Archive for May, 2009

Fed Balance Sheet, Illustrated Edition

Posted in Econ, Law on 20090530 by Avenging Sword

A while back, James Hamilton had a couple of posts on the recent explosion of changes to the Fed’s balance sheet.  Being curious how the Fed’s balance sheet might have changed (if at all) in the couple months since, I decided to gin up my own set of pretty graphs, using the same H.4.1 Releases that Dr. Hamilton used.  Herewith, the results of my labors:

Figure 1 – Factors Supplying Reserve Balances, December 2007 to date (*) (in billions of $)

Fed Bal1a

Figure 2 – Factors Absorbing Reserve Balances, December 2007 to date (**) (in billions of $)

Fed Bal1b

Figure 3 – Factors Absorbing Reserve Balances, Sept. 2008 to date (in billions of $)

Fed Bal1c

Figure 3 is basically Figure 2, but zoomed in on the post-Lehman era.

Credit Easing

Although it’s tempting to view the expansion illustrated above as simply the Fed running the printing press, it’s not clear to me that this is in fact the case.  The Fed views its current policies as being, in the main, variants on its traditional functions of 1) lender of last resort, & 2) stimulating the economy via lower interest rates.  See, e.g., this recent article by the Dallas Fed.  In this view, the Fed’s expanded balance sheet is one aspect of a de facto policy of regulatory forbearance, aimed at not only avoiding an even more serious economic downturn, but also keeping the banking system on life support ’till it’s able to earn its way back to health.  Other aspects of this policy include FDIC guarantees for bank bonds, and (of course) TARP.

Although, IMHO, forbearance is less preferable than other courses of action, it is a potentially workable solution.  It does depend, crucially, on the maintenance of strong loan underwriting by banks.  In this regard, the recent tightening of lending standards by banks is actually an encouraging sign, since it suggests that they may not end up abusing forbearance the way the S&Ls did back in the ’80s.  OTOH, forbearance inherently grants government leverage over banks.  My concern is that the government might abuse such leverage to politicize credit allocation. IMHO, the mandatory participation of TARP institutions in the Obama housing bailout is one example of this.  The recent experience of TARP banks in the Chrysler bankruptcy is another.

I’d like to think these incidents will be exceptions to the rule.  But I’m not sanguine.

Irrelevant-But-Nifty Aside:  15 Minutes

In other (more important) news…Jennifer Peresie, a friend of mine, was recently interviewed by the New York Times, regarding a law review article she wrote a few years back.  (Note also that said article was also recently mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.)

That’s way cooler than the Fed’s balance sheet….

Notes

(*) Notes for Fig. 1:  Data from Tables 9-14 of the Fed’s H.4.1 Releases.  Treasuries = U.S. Treasury securities; Other FR = Other Federal Reserve assets; Misc = Float + Gold stock + Special drawing rights certificate account + Treasury currency outstanding; Repo  = Repurchase agreements; Discount = primary + secondary + seasonal credit; CB Swaps = Central bank liquidity swaps; TAC = Term auction credit; PDCF = Primary dealer and other broker-dealer credit; Maiden I = Net portfolio holdings of Maiden Lane LLC; AIG = credit extended to American International Group, Inc. + net portfolio holdings of Maiden Lane II and III; AMLF = Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility; CPFF = Net portfolio holdings of Commercial Paper Funding Facility LLC; Agency + MBS = Federal agency debt securities + Mortgage-backed securities; TALF = Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility

(**) Notes for Figs. 2-3:  Data from Tables 9 & 15-16 of the Fed’s H.4.1 Releases.  Currency = Currency in circulation; Rev. Repo = Reverse repurchase agreements; Service = required clearing balance + adjustments to compensate for float; Other = Other liabilities and capital; Misc = Treasury cash holdings + foreign official accounts + other deposits; Excess Reserves = Reserve balances with Federal Reserve Banks (Table 9); Treasury = U.S. Treasury general account + supplementary financing account

Update 20090601:

A couple of additional figures that rearrange the data from Fig. 1, so as to (hopefully) better illustrating the size of the various Fed facilities:

Figure  4

Fed Bal1d

Figure 5

Fed Bal1e

Oil Shocks & the Economy

Posted in Econ on 20090529 by Avenging Sword

James Hamilton recently had a number of posts regarding the recent Fourth Oil Shock (i.e., the ’07-08 oil price spike): 

Causes, Bubble v. Fundamentals:  http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2009/04/causes_of_the_o.html

Consequences:  http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2009/04/consequences_of.html

Background:  http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2009/04/oil_shocks_and_1.html

Future Prospects:  http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2009/05/Hamilton_JEC_2009_05_20.html

So, in Hamilton’s view: 

1.  Much of the recent oil shock can be attributed to fundamentals of supply & demand in the oil market; and

2.  The oil shock was apparently a sine qua non for the recession. 

Taking that into account, one can synthesize the following account of the recession’s origins: 

1.  Overindebtedness & the housing bubble set the stage for the financial crisis, then the oil price spike helped render bubble-priced houses unaffordable (*), both directly, via increased commuting costs – for bubblicious exurbs & elsewhere – rendered consumers less able to service their mortgages; and indirectly, by contributing to a decrease in car purchases & overall consumer spending (which in turn increased unemployment, which in turn increased mortgage delinquencies).  Additionally, rising oil prices damaged other industries (e.g., automobiles), leading to rising unemployment therein. 

2.  Besides rising oil prices, the other factor contributing to bubble-priced houses’ unaffordability was simply the continued rise in housing prices, which, in turn, was both driven by, and a contributor to, the origination of junk loans.  (These, in turn, were financed by securitization, demand for which came from decreased long-term interest rates & the scarcity of low-risk assets resulting from massive purchases of Treasuries & Agencies by foreign investors & CB’s.  Lax credit rating was also factor.)  When housing stopped appreciating, the availability of junk financing – previously premised on perpetual real housing appreciation – began to disappear, as did the proportion of housing demand previously funded by said financing.  Couple the disappearance of such demand w/ the increased supply of housing “produced” by increasing FC’s (e.g., among subprimes who’d bought on the premise that they could refinance, or who were never able to afford their house in the long term), and you have the popping of the housing bubble. 

3.  Independent of the oil shock’s effects, the housing crash dragged down GDP, both directly via reduced residential investment & indirectly via reduced – and eventually negative – MEW.  Decreased MEW in turn decreased consumption; so also did increased savings rates prompted by household attempts to rebuild their balance sheets following the evaporation of (bubble-induced) housing wealth. 

4.  Damaged fundamentals (see #1) & housing’s collapse (#3) transformed many poorly-underwritten loans/securities/etc. into junk, the losses from which eventually pushed our overleveraged, debt-heavy financial system to cause the financial crisis.  The global run following Lehman’s collapse, and the “real economy” impacts therefrom (i.e., the massive post-Sept. decline in all economic indicators), had their proximate cause in Lehman’s BK – but that, in turn, had its roots in the aforementioned interaction between the oil shock & other factors.  So, while it may be correct to say that the most recent (post 2008Q4) leg of the recession had its roots in the financial crisis, as a matter of economic history, the ultimate cause of the latter was the oil shock.  This suggests that analyses (e.g., Reinhart-Rogoff) that consider the financial crisis the cause of the recession are still applicable, since the most recent leg of the recession was indeed caused by the financial crisis. 

In this view, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say that the oil shock alone was responsible for the severity of this recession.  While recession may have been inevitable following said shock, I suspect it would’ve been less painful had our financial system not been a disaster waiting to happen.  If we hadn’t had overleveraged financial institutions holding lots of junk loans; and if housing hadn’t been allowed to bubble, or to collateralize (*) lots of junk loans (whether due to poor underwriting, or simply due to the fact that even solid loans backed by inflated collateral are doomed to become junk eventually); then I suspect the recession would be far less painful. 

Aside re. Speculation & Monetary Policy:  During ’08, it was commonly asserted that fundamentals were insufficient to explain the oil price spike; and that, as such, speculation must necessarily be the cause.  Such speculation, in turn, was supposedly prompted by the Fed’s loosening of monetary policy (via interest rate cuts).  If Hamilton is correct, however, the ’07-08 oil price spike is largely/fully explicable via fundamentals of supply & demand (i.e., the former stagnating while the latter wants to keep rising, such that balancing the two requires prices to keep increasing), then one needn’t necessarily invoke speculation as the predominant cause of said spike.  This has important implications for monetary policy.  If speculation was supposed to have been prompted by the Fed’s loosening of monetary policy (via interest rate cuts), then arguably loose monetary policy in the name of monetary stimulus could prove counterproductive by provoking speculation-induced commodity price bubbles (which would, in turn, damage the larger economy via higher costs for energy, raw materials, etc.).  But this would not be so if high oil prices were explicable via fundamentals (such that speculation needn’t be invoked IOT explain the ’07-08 oil shock). 

 

 

(*) To some extent, this is an inevitable byproduct of a system that relies upon mortgages to finance homebuying.  If you have a housing bubble in such a system, even solid underwriting will produce lots of bad loans when housing deflation puts those loans underwater.  Unless, that is, “solid underwriting” means requiring drastically higher DP’s in bubble-priced areas (which would not only limit loan losses, but also tend to kill housing bubbles in their infancy).

Thoughts on Second Amendment Incorporation

Posted in Law, Poli-ticks on 20090527 by Avenging Sword

By way of response to Steve’s earlier post…There are a number of issues at play here. 

0.  Federal v. State:  the reason the Second Amendment doesn’t specify “who would regulate that right” is because no such specification was necessary.  The Bill of Rights was drafted to be a bulwark against federal – not state – overreaching.  To anyone in the early Republic, it was self-evident that the Second (and all the others) were addressed to Congress, not the states. 

1a.  Congress v. Supreme Court:  Ultimately, what you’re asking here is whose interpretation of the Constitution is final – Congress’s, or the Supreme Court’s?  Some (e.g., Pournelle) have argued for Congress.  The Supremes, of course, favor themselves; in Boerne v. Flores, they rejected the notion that Congress could (effectively) impose, via statute, a binding definition of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to Sec. 5 thereof.  Who’s right?  Depends on your views re. proper constitutional interpretation, separation/balance of powers, federal v. states rights, etc. 

1b.  Constitutional mud-wrestling:  That said, final power under the Constitution does of indeed rest w/ the political branches, since Congress could theoretically keep impeaching recalcitrant judges until the Judiciary got the message.  

2.  There’s also the issue of original meaning, which encompasses a couple of related questions. 

2a.  One question is whether the original public meaning of Sec. 1 of the Fourteenth “incorporates” the Bill of Rights (i.e., renders the Bill of Rights applicable to the states).  Over the decades, this question has generated a small cottage industry among con-lawyers, which has, alas, failed to produce any definitive answer.    

2b.  Another question is whether, regardless of the answer to 2a, RKBA is among whatever rights _are_ encompassed by the original public meaning of “privileges or immunities” and/or “life, liberty, or property” as used in the Fourteenth.  I’m not too clear regarding the state of that debate. 

3.  There’s also the question of precedent.  Over the years the Supreme Court has “selectively incorporated” much of the Bill of Rights via the Fourteenth’s Due Process Clause.  In view of this case law, it stands to reason that, if the Second Amendment does indeed protect an individual right, that right would be applicable to the states.  This was the logic followed by the 9th Circuit in its recent ruling in Nordyke v. King (195 KB PDF). 

4.  Aside:  Eugene Volokh had a very interesting article (687 KB PDF) recently regarding the practicalities of turning the Second Amendment into constitutional caselaw.  See also here for excerpts from that hundred-page monster.

Random Links L

Posted in Links on 20090526 by Avenging Sword

Paleolithic DietWhy today’s “paleolithic diet” may not match that of yesteryear. 

Tunguska:  When Comets AttackSo a comet-borne fuel-air-explosive might’ve caused Tunguska.  Interesting…. 

Bank Failures & Private Equity: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/business/06equity.html

http://brontecapital.blogspot.com/2009/05/christopher-flowers-short-memory.html

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/05/08/when-private-equity-funds-try-to-get-around-bank-ownership-rules/

Too bad, really, since the banks really do need recapitalization.  Pesky conflicts of interest…. 

iTouch & the Legions: 

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htcbtsp/20090430.aspx

How the iTouch caught on in the military. 

Man & NatureI’m reminded of this line from The Mote in God’s Eye:  “…the physical features of Mote Prime are of some interest, particularly to ecologists concerned with the effects of intelligent life on planetography…”. 

Double Jeopardy & Juror #6: 

http://museum.motime.com/post/751270/WASHINGTON+TIMES+STORY+on+Criminal+Sentencing,+with+Letter+From+Juror+No.+6

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/may/03/juror-no-6-questions-rules-of-sentencing/print/

Apparently judges can base sentences upon charges of which a convict was acquitted.  Weird…and a bit disturbing…. 

Curse of the Class of 2009“Economic research shows that the consequences of graduating in a downturn are long-lasting. They include lower earnings, a slower climb up the occupational ladder and a widening gap between the least- and most-successful grads.”

Household Deleveraging: 

http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13611284

http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/05/vanishing-credit-lines-for-consumers.html

Behavioral Economics & Financial RegulationExploiting the former to improve the latter. 

Defining Away Obesity“with obesity now ubiquitous people have defined “heavy” as the new normal in human physiology, thus making it no longer a problem worth reporting. A lovely example of defining things away.”

Postmodern Dating, Fiscal Opposites Edition

“…surveys of married adults suggest that opposites attract when it comes to emotional reactions toward spending. That is, “tightwads,” who generally spend less than they would ideally like to spend, and “spendthrifts,” who generally spend more than they would ideally like to spend, tend to marry each other.”

Stressing FrannieWhile it’s certainly worthwhile to worry about Frannie’s risks, it’s unclear to me how Frannie’s prime book matches up against the stress-tested banks’ ones.  Only if their mortgage books are sufficiently similar (e.g., same proportions of mortgages originated during the crap underwriting years of 2004-2007) can one apply the same loss projections. 

Credit Card Bank WritedownsUnsurprising. 

GM BKWhy GM may find bankruptcy more difficult than Chrysler. 

More Interest on Reserves: 

http://macroblog.typepad.com/macroblog/2009/05/more-on-interest-on-reserves.html

http://acrossthecurve.com/?p=5440

How Planets Lose Their Atmosphere

Random Links XXXXIX

Posted in Links on 20090525 by Avenging Sword

How Central Banks (May Have) Helped Cause the Crisis:  Various theories on the topic. 

Servicer Safe Harbor

A promising development.  Given my druthers, I’d make this provision permanent, or at least longer-lasting than 2012.  I’d also extend it to all mortgages, not merely owner-occupied ones; preventable losses from FC’s on “investor/speculator/flipper” are no less preferable than losses from owner-occupied ones – both cost lenders & investors money. 

The key to implementation is the content of the guidelines by SecTreas.  E.g., discount rate & redefault rates used to calculate NPV. 

(Note:  Apparently the mention of “qualified loss mitigation guidelines issued by the Secretary of the Treasury under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008” refers to guidelines authorized by Sec. 109 of EESA.) 

Chavez & Political Retaliation

Between 2002 and 2004 millions of Venezuelans signed petitions calling for a vote to remove Hugo Chavez from office. […] After the election, the list of signatories was distributed to government agencies in an easy-to-use database.  The database included the names and addresses of all registered voters and whether they had signed an anti-Chavez petition.  Technology thus provided Chavez supporters the information they needed to retaliate.

After the election, the employment and wages of signatories drop considerably, about a 10% drop in wages relative to non-signatories.  Survey evidence conducted by the authors is consistent with retaliation by Chavez supporters especially in the form of job losses in the public sector. 

Dangers of Politicized Lending: 

http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/05/the_price_of_the_kings_shillin.php

http://baselinescenario.com/2009/05/07/stress-tests-and-the-nationalization-we-got/

Chrysler BK as a Case Study:  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1b5a9e16-3b38-11de-ba91-00144feabdc0.html

Killing Economic Recovery Via Commodities BoomThis assumes decoupling.  Not sure if that’ll in fact be the case or not. 

Underdogs: 

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_gladwell

Critique:  http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/05/innovation_pressure.php

Deleveraging => Indian DownturnThis is what happens when a country depends too much on imported foreign capital to fund its economic expansion.  Americans, with their (until recently) low savings rates, should take note. 

Whence “Too Big to Fail”How banks became TBTF…and the rest of us rationalized it. 

Wolf Controversy Out West

“For some of my conservation friends, it’s hard to appreciate how the other side is impacted by wolves,” Jimenez says. “The challenge is that there is a disproportionate cost-benefit aspect of having wolves back. One side, often a more urban population, disproportionately gets the benefits of wolves at the expense of people coexisting with them on a daily basis in rural areas.”

“It’s easy to want wolves when they don’t live in your backyard,” concludes Jimenez. “And it’s also easy for some in the livestock community to deny the biological significance of wolves and what their survival means to millions of Americans. This respect for both perspectives is what is missing from the current discussion.”

Dark Matter vs. Non-Newtonian Universe“We probably live in a non-Newton universe. If this is true, then our observations could be explained without dark matter”

Legionnaires’ SentimentsInteresting.  The Army as a bastion of moderation (in terms of both partisanship & ideology). 

Canadian Banking: 

http://blogsandwikis.bentley.edu/themoneyillusion/?p=1150

http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2009/04/canadian-vs-us-bank-regulation.html

Apparently, the relative soundness of Canadian banks nowadays isn’t due to better Canadian regulation, so much as a risk-averse Canadian banking culture.  The latter is much reinforced by “principles-based regulation”, whose inherent vagueness (relative to “rules-based regulation” in the US) tends to encourage bankers to remain conservative, lest they inadvertently break the rules.  Call it a “chilling effect”, as applied to banking. 

Synthesizing Artificial OrgansNifty…. 

Environmental NewspeakOf course debates become easier to win when one controls the language. 

Tenured Teachers“Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task”.  In contrast with college professors – where tenure (can) help protect academic freedom – tenure for primary & secondary school teachers never made much sense to me. 

Vultere Funds & Secondary Markets: 

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/05/07/the-silly-war-on-vulture-funds/

http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/05/secondary_markets_are_real_mar.php

If we ever want to take care of the “toxic asset” problem, we’ll need vulture funds – people willing to assume high risk for (potentially) high gains.  Recall how risk & return correlate – decrease the latter by fiat (as Maxine Waters apparently wants to do), and you likewise lower the amount of risk people are willing to assume.  This would basically destroy the secondary market for risky debt.  Initial buyers of bonds would be less willing to make such purchases in the future, since, in the event that such bonds end up being riskier than they expect, they won’t be able to unload them (due to the absence of a secondary market).  Instead, they simply wouldn’t buy the debt at all, unless they were virtually certain regarding the credit risk of such debt. 

Female Humor as a Career-Booster

Philosophy of Mathematics

Random Links XXXXVIII

Posted in Links on 20090524 by Avenging Sword

Automatic Debt-for-Equity Swaps: 

Initial:  http://www.interfluidity.com/posts/1241225458.shtml

Follow-up:  http://www.interfluidity.com/posts/1242632171.shtml

A proposal for automatically restructuring a corporate debtor’s obligations.  Devil’s in the details, but I like the concept…. 

Automation & Banking Dark AgesHow computers led to skill loss among bankers. 

Deflation Watch, Wage EditionApparently wage cuts & freezes aren’t isolated incidents.  

Decriminalizing Criminals“45% of misdemeanors that would normally be prosecuted would no longer be reviewed or filed.”

Merck’s Fake Journal: 

http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/blog.jsp?type=blog&o_url=blog/display/55671&id=55671

http://blog.bioethics.net/2009/05/merck-makes-phony-peerreview-journal/

Apparently Merck created a fake medical journal IOT promote its own drugs to physicians. 

Lehman & CREHow the former bought into, and eventually was brought down by, the latter. 

Terrorism for DummiesTranslated excerpts from “Al-Qaida’s dumbed-down recruitment manual.”

NYC’s Ancient TsunamiApparently, a couple of millennia ago, a tsunami may have hit what is now NYC. 

Reflections on the Financial Crisis

  • Kubarych makes a good point re. Legacy Loans Program; toxic loans probably are fairly easy to value, and FDIC probably has lots of experience in this regard, since they regularly deal w/ such loans on failed banks’ balance sheets, so both FDIC should be able to properly price the risks of lending against such loans.  I would modify this program slightly, by requiring banks to at least disclose the bids (if not mark their assets using such prices) from failed auctions (i.e., auctions where the bank refuses to sell ‘cuz the bids are too low).  This would promote balance sheet transparency; and, with generous government government-subsidized liquidity, would help kill off the argument that illiquidity or market panic has led to undervaluation of toxic loans. 
  • Disagree re. foreclosure prevention; housing prices won’t stabilize ’till housing is once again affordable, and all the surplus housing is liquidated.  Preventing FC’s hinders this adjustment process; instead, we should be making FC cheaper & easier (along w/ deed-in-lieu & short sales).  And securities are toxic & illiquid not only ‘cuz of uncertainty re. housing prices, but also (per Paul Jackson) because many owners of said securities have marked them at values well above the prices justified by fundamentals.  Such (over)valuations would only be appropriate given the high housing prices & risk tolerance of the housing bubble’s peak; and neither is coming back today.  A bottom in housing prices might make it easier to value toxics, but it won’t unfreeze the market for them unless current holders are willing to realize probable substantial losses at sale. 
  • His proposed capital gains holiday is misguided.  American savings rates need to increase; we can’t rely on foreign capital imports to fund domestic investment forever.  And we need to pay off some of that mound of private-sector debt.  If this means an anemic recovery, so be it. 

Culture & EpistemologyHow one’s culture & upbringing may affect one’s perception of reality. 

Counting Flu Mortality“How do we know how many people die from flu each year?”

Dutch Welfare StateNotable downside:  “A broad social-welfare system works if everyone assumes that everyone else is playing by the same rules. Newcomers, with different ways of life and expectations, threaten it.”  If having the right culture is a sine qua non, then generalization may not be possible.  . 

Lost WorldEvidence that dinosaurs may have survived the Cetaceous extinction event. 

Male Illiteracy:  

“boys trail girls in reading performance at all age levels. The gap at age 9 is 8 points, at age 13 is 8 points, and at age 17 is 11 points. This is not a new trend—boys have been scoring lower than girls on U.S. Department of Education reading tests for more than 30 years.”

Discipline kept me doing the “required reading” in school; but aside from Greco-Roman mythology & science fiction, such reading tended to be more of a chore than a labor of love.  For whatever odd reason, I tended to find Dickens & Shakespeare less appealing than Clancy & Heinlein…. 

Foreign Disenfranchisement: 

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/05/reformers_again.html

http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/05/the_middle_class_and_the_war_o.php

Apparently the notion of tyranny of the majority is being rediscovered abroad.  Recall that, for the Founders, such tyranny was viewed as endangering not only free speech & due process, but also “economic” rights such as property & the sanctity of contracts.  Recall also that the Constitution, while republican, was not terribly democratic – only half of the legislature was directly elected; and the rest (along w/ the other two branches) were indirectly selected. 

TARP RepaymentImpermissible absent demonstrated ability to raise debt w/o FDIC guarantees.IMHO, this is a reasonable condition.  TARP can be viewed as (basically) capital forbearance by another name.  Such forbearance shouldn’t be lifted ’till a bank shows it’s once again able to perform financial intermediation w/o governmental support. 

Default & Long Term: 

http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/05/the_dangers_of_playing_with_cr.php

http://accruedint.blogspot.com/2009/05/municipals-and-chrysler-what-happens-to.html

Screwing bondholders in favor of certain constituencies is not a free lunch.

Random Links XXXXVII

Posted in Links on 20090523 by Avenging Sword

Marketing & Signaling

Geoffrey Miller: 

this is how consumerist capitalism really works: it makes us forget our natural adaptations for showing off desirable fitness-related traits.  It deludes us into thinking that artificial products work much better than they really do for showing off these traits. […] The net result could be called the fundamental consumerist delusion — that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation, and cuddling.

Tyler Cowen: 

Would it be cheaper and more effective to wear credible, verifiable tattoos of our personality types from the six-factor model?

Interesting. 

Non-electronic RobotsProviding motive energy via chemistry rather than electric motors. 

Risk MismanagementPerhaps the financial crisis isn’t a failure of the economics profession, so much as a failure to pay attention to the findings generated by said profession. 

Incorporation, Original Meaning, & NewspapersIf true, this is a blow to the notion that incorporation via “privileges & immunities” is compatible w/ original public meaning. 

Willem Buiter on Brown ShootsWhy recent signs of recovery may be overrated. 

Another Harbinger of Financial CrisisApparently Fannie & Freddie warned of the potential risks posed by private-label securitization back on 2000.  Thoughts: 

1.  Interesting how prescient Frannie was about the risks posed by lowering capital requirements for structured securities.

2.  Of course, the lower capital requirements for Frannie MBS (relative to whole-loan mortgages) were themselves the camel’s nose in the tent. 

3.  IMHO, the lesson here is the same set of capital rules for all loans & all institutions. 

Bank Guarantee CostsSomething to be considered by those inclined to view FDIC guarantees of bank paper as “costless”.  Even if such guarantees don’t generate losses for the government (e.g., if the banks in question fail), the competition provided by such guaranteed paper could raise borrowing rates for Treasury bonds.  TANSTAAFL…. 

College Rejection Letters, Compare & ContrastI never read my rejection letters very closely.  Apparently there are better & worse ways of doing the deed. 

Humane Interrogation: 

Maj. Moran:  http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200506/budiansky

Interrogating Nazis:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003929105_torturevets06.html

Bowden’s take:  http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200310/bowden

Illegal Immigration & Wages

Apparently the Swift raids led to higher wages for employees at the targeted plants.  So supply & demand does apply to immigration, after all…. 

Also

…firms employing undocumented workers enjoy a competitive advantage over firms that do not employ undocumented workers. […] …cost savings enjoyed by firms employing undocumented workers is a result of paying these workers wages that are less than what is paid to comparable documented workers.

Politicians & Math:  “Town Officials and Journalists Unclear On Fractions”

Cyberwar: 

Dangers & Solutions:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/us/28cyber.html

Why the first link may be overrated:  http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13527677

Mexican Repatriation Watch

“the highest unemployment rate in more than 25 years would make it difficult for President Barack Obama to push legislation that would legalize millions of immigrants in the country illegally and create a new guest-worker program.”

Duh. 

ExtinctionThe weird appeal of “Life After People”.  I heard about it over a year ago, and I still don’t quite get it…. 

Chuck Norris, Investment BankerHilarious. 

The Fed, Bernanke’s Hedge FundApparently the Fed’s making money on the interest from all those assets dumped on its balance sheet by the private sector.  Let’s hope those earnings aren’t one day accompanied by capital losses…. 

How to Cheat at EverythingTips from a former professional con-man.  PT Barnum was right…. 

Piracy & Armed Crews, Redux

Flu Vaccine Delays

Gay Marriage Bandwagon (& Limits thereto) 

How FDR’s NIRA Prolonged the Depression:

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/FDR-s-Policies-Prolonged-Depression-5409.aspx?RelNum=5409

http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2007/01/the_new_deal_an.html

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/01/the_new_deal_an.html

http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/01/the_new_deal_an_1.html

http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2007/01/does-deflation-increase-aggregate.html

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/01/aggregate_price.html

TANSTAAFL….