats scale in the opposite direction, so that bigger animals have a slower pulse. The end result is that every living creature gets about a billion heartbeats worth of life. Small animals just consume their lives faster.

4. Fine-tuning life. Gary Wolf for the New York Times Magazine explains how the accessibility of computers is creating data about every aspect of our lives — and of the efforts of some people to begin to catalog and find insights in their own data. Surprisingly, Lifehacker was never mentioned.

5. The Anthora Cup. Margalit Fox of the New York Times writes the obituary for Leslie Buck, the designer of the Anthora cup:

It was for decades the most enduring piece of ephemera in New York City and is still among the most recognizable. Trim, blue and white, it fits neatly in the hand, sized so its contents can be downed in a New York minute. It is as vivid an emblem of the city as the Statue of Liberty, beloved of property masters who need to evoke Gotham at a glance in films and on television.

6. Unified Theory of the Financial Crisis. Ezra Klein synthesizes various narratives into a unified theory of the financial crisis.

7. The Structural Deficit. Donald B. Marron provides a coherent and reality-based conservative look at America’s structural deficit. Absolutely a Must-Read.

8. The Financial Doomsday Machine. Martin Wolf dedicated his column in the Financial Times last week to describe the “financial doomsday machine“:

[T]he financial sector has become bigger and riskier. The UK case is dramatic, with banking assets jumping from 50 per cent of GDP to more than 550 per cent over the past four decades…The combination of state insurance (which protects creditors) with limited liability (which protects shareholders) creates a financial doomsday machine. What happens is best thought of as “rational carelessness”. Its most dangerous effect comes via the extremes of the credit cycle.

9. Realism on China. Stephen Walt explains his take on China’s strategic ambitions — and its inevitable rivalry with the United States and other regional powers.

10. The Tea Party & Immigration. Radley Balko explains his take on the widespread support among the Tea Party for the massive government power grab that is Arizona’s new immigration law:

It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists. Seems like in may parts of the country they’re as pro-government as the current administration, just pro-their kind of government.

Coincidentally, I made that exact point about the Tea Party back in September 2009 entitled: These Protests Aren’t Against Big Government, But About Liberals Running the Government.

Andrew Sullivan piles on:

Worse, on the fiscal front, they’re total frauds. They have yet to propose any serious cuts in entitlements and want far more money poured into the military-imperial complex. In rallies, the largely white members in their fifties and older seem determined to get every penny of social security and Medicare. They are a kind of boomer revolt – but on the other side of that civil conflict, and no longer a silent majority. In fact, they’re now the minority that won’t shut up.

More and more, this feels to me like an essentially cultural revolt against what America is becoming: a multi-racial, multi-faith, gay-inclusive, women-friendly, majority-minority country.

11. Sovereign Debt Crisis. Felix Salmon and Paul Krugman are both very pessimistic about how Greece will get out of this crisis — and what it means for the global economy.

12. Lady Gaga’s Ambition. Brendan Sullivan for Esquire chronicles the life and ambitions of Lady Gaga:

“There is a musical government, who decides what we all get to hear and listen to. And I want to be one of those people.” The girl who said that didn’t yet have the number-one hits (although she had already written most of them).

She was not yet the creative director of the Haus of Gaga, which is what she calls the machine of more than a hundred creative people who work for her. She didn’t make that statement in an interview or from the stage. She made it in 2007, when she was a go-go dancer sewing her own outfits and I was her DJ. She wrote it in one of my notebooks…

Lady Gaga is a student of fame, and the fame she studies most is her own — being famous seems to both amuse and fascinate her.

[1st image by me; 2nd image by LarindaME licensed under Creative Commons.]

Theories of the Financial Crisis: Goldman Sachs Did It!

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Matt Taibbi most famously posited that the financial crisis was the result of Goldman Sachs’ self-interested manipulations. He saw this single investment bank as the malevolent force behind the latest financial crisis – as well as speculative bubbles throughout history:

The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money…The bank’s unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pump-and-dump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere – high gas prices, rising consumer-credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bail-outs. All that money that you’re losing, it’s going somewhere, and in both a literal and figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it’s going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth – pure profit for rich individuals.

As over-the-top as Taibbi’s description might be, it wasn’t wholly inaccurate. Putting aside the exaggerated, macho, Hunter Thompson-esque prose, and even Felix Salmon, a mainstream blogger and financial writer for Reuters, finds a great deal of truth in this portrait of Goldman Sachs:

I don’t agree with all of Taibbi’s article, but I’m surprised at how much of it I do agree with…

Adding credence to this portrait of a massive bubble-making machine were the recent best-ever quarterly profits by Goldman in the midst of a recession for the rest of the country. Graham Bowley and Jenny Anderson of the New York Times summarized this state of affair simply in their piece:

Most of Wall Street, and America, is still waiting for an economic recovery. Then there is Goldman Sachs.

The free market digest The Economist immediately saw the significance of these profits so soon after government aid:

For a firm that probably would have collapsed without government capital, debt guarantees and fast-track approval to turn itself into a commercial bank (not to mention a multi-billion-dollar payout as a counterparty of American International Group), such largesse is cheeky at best, distasteful at worst. It has already drawn rebukes on Capitol Hill, even though Goldman has repaid the government’s $10 billion preferred-equity investment.

That Goldman Sachs was going to be a big winner in all of this was pretty evident as early as October when I included this as one of the 11 lessons I learned while trying to figure out the financial crisis: “Goldman Sachs always wins.” What was evident already was that – as Russell Roberts pointed out in the TimesGoldman Sachs had “won” the bailout game:

It is deeply disturbing that Lehman Brothers was a long-time competitor of Secretary Paulson’s former firm, Goldman Sachs. It is equally disturbing that the chief executive of CIT, Jeffrey Peek, has been a contributor to Republicans rather than Democrats. This could be mere coincidence. But the current and ad hoc bailout strategy inevitably creates suspicion and destroys faith in our economic and political system.

Aside from Taibbi – who sees Goldman’s tentacles at the root of most of America’s worst economic  moments through history – most observers do not see Goldman Sachs as the deliberate instigator of the current crisis. They see it instead as an opportunistic organization – one that navigated through the crisis with aplomb – as it saw its rivals vanquished and as it shored up its own business. It also played a significant role as the leader of the financial industry as it used political influence to push for various policies including a relaxation of regulation. The oversize influence of the financial industry should be the next Theory of the Financial Crisis I cover.

But the key point now is that Goldman Sachs – if successful in opposing most common-sense reforms – will be substantially to blame for the next crisis.

[Image by nydisccovery licensed under Creative Commons.]