Tuesday, September 30, 2008


OECD PISA math scores 2006 (Programme for International Student Assessment)

Finland.........548...(+4) brackets indicate previous score 2003
New Zealand ...522...(-1)
Australia 520 (-4)
Denmark 513 (-1)
Czech Republic 510 (-7)
Iceland 506 (-10)
Austria 505 (+0)
Germany 504 (+1)
Sweden 502 (-7)
Ireland 501 (-1)
France 496 (-15)
United Kingdom 495 not tested in 2003
Poland 495 (+5)
Slovak Republic 492 (-6)
Hungary 491 (+1)
Luxembourg 490 (-3)
Norway 490 (-5)
Spain 480 (-5)
United States 474 (-9)

The American economy tanks when vast numbers of its citizens suddenly realize they are spending more on fixed expenses than they earn. Simultaneously, financial experts mistake return on investment with return of investment. We didn't really need the PISA test to tell us that US math ability is at the bottom of the industrial world.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout at 20,000 Feet

Its hard to no longer be surprised by what happens in the Caricatured States of America (thanks Vin!) This morning I watched the reality show that is the US Congress. After the 700 billion dollar bailout bill was defeated by a majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats, the Republicans held a news conference blaming the bill's failure on... wait for it... a partisan speech by Nancy Pelosi! Only in Republican hypocrisy and right wing gorilla math could vast Republican nay votes be the fault of Democrats! They crowded the microphone at the news conference each one wetting their pants trying to pin Republican nay votes on Democrats! What really amazed me is that the crowd of reporters didn't fall down laughing as I did at home spilling a teaspoon of coffee in the bargain. So let me get this straight, these Republicans who received thousands of calls and email from their constituents urging them to vote no and who are up for re-election in a few weeks were going to vote yes at great political peril, until Nancy gave a partisan speech and then they voted no out of spite? A kindergarten child would laugh at this retort yet this is how republicans imagine they get to have every issue their way. "We're anti regulation until things are screwed and then when we vote against fixing them, blame the interventionist democrats." They bet on every horse and hope Americans forget when they're wrong and boast when they're right.

The Bailout
I've been trying hard this week to understand the fulcrum that the US economy sits on. On the one hand, the crisis seems to be created by cheap credit given to bad risks and therefore creating more credit (by making it more fluid) doesn't solve the problem. On the other hand say some, the credit market is so tight that companies that rely on short loans to make payrolls and purchase necessities can not get money and meet these demands or capitalize new projects. In most economic downturns, credit becomes cheap causing borrowing and spending on capital projects creating jobs and turning the economy upwards. If there is no credit this cannot happen and stagnation occurs. Cheap credit is bad, no credit is bad- so what should the Fed do to push the market to the middle?
Settling this argument would require a calculation that could quantify the losses to the economy related to credit illiquidity and pit them against the inefficiencies of evaporating wealth from letting these mortgage-backed securities fail. No one can calculate this because it's probably impossible (another word for impossible calculation is the Future.) Instead, people can only guess. So a trillion dollar decision comes down to guesswork which reinforces the vagueness of the rhetoric surrounding arguments from both sides. I would argue that when the bond market shows negative interest rates as it did this week, the markets are demonstrating that they are willing to lose part of their investment to be sure they don't lose all of it. When this is the state of your banking industry, a guess to create liquidity is starting to look pretty good!
Whatever happens, the US economy is in an adjustment period, doing nothing is certainly one way to get where its going to adjust to. A bailout will not "save the economy" as the rhetoric suggests, it will merely soften the journey to its ultimate destination of post credit crash America which will look pretty different than it does now.

post script
As I watched simulcasts of the floor of the house and the floor of the NYSE, I could actually watch the "markets react" as the votes hit the big board in Congress. It did make me appreciate Canada's election system of no fixed dates. Its true I find the spate of elections in the last 8 years bothersome and expensive, but when I watch an economic crisis overlap an election down south, I mourn for reason.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the Stability of thy Times

"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

-John McCain, last week

Excess is the operative word here. Excess hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, and perhaps reckless abandonment of truth. McCain wants this Fridays debate with Obama canceled because of the "financial crisis." Even though last week, he thought the nation's finances were fundamentally sound and banking deregulation was Martha Stewartarianly a "good thing." McCain knew full well that his voting record on deregulation would come into the forefront at the debate, and his clueless reckoning of economics would be paraded by a more intelligent opponent. From the man that has made a career out decorating every conversation with his POW sob stories, he's proving that he is a unmitigated coward to the core. The fact that the upcoming election is even close is a terrifying indictment of half the nation.

Watching Bush's address to the nation tonight, I wondered whether he realizes that after 8 years of misleading the American people and the Congress on Iraq, asking to be trusted to dole out a Trillion dollars right away is really just too much. A Trillion dollars! (700billion now plus several hundred already given out.) I write it and can barely believe it! I guess when you've falsified evidence to send the country to war, defied every notion of freedom by illegal trials and torture, by defying the constitution by illegally spying on your own citizens, suspending habeas corpus, after employing executive privilege to bypass any oversight, by corrupting the department of justice to fire political opponents around the country-
its pretty easy for Bush to say "C'mon whats a trillion dollars? don't you trust us?"

The inscription on Rockefeller center is right.
Art Deco why hath you forsaken us??!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Conan, what is best in life?"

Yesterday, all my troubles did not seem so far away. Loose shale and poor confidence forced me to give up on my attempt on Mt Cory, a climb considered easy by active climbers. But my mood picked up tenfold upon hiking up to Cory pass on the way to circumnavigating Mt Edith. At Mt Edith's base, breezy aspens dot grassy slopes. Leafy underbrush was turning colour and nature seemed more like a postcard than an obstacle. I actually couldn't stop grinning it was so beautiful. It was my periodic payment for all the times that someone looks down their nose at me for not having a permanent job. Having just spent two weeks with Suz's parents which was by all means a lovely time but I bore the brunt of an opinion that work is something noble and the only way to create meaning and security. Well today was one of those reminders that money and class and status can never buy time. As I ambled over the mountains on this picture perfect day in solitude, I was being screamed at in every direction that there is nothing meaningful to me about a life that is not enjoyed to the fullest.